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PHOTO: Stephan Henning

We often think that the future is somewhere far off in the distance — yet the technologies of the future are already here. We interact with them every day in our lives at home, whether we realize it or not. But these same modern technologies we use on a personal basis are oftentimes forgotten when we enter the workplace.

The same technologies that bring us conveniences and enhancements in our daily lives have great potential to help us in our professional lives as well. Technology can make you more productive — more efficient — and more focused on what matters.

Keeping up with the latest technology trends will position organizations for future opportunities and market conditions. Here are five trends to be prepared for.

Trend No. 1: Cloud

Data is all around us and most of it lives in the cloud. This is not anything new. The future of work is going to happen in the cloud. It is already happening. We use cloud-based applications all the time in our personal lives: music and video streaming, email, picture sharing and more.

For any organization, innovations in technology can be a double-edged sword — every new product, feature or update often comes with a investments in time and resources. However, investing in cloud is one way to help keep pace with the future of work. Organizations are grasping the importance of cloud-based storage, citing the need for data to be available and modified in real-time — as well as better security and lower infrastructure costs. Of the IT professionals surveyed in RightScale’s “State of the Cloud Survey,” 96% said they planned to adopt cloud-based services to boost employee and organizational productivity.

Cloud technology helps organizations reduce infrastructure burden while ensuring that new technology deployments are easier than ever. It allows all of us to become more connected and more productive. Rethink legacy systems and evaluate which ones you need to host and manage in-house.

IDC predicts that digital transformation will attain macroeconomic scale over the next three to four years, changing the way enterprises operate and reshaping the global economy. According to IDC’s research, by 2022, more than 60% of global GDP will be digitized. To keep up with demand, modernizing core technologies is key.

Related Article: These Digital Trends Are Here to Stay

Trend No. 2: IT User Experience

Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, noted that: “Ninety-nine percent of businesses around at the turn of the century were not designed for the digital age. Instead, they were designed for an era when markets and businesses evolved very slowly.”

In today’s digital workplace, agility is paramount. Employees are more connected, have higher expectations and are able to more quickly change jobs when culture and technology don’t offer the ideal work environment. And businesses are struggling to engage today’s multi-generational workforce.

IT can lead the way by adopting a new approach that takes employee experience into account. Communication and collaboration are top priorities of today’s digital workplace — so consider tools to support company-wide and targeted communication. IT can advocate for technologies that put employees in the best possible position to do their jobs. This requires flexibility and a willingness to change, but will ultimately position IT as a valued contributor to the business.

Related Article: How Employee Experience Design Improves Engagement

Trend No. 3: Workflow Improvements

Automation continues change to how we work. While we may be familiar with automating transactional tasks like approvals and reviews, technologies like AI, machine learning and blockchain will open new opportunities to digitize processes and transform your workplace.

Not ready for AI? Try using e-forms for common interactions to standardize communication. When everyone is submitting the same form, there isn’t a debate over what an email may have meant or if it was even read. Using e-forms software with built-in business process automation functionality to control and route common requests ensures everyone has the same information, everyone who needs to review it does, and approvals occur quickly.

By the way, if you said you weren’t ready for AI, you probably are already using it — predictive text, Siri and Alexa, voice-to-text automated photo classification and automated calendar entries are all applications of AI. And with robotic process automation (RPA), AI is merging into the workplace — by automatically performing mundane tasks like copying and pasting, or clicking buttons, RPA helps employees focus on valuable work while reducing burnout from boring, repetitive tasks.

Related Article: Bots, Automation and Workflow Are Primed to Advance Workplace Collaboration

Trend No. 4: Removing Bureaucracy

When employees see a process as broken or in need of improvement, they frequently will do what they view as “fixing” it, without necessarily worrying about what others might view as common courtesies, such as asking permission. For organizations invested in automating, optimizing and transforming business processes, with guidance this desire for disruption can become a significant asset.

To harness this disruption positively, encourage employees to diagram business processes to ensure they are as simple, logical and consistent as possible, then let them work with organizational stakeholders to translate them into automated workflows. Cutting out the busywork associated with expense report submission, invoice and purchase approval, travel request submission or contract approval is one way to remove bureaucracy and bring a more consumer-like experience to corporate processes.

Related Article: Why Process Automation Isn't Always Process Improvement

Trend No. 5: Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks and data breaches seem to be a daily occurence. Yet with institutions now being held responsible for protecting employee and customer data, stakes have never been higher. GDPR, data security and network security are all growing in importance, especially with marketing techniques like personalization that require consent for data storage.

Cybersecurity requires organizations to rethink how they protect assets and data. Employees’ personal data (name, address, phone number, etc.) must be protected to guard against phishing and vishing attempts — especially with BYOD policies where employees are connecting their own devices to internal systems.

With 95% of all security breaches caused by human error, cybersecurity is the foundation of the digital workplace. Start by identifying your most important digital assets, building a security plan, and educating your employees on the importance of cybersecurity. By empowering employees with knowledge, they’ll better protect themselves — inside and outside the workplace.

These trends are all mainstays of the future. Organizations will continue to focus on ways to improve productivity, efficiency and costs. However, successful organizations will not let the past dictate the future. To truly succeed in an era driven by digital transformation, be flexible and open to change, and willing to reconsider the way things have always been done. With that mindset, your organization will be well-prepared to not only face future challenges, but also lead the way.