Which brings me to Microsoft Viva. We wrote about Viva when it was initially launched as a concept and businesses (and more importantly, their employees) can now experience the capabilities. Viva helps resolve some of the challenges with business intranets:
It makes some of the collaboration systems more usable and insightful
It actually provides outcomes for employees (through the learning module in particular)
It integrates with existing processes and exposes these application-centric processes through Teams
At the same time, it is trying to be a “cultural change agent” by having a single place to go to view company news and announcements. This is similar to many company intranets, and like many of them, is likely to be an abandoned sideshow – the only time many employees visit it will be when they are forced to – like when the CEO sends an all-company email saying that there is an announcement on the company intranet that everyone needs to see. Which is the digital equivalent of posting you a letter to inform you that you have an email!
The challenge for Viva is that employees need to be using Teams to get the most out of it – and I don’t just mean “using Teams for chat and calling” but using the collaboration elements effectively – ALL the time. And the challenge with this is that (a) many employees don’t EVER use these features of Teams (or use them sporadically), and (b) some companies (and teams within companies) have multiple platforms for collaboration and sharing (Slack, Trello, Basecamp, Jira etc).
But either way, Viva looks like a positive step forward for collaboration – and more importantly, it gives businesses some guidelines on how to improve their existing intranet.
How to Make your Intranet work?
Integrate the work that people have KPIs on, with collaboration and intranet systems
Design processes so the intranet makes it EASIER for people to do their jobs – by removing unnecessary handing of information, copying and pasting, multiple levels of authentication and moving between many applications or screens. Leave requests or approving invoices have already been integrated into email – so managers can click a button in the email to send the approval. But what if there were a page on the intranet where all the leave requests or approvals for funding or payment were in a single spot? What if the system provided insight around these requests (such as Mary Singh only has 1 day leave left, or Company ABC takes 90 days to pay on average)? And if all leave requests could be approved with a single click, it actually makes the employees life easier.
Build processes into the systems to solve employee pain points
Many intranets are ostensibly used for helping employees find each other or find experts on specific topics. But they don’t guide this process – they just say “there’s lots of information here – use the search tool and good luck!”. Design guided processes for outcomes people actually want to achieve. Survey your employees to find out what they’d like the intranet to help them achieve – and build some employee journey maps across various roles to understand the challenges and pain points. If it makes sense, use the intranet to help resolve those pain points.
Make your existing tools more powerful and easier to use
Your employees generally want to collaborate. Don’t get me wrong – many don’t wake up each morning thinking that they’d love to share some documents with unknown team members today – but they do want to work together more easily than they do today. So take a look at what stops them from achieving this and look to solve those problems by making existing tools more powerful and easier to use. Adding analytics helps employees and their managers better manage their time and their interactions. Automating file sharing and discovery will help employees find the information they need without adding additional work for the content creator.
Businesses need to think of their intranets as “places to get things done”
Too many intranets seem to be designed for 4pm on Friday afternoon versus 9am Monday morning. And if this is yours, then don’t be surprised that employees don’t use it that often or give it little time. The more you can use an intranet to make employees lives easier, the more likely that you will be creating a resource which improves the productivity and happiness of the employees you serve.
But it is not just about offering online sales. In the digital world, customers now expect to be able to track packages, get alerts when they are delivered, and have access to easy and free returns. Again – if you don’t do this today, you are creating poor customer experiences and are most likely losing business to those that offer great experiences.
Here is what organisations are witnessing:
The need to evolve their CRM solution. Salespeople expect the CRM to give them insights on who to sell to, why to sell to them and what approach will work best. CRM systems that don’t provide this analysis are letting businesses and salespeople down.
Analytics has to be turned into actions. More businesses are telling their analytics partners to stop telling them what to do, and just do it! Automating the outcomes of BI and analytics is beginning to be expected.
Ease of use has become essential. Interactions and processes need to be intelligent and easy to automate. We no longer throw teams of people at challenges – we automate the outcomes and use technology to deliver entirely new experiences without teams of employees pulling strings behind the scenes.
Process and technology changes happen quickly and seamlessly. We have been taught this by Zoom, Microsoft, AWS and Google. If you aren’t doing this today, you are behind the market and behind the expectations of your employees and customers.
Ecosystems are emerging to enable this agility and innovation. We can now innovate with a growing range of partners. Companies can partner for a single sale and move on. Start-ups are being embraced by dinosaurs, and competitors are becoming partners. More companies than ever are involving their own customers in their innovation processes. Ecosystems are changing the ability of technology and business teams to offer new and improved services to customers and employees.
Time for a Shift in Organisational Culture
Seemingly, the world changed overnight. But many of these changes have been in the works for years. It just took a global crisis to highlight how important they are and how much organisations need to change to embrace these opportunities. The only thing holding businesses back from thriving in the Great Bounce Forward are their people and culture. If you can embrace these changes, your businesses will move forward and emerge as different companies to the ones that entered the pandemic in early 2020. You’ll be more open, agile, innovative and digitally aware. You’ll be able to move in new, unheralded directions, driving improved customer, shareholder, or citizen value.
So stop thinking about how your business will bounce back. Make plans for it to bounce forward into the unknown.
Cisco has recently announced their intention to acquire Socio Labs, a US-based event technology platform – the latest in a series of acquisitions. Cisco’s Webex Events provides meeting, webinar and webcast capabilities, including polling, Q&A, chat and real-time translation. This acquisition will allow Webex Events to cater to large-scale, hybrid events and conferences. Solution capabilities will include live streaming, sponsorship, networking, and advanced analytics – including for pre-event and post-event activities.
Collaboration Platforms are Here to Stay
2020 was the year video conferencing and collaboration finally became mainstream. With the exponential rise of remote and hybrid working, the investments in collaboration technologies has increased – and Ecosystm research shows that the trend is continuing well into 2021.
The other aspect that has been impacted by the pandemic is the Events business. With social distancing regulations, Events and Marketing teams are being challenged in their outreach and go-to-market initiatives. Even when countries allow in-person events, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to attend events. With most organisations allowing remote working many attendees are away from the CBD/ commercial areas and are reluctant to commute to attend events. This has seen the rise of a hybrid event model that caters to both in-person and virtual attendees.
While some countries are beginning to bring back in-person events, they will remain largely virtual. Event organisers will have to cater for those who are happy to attend in-person and those who want to access the event virtually. Providing a better experience for hybrid events, will require richer features using video and collaboration platforms to allow live streaming, chat, feedback, analytics – to gauge audience engagement – polling and other interesting ways to retain audience attention. Additionally, it will be important for these platforms to facilitate sponsorship, registrations and even ticketing capabilities directly from within the platform. These new dimensions to step up engagements for both virtual and in-person events have become necessary for the world we are living in.
Cisco Strengthening Collaboration Capabilities
Cisco is enhancing the virtual/hybrid meeting and events experience they provide and this has been evident from their recent acquisitions. They clearly see the need to enhance audience participation and engagement from pure static video and collaboration environments. Socio Labs’ business accelerated during the pandemic and they built a platform that offers a deeper engagement with the audience. Their customers include Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo and Hyundai.
Last year Cisco acquired BabbleLabs, a noise removal technology provider and the product has been integrated into their Webex platform, to improve the audio experience. Earlier this month Cisco also completed their acquisition of Slido. This means that Webex users can now leverage Slido’s capability of gathering real-time audience feedback, rather than just asking questions via text or chat. The solution can also enhance the learning experience during team training sessions and offers built-in analytics to gauge audience participation and where the gaps are. These acquisitions are an indication that Cisco is serious about their market presence in the video and collaboration space – and is keen on making a mark in the Events market.
At the start of 2020, my colleague Audrey William and I discussed the need for workplace analytics when predicting workplace trends for the year, but the pandemic delayed many of these investments. As working from home (or from anywhere) becomes a long-term trend, we are learning that managers need tools to better empower their employees to deliver what the business needs. There are many reports of employees working overtime; working longer days; not taking breaks; being in back-to-back meetings for days on end; skipping meals; and wearing themselves out.
There are many benefits of remote work – employees have the freedom to manage the day as they choose, they have no commute and (conceptually) more harmony between work and home duties. But there are also many processes that are harder. It is not as easy to find the right person to connect to or learn from, get the best information or answer to a question, and get coaching and new skills. Managers need to understand their employee work experience because they don’t sit with or supervise them all day. Self-service for employees used to mean walking around the office and having a conversation or meeting. Today, we need to make these outcomes easier for every worker regardless of location.
Microsoft Lauches Viva
Microsoft has announced the release of Viva – a new product suite to help businesses overcome these challenges. They have published a “Future of Employee Experience” video here as part of the launch – but don’t watch it – or if you do, be prepared to be disappointed when you see the actual products… The good news is that we have moved from oval-shaped phones in Future of Work videos in 2000 (because all web content is designed for round screens right?) to transparent phones in 2010 (who needs to be able to see what’s on the screen?) to virtual screens in Future of Work videos in 2021… Guess they’ll never become a reality either!
Based off the early reviews and commentary about Viva, I believe Microsoft is really onto a winner here:
Managers need better analytics about how their team spends their days and employees need insights as to how to increase their productivity or find a better balance in their life.
Employees need to find the people and information in their business to connect with and learn from – how often do employees reach out to others to ask for help or information when the answers they were looking for weren’t too far away. This information needs to be easier to find – even surfaced to employees before they go looking for it.
Everyone in your business needs to keep learning within their flow of work – the formal training programs offered by most businesses today are useless if employees are too busy to take the course.
Business leaders need to drive cultural change more effectively or support their broader business initiatives by linking employees with the information and insights that can help reinforce or change organisational culture.
Viva should support these outcomes. Microsoft is partnering with many other businesses to make this work (systems integrators, training providers, workplace and HR platforms etc). If the products deliver as promised, they might provide the missing link that many businesses need today to keep their employees safe, productive, happy and connected.
Learn about the factors that have been accelerating the shift towards the new ways of working. The top 5 Future of Work Trends For 2021 are available for download from the Ecosystm platform. Signup for Free to download the report.
SAS announced that it has acquired Boemska, a provider of low-code development tools and analytics workload management software. The small, privately held company is UK-based with an R&D centre in Serbia. The acquisition will be integrated into SAS Viya, its cloud-native platform, which includes containerised analytics and machine learning offerings. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
A SAS silver partner, Boemska has wins in Health, Finance, and Travel. Most of its reference clients are based in Europe in addition to a small number in the US and South Africa. Boemska has two primary software offerings – Enterprise Session Monitor (ESM) and AppFactory. Additionally, it delivers cloud migration, performance diagnostics, and application development services.
Boemska ESM provides visibility into performance and cost management of analytics workloads. The product enables self-service root cause analysis for developers, monitoring and batch schedule optimisation for administrators, and departmental cost allocation of cloud resources. ESM manages SAS, R, and Python workloads and is compatible with workload management platforms from the likes of IBM and BMC. Boemska shipped an updated version of ESM in 2020 to improve the UI and ensure support for SAS Viya. At the time, it announced that its development team had doubled in the preceding 12 months, suggesting a trajectory of growth.
SAS Focuses on Cloud-Native Analytics and AI
SAS launched Viya 4.0 in mid-2020, a major step in its vision to become a provider of cloud-native analytics and machine learning solutions. The platform includes offerings, such as Visual Analytics, Visual Statistics, Visual Machine Learning, and Visual Data Science packaged in containers and orchestrated by Kubernetes. Microsoft Azure has become its preferred cloud partner, assisting in developing SAS Cloud, hosted from data centres in the US, Brazil, Australia, and newly launched facilities in Germany and the UK. Viya managed services are also available from Azure regions. AWS and Google Cloud are expected to make the leap to Viya 4.0 from version 3.5 soon. As part of its cloud-native strategy, SAS now offers three tiers for software updates – bi-annual, monthly, or immediately after release.
The major overhaul of SAS Viya is part of the vendor’s USD 1B investment into AI over three years from 2019-2021. The platform includes a heavy emphasis on NLP, machine learning, and computer vision. The integration of Boemska’s low-code development offering into Viya will allow SAS clients to extract greater value from AI by quickly embedding it in mobile and enterprise applications. The converging trends of citizen developers and data literacy suggest SAS has selected the right path for the future.
Download Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 AI & Automation Trends for 2021
Download Ecosystm’s complimentary report detailing the top 5 AI trends in 2021 and what innovations they bring to the table that IT leaders should monitor. Create your free account to access all the Ecosystm Predictions for 2021, and many other reports, on the Ecosystm platform
Talent has always been difficult to find. Even with globalisation, significant investment of time and resources is needed to find and relocate talent to the right geography. In many instances this was not possible given the preferences of the candidates and/or the hiring managers. COVID-19 has changed this drastically. Remote working and distributed teams have become acceptable. With limitations on immigration and travel for work, there is a lot more openness to finding and hiring talent from outside the traditional talent pool.
However it is not as simple as it seems. The cost per applicant (CPA) – the cost to convert a job seeker to a job applicant – had been averaging US$11-12 throughout 2019 according to recruiting benchmark data from programmatic recruitment advertising provider, Appcast. But, the impact of COVID-19 saw the CPA reach US$19 in June – a 60% increase. I expect that finding right talent is going to be a “needle in a haystack” issue. But this is only one side of the coin – the other aspect is that the talent profile needed to be successful in roles that are all remote or hybrid is also significantly different from what it was before. Companies need to pay special attention to what kind of people they would like to hire in these new roles. Without this due consideration it is very likely that there would be difficulty in on-boarding and making these new hires successful within the organisation.
Automation Augmentation and Skills
The pace at which companies are choosing to automate or apply AI is increasing. This is changing the work patterns and job requirements for many roles within the industry. According to the BCG China AI study on the financial sector 23% of the roles will be replaced by AI by 2027. The roles that will not be replaced will need a higher degree of soft skills, critical thinking and creativity. However, automation is not the endgame. Firms that go ahead with automation without considering the implications on the business process, and the skills and roles it impacts will end up disrupting the business and customer experience. Firms will have to really design their customer journeys, their business processes along with roles and capabilities needed. Job redesign and reskilling will be key to ensuring a great customer experience
Analytics is Inadequate Without the Right Culture
Data-driven decision-making as well as modelling is known to add value to business. We have great examples of analytics and data modelling being used successfully in Attrition, Recruitment, Talent Analytics, Engagement and Employee Experience. The next evolution is already underway with advanced analytics, sentiment analysis, organisation network analysis and natural language processing (NLP) being used to draw better insights and make people strategies predictive. Being able to use effective data models to predict and and draw insights will be a key success factor for leadership teams. Data and bots do not drive engagement and alignment to purpose – leaders do. Working to promote transparency of data insights and decisions, for faster response, to champion diversity, and give everyone a voice through inclusion will lead to better co-creation, faster innovation and an overall market agility.
Creating a Synergy
We are seeing a number of resets to what we used to know, believe and think about the ways of working. It is a good time to rethink what we believe about the customer, business talent and tech. Just like customer experience is not just about good sales skills or customer service – the employee experience and role of Talent is also evolving rapidly. As companies experiment with work models, technology and work environment, there will a need to constantly recalibrate business models, job roles, job technology and skills. With this will come the challenge of melding the pieces together within the context of the entire business without falling into the trap of siloed thinking. Only by bringing together businesses processes, talent, capability evolution, culture and digital platforms together as one coherent ecosystem can firms create a winning formula to create a competitive edge.
Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Talent Summit
For more insights, attend the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit which will cover topics on Founders success and failure stories, pandemic impact on founders and talent development, upskilling and reskilling for the future of work.
AI Will Move from a Competitive Advantage to a Must-Have
The best practices and leading-edge technology-centric implementations, over the years gives a very good indication of market trends. In 2018 and 2019 AI-centric engagements were few and far between – they were still in the “innovation stage” as trials and small projects. In 2020, AI was mentioned in most applications, showcased as best practices. AI is currently a competitive advantage for businesses. CIOs and their businesses are using AI to get ahead of their competitors and highlighting these practices for external recognition.
That also means that it is a matter of time before AI becomes a standard practice – processes are smart “out-of-the-box”; intelligent applications are an expectation, not the exception; systems learn because that is how they were designed, not as an overlay. If your competitors are using AI today to get ahead of you, then you need to also use AI to catch up and keep up. In 2021, having a smart business will not get you ahead of the pack – it will move you into it.
AI Will Thrive in Areas where the Cost of Failure is Low
While organisations will be forced to adopt AI to remain competitive, initial exploration of AI solutions will be in areas that they consider low risk. The Financial Services, Retail, and other transaction-oriented industries will use AI to drive improved personalisation, increase customer retention, and improve their ability to lower risk and combat fraud. These are process-driven areas, where manual processes are being enhanced and enriched by AI. Although machine learning and other AI technologies will help improve the speed and quality of services, they will not be a replacement for many of the more complex business practices that companies and their employees frequently overlook to automate. The ‘low hanging fruit’ to add AI to will come first, with various degrees of success.
There will be industries and processes where organisations will be more skeptical about adopting AI. If Google finds a wrong translation or gives a wrong link, it is not a big concern, unlike a wrong diagnosis or wrong medication. In areas that are crucial to our well-being – such as healthcare – AI does not yet have the trust for acceptance of society. There are still questions around ethics and algorithm concerns.
Technology Providers Will Stop Talking about AI
Technology vendors highlight what they consider their key differentiators, that show that they are ahead of the game. When every piece of software and hardware is intelligent, vendors will stop talking about the fact that they are intelligent. This may not fully happen in 2021 – but ENOUGH technology will be intelligent for those who have not yet made their software smart to understand that they cannot talk about its intelligent capabilities as that just shows they are behind the market.
The good news is that the less we hear about AI, the more intelligent applications will become. AI is quickly becoming a core capability and a base expectation. Systems that learn and adapt will be standard very soon – but be wary, as significant market changes can break these systems! Many companies learned that the pandemic broke their algorithms as times were no longer “normal”.
Enterprises Will Seek Hyperautomation Solutions
RPA will increasingly become part of large enterprise application implementations. Technology vendors are adding RPA functionality either organically or through acquisitions to their enterprise application suites. RPA often works in conjunction with major software products provided by companies such as Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft, and IBM. Rather than having an operative enter data into multiple systems, a bot can be created to do this. Large software vendors are taking advantage of this opportunity by trying to own entire workflows. They are increasingly integrating RPA into their offerings as well as competing directly in the RPA market with pureplay RPA vendors.
As the RPA offerings continue to mature, enterprises seek to scale implementations and to automate non-repetitive processes, which require more intelligence. They will seek to automate more processes at scale. They will demand solutions that process unstructured data, handle exceptions, and continuously learn, further increasing productivity. Intelligent automation typically incorporates AI, particularly voice and vision capabilities and uses machine learning to optimise processes. Hyperautomation turbo charges intelligent automation by automating multiple processes at scale – and will become core to digital transformation initiatives in 2021.
Businesses Will Put “Automation Targets” in Place
2020 was the year that many businesses started seeing some broad and tangible benefits from their automation initiatives. Automation was one of the big winners of the year, as many businesses took extra steps to take humans out of processes – particularly those humans that had to be in a specific location, such as a warehouse, the finance team, the front desk and so on (because of the pandemic, they were often working at home instead). Senior management is seeing the benefits of automation, and they will start to ask their teams why more processes are not automated Therefore we will start to see managers put targets around a certain percentage of tasks automated in an area – e.g. 70% of contact centre processes will be automated, 90% of the digital customer experience for a certain outcome will be automated and so on. Achieving these numbers may not be easy, but the targets will change the mindset of people designing, implementing, and improving processes.