people riding the Cyclone rollercoaster
The Gartner hype cycle identified three technologies it sees as playing a bigger part in the digital workplace — but nothing is set in stone PHOTO: Paul Stein

Digital workplace technologies constitute one of the biggest disruptors the global workforce has ever seen, according to Gartner distinguished analyst Matt Cain.

“With the digital workplace, we are doing missionary work here. We are trying to convince IT people that they can improve the business by improving the digital dexterity of the workforce. What this hype cycle tells us is that there is a great diversity of services and applications that can be brought in to help,” he told CMSWire.

The Gartner Hype Cycle for Digital Workplace (fee charged), which Cain wrote, identified dozens of established and emerging technologies that are changing every aspect of the workplace.

But make no mistake: the digital workplace, and by extension, digital transformation, is not just about technology. It is about fundamentally changing the way we work.

Digital Disruptors

Digital business execution requires the involvement of an increasing variety of technology at every level of enterprise decision making and planning.

Making these complex decisions requires continuous problem solving and rapid pattern recognition, all of which require workforce digital dexterity.

Business strategy is what boosts employee agility and engagement. True digital transformation requires a level of digital literacy on the part of employees. Cain wrote in the report:

“The idea is simple — the wholesale transition to digital business models requires employees to have the ability and desire to use existing and emerging technologies for better business outcomes. Increasing employee ability and desire, however, is never easy. It can be particularly difficult for the IT organization, which typically has focused on delivering stable and secure business infrastructure.”

The Hype Cycle identified technologies that increase employee engagement and agility for better outcomes.

Gartner's Digital Workplace Hype Cycle

The Hype Cycle identified technologies that help increase employee engagement and agility for better outcomes. The report summarizes these outcomes as follows:

  1. The digital workplace is a business strategy to boost employee agility and engagement
  2. The goal of a digital workplace is to promote the digital dexterity of the workforce
  3. The digital represents a new charter for the IT organization, notably driving digital dexterity.

“We say these techs often have inflated expectations and that where they are implemented there is a great deal of disillusionment — what we call the trough of disillusionment. After the let-down we get back to business with that slope of enlightenment,” Cain said.

This is, in effect, what the Hype Cycle is all about. All the technologies in the Hype Cycle will directly, or indirectly, impact the workforce and how work gets done.

The Hype Cycles are marked by continuous movement from year to year. The Digital Workplace Hype Cycle is no exception. This report singled out a number of noteworthy changes:

  1. The Internet of Things and related technologies was excluded as it's become too broad to trace in the Hype Cycle model
  2. Mobile event management never took off, so was dropped from the cycle
  3. Digital dexterity no longer appears as a technology, but as an outcome
  4. Cognitive computing has taken on a life of its own, so has been moved out of this cycle
  5. Enterprise file sync and share has evolved into content collaboration platforms

3 Transformational Technologies

The report highlighted three specific technologies:

1. Personal analytics

Personal analytics carry out analysis of contextually relevant data at the individual employee level. They serve as a response, in part, to the deluge of data available to employees. 

As part of the virtual assistant market, it will reach mainstream adoption by 2020. However problems exist, including the integration of personal ecosystems of data feeds associated with individual users.

“The core revolution here is that workloads are going to the cloud and when they go to the cloud it changes the way work gets done. I don’t think we would necessarily see personal analytics if we were still clinging to on-premises deployments,” Cain said.

“I think we are in danger of inundating the work force with too much analytical data and I would certainly acknowledge that one of the challenges in delivering transformation technology is the judicious use of data. The key is giving [workers] conclusions they can use as opposed to giving them massive amounts of data that they can’t really use."

He added that Microsoft with Office 365 and the addition of VoloMetrix, an anlaytics company it bought in 2015, along with Google’s analytics offerings are in an excellent position to win a major part of the cloud office market.

2. Augmented data discovery

With augmented data discovery, business users and citizen data scientists can automatically find, visualize and act on exceptions, clusters and predictions in complex datasets. Like personal analytics, augmented data discovery has a few kinks to work out.

“In many cases you need very specific skills to extract that data using those BI and discovery tools. Augmented data discovery means being all to take all this data and automatically exposing the users to the conclusions derived from that data,” Cain added.

“This creates what you might call citizen data scientists where most of the workforce has the ability to extract meaning form that large volume of structured data.”

Ultimately, the goal is to make the workforce analytics literate. The goal is workers developing processes and decisions will have the benefit of analytics to support any conclusions.

3. Virtual assistants

Virtual assistants (VA) help organizations execute sets of tasks previously carried out by humans. VAs use artificial intelligence and machine learning to assist users or automate tasks.

However, while they have gained some traction outside the enterprise, they are still struggling to gain ground inside.

However, once VAs gain traction within the workplace, we can expect to see assistants created for very specific tasks, Cain said. "You could have as many as 12 in the next five years that will help you in your work environment.”

What Are Tools Without People?

David Lavenda, VP Product Strategy and co-founder of Boston-based harmon.ie, said the company has been streamlining its development efforts as digital technologies gain in importance for the workforce.

He agreed with the three technologies Gartner highlighted having a role in the digital workplace, but said something needs to pull all three together. He told CMSWire:

“What's missing is what pulls all these three together. Data discovery is a necessary for input, but for what — that's the question. Personal analytics sounds good, but it doesn't include the interactions between people and topics that drive what's truly important to the organic cells that drive the business. And virtual assistants are tools that serve individuals via data and machine learning.”

In spite of the number of technologies passing through the Hype Cycle, Lavenda said big vendors in the digital workplace space are still focused on people.

“There is a lot of focus now on 'people': Microsoft is pushing hard on the Microsoft Graph, which is a graph of connected people, and other solutions like Slack and FB Workplace are connecting people,” Lavenda said.

Lavenda said the three technologies highlighted in the Hype Cycle focus on "topics," in other words artefacts like services, projects and products, which lack the broader work context. “It is only the intersection of people and topics, connected intelligently through machine learning, that will really make things interesting in the Digital Workplace.”

Paul Miller CEO and founder of London-based Digital Workplace Group, also sees the relationship between human and digital as the key to successful digital workplaces.

“These three technologies are part of a suite of many digital services that will have a major impact in the next five years, but they are not ones we would see as transformative,” he said.

“To reach that bar we would look to the wider concept of the ‘intelligent workplace’ (including smart data, people analytics and AI in work), augmented reality audio and video (long time coming but its impact is profound on how and where we work) and the harmonizing through technology of the human/bot relationship."

Digital Workplace: A Quickly Changing Landscape

Nothing is written in stone. Cain noted other wildcards in the deck could disrupt the workplace. In fact, the only thing that is certain is the rapid arrival of digital technologies in the workplace — and the need for enterprises to prepare.

“We were looking at data on job postings over the past decade,” Cain said, “and we concluded there is a 60 percent growth in jobs that have a specific technology requirement. With machine learning and AI, we will be able to automate the routine work, but the non-routine work will still need human intervention."

“The results are that we need to make sure that before digital technology enters the workforce, it's seen as a positive thing by the workforce so the human/digital relationship works for a better workplace.”