The four dimensions of the digital workplace have far-reaching consequences for organizations. In the near future, technology will help some workers in their job, while making others redundant.

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An interview with Geert Batterink about the Digital Workplace, previously published on

The first dimension of the digital workplace – working in the cloud – has already become more or less standard practice. It enables employees to access their documents anywhere, at any time and on any device. The second dimension is the social and learning enterprise, says Geert Batterink, Managing Director at Accenture Digital. “Thanks to both public social media and internal information flows, it is getting easier for people to keep up to date on developments in their areas of expertise.”

This is important, because maintaining a high level of knowledge and skills is the biggest challenge facing today’s employees. Traditionally, people took part in training days or took special courses. But now there are so many more opportunities for transferring knowledge to employees. “Take MOOCs, for example,” says Baterink. “This stands for Massive Open Online Courses. Although companies may set up their own MOOCs, there are currently so many video training courses on all sorts of subjects worldwide that a company may choose to simply make these available to their employees.”

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“Maintaining a high level of knowledge and skills is the biggest challenge facing today’s employees.”

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The Connected Worker

The third dimension Batterink distinguishes with regard to the Digital Workplace focuses mainly on supporting operational staff.  “It’s what I call the connected worker. Connected workers are people who are on the road a lot, such as mechanics, engineers or sales representatives.” These employees are being equipped with a whole range of digital tools (e.g., smart glasses), which provide them with the specialist real-time information they need to do their job.

Real-Time Observing and Advising

“Suppose a service engineer has to perform some complex maintenance on a machine making computer chips,” says Batterink. “In the past, the engineer had to resort to a bulky, hardcopy manual. Later, manuals became available on tablets. Now he can access the relevant information via digital glasses. This has the advantage that it leaves the engineer’s hands free, and enables him to see on the ‘screen’ right in front of his eyes which screws he needs to unscrew and what he needs to do next.” This means that he can do the job faster and more efficiently. Another advantage of digital glasses is that, if a problem occurs, the engineer can contact a remote expert, who can then monitor his actions and advise him on what to do. “What’s more, senior employees with extensive knowledge can assist many colleagues within a short period of time, whereas in the past, they could only be in one place at a time.”

Making Better Use of Knowledge

Connected workers improve the efficiency and feedback mechanisms of organizations. For instance, at airports, planes need to be able to take off on time. Various people are involved in making sure this happens, by refueling the plane, loading the baggage and other cargo onto the plane, and by preparing the cabin and getting the passengers inside. By equipping these employees with smart devices, such as glasses or watches, they will all be able to see in real time how the process is going. If necessary, they can quickly adjust things. “Again, employees with such a device have their hands free to do their job, and they can be contacted quickly and easily – which means that their colleagues can now tap into their knowledge and skills wherever they are.”

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The fourth dimension Batterink distinguishes is robotization. This may involve the familiar physical robots, but may also be a software robot (known as a ‘softbot’). “An example of a softbot is an ‘Agent’ that can be trained very quickly, on the basis of artificial intelligence, to operate in a given context,” says Batterink. “It can support people in their job, or even replace them.” The same goes for hardware robots. These are becoming more affordable and are easy to program. “Within an hour, you can teach one of these robots to put tins in a box on a conveyor belt. A major advantage of a robot like this is that it can be deployed flexibly. You can quickly teach it to do something else, such as how to put the boxes on pallets. This versatility results in cost efficiencies.”

A Robot as a Colleague

Some companies are already using softbots in their customer service departments. “Traditionally, as a customer, you always spoke to a human. But many of the basic dialogues in customer service can easily be carried out by cognitive ‘agents’. The advantage of this is that they can hold not just one but thousands of such conversations at the same time, and in different languages, too.” These agents need to be trained, but Batterink thinks that in all probability, such robots will in time also take over more complex tasks from human employees. “In a few years’ time, your next colleague could be a robot.”

Digital Workplace for Enhanced Quality

All these developments will at least mean that companies will be able to offer better quality, says Batterink. “In dealing with a major maintenance project, for instance, you can use technology to get a clear idea of which materials and tools the engineer needs to have with him, make sure he can get to the right location quickly, and enable him to benefit from real-time coaching on the job. All this will increase the chances of doing it ‘right first time’. This ultimately also enhances the efficiency with which staff can be deployed.” That is why Batterink advises organizations to find out what kind of technology is available and how it can best be used within the company. “Start small, learn some lessons, and take it from there.”

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