Microsoft Graph, Productivity Analytics, and Workplace Trends: Here’s What’s Coming in 2018

Click to learn more about author David Lavenda.

2017 was an interesting year for information administrators. Large-scale data breaches took place seemingly every week, historic storms and wildfires tested even the best laid continuity plans and all year we read about how AI was going to take our jobs. Information has never been more important for enterprises, and never been more at risk.

When thinking about trends that are most likely to come to fruition in 2018, I consulted with academic researchers, award-winning authors, and business executives from the Humanizing the Digital Workplace Consortium. Historians may look back at 2017 and say that this was the year that Artificial Intelligence (AI) began to take over the world, but the consortium’s views show that there are subtler, though no less important, factors that are changing the ways businesses create, manage and work with data.

AI is Going to Have a Big Impact – Just Not in the Way You Think

The majority of content written about AI took one of the following two angles: the first is that Artificial Intelligence has immense potential but is years away from revolutionizing enterprise IT; the second is how AI will very soon make a large percentage of workers obsolete. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

AI is not a real thing. Not yet, anyway. What we have right now are pieces of AI; namely Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing capabilities that can help automate structured IT functions. This is basically the same flowchart strategies that researchers have been using since the mainframe computer days. This is a far cry from the sentient robotic beings being described in futuristic articles. To be fair, AI will eliminate some low-value administrative job roles; however, Gartner predicts AI will actually end up creating MORE jobs in the long run.  This is consistent with how new technologies have impacted the workplace during previous technology revolutions.

What we’ll see from AI in 2018 is much more pragmatic. Microsoft’s launch of its Graph technology will help fuel a frenzy of employing work contexts, like who people are connected to, and what they are working on, to help surface important and relevant information in the workplace, mitigating the impact of increasing information overload. The Graph is already being integrated into the Office 365 user experience to help surface relevant information to workers in a timely fashion. Microsoft knows that the Graph is an important step toward building context across all of their apps and services to move towards topic computing.

Topic computing is a term that will begin to come to the fore in 2018 as the Graph – and other technologies – rely on more Open Cloud platforms to function. Once platforms’ enable information to pass through them more easily, it will be possible for enterprises to empower people to consume information by topic rather than by application. An Open Cloud system paired with AI-enhanced capabilities will make it simple to find information around a given topic, hence the term topic computing.

Positive Effects of AI in the Workplace: Improved Productivity and Engagement

Constellation Research’s Principal Analyst & Founder Ray Wang believes that AI is going to augment workers’ efforts. “As machine learning and AI take shape in the work place, expect augmented intelligence to reshape the future of work. Areas with high repetitive, high volume, high nodes of interactions, and high complexity will most likely be moved to automation and AI. Skill sets that require creativity, new levels of complexity, and physical presence will still remain in human hands. This augmentation of humanity will reshape not only how we work, where we work, what we work on, when we work and why we work.”

Swiss Re’s Director of IT and Head of Digital Workplace User Adoption and Consulting Manfred Leu takes this concept a step further as he believes AI will enable enterprises to create better workflows that will increase productivity.

“In 2018, knowledge workers will adopt quickly to new ways of working with information and collaborating with colleagues if businesses can delight them by offering user-friendly solutions and surprise them with exceptional service at any touchpoint throughout the entire user journey. Young talents will choose their employer based on a modern working environment and their perceived working culture.”

IT leaders and data analysts should bring an open mind with them in 2018. AI’s effect on the workplace is still yet to be written and there is a high probability that if used correctly, the technology could be a huge boon for businesses. The key to not getting burned by the AI hype is to evaluate your company’s IT infrastructure to identify areas where automation can be usefully deployed and then perform due diligence to find the right solution.

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