Lauren Timmer-Somer, head of marketing and technology services at Ricoh SA, wonders what the working landscape will look like in five years’ time.
Blockchain technology is revolutionising the financial services industry, additive manufacturing is reengineering product development, and the first autonomous cars are due on the road by 2020. Technology is driving disruption at great pace — and it is also changing the way we work.

Working in a world of change
Ricoh commissioned research by Coleman-Parkes that shows employees predict digital disruption and automation to be the biggest game-changers this year. Technological advances such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics are spawning new business models and roles. Rapid data analysis can help find insights which were previously unattainable in marketing and finance. Autonomous supply chains and intelligent warehouses in logistics can allocate stock to markets with most demand. Leading retailers are simultaneously replacing delivery vans with unmanned drones. There’s no denying that we’re in a world of change.
Employees believe that digital disruption has even more impact on the way we work compared with political or economic uncertainty. That’s why the concern for many people is whether or not their skills will still be relevant in five years’ time. But as many as 95% of employees included in the research, which included South Africa, see change as a positive occurrence. In fact, 61% want technology at work to help improve productivity, simplify processes and help them make more informed decisions.

Technology takes centre-stage in the workplace
We can expect digital disruption to fundamentally impact the way we work in three distinct ways:
* How we collaborate: Connectivity is vital for innovation, especially as teams become increasingly global. Cognitive whiteboards enable teams across the world to build ideas together in the same virtual meeting. Bringing AI and voice recognition into the boardroom will improve our abilities to make better, informed decisions with greater speed. Similarly, video conferencing systems will be commonplace within the next few years. Speaking with a co-worker on the other side of the world will be as easy as leaning over your desk to speak with someone in the office.
* Making the mundane automatic: Already used by forward-thinking organisations, we can expect the automation of back-office processes to be standard in five years. Document-heavy workloads will move from being paper-based to more efficient and cost-effective electronic processing. This provides a clear overview of incoming and out-going funds. Users also have more time to focus on the core goals of the business.
* The use of mobile and on-demand services as second nature: Improving services for digitally-savvy employees and customers by blending ease-of-use with powerful technology is a top priority for many businesses in the coming year. With mobile devices becoming ever more ubiquitous, we’re seeing huge growth in applications that aim to simplify the user experience. Mobile printing, for example, enables employees to print from anywhere and any device to any printer. All this without the need to find a desktop or USB flash drive.
Success in five years’ time will require business leaders to have clear strategic thought to make the most of innovative new technology. Most importantly, they must push to give their employees the tools needed to be more flexible, efficient and creative with their time. Putting people at the centre of change will allow them to make the most of the opportunities digitisation creates.