Join the cognitive workplace

Mat Newman, ASEAN Collaborative Executive, IBM

We are getting more distracted at workplace. A Basex study entitled The Knowledge Workers’ Day: Our Findings noted that only 30% of US workers are actively engaged in the workplace. The constant office worker interruptions costs US businesses up to US$588 billion, said a separate Basex Research report titled The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity.

Emails, meetings and phone calls continue to sap productivity. According to IBM studies, we spend 80% of the workday replying to emails, answering phone calls and attending meetings.

Vital knowledge within an organization is also bleeding out. For example, in IBM “50% of IBMers today have less than five years of company experience,” said Mat Newman, ASEAN Collaborative Executive, IBM, “so think about it, our company is losing 50% in skills and long-term experience.”

This is also a big step away from the past where information was often controlled by long-term employees who knew everything about the workplace processes. “We used to have people we call ‘silo kings’. And if you do not know who the silo king is, you will not be able to get the information, expertise and knowledge that you need to perform,” said Newman. Losing these individuals or being unable to replace them can seriously hamper workplace productivity and efficiency.

At the same time, the easy access to cloud-based services is changing how we collaborate, and IT is unable to manage or control this. “For example, people use WhatsApp groups for workplace meetings and interactions. It is simple, quick, easy and immediate for someone to create a WhatsApp group with all the relevant parties to resolve a problem. But who is managing the WhatsApp environment? It’s not IT,” said Newman.

Lastly, the type of information and how much of it we consume has evolved. Studies show that 80% of all data is unstructured. According to a USC Marshall School of Business 2015 report entitled How Much Media? an average person consumes 15.5 hours of content. A lot of workplace tools and processes were not designed for so much information, often leading to many using workarounds and other tools, many being mobile-centric.

Engage now

The answer lies in the digital transformation of the workplace. By rethinking the way we consume and use information, we can help consumers to get to the right information or expert quickly and more efficiently.

At a recent IBM Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Newman showed that IBM faced similar concerns internally. To address them, the company created a series of tools and solutions to help employees become efficient knowledge workers.

One important tool was IBM Connections. Essentially, a social collaboration platform for enterprises, it brings together all the knowledge and experts together to one platform. For employees who are new or engaged in a conversation that requires additional domain expertise, it becomes very valuable. Another tool, IBM Expertise offers a way to find other IBMers around the globe who can offer the insights needed.

Figure 1: Social collaboration: leveraging technology - cloud, mobile for Better Employee Engagement

Social collaboration leverages technology for better workforce engagement

Source: IBM

“Today, collaboration is about enabling you to connect with the people, information and actions that you need when you need,” said Newman. 

“It is all about employee engagement and everyone has a voice. That voice is promoted via different IBM technologies,” he added.

Becoming smarter

IBM is not just helping employees to collaborate more easily; it is also helping them to make better and more informed decisions faster through the use of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing.

“It is not just about understanding context but understanding intent. [Technology] can help you to identify information happening across social media and traditional collaboration, and understand what’s happening across your organization,” said Newman. 

Tools like Tone Analyzer, which reads through your emails and responses to make sure that the wrong words do not cost you a job; smart alerts that ensure you do the most urgent and important tasks; Calendar Health that shows which meetings are important to you and your career; and a personal assistant that keeps you on top of your email deluge. All of these tools aim to make every employee smarter.

The same technology is also being used to make recruitment more effective. For example those interested in joining IBM only need to submit their resumes online, and Watson analyzes and suggests key posts. Meanwhile, onboarding new recruits are done through an employee portal that offers links to knowledge bases and personalized career advice.

Cognitive technology is also becoming essential in recruiting and retaining millennials. Understanding their need for immediate recognition and the promotion of their ideas, IBM launched Checkpoint. It replaces the venerable annual performance review with one that is more engagement-related and offers a real-time approach to performance management—all available via any mobile device.  In addition, work done supporting other teams and events are rewarded with congratulatory badges called ‘Blue Thx’ that count during the review.

“What we are doing with Cognitive technologies, including natural language processing and machine learning, is not to replace people. Instead, we are trying to help people make better decisions. So you can make better decisions with the information that you are presented with,” said Newman. 

Practical advice

Forum participants noted that in the end digital transformation requires a change in behavior. They added that you can have the best tools and processes, but you need people to change their behavior as part of the digital transformation exercise.

At IBM, this change in behavior is driven starting from the executive level. “It does involve a huge change in culture. At IBM that change is delivered by the Chief Executive,” said Newman.

Properly done, this transformation can also help to shape business models and the market itself. For example, DBS Bank is employing Watson in banking to dramatically improve the time-to-market of new offerings by analyzing what are already in the market and how people are using them.

Watson is also spearheading medical research, especially in oncology. Newman noted that Boston Health is already teaching Watson its knowledge about cancer in the hopes that it can improve and assist in cancer research. Meanwhile, the Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand is helping nurses and healthcare assistants to analyze cancers through symptoms, without having to bring in an Oncology specialist.

“You can imagine how much this can reduce the cost of testing, and allows faster treatment of the patient,” said Newman.

IBM is also expanding Watson’s use through APIs, allowing other partners to integrate with the technology easily.

“We have announced a number of strategic relationships, bringing our partners into our ecosystem. We can work with a supplier that you may already be working with so as to better deliver the capability inside your organization and with the tools you are already using,” said Newman.