robot on a desk
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The robots are coming. You just might not see them. 

The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning at work continues to grow, with a majority of organizations expecting it to play a major role in how they manage the digital workplace. But exactly how it will be used is still a work in progress.

That’s one conclusion drawn from a study of more than 450 executives surveyed for “The State of the Digital Workplace 2020” report. Simpler Media Group, Reworked's parent company, conducted this original survey in spring 2020 to assess digital workplace practices and applications.

The digital workplace encompasses leadership, culture, technology and an ever-evolving set of practices to deliver operational goals and positive employee experience. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is prevalent in many of the digital workplace tools companies use to connect, collaborate and communicate.

But how organizations use AI at work, and even more fundamentally, how they define it is a moving target. In the most general sense, AI allows computer systems to rapidly collect and analyze data using sophisticated software algorithms to generate real-time predictions and recommendations independently of human interaction and support.

The uses are many. Think of Google filling in search terms as you type or Netflix recommending shows you might like. But as the technology has progressed, so have AI applications, branching out into a variety of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, business software, and media. Chatbots, self-driving cars and facial recognition are a few of the prominent examples of its applied use.

At work, low-cost open-AI is now built into many of the applications we use to manage people and resources, from HR self-service chatbots to personalized learning and career development platforms and sophisticated employee resource planning tools.

Related Research: The State of the Digital Workplace 2020

Artificial Intelligence and the Digital Workplace

Despite that accelerating progress in tools and application, AI’s penetration into the digital workplace remains a work in progress.

One-third of organizations report either extensive or visible use of AI across the digital workplace, according to Simpler Media Group's data (Figure 1). Roughly another third (39 percent) are either sporadically using AI or just starting to use AI and machine learning. A quarter of respondents either don’t have any AI applications or don’t know if they do.

Bar graph on use of artificial intelligence in the digital workplace
Figure 1
The application of AI and machine learning may be inconsistent across enterprises but that’s not a reflection of the technology’s perceived potential to transform work.

According to survey data, a majority (56%) of organizations say AI will have a significant or transformative effect on the digital workplace. Only 13% report it will have either a minor impact or no impact.

The data points to an opportunity gap that organizations can fill with experiments in practice and application of artificial intelligence at work.

It’s an opportunity companies would be wise to consider. Analyst firm Gartner reports that augmenting human capabilities with artificial intelligence will create $2.9 trillion in business value and add 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity in 2021.

“As AI technology evolves, the combined human and AI capabilities that augmented intelligence allows will deliver the greatest benefits to enterprise,” wrote Svetlana Sicular, Gartner research vice president in 2019.

Human/AI interaction is the most productive use of AI, according to the report, and also has the fewest barriers to adoption. Also called decision support, this type of AI will surpass all other types of AI in the next 10 years, the researchers found.

Related Article: Who Owns Digital Workplace Strategy?

How Can Artificial Intelligence Be Used?

Interestingly, that type of decision support ranks relatively low in the areas where Simpler Media Group's survey respondents believe AI will have the most impact.

According to the data, automation of simple processes (28%) and improvements in findability (25%) are the most popular uses, followed by minimizing risk and improving data quality. Human-machine interactions only came into play further down the list (Figure 2).

bar chart on artificial intelligence applications at work
Figure 2
Delivering insights to improve ways of working, reducing pressure on help desks and nudging employees with reminders ranked in the bottom three. This will be an area to watch as AI use matures within the digital workplace. 

There's significant business value to be gained from the robots, and despite the hype surrounding artificial intelligence, it looks like room for growth remains.