on a laptop
Fighting information overload by getting rid of apps isn't an option, so instead we need to look to design PHOTO: Corinne Kutz

The app economy promised to deliver an easier existence — and it actually has. 

We now have the power to summon a car, order a pizza and receive updates about news around the world instantly, right from our mobile device. 

While the app economy provides great conveniences and keeps people connected, the consequences of too many, always-on apps can cripple businesses and their employees.

Don't Blame the Apps, Blame the Design

In an average enterprise, workers use upwards of 900 cloud services to get work done. Unsurprisingly, this results in information workers who are overwhelmed by too many apps that deliver a disconnected experience. Employees struggle to translate time spent on apps into real business results. Technology has promised to deliver productivity but, in fact, productivity has flatlined.

While it would be easy to blame productivity loss on the volume of business apps, this ignores the root of the problem: the way apps are designed. They’re built to grab your attention, notify you, make sure you’re going to listen and disrupt you until you do. 

While this approach might be fine for our personal lives, business requires focus rather than distraction.

We rely on many of these business apps to get work done, so eliminating them isn’t the solution. Rather, we must improve the way they work together. One of the ways we can do this is to put humans back at the center of the technology we use.

A Digital Humanist Approach

This is akin to what Gartner identified in a recent report (fee charged) as the ‘digital humanist’ approach. The digital humanist believes technology becomes virtuous only when it enables people to achieve things they didn’t believe possible, or when it redefines the way people achieve their goals. 

For businesses, this means that to uncover opportunities and employees’ full potential in the workplace, they’ll need a digital system design that centers on human interests and values.

Some of the world’s most innovative organizations are known for their digital humanist approach. They commit to "start and end with people." Companies such as Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and General Electric have achieved this through the implementation of a human-centered enterprise-scale digital design in both their products and work environment. 

While these tech giants represent the minority of the world’s businesses, their people-first approach doesn’t have to.

How Topic Computing Helps

Here’s where the idea of topic computing comes in. Topic computing refers to breaking down data silos from business apps by grouping information by topics — the way the human brain works — thereby surfacing what’s most important to knowledge workers. This eliminates the distraction of toggling between apps or reacting to endless notifications, enabling people to focus on a given task for longer periods of time without having to manually sift through different searches and programs to complete a project.

Here are examples of how topic computing can help humanize the digital experience:

Collaboration

When we start a conversation with another person or coworker, we don’t just shift to the next subject without warning or blurt out whatever random thought comes to mind — and it shouldn’t be any different digitally. 

When apps can communicate in an intelligent way, people get work done more efficiently. Topic computing allows workers to do this by streamlining their otherwise disconnected apps in one place, empowering them to work in a more cohesive way, just as they would when working with another human.

Peace of Mind

People can’t be productive if they don’t have peace of mind. And with all the app noise around them, focus is near impossible. 

Businesses need to build silence into the day, or at least manage the noise experienced by workers, by serving them information in a more digestible way. Humans don’t naturally organize information by application, and they shouldn’t have to in a business either.

Augmenting the Brain With AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) theorists are promising big changes in how we work, but practical users haven't seen much of a difference yet. 

It’s time to start looking at how AI can truly impact business by augmenting the human brain, rather than replacing it. How AI powers topic computing is a great example of this. Using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning, topic computing has the power to extract topics from each app notification and correlate them. 

This allows workers to sift through notifications from all cloud apps related to the subjects that matter most. This approach can help employees see the big picture and focus on what matters most.

A Win-Win for the Workforce

The proliferation of business cloud apps isn’t slowing down, so now is the time to put humans back at the center of the digital experience. By enabling workers to leverage the information that really counts, while allowing businesses to connect the applications and technologies they’re already using, topic computing is a win-win for today’s workforce.