Being at the forefront of workplace technology can be the difference between success and failure for businesses
From the fax machine and PC to robotics and virtual reality, workplace technology continues to evolve.
With tech advancing at such a rapid rate, it can be hard to keep up sometimes – but those at the forefront as early adopters of new platforms and devices are usually the most successful.
Manual tasks are increasingly being replaced by automatic processes, and long gone are the days where people need to travel far and wide to speak to customers and clients – with instant messaging and video conferences among the many options available to us nowadays.
Technology is also making it easier than ever to keep in contact with colleagues that are working remotely – making flexible working not only possible but just as productive.
Alex Tebbs is co-founder of VIA, one of the first businesses to specialise in unified communications, which integrates all enterprise communications on to one platform.
The Nottingham company is continually having to re-invest to keep up with advancing technologies and maintain a competitive edge when it comes to providing clients with bespoke communications solutions.
Keen to discover other early adopters of workplace technology, and find out just how crucial it is to stay on top of the latest tech trends, Mr Tebbs has interviewed businesses up and down the country.
Here are a few of their stories, and an insight into what they think could be the “next big thing”.
Workplace technology: Cruise1st
In a bid to improve the way it deals with customer enquiries, cruise specialist Cruise1st has invested in a chatbot with machine learning capabilities.
Specifically, it assists customers during the research phase, helping them to find a destination, cruise line and deal that they’re interested in.
Global head of digital and e-commerce Simon Hoe said: “The always-on nature of the programme means customers can get help around the clock, with the chatbot able to handle hundreds of queries and conversations simultaneously.”
The impact? An eight-fold increase in lead capture, 3% revenue growth and nearly 50% increase in profit per basket.
Cruise1st has also invested in virtual reality (VR) as part of its sales efforts at its Manchester store and is putting further research into this area by looking at how it can implement new VR elements across the website.
Mr Hoe added: “We’re firm believers in investing in the latest technologies to improve our service. To keep up to date with emerging trends, we work with a handful of trusted third-party specialists.
“Having seen the effectiveness of our new chatbot system, machine learning is something we’re keen to explore further and adapt to other areas of the business, such as the payment portal and post-booking phase.”
He believes artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to advance over the next five to ten years, which will have a huge impact on how people buy and search online.
“Machine learning will make it easier for companies to service customers online, though this could have an impact on service levels depending on how carefully it’s implemented,” he added.
Workplace technology: Lovethesales.com
Like Cruise1st, the company has also adopted AI, in order to classify the products it receives daily and then merchandise and tag them.
It also allows the company to promote relevant products to users as they browse the site, using information from their behaviour to show related items and to alert them to products they might like.
To give some context, it would take a team of four human merchandisers 10,000 hours of non-stop work to produce the same results its AI system produces within a day.
Co-founder and chief marketing officer Stuart McClure said: “We are a small team that has delivered massive growth, and our groundbreaking tech has played a massive part in that.
“Staying on top of emerging trends allows us to ensure we spot opportunities to enhance our platform early, meaning we can continue to punch above our weight and give users the best experience when shopping the sales.”
Mr McClure said he’s particularly keen to keep an eye on technological advancements in payments and technology.
He added: “Things like retina and facial recognition, or DNA payments, are all very interesting.
“We are already seeing checkout-free stores – a trend that will likely continue.
“Another important area for technology within retail is delivery, and how to make it faster and cheaper.
“Within warehousing, there’s a lot of interesting tech around robotic warehousing and automated systems for picking and packing that speeds things up considerably.
“There’s also a lot of interesting activity happening with drone delivery – quite a futuristic thought, but I would not be surprised if we see drones buzzing around with deliveries all over the place at some point, perhaps tracking a user’s phone to deliver it to them in person wherever they are.”
Workplace technology: Risc IT Solutions
As a group of IT professionals and advisors, it’s vital that Risc IT Solutions stays ahead of the curve when it comes to tech.
The company claims to be a pioneer of cloud back-up in the UK and was one of the first Microsoft partners in the UK to be awarded Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) Direct status.
Despite working in the industry, the North Wales firm’s phone system was ageing.
Business development director Mark Lawton said: “We needed more flexibility in our work environment, so we invested in a hosted Skype for Business platform.
“This has enabled us to communicate more effectively, both internally and externally with our customers, through the platform’s instant messaging, phone and video call capabilities.
“The flexibility means we aren’t tied down to the office or our desks. We can work from anywhere.”
Mr Lawton keepss up with trends by visiting tech news websites and subscribing to the YouTube channels of big brands like Microsoft, AWS and Google in order to plan any new tech adoption.
Looking forward, he is keen to see how SaaS (Software as a Service) – a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted – develops.
Mr Lawton believes that in the next decade, the majority of his customers will have all their services running in “the cloud”.
He added: “Cloud solutions such as Office 365 and Azure have transformed the level of functionality and security available to smaller businesses.
“This was out of reach for most that didn’t have the economies of scale that large enterprises could leverage. I can only see this growing.”
Workplace technology: Noble PR
When it comes to workplace technology, we mustn’t forget the rise of the World Wide Web, which became publicly available in 1991.
London music entertainment PR agency Noble PR claims to be among the first to make use of a website.
Director Peter Noble said: “Back in 1995, we created our first website for the business, mainly for displaying our press releases and for marketing purposes.
“It was a radical move. Most people did not have access to the internet and, of those who did, it was via a dial-up connection – which was very slow and unstable.
“Press releases were mainly distributed either by fax or via the post. Either way was slow – faxes often got lost and it would take days for a press release to arrive by post, and often the recipient was not there to receive it.
“I could see that the internet would help solve this problem, although my staff really did think I’d gone nuts.
“They didn’t know if the internet would be adopted by the mainstream so, to them, it seemed luxury to have a website.”
Mr Noble said he’s particularly interested in changes to Facebook’s algorithm, which has become one of the company’s main distribution channels.
Like many others, he also believes that AI will be the “next big thing”, but could end up replacing many human jobs.
He added: “Driverless cars will be ubiquitous and it will not be uncommon to go into fast food restaurants where all the food is cooked by a robot and payment will be done without any human interaction.”