The Hottest Trends in Business and Office Technology

Productivity Technology

Top Tech trends, computer with text

Increase productivity, reduce costs & grow your business

Change is the new normal in today’s business environment.  While some have been disrupted more than others, every industry has felt the effects of rapidly evolving technology.  Regardless of your industry, there are a few key office technology trends that every business owner or manager should know.

Keep reading (or skip ahead) to discover the trends that we believe are most changing the way people do work and do business, and what impact they could have on your organization.

Trends we will discuss:

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Unified Communications

Business team having video conference in the conference room

What is Unified Communications?

Unifying all forms of communication is the essence of Unified Communications (UC) technology and solutions.

While UC can include virtually any transfer of information, it typically encompasses at least the following aspects of communication.

  • Messaging and multimedia services: email, voicemail, fax, video, pictures, and all voice communications
  • Real-time communication: paging, instant messaging, call screening, conferencing, etc.
  • Data services: services that allow for the storage or transfer of data (cloud storage, online services, etc.)
  • Transactions: online banking, digital currency, e-commerce, etc.

Rather than relying on many different service providers, devices, and channels for professional communications, the idea is to consolidate them all into a single, comprehensive system that creates a convenient solution rather than the complexity of a typical communication network. 

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Benefits of Unified Communications

Combining all your communication methods into one solution is simpler to maintain and oversee from both an IT and fiscal perspective; you have just one provider and one communication infrastructure.

The number one benefit of adopting unified communications is the added flexibility it gives your team and your customers.  Your team is now available at one consistent number, whether they are taking calls on their mobile or desk phone, customers and colleagues alike can always reach your team.

Video conferencing through a UC solution lets you faster develop a relationship with your customers and remote employees than voice-calls or emails would alone. 

Unified communication solutions can work in conjunction with your document management solutions to make it easy for your remote or mobile staff to access any documents they need while on the go.  By facilitating remote and mobile work, enterprises are even able to reduce the quantity of office space they require.

Ultimately, the benefits of a UC integration include reduced costs, greater flexibility, fewer mistakes and miscommunications, and much more. By choosing to go with unified communications, individuals and businesses alike find themselves achieving more and having fewer complications while cutting costs at the same time.

Flexible Working

Flexible working is a broad trend accompanying the idea that work doesn’t always take place in an office.  It takes place on the road, in your home, at the airport, in a coffee shop, and wherever your team may be. 

In this piece, we’ve broken the trend of flexible working into two of its most essential sub-trends: Remote Working, and Mobile Working.

Remote Working

Woman working remotely on a laptop computer

Remote working allows your team to work at the time, and in the place that best suits their needs, be that their home, a hotel room or a co-working space.  Allowing teams to work together and collaborate from around the globe, reducing travel requirements and opening new talent pools.

How Does Remote Work Benefit the Business?

One of the most visible benefits of remote work for a business is a reduction in overhead costs.  Remote teams require less (and sometimes no) office space. 

One great example of how remote work can lower overhead is the insurance sales firm, Aetna.  After rolling out a remote work policy, they were able to eliminate 2.7 million square feet of office space, cutting costs by about $78 million.

While the sheer size of Aetna means that it saw returns of a scale that the average small business could never achieve, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth pursuing.  A study by Global Workspace Analytics found that the typical organization could save $11,000 per year by allowing employees to work remotely just 50 percent of the time.

There is also an argument that remote workers are more productive than those physically showing up in the office each day.  Two-thirds of managers report that their remote workers became more productive after making the switch.

How Does Remote Work Benefit Employees?

There are a plethora of reasons your employees may prefer to work remotely. Most remote workers cite that remote work better integrates with their lives and commitments outside of work.  For others, it means they may not need to relocate for their job.  And for some, it just means they no longer have to suffer a long commute to work. 

Regardless of their chosen reason, numerous studies have shown that giving teams the option to work remotely improves morale, lowers stress, and decreases absenteeism.  Not to mention the benefit to elderly, injured or other less-mobile workers who no longer need to commute to and from the office each day.

Common Problems with Remote Working

Before liquidating all your office space and adopting a fully remote work approach, there are a few potential pitfalls of which you should be aware. 

Effective communication between employees working remotely and their customers or colleagues is the most prominent concern when considering a remote work program.  It is crucial to have the right communication tools in place, enabling teammates to quickly collaborate on files or projects and keep in touch with customers.

Look beyond yet more email for this communication.  With the increasing accessibility to unified communication solutions and video calling/conference tools, there is no reason your remote staff cannot stay in touch with “face-to-face” meetings.

Another common worry of owners and managers of organizations adopting remote work is the decreased ability to monitor employees’ productivity.  Whether this issue is relevant to your business depends on your workplace culture and management style. Still, if you are concerned, productivity or project management tools such as Trello, Harvest and Monday are increasingly popular methods for tracking your teams’ work.

Mobile Working

Confident businessman speaking on the phone and looking on the wristwatch in cafe

While similar in some ways to remote work, mobile working brings its unique advantages and challenges.  The essence of mobile work is providing your team with the tools, information and opportunity to work on the go.

A sales rep answering emails between meetings from a coffee shop, a technician troubleshooting while on-site with a customer or a team member fine-tuning a presentation when waiting at the airport for their flight; these are all excellent examples of mobile work. 

Does your team have access to the documents, data or tools they need to be fully productive while out of the office?

3 Reasons Mobile Work Is an Opportunity for Your Business

  1. Mobile Workers Are Becoming the Majority

By the end of 2020, over 70 percent of the workforce will be considered a “mobile worker” according to the International Data Corporation.  Employers unwilling to embrace mobile work will soon find themselves at a disadvantage when competing for the top talent.

  1. A Mobile Workforce Leads to New Opportunities

Work doesn’t stop just because a member of your team isn’t in the office; the customer still needs an answer, and the prospect still needs their quote.  Mobile work allows teams to be more responsive and spend more time away from their desk, drumming up business or serving your customers.

  1. Mobile Workers Are Better Workers

The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that when employees feel their employer provides them with the mobile technology that they need to work effectively, they are “more productive, creative, satisfied, and loyal.”

But it isn’t Without Some Risk

Mobile working is an inescapable trend in today’s fast-paced economy.  However, there are a few considerable risks that you should be aware of before adopting a mobile work initiative.

  1. Mobile Workers Can Represent Security Concerns

Cybersecurity is a growing problem for more and more businesses.  We always hear about the massive breaches suffered by large enterprises, but small businesses are at risk as well.  Since mobile workers are frequently accessing your networks and data from different locations and devices, they are a prime target for those seeking to compromise your network.

Computer Weekly asserts that 57 percent of organizations with mobile workers suspect that their teams have been compromised in the past year.

  1. Managing Mobile Workers Involves Utilizing the Right Technology

If your team needs to be hard-wired into your network, or worse physically search paper documents, to access the information they need to do their job, it makes mobile work utterly impossible.

Storing, cataloguing, and syncing your data in a cloud-based system allows your team to access the data they need, where and when they need it most.  The price to adopt these types of systems is lower than ever, and the opportunity cost of not adopting them is only growing by the year.

Should I Adopt Mobile Work at My Business?

Yes.  Mobile work is a trend that cannot be avoided or understated, but it also isn’t one that you should jump into without some prior planning and preparation. 

The organizations that put in the effort to develop a mobile work strategy, have the appropriate resources in place, and train their team to use these tools effectively will be the organizations that derive the most productivity from their top performers.

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Information Mobility

Information mobility can most simply be described as making your information accessible to your team regardless of their physical location.  In other words, your colleagues do not need to be seated at their desks in the office to access the information they need.

Why Is Information Mobility Important?

In the previous section, we discussed the growing number of workers who are choosing to either work remotely or while mobile.  If you want to capitalize on this trend, your team will need to access information wherever and whenever they may be working.  That requires information mobility.

Information stored digitally in the cloud is far easier to scale than data stored on a physical server (or, gasp, a filing cabinet!).  Ensuring your remote offices can access, use and add to your central database is a far less complicated task when that database is hosted in the cloud.

Although we have all heard the horror stories of companies getting hacked and having their data stolen, cloud-based data is more secure than data stored on a private server as physical documents.  A robust digital rights management process will provide you with the flexibility to control who can access, edit or share information.

How Can My Business Improve Its Information Mobility?

There are four steps that organizations will need to work through before you can realize the full benefits of information mobility.

  1. Digitize all data or information currently stored in paper form.
  2. Store this digitized information in a cloud environment so that it is accessible to remote or mobile team members.
  3. Either distribute mobile devices (cell phones, tablets and laptops) to your team or adopt a BYOD policy.
  4. Implement IT security policies and processes to safeguard this digitized information.

Cloud Technology

laptop and cloud server sharing information

The sky-rocketing popularity and accessibility of cloud technology have drastically changed the business landscape.  From increased mobility to reduced overhead and increased security, the potential to dramatically improve your business is there for the taking.

Potential Benefits of Adopting Cloud Tech

  • Opening new doors: It used to be that only the largest organizations could afford to invest in the latest cutting-edge technology. The cloud offers infinite scalability for your business to pay for just the right amount of storage, software, functionality, etc. as best meets your current needs, while still offering the flexibility to grow with you.
  • Improved digital security: Many business owners are nervous about relinquishing control of their data to “the cloud.” However, a reputable cloud service is more secure than almost any traditional, on-site data infrastructure.  Letting your cloud services keep your data safe means your business can focus on what it does best, not try to be its own IT security firm.
  • Available anytime, anywhere: When your information is stored in the cloud, your team is not chained to your physical office(s) to access the documents and data they need to do their job. Whether at the airport, a client’s office, a hotel room or a home office, cloud solutions can help your team to keep working without missing a beat.
  • Cut IT infrastructure costs: If your data is processed, stored and accessed from the cloud, what need do you have for a costly server and all the headaches and IT time or fees that come with an on-premise server? When Office Interiors moved to O365, we were able to reduce our annual IT expenses by over $25,000!

Digital Security

Digital security is a hot button topic these days and has been talked to death both in the media and business communities.  There are, however, two key trends in digital security that we believe are gaining in importance but not yet on the radar of many organizations: the rise of shadow IT and digital rights management.

Shadow IT

Green Carabine with Red Ropes on Sky Background, Symbolizing the Security. Selective Focus. 3d Render.

Shadow IT is a prevalent issue that garners far less attention than it deserves.  Simply put, shadow IT is any software or hardware being used by employees or departments without the knowledge of your IT team. 

While this may not sound like a significant threat to your digital security, in truth, shadow IT exposes your firm to several significant risks.

  • Risk of a data breach
  • Risk of a data loss

Shadow IT increases the risk of a data breach

Any program or equipment that has access to your network could increase your vulnerability for a data breach.  When your IT team has not approved software or hardware, then there is no way to ensure that:

  • it is not malicious
  • it meets your organization’s security standards
  • it is appropriately patched or updated against known threats

It is common for employees with company devices to download applications or programs either for personal use or for convenience.  What preparations do you have in place to deal with this digital security threat?

Shadow IT increases the risk of a data loss

When your team is using a variety of programs or applications, their work may very well be spread across all those programs rather than saved to your centralized, secure database. 

Take, for example, if your team uses their home computer when working from home rather than taking their company-provided laptop home.  What happens if their home computer crashes, is infected with a virus, or for any other reason, becomes no longer accessible.  Will you be able to recover that data?  And if so, how much is that going to cost?

Digital Rights Management

Light green outdoor sign, slightly crooked, on black chain-link fence by dark red steel wall AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY

Digital rights management is the practice of controlling access to specific digital information.  It is more a way of thinking about digital security than it is a particular strategy to restrict access to data.  For example, digital rights management encompasses many approaches, including:

  • Requiring a license to access a program
  • Preventing emails from being forwarded
  • Locking documents in non-editable and uncopiable PDF formats
  • Password protecting mobile storage devices (USBs)
  • Encoding CD/DVDs so that they cannot be copied with ripping software
  • Limiting how many users can access a database or program at a given time
  • Restricting access to network drives or shared folders to specific users

As you can see, digital rights management can take on many forms, but what is most essential is that your business has a digital rights management plan rather than what approaches that plan may entail.

No one wants to believe that their employees may intentionally steal or destroy company data.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare, however.  Internal staff cause most data breaches, be that intentionally or accidentally (social engineering and phishing are significant causes of data breaches).

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Digital Transformation

Work digitally, transform your business

The concept of digital transformation is not nearly as complicated as the media sometimes portrays.  Simply put, a digital transformation is an act of creating or updating your core business processes to leverage modern business technology.

For some businesses, this may mean adopting document management solutions to move towards a paperless office environment; for others, it may mean creating an app that will let your customers manage their services online.

How Do You Successfully Deploy a Digital Transformation in Your Business?

  1. Create a Digital Roadmap and Vision

This is arguably the most crucial step in determining if your digital transformation initiative will be successful.  Before you do anything else, you must establish a clear goal (that aligns with your organization’s overall objectives) and determine what metrics you will use to measure the success or failure of the initiative.

At this point, a budget should also be established.  Starting any initiative without a realistic understanding of the budget requirements is a recipe for lacklustre results, runaway costs, or both.

  1. Find Ways to Digitize Day-to-Day Activities

Sometimes the smallest steps can result in the most dramatic wins.  To get the ball rolling, start by digitizing and automating repetitive tasks. 

For example, create an online meeting booking link where instead of sending several emails back and forth to find a meeting time that works for both parties, your guest can simply book a slot directly into a free slot in your calendar.  A booking application will take only a few minutes to set up but save your users from writing and sending countless emails down the road.

  1. Stay Up to Date (Or Buy From Partners Who Are)

The rate of technological change in the business world has been accelerating for the past several decades.  Keep in mind that whatever solution you select will need frequent updating.  Either you must be prepared to invest in keeping your solution updated, or you ensure you have partnered with a supplier who will do this for you. 

SAAS (software as a service) subscription services are an excellent choice when available.

  1. Consistently Evaluate and Adjust

A digital transformation isn’t the type of initiative that you can run for a few months, pat yourself on the back and then ignore for a few more years. 

The needs of your company and your customers will evolve, and the technology you rely on to do business needs to evolve with them.  It’s vital to periodically check-in on how well your business processes and technology align with your organization’s short-, mid- and long-term goals.

As new opportunities arise, the process begins anew!

Business Analytics (vs Business Reporting)

people meeting to discuss decisions based on business analytics

Every successful business knows that it’s imperative to have the right measurement tools to report on how your business is performing.  However, many organizations mistake this business reporting for business analytics.

Business reporting is the act of converting your business data into a format that can be quickly understood by decision-makers, such as your performance Scorecard or financial statements.

Business analytics is the act of analytics data to derive actionable insights for future decisions.

While these might seem like semantic differences on the surface, a helpful distinction to draw is whether you are merely organizing data to be able to more easily evaluate the success (or failure) of past actions or if you are analyzing the data to uncover potential opportunities for the future.

Why is This Distinction Important? 

The forward-looking nature of business analytics allows you to get out ahead of your competitors and seize several essential benefits.  For example, business analytics could be the edge you need to better:

  • Anticipate customer preferences (or changes in preferences)
  • Apply personalization to the buying process
  • Score sales leads more effectively

After you have taken steps to seize an opportunity discovered by your business analytics is the time to use business reporting to determine whether those steps achieved the results you anticipated.

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Business Process Optimization

At its core, business process optimization (BPO) is about finding sustainable or repeatable ways to improve quality (product or experience), reduce costs or streamline workflow. 

Why might you want to undertake this initiative is straightforward. After all, who doesn’t want to improve their product, reduce their costs or increase their team’s efficiency?  What is not quite so straightforward is how you can achieve those goals.

Implementing a Business Process Optimization Strategy

There are five steps that any successful BPO plan needs to follow.  Skipping steps or taking an ad hoc approach is a sure-fire way to end up spending a lot of time with very little to show for it.

  1. Identify the Process That Needs Improvement
  2. Analyze the Current Process
  3. Implement the BPO Plan
  4. Monitor the Results
  5. Return to Step 1

Identify the Process That Needs Improvement

The most critical step, and most often skipped, is to set a SMART goal.  All BPO efforts involve some sort of cost; even if it is not monetary (ex. your time), how are you supposed to know if it was successful without a concrete, measurable and timely goal?

Analyze the Current Process

As we discussed in the earlier section on the difference between analytics and reporting, its crucial to dig beyond the surface metrics of your business process.  You must uncover why each step of the process occurs and whether there is either an opportunity to do that step more efficiently or even remove/replace it entirely.

While the first step of the BPO process is arguably the most important, analyzing your current processes can be the most difficult.  Pick one process or workflow that best aligns with your BPO goal and take as long as needed to get a firm grip on why your process has evolved to work the way it does.

Implement the BPO Plan

The third step is the stage is when you roll out your solution.  Perhaps you found a more effective way for your team to fulfill service tickets or changing the layout of your warehouse will allow for faster order picking. 

It is critical to take the time necessary to get everyone involved in this new process brought up to speed on what is changing, why it is changing, and how important it is that they support this new change.  A lack of buy-in from those on the ground carrying out the revised process is a common source of failure for BPO initiatives.

Monitor the Results

Now that you have rolled out your BPO solution, its time to see if your business is better off because of it.  Since you set a SMART goal in step one, it is at this point that you begin to measure how your efforts are working. 

Depending on the type of process you are optimizing and the solution you chose, the results may be apparent immediately, or you may need to monitor how it is performing for some time.

Return to Step 1

Business process optimization is not the type of initiative that you can “set and forget.”  Technology changes, your employee’s turnover, industry evolves.  Process optimization must be a framework that becomes part of your organizational DNA to keep your business operating effectively and efficiently.  There is always room for more improvement!

Workflow Automation

automating workflows with technology

What would it be worth to your business if you could expand your team by 25 to 40 percent, without paying another time in salaries and benefits? 

Studies (for example, this one by Automation Anywhere), are now showing that office workers spend as much as 40 percent of their time completing repetitive tasks.  Is that a productive use of your most valuable resource, your people?  How would it impact employee morale and engagement if your team was free from the burden of repetitive work?

By automating simple tasks like data entry, filing and cataloguing documents or processing and routing paperwork for orders or invoices, you can increase the speed and accuracy of your business processes while allowing your team to spend their time on work that creates value.

One example that we love to use was when we decided to take our advice and automate much of our Accounts Payable process.  Firstly, we were able to reduce several significant hard costs (thousands of pages printed each month and storage fees for all financial documents).  Our Accounts Payable Administrator was then freed from more than eight hours of manual, repetitive processing tasks each week. 

She has now been able to expand her role and take on additional responsibilities that she simply did not have time to do before.  Moreover, our Accounts Payable process works faster and with fewer errors (no more human data entry errors) eliminating erroneous payments and late payment fees.  All told, we estimate to have saved more than $10,000 annually by automating just this one process.

Optical Character Recognition

For those unfamiliar, optical character recognition (often referred to as OCR) is a technology that can read and understand what is printed on a page, document or image.  When OCR was first invented, it required the use of unique fonts, but the technology has now advanced to the point of delivering almost-perfect transcriptions of any font or text.

OCR technology is often keystone to successful business process and workflow automation programs.  When your scanner or multifunction printer (copier) can read and understand the text on a scanned document, it opens up many possibilities to reduce manual data entry and document processing.

Document Management Systems

Person sorting through paper documents instead of an electronic document management system

Another critical component of effective automated workflow processes, a document management system (or DMS), is a software or bundle of software that stores and catalogues documents and data. 

Some sophisticated DMS can be programmed to route documents intelligently, but even the less advanced DMS can work in conjunction with additional software to achieve the same end.

Why Consider a Document Management System for Your Business?

There are several key benefits, but the benefit most easily quantified is the cost you can save by adopting a DMS. 

When you convert all your paper documents and data into a digital form and store them in a DMS, you eliminate the need to use valuable office space for filing and storage or pay for offsite storage facilities.  For example, a single filing cabinet will use, on average, approximately six square feet of office space.  At market rates for office space in Halifax, those six square feet could cost over $100 annually.  Per filing cabinet.  How many documents does your business currently store?

A less easily quantified cost-saving is the reduction of wasted productive time for your team when filing and retrieving documents.  With a DMS, you won’t need to waste time digging through filing cabinets looking for contracts, invoices or the other documents.  In seconds your team will be able to pull up the information they need to do their jobs effectively and keep your customers happy.

The third reason many companies have been adopting DMS is related to their ability to store data in the cloud.  While a DMS could be hosted on-site or in the cloud, cloud-based DMS is far more prevalent today. 

If you store your documents in a cloud-based DMS, your team can access the information stored within from any device or location (within the parameters you allow).  This is a boon for mobile or remote teams who previously had to travel to physical offices to pull documents, interrupting their work.

That is a Lot to Absorb… Now What?

Did you really just read 4500 words about how technology is changing the way the modern office operates?  Clearly, you are dedicated to creating a more productive work environment for your team.  Well, I have great news for you… so are we.

We are not a software developer; we are not even a reseller for many of the technologies discussed in this article.  What we are is business that has spent the last three decades learning how to help organizations just like yours, be more productive.  So, if reading this e-book has inspired you to become a more flexible/cloud-based/secure/efficient business, we want to hear from you.

Together, let’s build a more productive workplace!

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