Get Ready to Rethink Your Workplace

August 25, 2015

Contributor: Rob van der Meulen

Technology will transform the workplace over the next decade.

Is Anthony, CIO at a leading grocery retailer, well prepared to manage the changes in his workplace?

The Age of the Wearables

Anthony is looking closely at the potential for wearables to monitor the health of employees and reduce not just sickness levels, but health insurance costs. He's also considering how customers will use wearables to enhance their shopping experience.

“ Understand how people will interact with machines in this context, and what kinds of technologies will work best to process and deliver the information to humans”

Employers will find themselves with a goldmine of information about employee performance and customer behavior, which can be used to personalize services to customer context and requirements in real time.

Alongside HR, IT leaders will play a critical role in shaping how their business approaches the arrival of wearables in the workplace. Fostering a truly “connected space” will depend on employees recognizing and embracing the personal and organizational benefits of using this technology rather than seeing it as intrusive.

Rise of the Machines

Gartner predicts that one in three jobs will be replaced by smart machines by 2025. However, this does not mean net job cuts. Anthony envisages more routine work like restocking shelves and supply chain logistics could be carried out by robots and autonomous vehicles, but the machines will still to some extent be taught, maintained and managed by humans. He needs to lay the groundwork now and build skills in his workforce to enable that shift.

Retail stores still need a human face because customers often prefer dealing with other people. Many more employees will find their work and knowledge base augmented by smart machines, freeing them from routine tasks and shifting them towards more dynamic customer interactions, with technology improving their ability to know and service the customers they meet.

By 2025, Anthony could have a truly connected store, where products communicate with the supply chain; where customers, aided by technology, can get exactly the information they want e.g. What aisle is the milk? What farm does it come from? What do the cows eat? At the same time employees will have information on customer needs and preferences, enabling them to step in at the right time with the right offers or assistance for the right customers (and also to leave alone the customers who want to shop in peace).

To achieve this, aside from the technological implementation, Anthony needs to better understand how people will interact with machines in this context, and what kinds of technologies will work best to process and deliver the information to humans. This also means thinking about what skills he will need to hire or train in his workforce. Working with HR, they are employing neuroscience techniques, combining psychology and other social sciences, in order to better understand how people and smart machines can best augment one another's capabilities.

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