The amount of time employees spend on collaborative business activities is estimated to have increased by 50 percent over the last two decades. 

Most of us feel crushed under a barrage of meetings, emails, chat, activity streams and more. Despite the endless barrage of productivity tricks and hacks, it has become nearly impossible to get our actual jobs done. 

Part of the solution lies in better integration of these channels across the digital workplace — but that only gets us part way there. Cognitive computing and artificial intelligence will play a bigger part in moving us from our current productivity trap to becoming truly effective. 

How Cognitive Changes the Game

Cognitive computing is sometimes lumped together with machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI), but it provides more powerful capabilities. Applying cognitive to collaboration offers three opportunities to break through the digital channel sprawl and digital information overload:

  1. Every aspect of human interactions can be digitized. Not only can we can digitize documents and transactions, but also the rich entirety of our content, conversations and workflows. We can capture context, location and time across all the different channels we use. 
  2. Data can now be understood and analyzed. Cognitive systems can understand unstructured data that was previously unreadable — including audio, video, images and conversations. It can also apply analytics to not just see and predict patterns, but to also develop hypotheses from all that activity. 
  3. Cognitive systems learn over time – and learn voraciously. These systems get better over time. And they can learn deeply and continuously. When applied to collaboration tools, they learn to interact with us in a more human way, helping to reduce interruptions, noise and lack of focus. They understand and adjust to our specific intent, and dynamically react to our needs.

Cognitive Collaboration in Action: A Practical Scenario

So what might this digitally-intelligent workplace look like? 

Two of my colleagues recently went through the frightening experience of a family member receiving a cancer diagnosis. They faced real challenges going through such a highly collaborative effort — between primary care physicians, specialists, nurses, the patient and the patient’s family — with traditional tools like email and telephone calls. 

How could this specific scenario benefit from a more intelligent collaborative system?

Imagine Cynthia. She is home and having a hard time from yesterday’s chemotherapy. The smart wristband she wears has just synced her status to her clinical trial app. The app pings Jack, the on-duty nurse, to recommend a consult. Jack agrees and the app auto-dials Cynthia. As Jack and Cynthia talk, another monitoring bot checks traffic and weather, and estimates it will take 90 minutes for Cynthia to come to the cancer center for an appointment. Jack suggests a video conference instead. 

With a mouse click, he transfers the telephone call into a secure, HIPAA-compliant, persistent team video conference and team space that has been created to manage Cynthia’s care. Jack notifies Melissa, Cynthia’s primary care doctor, to join in. Melissa sees the notification on her smartphone and joins from the park, where she’s walking her dog. 

Jack and Melissa review Cynthia’s recent treatment, including the data from the smart IV pump she used yesterday, along with the last set of results the lab uploaded to the file share. From her smartphone, Melissa arranges several documents and pictures on the whiteboard and talks through the situation. 

Learning Opportunities

Melissa decides she needs to pull in Sandeep, the chemotherapy specialist. Sandeep asks for advice from the oncology bot, who finds a recently published journal article that discusses common side effects of Cynthia’s treatment. Based on their review, Sandeep and Melissa are confident Cynthia’s symptoms are within normal range, and provide a care regime to make her more comfortable. 

The entire conversation and whiteboard is stored in the team space so when new nurses and doctors are added to the team, they can quickly see Cynthia’s case history. 

Cognitive and digital collaboration technologies are starting to make scenarios like this possible today.

Getting Started with Cognitive Collaboration

You can do two things now to improve your digital workplace with cognitive collaboration: 

Start building a foundation

By using cloud-based, mobile collaboration platforms, you’re setting yourself up for quick entry of new intelligent collaborative assistants and advisors when they become available. If you’re stuck in an old on-premises or siloed cloud collaboration app, the future will pass you by.

As Tom Petrocelli recently wrote, dream big but start small 

You don't have to start with fully formed scenarios. Instead, look for easy-to-implement ways to introduce personal assistance (like the map and weather bot described above) and expert advice (like the oncology bot) into high-value business processes. 

Your key to success: rapid iteration. Now is the time to explore. 

Title image "Escape" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  Alex [Fino] LA 

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