The Internet of Things (IoT) is a “system of systems” in which people, machines, devices, sensors and businesses connect and interact. The merger of the physical world with digital networks and applications creates new modes of collaboration, intelligence sharing and business efficiency. Smarter objects and their attendant applications are the next big leap in human-computer interaction.
Where will this be the most apparent? The workplace. As devices continue to connect employees, they are creating much more than an office – they are creating collective intelligence. Applications abound in workplace safety, employee productivity, asset management and building comfort. By thinking strategically about how to “intelligentize” the workplace, companies are leveraging their greatest assets – their employees – to work smarter and be more productive.
The meaning of “workplace” is changing as emerging and connected technologies redefine what is possible. For many, the smartphone enables a portable office and will continue to be a dominant form of connection and communication. With employee wearables already here and self-driving vehicles expected to be on the roads within the next three to five years, the boundaries of the mobile workplace will continue to extend. At the same time, buildings are becoming connected and smarter. Connectivity with artificial intelligence and advanced analytics can change the workplace by increasing efficiency and productivity and creating an environment that fosters greater workplace collaboration.
For example, when an organization can collect information about employees’ preferences via connected devices, it can streamline daily work activities, saving time and energy. An employee needing to schedule a meeting could receive a recommendation for a conference room most convenient to all attendees or schedule the meeting automatically, even using technology to set up the room to participants’ preferences for lighting, temperature, audio-visual equipment and even snacks and drinks. Smartphone apps or office robots could direct people to the room as needed.
These possibilities are exciting, but IoT in the workplace also presents several challenges. The proliferation of earliest-to-market IoT devices and services has led to interoperability issues, which means some organizations struggle with devices that can’t communicate, data that can’t be shared and updates that are inconsistent. Meanwhile, security is notoriously lacking in the IoT, as the rush to market has led many device makers to treat it as an afterthought.
Tracking and monitoring employees in the workplace involves privacy and data issues that most businesses have not faced before. Mobile phone technologies can track location history, sometimes without clear consumer opt-in. And privacy challenges will grow as positioning technology moves indoors. Whether people will tolerate privacy intrusions in exchange for the promised services is unclear, even in the workplace. Businesses need to decide how to engage employees on connected devices in ways that improve safety, security and service relationships and make good on privacy expectations.
Attendees of the ISG Future Workplace Summit will learn what’s in store for the workplace of the future – both the exciting and potentially game-changing advances in technology and those considerations that give pause. Hope you can join us there.