How we design and use technology is contributing to seismic changes in our personal and professional lives, not least our expectation of what’s possible as both customers but also employees.

By Jacques van Wyk, CEO of Ricoh SA

Mobility, integration, automation, the smart edge of the network, centralised computing power in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning pushed to the edge of the network, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and Internet of Things (IoT) devices everywhere feeding unprecedented access to data and the delivery of smarter analytics create a heady swirl of innovation.

Dizzying though this rapid evolution of technological capabilities may be we face even more stimulus to prompt business leaders pause for thought.

People no longer distinctly separate our personal and professional lives. The traditional nine to five workday is now nothing more than a historical trend for a lot of us.

That’s had a number of profound effects. It’s led employees, people, to question more the moral and ethical standards of the companies that employ them. And it has, among others, led them to question if their employer supports them, firstly, with the correct tools to get the job done properly and, secondly, whether or not their employer supports improving their skills to cope with digitalisation, automation, AI, and robotics.

So, on the one hand we have technological innovation leading to physical changes in the home and workplace but also, on the other, technological innovation changing the fabric of our cultures.

Robots, both the software and hardware varieties, and automation threaten a lot of jobs.

Boston Dynamics’ physical robots are seriously agile and describe a future where we no longer carry, pick, pack, sort, shift, move or arrange. Dexterous machines, oil coursing through their hydraulic veins, arteries, and capillaries, will take repair days rather than sick, walk through fire and swim oceans to save lives without any defibrillation for health and safety, and do it all so fast it’ll make us sweat just to watch.

Bots, their coded cousins encased in silicon cages, will literally remove the virtual drudgery from our lives. They’ll clean and sort our inboxes, shield us from invisible virtual intruders, shuffle and complete forms on our behalf, and even help us realise what we need – and help us to get it – before we even know we need it.

But that’s the future. How do we get there?

The biggest challenge many of us face today is connecting the physical realm of robots to the virtual realm of the bots. It’s crucial because, while the two can operate independently, doing so won’t deliver the capabilities, the productivity, the efficiencies, and the spectacular future they offer unless we somehow bind them.

The innovative future also requires that we streamline the connections between our field operations, our customers wherever they may be, and our office people, who are the brains at the heart of our businesses.

Our employees know this. That’s why research we sponsored but conducted by the independent Coleman Parkes, finds that 63% of employees across all generations think that the way people do business will dramatically change over the next five to 10 years.

Technology is vital to creating that change, also according to 63% of them, and is central to helping them realise their potential. It’s also interesting that 69% believe employers must invest in digital technologies and upskill their employees.

That’s why the speeds and feeds features so central to office equipment in the past are almost an aside today. It’s much more important that they bridge the chasm between the physical world to retrieve the data and feed it to us intelligently. The smart hard and soft technologies layered around the physical devices are now much more important.

We use the capabilities to figure out what customers experience, how to improve it, how to help our employees reach their potential, and how to streamline our businesses. And we use them to prepare us for tomorrow when the next evolution of smarter and more dexterous machines are ready to get down and dirty on our behalf.