In a November 2016 Forbes article, contributor Matt Cain spent some time talking about emerging workplace technology. Not surprisingly, the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data touched almost everything on the list. Most notable about the 10 innovations we’ll skim over were the workplace productivity hacks they enable.
If you’re like me, you can’t help but imagine all the bigger and better things companies can do with workplace solutions that provide automation of simple tasks, intuitive workflows and better analytics. It’s nothing short of exciting.
Unless, of course, you’re the IT director deploying these next-generation IT initiatives. From that perspective, you may find your enthusiasm quickly hit with a dose of logistical reality. With a slightly different perspective, you may have any or all of the following internal battles surrounding the IoT and big data initiatives:
Let’s sooth the souls of those who are in the trenches and talk about the workplace systems needed to support next-generation initiatives. Sensors, devices, applications and servers don’t even begin to summarize the list of requirements to collect, store and leverage the data powering these trending modern workplace initiatives.
But first, the hors d’oeuvres. Let’s quickly recap some notable items on Cain’s list of emerging tech trends.
He started his list with ambient knowledge, meaning workplace solutions that use algorithms to customize platforms based on employee preferences — for the goal of process simplification and improved workflows. You may be thinking, “That sounds like Artificial Intelligence (AI).” And if so, you’re correct. It does leverage smart learning and assumes that machines and software will have the capability to react with intelligence.
Similarly, Cain listed Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs). Think Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Echo. In a couple of years, VPAs will proactively initiate complex business processes on behalf of employees. With efficiency tools enabling IT and business professionals to accomplish even more in a day than was once possible, many of us have become plagued with the chaos. Wouldn’t you applaud a smart VPA that can “sense” when something’s off or a process needs completion?
The last helpful tech solution we’ll cover for our purposes here is what Cain called process hacks. This is app building and development for nontechnical employees, putting control in the hands of those with the most visibility into programming needs. So if the marketing department needs a customer-facing application pronto to capitalize on a time-sensitive opportunity, for example, employees can quickly build a solution. OK, let’s move on to dessert: a quick tasting of system requirements.
Companies should consider three major system requirement themes when preparing for current and next-generation technology initiatives. Not only do these themes allow for availability and performance, but they cover threat protection as well. Hewlett Packard Enterprise details these themes in Three Steps That Protect Your Business:
In Insight’s January 2017 Livestream, “Real-Time Business and IoT,” there was a fascinating example of the previously mentioned tech trends being put to use today. Bob Familiar, national practice director of BlueMetal, an Insight company, discussed a smart fridge his team developed. Its purpose is to keep vaccines in a temperature-controlled environment while they are transported by van for use in typically hard-to-reach locations in developing countries.
The fridge not only preserves the vaccines but also sends real-time data to let medical staff know when something will expire, needs replenishing and more. It has resulted in fewer financial losses for the client and better inventory responsiveness. Take a look at some of the infrastructure and processes behind developing this smart fridge:
“So in order to create a solution like that, first it’s the act of adding these low-cost sensors and single board computers, possibly cellular capabilities for areas where maybe they don’t have rich networking … then we securely collect the right data in the cloud … which can then also send commands down to the devices for doing things like firmware upgrades. Then we do some analytics and, in real time, identify alert or alarm conditions, then route that properly to a service which can send an immediate notification — either an email or a text message. And then you need lots of different storage capability.”
I’ve summarized his description of the process, but you get the point. All of that technology requires infrastructure enablement. So the next time your chief financial officer asks how much something will cost, or your vice president of marketing requests a status update on your latest smart platform, send this article. And the next time you go to scope out an IoT project, refer back to your infrastructure recommendations to implement best practices.