Tomorrow’s data-driven workplace brings many technical changes but also has the potential to make the workplace more enjoyable and humane.

By Ronnie Toerien, HCM sales development and strategy leader at Oracle Africa

Opinions differ widely as to the influence and role that technology will have on our lives in the future.

However, some of the trends we are already seeing at least give us an idea of what our working and living environment will look like in the future: smartphones have long since become established as part of our everyday lives, and the first steps in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) lie behind us. Other examples are increasingly-fine tuned chatbots and increasingly-intuitive user interfaces. All of these and many other contribute to significant improvements in various areas of life.

For instance, thanks to the new opportunities offered up by data analysis and visualisation, we will shortly be seeing tremendous advances in cancer research.

Technologies such as portable finger scanners greatly facilitate the registration of refugees. We have already seen one of the large South African banks launch a concept of merely submitting a “selfie” and ID number to open an account, doing away with filling in forms altogether.

And banks in India are already using AI algorithms to determine customer reliability, enabling people to build a livelihood with the help of small loans.

These examples show that new technologies can significantly improve people’s lives. Transferred to the world of work and the area of HR – which is essentially about people – the question now arises: What will the data driven workplace of the future look like, and what improvements can be expected here?


Voice-controlled chatbots as organisation helpers in everyday working life

In South Africa, we are seeing a growing interest in using chatbot capability to provide instant information and improve service delivery. For example, a chatbot can be instructed by a verbal command to call up a particular document or save it at a specific point in the system.

Software companies are currently working on the development of such “Siri” -based assistants: while we still theorise about user interfaces today, we will increasingly replace them with speech recognition modules in the near future.


Securely documented documentation of work processes

Work is becoming increasingly mobile and is no longer tied to a specific location. Thanks to completely digital document management, the employee only needs his laptop and can work from virtually anywhere – in the future also in a self-driving car – accessing relevant data securely stored in the cloud. In this way, fixed seat distributions become obsolete in the company.

Whenever access to the office is needed, it can be done by facial recognition or iris scan. This makes it possible to use scarce working space in the company more efficiently.


Virtual reality improves collaboration and training

In the future, when troublesome administrative functions, such as booking a flight seat, are handled via a chatbot, employees can focus on more complex processes and more intensive cooperation, solve more complex tasks, and above all, learn continuously.

This is where virtual reality comes into play. With this technology, content can be presented vividly, making it easier to retain information.

Because our brain stores experiences much more effectively than one-dimensional content such as texts or videos – it creates an emotional anchorage.

Specifically, there is a trend toward conferencing using holograms: Instead of just seeing a person on screen, they appear in life size and 3D in space. Therefore, the conversation also becomes a vivid experience that you can remember better.

Further education programmes can be designed more effectively, because ultimately it is important to design learning content so that the person absorbs it.


Recruiting: finding and understanding applicants on the right channels

The recruiting process will also be supported by intelligent technologies in the future: personnel can already derive valuable information from so-called recruiting key figures. For example, using the success rate of job portals, it is possible to assess which channel works best for which positions in the company – and use this information for future calls for tenders.

Software companies are also working on the development of so-called sentiment analysis, which can analyse the behaviour in the job interview using gestures, facial expressions, etc. and thus be able to draw a more granular picture of the applicant.


Wearables: capture, process and share information faster

Business with smartwatches is already booming – and the trend is rising. In the future, smartphones and laptops will no longer be the only mobile devices connected to the company’s cloud system.

Intelligent clothing, smart pens and notepads that can quickly capture information or feedback and place it in the right place in the system are well within the realm of the possible.

Recruiters can therefore quickly share their assessment of the candidate with other decision makers.

Incidentally, this also shows that in the future, classic computer interfaces will be replaced by easy-to-use devices – through the cloud. The data is collected at a central point and then displayed differently in real time as needed. As a result, systems with uniform data architectures will prevail.


Conclusion: the data-driven workplace replaces nobody – but makes the work easier

AI will not be able to replace human intelligence for a very long time – but it can support it.

Because people forget things, are imprecise and not always optimally organised – but also creative and empathic. In the future, new technologies will be able to do “henchmen work” in the first place – remembering colleagues’ birthdays and upcoming tasks, automatically calling up documents and suggesting suitable applicants.

The result is a work environment that is ideally suited to the way the individual employee works.

But here, too, “A fool with a tool is still a fool” – only those who use the digital helpers intelligently will really benefit from it.