The Future of Productivity Comes into Focus at IBM Connect

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While IBM Connect 2017 is not yet even in our rearview mirror, it’s not too early to turn our gaze to the future, for that is what many of the speakers have done at this year’s conference in San Francisco. Peering into their crystal balls (crystal balls backed by data and experience, that is), they see a cognitive-infused workplace in which people are more productive and effective in their wildly varying roles. What capabilities will drive this future? Let’s take a quick look.

In the Opening General Session on Tuesday, IBM Collaboration Solutions General Manager Inhi Cho Suh laid out the challenges most of us face in today’s world of information and communication overload: too many tasks, too many requests, too much data. The average employee, Suh told us, gets interrupted at work 11 times a day, and it takes an average of 25 minutes to refocus after a distraction. We get alerts when we don’t need them, we don’t get alerts when we do need them, and in the “no good deed goes unpunished” category, the most collaborative among us get hit up the most. Our tools have not helped. As Ed Brill, VP of Product Management and Design for IBM Collaboration Solutions, put it, “Today’s tools can’t handle the constant influx of information. They add to the noise.”

The future looks different, however. That’s because the future is cognitive. Our tools, infused with cognitive capabilities, will help us rather than hinder us. That revolution is already underway with solutions such as IBM Connections, IBM Verse, and now Watson Talent and the Watson Work category comprising Watson Workspace and Watson Work Services.

Tools like these will apply machine learning to our work flows and processes in order to understand the content and intent of our business conversations, derive previously hidden insights, surface the information and connections that are most relevant and useful to us, and even take care of rote and mundane tasks for us. The sum of these capabilities, Suh said, is the augmenting of human potential in our everyday work.

The future will come in the form of cognitive bots such as CHIP, which new hires at IBM use to get support during their onboarding process. It will come in the form of immersive meetings and virtual collaboration, as was on display in a demonstration of technology by IBM partners Oblong, DocuSign, Cisco and Box. Our tools will connect us to the Internet of Things, to data and to each other. These developments will make us all more effective and utterly transform the way we work.

The theme of workspace productivity continued in breakout sessions throughout the conference. In “Enterprise Integration Done Right with IBM Workspace, IBM Verse and Salesforce Lightning,” for example, Salesforce’s René Winkelmeyer discussed how cross-application integration is key to giving employees the right tools to be effective – including making sure those tools work together well.

As Winkelmeyer said, “Everything [developers] do should help users get their job done in a better way.” In two short but impressive example demos he showed how a sales rep can import IBM Verse email data into Salesforce, and how a rep can query Salesforce data via Watson Workspace, even leveraging data from a third-party system. They were elegant approaches to improving the employee experience through simple workflow enhancements, ones that required a bit of imagination and a few lines of code.

In the General Session, Colombia School of Business Professor Sheena Iyengar said that this ability to imagine is central to what makes us human. When technology such as Watson responds to your query or answers a question on Jeopardy, it’s not imagining, it’s only choosing. Humans make choices too, of course, but we’re becoming worse at it: We are overloaded with choices these days, and Iyengar says that that leads to us choosing not to choose, to making more errors when we do choose, and to being less satisfied with our choices.

In the future, however, cognitive will help us become better choosers by reducing the complexity down to what’s (more) precisely relevant to our decisions. Suh laid that out as the goal for cognitive-infused solutions: to give organizations the ability to focus their human energy on higher-value decisions, especially those that require imagination and ingenuity. We are imagining the future, and now we have the tools to help us get there.

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