This year we expect to experience some real changes as a result of digital transformation. In this series of three blog posts l consider what digital transformation means to:
- Business Models
- Future of Work
Here, I look at the consequences of new technology on the #Futureofwork (this is an increasingly popular hashtag on Twitter) – specifically focusing on a) AI and b) remote working.
2) Future of Work: AI Used as Intelligent Assistant
Just like the sharing economy piece in my earlier post, the fundamental UX principle behind the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the automation of non-essential tasks. Having fewer “chores” allows the user more time to focus on what they can add as a human being. In the past, designers have created products that augment our physical strength (e.g. tractors) and dexterity (e.g. robots). We even created tools to help us perform complex calculations (e.g. processors). However, we’re now reaching a point where we have a tool that can make intelligent decisions for us (AI). When basic decisions can be removed from our essential tasks list, we’re moving one step closer towards that fundamental UX principle.
The successful enterprises in 2017 will be those that unite the strengths of AI (ie self-learning systems that use data-mining, analytics, pattern recognition and natural language) with people’s expertise, empathy, imagination and innovation.
In medicine, Google’s AI lab DeepMind has signed a deal with the NHS to help clinicians identify acute kidney injuries, AI systems like IBM Watson will help doctors to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, and NTT DATA (RMA’s parent company) is developing its robotics technology Sota to monitor and interact with elderly residents in nursing homes.
NTT DATA has also been developing a new wearable smart shirt with ‘hitoe’ technology that analyses the wearer’s biological information. Racing drivers at the IndyCar Series wore the shirts to gather electrocardiogram (EMG) data, which was analysed with data from the vehicles, to improve their driving techniques. NTT DATA is now exploring how to leverage hitoe technology in healthcare and other areas.
To find out more about NTT DATA’s innovative technology Sota and Hitoe download the NTT DATA Technology Forsight whitepaper.
AI is going to be a challenging technology to adapt to, for many designers. Up until now, most UX work has been on screen interfaces; we have presented data to a user to help them make a decision and then allowed them to express that decision through an interaction. AI automation is going to flip much of this thinking on its head. We’ll no longer need to help users make a decision; decisions will be made for them. Instead, we’ll need to work out how to keep the user informed and comfortable whilst their experience unfolds in front of them.
As designers, we must be willing to let go of our traditional way of approaching a design challenge. Not every product will need a screen interface. Think about how human beings communicate with each other and how those methods could be used to interact with machines too. Think about body language, eye contact and speech. Also, think about how people sense their surrounding environment. A good product might not need to interrupt your day by talking back to you; it could stimulate one of your other, less intrusive senses.
2) Future of Work: Virtual Offices
Where, and how we are working is going through a revolution away from brick-and-mortar offices to virtual offices, in the form of work-at-home, remote, flexible and co-working environments.
With commutes into city offices becoming increasingly stressful, the desire for a work-life balance and autonomy, it is not surprising that a recent study by Global Workplace Analytics, found that:
- 80% – 90% of the US workforce would like to work remotely at least part of the time
- Since 2005 work-at-home has grown by 103%
- By 2018 the number of individuals using co-working spaces globally is predicted to reach 1 million
Remote working also improves productivity, generates creativity, increases staff retention, and lowers HR and real estate costs. The technology industry is embracing the trend the most by utilising co-working spaces. However, among the largest industries shifting their jobs from office spaces to digital are accounting (134%) and legal (49%), according to US online staffing firm Elance. The remote working revolution has been powered by:
- Improved network infrastructure, which provides faster connections allowing us to transmit better quality video streams across the world
- Mobile and cloud technology that enables us to access our team’s files from anywhere
- New tools, such as Slack, which provides quick and easy communications
However, UX has played a part in improving the quality of the remote office experience. Google in particular has done a fantastic job in delivering free, easy to use VoIP, live document editing and storage services to anyone that wants it.
Remote working is fantastic, but many people still swear by human contact. They claim that people communicate through many more “channels” than voice and facial expressions, and these nuances are lost when working remotely. To adapt to this, designers are going to need to consider how to better reproduce those missing elements of an interpersonal interaction that give it that natural feel. What shape this might take is very much a mystery, but again, it looks like we’re going to have to start thinking beyond the computer screen. For example, augmented reality might help to artificially place your colleagues in the same room as you rather than viewing their faces on the screen.
For those businesses where face-to-face interaction is required, technology may soon be able to reduce the pain of traffic congestion. In Exeter, NTT DATA is leading a consortium to alleviate congestion with traffic control innovations pioneered by their research and development labs in Japan. Click here for more information on Exeter Smart City.
Embracing Digital Transformation in 2017
Working at the #2 Digital Elite Agency 2016 my colleagues and I play our part in digital transformation everyday. This year we are looking forward to seeing how technology and UX not only improves users’ digital experiences, but impacts business models, the way people work and society. As a UX community we need to harness and develop the positive transformations, and reduce and manage the negative disruptions.