objects in mirror are closer than they appear
PHOTO: Robert Couse-Baker

Gartner reports that 85 percent of information in a company is unstructured, and that a company’s information doubles every 18 months. Moreover, according to a Dimensional Research survey commissioned by my company, M-Files, nearly 50 percent of professionals struggle with documents and content scattered across disparate applications and storage locations.

In order to keep up with the exponential growth in the volume of information, the paradigm of knowledge and information management in today’s digital workplace must shift to include contextual understanding. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a major role in this, and the industry is taking three steps toward the day when fully automated digital assistants will support an intelligent workplace.

3 Steps Closer to an AI-Enabled Workplace

Step 1: Content in Context

The journey to an intelligent workplace begins with the content itself. 

An intelligent workplace must revolve not so much around where (or in which system) information is stored as it does around what the information is, as well as what it’s related to. AI can automatically determine key characteristics in each piece of information — e.g. the customer, the project and/or case it’s related to and the type of document or information it is, such as a contract, an invoice, a sales order, etc. — that enable the content to be organized and processed according to the needs of the various stakeholders in the business.

With these characteristics identified, AI can be tuned to enable an approach that is more dynamic and flexible than the traditional folder- or library-based hierarchical method. When coupled with a modern metadata-driven approach to managing information, AI can automatically generate the metadata and contextual relationships of a piece of content based on the role of the individual, its life cycle stage or its importance to the business. With this approach, iformation will “show up” in more than one search, as it is most intuitively needed, and the entire organization will not be required to conform to a single structure dictated from the top down. 

That approach also minimizes the hurdles of data migration and change management, because it allows companies to adapt and refine how they use information in the areas of the organization most naturally driving innovation, while leaving other existing systems and processes undisturbed.

Step 2: Logical Helpers

Once AI adds context to content, logical helpers put context into action. Early examples of logical helper applications include spelling and grammar checkers. The applications later evolved to include systems that give users helpful prompts, such as “Send without subject line?” and “You may have forgotten to attach a file.”

Recent advances have yielded logical helpers designed to help people with everyday activities such as our daily commutes — navigation systems can tell a driver “Your drive home will take 38 minutes with normal traffic” and suggest alternative routes, and there are even tools that automatically record where you park.

It’s only a matter of time before that level of intuition translates from your commute to your workday.

Step 3: Proactive Digital Assistants

Thanks to advances in AI, in the next two or three years, the digital workplace will feature not just reactive logical helpers but also proactive digital assistants. AI will automatically create metadata for each piece of information to intelligently store and manage content, eliminating the need for users to manually categorize their content. From there, AI will analyze metadata tags and relationships to proactively perform actions. For example, systems may be able to surface relevant related documents and business objects (such as a customer, account, contact, project and/or case) without an explicit search.

AI-based systems may also be able to do things like suggest that relevant content be attached or shared via email, prompt users to review related content for upcoming deadlines or meetings and unearth high-priority items, such as urgent emails or documents in need of review. They may even be able to prevent employees from sharing confidential documents externally or engaging in other behaviors prohibited by company policy.

New tools may also be able to augment workflows — for example, by automatically managing information on the back end and bringing relevant content with intelligent suggestions to the user at opportune times.

AI Will Lead Us to the Intelligent Workplace

The exponential growth of information in today’s businesses necessitates the adoption of a smarter, more flexible and dynamic approach to managing information. A key to efficient business process and workflow automation is determining what information is most relevant in a given context, and ensuring that the latest and most accurate version of that information is always available to those who need it, right when they need it.

In addition, people are expecting simpler, more engaging and intelligent user experiences — expectations that gave rise to the bring-your-own-device and bring-your-own-apps trends and even shadow IT.

AI has tremendous promise for creating an intelligent workplace, automating common tasks, optimizing workflows, reducing errors and simplifying work for everyday users. And the day when that promise comes to fruition is not far off. People want to operate at work in their own unique ways — ways that are simple, useful and familiar to them, and AI is leading today’s workforce to the ideal intelligent workplace.