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The shape of workflow to come

In the last 20 years, workflow has been influenced by three technological growth phases. RICHARD FIRTH believes these phases will continue to make an impact on how work is automated for years to come.

The first growth stage involved the convergence of devices, which gave rise to smartphones and, more recently, tablets. Separate technologies such as voice, data, video, music and a camera are now found on a single multi-functional handheld device. These devices have made workflow faster and more convenient, as many processes can now be executed on a single device that isn’t geographically-bound to the office.

The increasing uptake of these devices, for both personal and professional use, led to the emergence of an ever-growing app ecosystem. This is phase two – and the increasing accessibility to these devices and the Internet means app ecosystems will continue to grow, especially since mobile application development is not restricted to professionals, but open to the community at large. The sharing of information has made workflow more efficient and the use of workflow-related apps has greatly enhanced the user experience.

Finally, the Internet of Things (IoT). An emerging trend, IoT refers to the network of physical objects/devices accessed through the Internet that contain embedded technology which is designed to interact and communicate with other objects/devices.

According to analyst firm Gartner, the number of IoT devices will grow from 0.9 billion in 2009 to 26 billion by 2020. The International Data Corporation believes this market will generate $7.1 trillion in annual sales by 2020. As can be seen from these numbers, this is not a technological wave that should, or could, be ignored.

Many leading industry players believe almost all businesses have an IoT future. The benefits IoT can bring to the corporate arena are vast and undeniable, so IoT-enabled businesses of the future are inevitable.

Business information and analytics, for example, can be greatly enhanced by IoT, and this can lead to more accurate and complex decision-making. Businesses can track behavioural data of products (via sensors), get enhanced situational awareness of real-time events and make use of sensor-driven decision analytics.

When it comes to workflow, the IoT is establishing new frontiers for optimising processes. Through the use of sensors, processes can be monitored, analysed and adjusted optimally. This leads to major savings in time and cost, as well as reduced human interaction.

One of the most appealing uses of the IoT involves the rapid, real-time understanding of unpredictable conditions and instantaneous responses demanded by automated systems. This kind of machine decision making mimics human reactions, but does so at vastly enhanced performance levels.

Because people have limited time, attention spans and accuracy, replacing certain human-based processes with automated ones will positively impact the bottom line. Having the ability to automatically transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction will greatly reduce cost, time, and risk within the enterprise.

Companies should already be taking steps to ready themselves for the positive changes IoT can bring to the business – especially with regards to optimising business processes. Energy consumption efficiency and process optimisation are both good places to start for business that have traditionally not received satisfactory returns in these areas.

* Richard Firth, Chairman and CEO of MIP

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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