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After a year of digital workplace innovation, we have arrived, at the end of 2019, with something that resembles an integrated workplace, but which enterprises are finding increasingly difficult to manage. The problem for most is the vast choices of technologies being offered are causing employees to often waste large parts of their days skipping between different apps to achieve business tasks and meet targets.

The result is an ongoing effort by vendors to integrated as many workplace apps into their platforms as possible in order to create a single place to work where data located in dozens of different silos across the enterprise can been accessed and manipulated. Hence the ongoing competition between Microsoft with Teams, Slack and Google with G Suite for dominance in the collaboration workspace.

None of this takes into account the emergence of new technologies that are starting to make their presence felt, including blockchain, augmented reality applications, virtual reality  applications, virtual meeting rooms, augmented analytics, chatbots and voice assistants, the slow rollout of 5G and the data sharing capabilities that will come with it. And all of these will also have to be integrated with existing technology.

Looking forward into 2020, as the digital workplace continues to offer new capabilities and customizations, digital workplaces using existing and emerging apps are becoming increasingly complex — sometimes to the detriment of operations. Each change made in a digital organization can be very risky, whether it’s a quick bug fix or a large-scale global release. The outcome of these changes is often unpredictable and can lead to numerous costly disruptions down the line. For the next 12 months, one of the many trends that is likely to concern IT and business leaders alike is this attempt to integrate as much as possible and as securely as possible.

Sound familiar? It should because it's exactly what dominated the past 12 months as our top stories in the digital workplace space show. Here they are:

1. What Is Microsoft Kaizala? 

If you've never heard Microsoft Kaizala, you aren’t alone. But, depending on where you live, it may already be part of the Office 365 subscription you own. What is Kaizala? Well, it's sort of like the business version of WhatsApp, the wildly popular messaging app now owned by Facebook. On second thought, it’s exactly like WhatsApp. The name Kaizala doesn’t leave much doubt that it was modeled after WhatsApp. The word Kaizala in Marathi means “what happened.” Kaizala was the result of the Microsoft Garage project run out of India, which also happens to be WhatsApp's largest market. Garage is a Microsoft program that encourages employees to work on side projects, even ones that have no connection to their day jobs.

2. Microsoft Launches Free AI Business School for Execs 

Machine learning and, more broadly, artificial intelligence (AI) have become the tech industry's most important trends over the past 18 months. And despite the hype and, to some extent, fear surrounding the technology, many businesses are now embracing AI at an impressive speed.

At this current rate, by the end of 2020, we predict that upwards of 90% of large enterprises will have either pilot or production-level applications of machine learning in their organizations. We're seeing increasing usage of the technology for cybersecurity, sales and marketing, and in contact centers, as well as in sectors such as retail, financial services and media.

3. Why Employee Experience Is the New Customer Experience 

Happy and engaged employees create better experiences, which leads to more satisfied and loyal customers and, ultimately, brand and company growth. A virtuous cycle, market-leading organizations recognize that a thoughtful and deliberate focus on managing employee experience (EX) is not only good for their workforce but also good for their company.

4. Notes and Domino Return to Their Roots

IBM's agreement to sell (Lotus) Notes and Domino as well as Sametime and Connections to global tech firm HCL was announced last December. The deal is still going through the regulatory processes in order to be finalized. So while details on the long- and medium-term development of IBM Connections are currently limited, we know far more details about what will happen with Notes and Domino, since the plans were — to a large extent — already published before the announcement of the planned takeover. And the worldwide launch of Domino version 10, which took place before the announced acquisition, points the way to this future.

5. Should a Project Manager Become a Scrum Master? 

The scrum master’s role is deep and wide. Scrum masters need to support their teams while working with the rest of the people in their organizations to build awareness and enable greater agility. A scrum master’s job is not to manage a project or deliver status reports — duties that people associate with the role of a project manager. As a matter of fact, scrum masters may not get involved in status reports at all.

6. 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Agile Innovation 

More than 70% of organizations have implemented some of kind of agile approach to conducting business. But the road to translate agile into success is not always crystal clear. In other words, challenges persist — even in the agile world. Some industry pundits shared their thoughts on how organizations can successfully create a culture of agile innovation.

7. How 5G Will Impact Augmented and Virtual Reality Use

A recent study by Gartner regarding the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) suggests that by next year, 100 million consumers will be using both technologies for shopping online and in-store. Gartner writes that both have the potential to shake up the customer experience by individualizing retailers’ offers and enabling customers to visualize products in different settings — if the technology is developed enough and if the infrastructure behind can support it. To date this has been a struggle largely because to support AR and VR environments devices need to be able to access and manage huge amounts of data, among other things. The higher throughput of 5G will be necessary for VR and AR content that’s streamed from the cloud, and with access to 5G getting easier and more common, it may be that AR and VR will go mainstream with it.

8. 6 Digital Transformation Challenges Enterprises Need to Overcome

Digital transformation strategies have so many moving parts. And as a moving target, it's difficult to pin down, which makes it unsurprising how much attention the process gets. In a piece in the Harvard Business Review last year on why so many digital transformation projects fail, Thomas H. Davenport and George Westerman defined digital transformation as follows, "Digital transformation is an ongoing process of changing the way you do business. It requires foundational investments in skills, projects, infrastructure, and often, in cleaning up IT systems. It requires mixing people, machines and business processes, with all of the messiness that entails.”

9. 10 Trends That Will Shape the Digital Workplace in 2019 

The digitalization of the workplace is challenging businesses globally to adapt quickly to meet the needs of their talent and customers. While a simple solution is to update current business technology to the latest and greatest, business leaders quickly find that this is not a sustainable practice in the long run. The solution for most enterprises is to introduce a digital transformation strategy, which, in turn, is posing a direct threat to traditional business models and companies.

Technologies such as social media, mobile applications, analytics, the cloud and the internet of things (IoT), have been successful in attracting and keeping talent and customers.

10. Before You Hand Human Resources Over to AI 

As the business world grapples with the potential of AI and machine learning, new ethical challenges arise on a regular basis related to its use.

One area where tensions are being played out is in talent management: between relying on human expertise or in deferring decisions to machines to better understand employee needs, skills and career potential. Companies like IBM, with a workforce of 350,000, are at the forefront of employing new technologies and techniques including machine learning and AI to help recruit and retain the right kinds of workers.