How technology can establish the new workplace of tomorrow
If it’s true, as the saying goes, that a week is a long time in politics, then in the world of business technology, six months must seem like an eternity. So much of the way organisations have been forced to operate, plan and strategise has been fundamentally changed since our way of life changed forever in March of this year following the COVID-19 outbreak. With jobs being lost, economies crashing and businesses struggling, the bad news is that, unfortunately, the disruption seems set to continue for the foreseeable future.
The net result of this is that today’s businesses are finding themselves facing a very new set of challenges. With many caught – understandably so – on the back foot by the disruption, they are finding themselves prioritising risk mitigation to protect themselves against the effects of similar events in the future. In a recent we ran amongst global senior managers and frontline IT staff, it was no surprise to find that nearly one in three (31%) were either ‘totally unprepared’ or ‘not very prepared’ to deal with the impact of the pandemic. Understandably, 84% said that preparing for future pandemics or similar disruptive events was a high priority for them. What this tells us is that organisations are already starting to think about the future of the workplace and how they can keep ‘business as usual’ going in even the toughest of times.
So, what does this new future look like? Ask anyone at the start of the year to answer this question, and the likelihood is extremely high that the answer you’d get today wouldn’t bear so much as a passing resemblance to their response. Today, with many organisations finding themselves with a workforce that has to remain effective, connected and collaborative, despite operating remotely, businesses are finding themselves having to adapt to this ‘new normal’ and shift their investments from areas that are no longer viable to those that will help to future proof them and mitigate against potential risk.
One of the technologies that will see the most substantial growth is intelligent automation. Our research found that 76% of respondents were increasing their investment in this technology as a result of the pandemic. The same number (76%) also agreed that unpredictable mass illness and/or self-isolation will drive increased business demand for intelligent automation. So why is it that intelligent automation is seen by so many as the answer when it comes to guarding against the business impact of these disruptive events?
There are a number of reasons. Intelligent automation can help to increase efficiency and effectiveness of processes, improve customer experience, optimise back office operations and increase efficiency – all while minimising human contact and allowing for social distancing to be maintained. It can also have other benefits that stretch beyond the post-pandemic landscape, however.
Put simply, it can play a significant role in improving the work-life balance of employees. Eighty percent of our global survey respondents said that intelligent automation is helping them to reduce human workloads, with more than a third (36%) saying that it has already saved them between one and nine working hours per week over the last two years. Crucially, almost half (47%) say they are using the additional time they have gained as a result of their company employing intelligent automation to do more creative activities such as ideation and innovation, while 44% say that they are using the additional time to conduct more analysis and take on more critical thinking tasks.
It's important to note that the new workplace of tomorrow won’t just revolve around intelligent automation; other technologies will play an increasingly important role as their importance is embraced by businesses and, most tellingly, their employees. Indeed, our research showed that employees are now playing a leading role in driving the use of technology as a force for change within businesses, with 66% of respondents saying that employees are asking for better technology to improve the way they work and 76% agreeing that increased use of technology is improving customer satisfaction.
Nowhere is this increased level of comfort with technology demonstrated better than by the fact that a large number of employees actually see intelligent machines as part of the workforce. Seventy-three percent of our respondents said that the term ‘workforce’ should include both human employees and intelligent machines, while the vast majority (84%) say they would be comfortable working alongside such technology. Sixty-one percent even said that they would be happy being managed by intelligent machines!
Clearly, as the business landscape continues to shift, we’ll continue to see investment in traditional growth technologies like cloud and artificial intelligence. But newer, productivity enhancing technologies like low-code will also see a rise. Eighty-two percent of respondents to our study said that IT should provide platforms and systems that allow employees to build and implement their own technology solutions, while more than half (55%) say that either ‘everyone’ or ‘the majority’ of the workforce within their industry will need low-code skills in the next five years.
The future make look very uncertain for many at this point, but what’s clear is that the primary focus for most businesses is on firmly establishing what the new normal will look like for them and working hard on ensuring that if the worst was to happen again, they won’t be as seismically affected. The result could mean that the workplace of the future is a very different place to the one we’ve traditionally been used to, but with technology that is available to help improve efficiency, ease workloads and increase productivity, there’s no reason why all of us shouldn’t embrace the workplace of tomorrow.
Who Will Be the Next Tech Giant to Back Bitcoin?
PayPal was the first truly major tech giant to throw its weight behind Bitcoin, unveiling a cryptocurrency buying-and-selling service in October. Next was Tesla, which shocked onlookers in February by announcing the purchase of $1.5 billion in bitcoin, as well as plans to accept the cryptocurrency as payment.
Since then, things have calmed down as far as Big Tech and Bitcoin are concerned (although a number of banks have rolled out cryptocurrency investment services for their wealthier clients). This raises the question: when will another significant tech firm take the plunge and back bitcoin?
This is a difficult question to answer, if only because the bitcoin market is in something of a funk right now. At the same time, regulators worldwide are looking to restrict crypto in the name of curbing money laundering and other illicit activities. Nonetheless, rumours continue to swirl through the sector that a few other important names in the tech industry may be on the cusp of embracing bitcoin, with Apple being the most notable.
Is Apple Buying Bitcoin?
If you tend to spend any amount of time on Crypto Twitter, you may be aware of rumours to the effect that Apple has recently bought something in the region of $2.5 billion in bitcoin.
Such rumours were almost certainly a desperate attempt to boost the price of bitcoin. And given that the market didn’t witness a sudden, dramatic rise (but rather a steep loss), it seems pretty clear that Apple didn’t buy a substantial quantity of bitcoin in the past few weeks or so.
That said, there remains a good chance that Apple will enter the cryptocurrency sector at some point, even if it won’t be adventurous enough to buy crypto for itself. Back in May, it placed a job ad for a business development manager for “alternative payments.”
Such a manager would be tasked with cultivating partnerships with “strategic alternative payment providers,” implying that Apple may be weighing up the possibility of launching its own cryptocurrency-purchasing service (à la PayPal) via Apple Pay.
Needless to say, it would be huge for Bitcoin and cryptocurrency if the Cupertino company were to follow through with this.
Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook?
Rumours have also revolved around possible bitcoin interest from Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, although there’s a little less substance to most of these rumours.
Back in October former Goldman Sachs hedge fund manager Raoul Pal predicted that Microsoft (along with Apple) would buy bitcoin in five years. Unfortunately, a CNN interview with Microsoft’s Brad Smith in February (shortly after Tesla’s bitcoin purchase) revealed that the company had no plans to purchase crypto, although Smith vaguely hinted that it might one day change its collective mind.
More interestingly, Amazon purchased three cryptocurrency-related domain names back in 2017: amazonethereum.com, amazoncryptocurrency.com, amazoncryptocurrencies.com. Nothing has been heard since then, while a job listing from February of this year revealed that the retail giant may be planning to launch its very own digital currency.
Facebook is another tech firm with plans for its own digital currency (Diem, formerly known as Libra). As for whether it’s likely to turn to bitcoin, a few relatively respected figures within the cryptocurrency industry (e.g. Alistair Milne) did spread rumours in April that the social media company would disclose bitcoin holdings on its Q1 financial statement. This didn’t happen, although Mark Zuckerberg did reveal in May that one of his pet goats is called “Bitcoin,” fuelling further speculation as to his and his firm’s interest in the cryptocurrency.
Risks and Rewards of Cryptocurrency
Again, it’s arguable that some or most of the rumours are generated largely to pump crypto prices. But if bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies do continue to appreciate in value and attract more adoption, it will become increasingly harder for large tech companies to ignore them.
But at the moment, it’s likely that most major tech firms will shy away from actually buying bitcoin, if only because it remains highly volatile and unpredictable as an asset. And as we saw with Tesla, buying a massive chunk of the cryptocurrency effectively turns you into a hedge fund overnight, something which can adversely affect your stock price if bitcoin goes down.
Even so, there’s clearly a considerable amount of money tied up in the cryptocurrency market. And with numbers of holders growing every year, it’s only a matter of time before other big tech firms attempt to siphon off some of this value for themselves.