Six predictions for the future of work in 2017 from ServiceNow

Work takes up about a third of your life. For some, work gives your life meaning. For others, it serves as a means to an end. Whether you live to work or work to live, we’re all going to see some noticeable changes to work in the near and distant future.

Some of these changes will take us out of our comfort zones, at first.  But many changes we will welcome with open arms and wonder how we ever got anything done without them.  ServiceNow has narrowed down six changes in the future of work that we expect to see in 2017 and beyond:

The end of busy work

We spend 2 out of 5 business days each week on routine work that is not core to our jobs. Using manual tools that are ill-suited to the tasks we need to complete—email, spreadsheets, personal visits— we waste almost as much time on busy work as we spend on doing the real work. This is ripe for change.

A McKinsey multi-year study found about 60 per cent of occupations could have 30 per cent or more of their constituent activities automated. And IDC believes that by 2020, 60 per cent of the G2000 will double their productivity by digitally transforming many processes from human-based to software-based delivery. The robots won’t take over, but we will see enterprise business tasks increasingly codified to provide a more consumerised experience in the enterprise. Machine automation, AI and messaging will make it easier to build solutions that do the busy work so that workers can focus on business issues, allowing companies to increase productivity and reduce overhead costs. SaaS solutions (such as Workday for HR) already have sprung up that allow the enterprise to replace basic business tasks with no capital investment or software development. 

But not just any app will do. Consumer apps will continue to influence what users want from enterprise apps. The enterprise will need to follow suit and make sure their enterprise apps get out of the way in order to truly increase productivity. This means we’ll see more enterprise apps use notifications that aggregate in a simple and contextual way the necessary approvals or actions that can be executed right from the notification screen without ever opening an app.

Give me the apps I want or else…!

Digital natives, DIYers and citizen developers have cultivated a maker movement. The rise of personal choice and the impact of this culture of people that refuse to accept off-the-shelf solutions and prefer to make, modify and control the things they interact with every day are beginning to be felt in enterprises worldwide. 

This is a natural evolution of the BYOD era, where personal tech invaded the enterprise. Now more than three-quarters of organisations have adopted BYOD policies, according to one study. This mind-set shift in the way employees envision the use of the tools they are trained on will continue to permeate the walls of the enterprise in 2017. Employees will demand that the technology used in the office should enable, not dictate how they work. If solutions do not meet their needs, then they will create apps to their specifications. What’s more, they can. 

IDC says: The digital transformation economy – operating at scale – will be “driven primarily by code.” We’ll see the coder role continue to divide into the elite professional developers and those “aspirational” developers who tap the growing pool of low-code apps. All software will evolve to include low-code capabilities, enabling employees in every department to customise interfaces with simple drag-and-drop tools or build full-fledged applications, while the IT team will remain responsible for brokering and managing these apps. 

Welcome to the task-marketplace inside your company

When the tidal wave of the much hyped consumer gig economy (Uber) and sharing economy (Airbnb and TaskRabbit) hit the enterprise worker shores it may feel more like the emergence of a task-marketplace. Workers will come together to complete a specific task/micro work and then disperse. Millennials are attracted to the agile, low-friction model of providing services to get work done. This agile work style has always been popular in the developer community and is now extending to sales and marketing departments. These departments increasingly turn to freelancers and contractors to quickly scale up and down their teams to deliver certain tasks. There is no shortage of talent that is attracted to this low-friction model of providing services as contractors. It particularly appeals to Millennials, which at 53.5 million strong is now the largest generation in the workforce, both as contractors and as managers tapping into the pool of freelancers for enterprise tasks.

The implication of this is that companies will have to become more agile in the way they manage, deliver and optimise their business tasks.  Just think of how Uber has automated the interactions between drivers and riders.  Enterprises will need to build the kinds of systems that enable rapid exchange of talent and services, instead of relying on ad hoc methods like email.   

Much like using outsourced pay-as-you-go talent, the task economy also makes a pay-as-you-go consumption model for technology more attractive than owning an asset. This is already having a big impact on IT. This mentality explains why a majority of enterprises have become cloud-first. It means that to be successful, IT professionals will need to become experts in brokering services – essentially adopting frameworks such as SIAM (Service Integration and Management). In addition, as the infrastructure buyer shifts from inside IT to outside service providers, there will be a big impact on traditional data centre focused companies such as Cisco.

Reach your potential one chatbot at a time

We tend to think about chatbots as customer support tools, but that will change in 2017 and beyond. As the bot landscape expands and bots improve to provide contextual recommendations, we’ll see bots used to positively alter employee behaviour not just improve customer communications.  

Chatbots will serve as digital virtual assistants to help workers reach their highest productivity. Based on ever-increasing data inputs, bots will evaluate how workers’ time is spent, make recommendations to improve productivity and quality, and suggest best practices through the use of bot-driven benchmarking. 

Using algorithms, bots will guide positive changes to our behaviour because they will be able to leverage individual contextualisation. According to Gartner, by the end of 2017 at least one commercial organisation will report significant increases in profit margins because of algorithms used to positively alter employee behaviours. For example, a Chatbot may point out to an employee that their company’s incident response time is 30 per cent slower than a financial competitor and then tell the worker what they need to do to improve that response time. The trajectory of bots in the enterprise will lead to significant productivity gains.

Tech productivity not politics drives growth

Political leaders beat a steady drum about the need to get the economy growing again and get more out of what we put in. Arguably, politics does not drive growth; productivity does. As the economy has demanded companies to try to do more with less, many companies have pushed their employees to do more in less time while delivering higher quality. We’re reaching the point where employees can’t do more without technology stepping up, and that doesn’t mean just more technology tools. The secret to doing more with less is machines, not people, and the greatest gains in productivity will be achieved when the nature and structure of work changes.

According to ServiceNow’s State of Work research organisations with 5,000 employees collectively across the United States could save $575 billion a year by automating unnecessary tasks and inefficiencies which would equal a 3.3 per cent gain in the U.S. GDP, or approximately the combined annual profits of America’s 50 largest public companies.

Machine automation—such as moving from email and other unstructured process to automation—and machine learning will achieve greater productivity. Machines can be taught to understand things like tone or language based on text fragments. Today, you can take a fragment of text and a machine will tell you which language it is and whether the text is conveying happiness, sadness or anger. In customer service settings, these are both useful to know for routing and client management perspectives. Automation enabled by machine intelligence will personalise and speed the work tasks, boosting customer and employee satisfaction but most importantly boosting productivity.

When machines talk to machines good things happen

Humans are not yet ready to move to a pure robotic world. At the same, we are quantifying information like never before—we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. It is impossible for humans to manage all of this data and analyse all of the relationships between people, information and things. Future connected machines won’t be like today’s, which require the human interface. Instead, the Internet of Things will drive machines to talk to machines, with M2M connections reaching 27 billion by 2024. It will be the machines that decide if circumstances require human-to-human communication. The highest levels of collaboration and productivity will be achieved when machines understand activities, context and motivation and can make the appropriate decision. Companies that find the right balance of digital humanism will win. 

Yes, machines will become faster, smarter and more proficient than us at many tasks. However, we are decades away from robots taking over, if ever. The future of work in 2017 and beyond will centre on using increasingly capable technologies to improve our productivity to the point where we can focus on the creative, value-add business issues that only humans can solve. What will you do when technology enables you to have 40 per cent more time to innovate? It’s time to start answering that question because the future of work is near.

Dave Wright, Chief Strategy Officer, ServiceNow