Technology trends shaping the future of work are already redecorating South African offices. And Millennials, despite their typically junior roles in most organisations today, play a big part. They expect stuff like touch screens and interactive panels, mobility, interconnectivity, connectedness, immediate, anytime communications, and collaboration – which underpin a rising capability and demand to work flexibly.

By Lauren Timmer-Somer, head of Marketing and Technology Services at Ricoh SA

They also expect smarter ways of working. Why would someone drive across the city in a deluge of traffic when they could connect via video? It’s a sacrilegious waste of time for younger generations. But collaborating is about more than throwing up a choppy video of a colleague or customer across town.

The ability to collaborate, not just communicate or share, is really the nub of flexible working. Companies have claimed to be able to collaborate or offer collaboration in one form or another for years now. But the capability has never been quite so visceral.

Many of us have used Web-based conference tools, video conferencing, cloud-based project management, workflow, and document and content tools. Some systems have even combined some of these into single offerings, collected together in one convenient platform. And they work. To a point.

But you can’t really use them to collaborate. You can communicate with some team members by voice, video with others. You may even be able to edit a document with another person in certain cloud-based systems.

But they’re usually closed systems that exclude all other company data, information, or systems. They’re computer-mediated so they reduce people to using keyboards, mice, and pointers. They were good solutions at a time when ISDN was the corporate rage, maybe even when 64k ADSL swept through residential South Africa. But today they’re reminiscent of a pre-e-toll Gauteng when the traffic wasn’t quite so bad. They smack of yesteryear and nostalgia.

The low functionality and high manual intervention is much too inefficient for the speed of business today. Manually connecting those disparate systems to attempt collaboration is like bringing a typewriter to a coding festival.

Sure, you can type your code but you’ll execute nothing.

The problem with those systems is that they are asynchronous. They meet the needs of just one, or maybe two pieces at best, in the collaboration puzzle. There are many of those tools. It’s a lot easier to create a single component of the communication matrix than it is to create the entire smorgasbord of rich and fully functional collaboration because collaboration demands synchronousness.

Fully synchronous collaboration has people working together, from many locations, sharing files, editing them simultaneously, hearing one another, seeing one another, all in a single, integrated and secure environment, from any smart digital device they have to hand, even projectors.

And artificial intelligence (AI) can even translate on the fly so people can bridge language divides. It’s smart. It’s savvy. It’s efficient. And the best part is that the complexity is hidden because it’s driven by the app-based, touch screen world of user simplicity.

Better still, it couples tightly to the native connectivity of innovative devices emerging in offices throughout the world.

Businesses run on documents. Invoices, proofs of delivery, cost estimates, production schedules, delivery notes, tickets, tables, presentations, text, e-mail – there are hundreds of different kinds. Some are digital. Many are paper.

Between the two, bridging the divide between the physical and digital worlds, are the document imaging devices, the printers, scanners, and multifunction devices. They connect people to document streams coursing corporate workflows and processes, feeding the enterprise machine with the data, the information it craves to keep going, do better, be more.

Today employees collaboratively tap the streams to achieve many goals that support the guiding business strategies. But in the future, as these streams become increasingly digitalised and connected, progressive AI will more and more assume the drudgery of that collaboration. The AI will take over the manual, repetitive tasks that office workers perform routinely today, alleviating the human burden so office and high value workers can focus their skills and knowledge where it makes the most difference – not keep them rooted to desks fixed in locations far from their customers.


  • Lauren Timmer-Somer is head of marketing and technology services at Ricoh SA