Preparing Your IT Infrastructure for The Future of The Workplace

While disruption is always talked about in terms of the effect it has on products, services and industries, it’s in the workplace where this is most keenly felt. Just as the Industrial Revolution pushed the textile industry out of the country homes of weavers and into the factories, the next wave of change in the tech industry is going to radically transform the workplace.

The old mantra holds here – if you’re not part of the disruption, you’re the one being disrupted. Popular adoption of ideas such as partial automation of knowledge work, decentralisation of the workplace and leveraging massive data sets to guide business decisions isn’t just coming, it’s here, and it’s already transforming the way people work. In short, to avoid falling behind and playing a costly game of catch-up, you need to be out in front.

At CrossPoint, we’re dedicated to helping our clients stay ahead of the curve, leveraging our knowledge and expertise to help them build the future of their company. Start laying the foundations for future success by considering how your business could integrate some of the following disruptive technologies and concepts.

What Does the Future of the Workplace Look Like?

The workplace of twenty years from now is going to be as alien to us as the workplace of a century ago. The demands of a market that’s faster and broader than ever before combined with an accelerating pace of interconnectivity and technology are going to change work at a foundational level.

Writing for ZDNet, Dion Hinchcliffe of Constellation Research and 7Summits suggested that many older businesses face extinction if they don’t make radical changes to the core structure of their business.

“The very relevance and effectiveness of an organization now requires…adapting the very business itself to the new digital-centric world,” he said.

“Digital is now imposing a shift — and often a complete rethinking — in the fundamental way we work in nearly every industry, including our core business models. Traditional organizations have been built around legacy 20th century models of business, in which the majority of their market momentum and inherent know-how lies.”

Embracing digital involves more than releasing an app and taking out cloud storage – it means opening up every level and every facet of your business to rapid, far-reaching transformation. Fundamentally, the shift from an analogue world to a digital one has been about a flattening of hierarchy, an embrace of changeability, and an end to centralisation. These are principles that should guide any business looking to embrace digital fully.

Businesses are realising these concepts in a number of ways. In this blog, we’ll be analysing several of them, exploring their value to your business and providing you with a number of ways you can integrate them into your operations.

Agile Frameworks

The concept of agile frameworks refers to a method of project management that prioritises flexibility of methods, adaptability to change and early delivery of product. This is in contrast to more traditional methods of project management where most projects begin with overly specific predictions of what the final product will be and do. The problem with this is that it makes the classic assumption that future will resemble the past, implying that what’s successful today or in the near past will be successful at the time of project deployment.

While pioneered by the software development sector, agile frameworks are seeing massive take-up across a broad range of industries. An association of agile framework users called the Scrum Alliance – Scrum being a particular agile framework – has more than 400,000 members. While 77% of the members belonged to IT, an increasing number come from product development, operations, human resources, executives and sales and marketing. What’s more, Scrum seems to be delivering successes in a wide range of industries. Of the 5,000 Scrum users who participated in the Scrum Alliance survey, nearly half thought it added value to at least 75% of the projects it was used on, with the average success rate hovering around 62%.

Agile frameworks seek to minimise the amount of guesswork and prediction involved in product development. Any good project manager knows that accurate estimates, firm plans and reliable predictions are hard to get in the embryonic stages of a project. Agile frameworks solve this problem by distilling the future of the project down to its barest points, setting milestones around a mission statement but leaving workflow and even individual features up for grabs, to better respond to the market and changing circumstances. Rather than stressing about how you’re going to build towards meeting a deadline six weeks from now that requires a number of other features to be in place, agile frameworks focus on what’s most achievable and most valuable to the completion of the project today.

The move from a process-driven framework where staff are moving sequentially through an unchangeable, plan to a responsive, adaptable framework driven by real-time analysis is nothing less than a paradigm-shift. It resembles in many ways the jump from traditional prototyping and manufacturing processes to 3D printing, offering product owners more control at every step of development.

Embracing agile needs to happen not just in what you do, but where you do it. Many offices are simply not equipped to facilitate the kind of activity that an agile framework demands. A brilliant example of an agile-ready workspace can be found at Cisco Systems’ Sydney office, executed by Sydney-based design studio Futurespace and Singapore-based studio SCA Design. Writing for INDESIGNLIVE, Enya Moore praised it as a workplace built for the modern era.

“The ‘Cisco Connected Workplace’ is…reflective of the ever-popular agile work environment…the ethos envisions staff using a variety of spaces that fit the job they are doing at any given time,” she said.

Cisco’s Sydney office is equipped with a broad range of features designed to help employees accomplish the day’s tasks, whatever they are and however they wish to approach them. From open plan office spaces that facilitate the daily stand-up meetings that are a requirement of an agile workplace to a hot desking arrangement that supports on-the-fly team restructuring, the Cisco office is a full realisation of the idea of an agile workplace. It embraces the ideas of adaptability and rapid fulfilment that are at the heart of the agile framework, giving workers the flexibility they need to make their sprints as productive as possible.

Remote working

When designing your workplace, you need to acknowledge that the physical space may be less important than ever to the success of your business. This doesn’t mean that less effort needs to put into the fit-out. In fact, more work needs to be done on-site to facilitate off-site work. The role of your workplace is transformed – no longer is it the singular space where work is done, it’s now the biggest part in a larger machine, with the responsibility for linking all of your employees together.

The shift towards decentralised, remote workplaces will only accelerate as more businesses wake up to the advantages it offers both them and their employees. Its benefits are significant – making remote working part and parcel of your operations can not only make your business more productive but cheaper to operate. The upfront capital expenditure on the networking technology required to keep your various disparate workplaces connected pales in comparison to the immense savings a business will make in other areas.

First and foremost is in rent. Speaking to The Australian, Cisco ANZ vice president Ken Boal said that ensuring that remote work was as easy as possible at the Cisco Connected Workplace allowed them to downsize from significantly larger premises.

“The ability to work remotely has seen Cisco reduce the office space it needs by 25 per cent,” he said.

It has also significantly reduced their costs, as despite the high cost of equipment and fixtures, raw square-meterage is still the biggest determinant of the total ongoing cost of a property. Their solution was to invest heavily in smaller meeting rooms equipped with teleconferencing equipment. Not only does investing in this infrastructure make remote work easy and seamless, it allows onsite-workers to run more comprehensive meetings with clients. Imagine travelling off-site and being able to pull down an unfinished version of a client’s project from the company cloud, or show them the manufacturing process for their product as a live-feed from your facilities.

What’s more, the vast majority of studies show that encouraging remote working results in a workforce that’s simply more efficient and productive. With 86% of workers in a survey by SurePayroll saying they would be more efficient working alone, and 65% saying that a flexible and remote schedule would increase their productivity, the writing is on the wall.

With only 19% of employers offering remote working solutions, employees are hungry for change. Becoming one of a small – but growing – number of businesses permitting work-from-home or remote working can be a real game-changer in your recruitment efforts. Many younger employees are insisting on more flexible working arrangements, allowing them to fit more things around work without impacting their productivity. More than two-thirds of respondents to an AfterCollege survey indicated that being able to work remotely would greatly increase their interest in specific employers. If you’re looking to attract the future of your industry, offering remote working options should be high up your list of company’s perks.

Big Data Analytics

It’s not just how much data you have, it’s your ability to sift through it. As early as 2004 – pre-Facebook, pre-much of Google – people were talking about the difficulty of distilling quality information from the mass of the internet, or ‘drinking from the firehose’ as one writer evocatively put it. Nearly 15 years later, we’re scarcely any better at it, but we are improving. Companies are recognising that analysis, curation and collation are some of the most crucial skills they could have in a world where every business has access to billions of points of data about their customers and their market. IBM is predicting that this slow recognition will result in an unprecedented demand for data scientists as soon as 2020, with the American industry growing by nearly a third (28% – or more than 360,000 jobs) over the next few years.

Taking advantage of the data available to your business requires careful planning and a clear-eyed understanding of what data actually is and what it can achieve. Data by itself is relatively useless, or at the very least inert. While you may know that a customer spent five minutes reading about a product before purchasing it, you can’t do anything with that by itself. It’s only by preparing, processing and organising multiple data points that we’re able to transform it into information, and then analysing that information to turn it into insights.

For example, by looking at the data for how long a set of customers spent on a product page, we can gain information about how long it takes them to make a purchase decision. We can then take the information for that product and analyse it against other products, and maybe reveal the insight that to this product page needs to be redesigned or reworded to encourage customers to make a commitment faster.

With a 2015 estimate from IDC estimating that 70% of all businesses globally purchase data sets from external retailers, differentiating yourself in the market requires an ability to determine actionable insights – revelations about the broader state of the market that we can act on – from data. After every medium to large enterprise has an in-house data scientist, the next step is making every employee one. While only being pioneered at a few firms such as Woodside Energy, ANZ Bank and the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the use of high-level data analytic software such as IBM’s Watson at every level of an organisation is increasing. Integrating this into your business will require significant outlay, but the pay-off is set to be enormous – the market has already determined that big data analytics is the next frontier for businesses, so getting in early could have you soaring ahead of your competition, making more and better decisions based on smarter organised data.

Embracing the future

The workplace of tomorrow will be data-driven, decentralised and more focused on delivering on what it can change, not planning for what it can’t. If you’re looking to start making smart, forward-thinking decisions for your organisation, speak to a CrossPoint consultant today.

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