Innovating the digital tether

Devices and systems are evolving to meet the changing needs of the digital workplace.
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How can the organisation best augment its citizenry? How can it innovate and redefine the shape of end-user devices to transform how employees work, live and engage? According to Forrester’s research, ‘The Technology-Augmented Employee’, this transformation is still a long way off. The enterprise is not quite at the point where its end-user device investment could be defined as a success. In fact, Forrester found that worker productivity has slowed significantly since 2004, in spite of ongoing enterprise investment in technology and end-user devices. There’s a balance that remains elusive, the balance between the capabilities of the technology and the engagement of the employee where both work together productively.

Forrester found that beyond the core devices of PC, tablet or smartphone, employee usage drops dramatically. Wearables and purpose-built devices and intelligent extras are not slipping into mainstream usage in spite of litres of capability and functionality. People who do use the tech are seeing significant improvements in their working processes and productivity, but these early adopters and tech aficionados are rare – most stick with what they know; the keyboard, the mouse, the monitor. The well-established tools of the trade.

So, the question then becomes more around how to leverage the capabilities of AI, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), wearables, automation and apps so that employees want to use them. How to innovate these technologies so that they align to the evolving needs of the employee, not the other way around. Can the camera on the smartphone be taken to the next level? Probably. Should it? Maybe not. How can the laptop evolve to pull AR, VR and wearables into the workplace in ways that are of value to the employee?

People need their devices to have context, to provide support and deliver value. They don’t want devices because their organisations have ordained it, they want them because they reduce admin, improve experiences and reduce workload burdens. New technologies can extend the capabilities of the employee, but they have to improve human experiences at the same time.

Fortunately, this is where innovation is paying attention. These fresh-faced solutions are making inroads into the office, particularly now, as the world emerges from the pandemic with square eyes. Digital has become everything. VR and AR solutions are being used to transform training programmes and help employees immerse themselves in designs and plans before they become a firm reality. AI is gradually becoming an indispensable tool in virtual assistants, applications and device management solutions, allowing for employees to streamline their admin and processes, and wearables are giving people immediate access to information in varied settings, from underwater to in the air. And all these technologies are giving people one other valuable tool – the ability to opt into new experiences, new ways of working and critical skills development opportunities.

This is where end-user device innovation should sit – at the edge of the employee’s working day, providing solutions and value-added services that build experiences. This is what the business leaders want, solutions that don’t interrupt the user experience, but empower it. Perhaps the laptop may not evolve beyond its current state, and maybe AR and VR won’t become the next big thing in immersive training, but employees should be part of the process that changes how these devices are accessed, used and managed. ENDS

Unpackingend-user innovation

Brainstorm: How can end-userdevice innovation impact on workplace, workflow and business?

Tjaard du Plessis, head of Digital and Emerging Technology, Synthesis: It creates a more mobile and fluid organisation, removing the office space and office time constraint. Moving the office closer to home feels like a violation of private space and personal time, but, mostly, this is a step towards freedom and not away from it. Freedom to work from anywhere, connect with anyone and recruit across the globe. It improves remote communication through chat, video and soon VR. It improves workflow through cloud-native digital platforms and impacts business by increasing its reach.

Ian Jansen van Rensburg, senior systems engineer and lead technologist, VMware Sub-Saharan Africa: End-user computing has shifted to make place for Workforce Mobility. End-user computing was focused on access to data, whereas Workforce Mobility influences your day-to-day life. People should embrace change, keep up with the latest technology trends and not be afraid to take bold steps. To innovate moves the business out of the comfort zone and this is naturally frightening, but the ones wanting to remain in the safe zone are the ones left behind. Large companies take a long time to change and innovate, and this is due to people and processes.

Brainstorm: How can organisations innovate in this growing field?

Xavier Nel, head of Product, CloudGate: This is a great time for IT providers to explore and capitalise on new, as well as tap into existing, technologies to provide solutions that meet the evolving needs of businesses in this new environment. Key areas where there is a lot of need and opportunity right now are in end-user computing, cloud computing services, i.e. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS), internet connectivity and remote support.

Tjaard du Plessis, Synthesis: Invest and experiment; it’s that simple. To do this, however, isn’t simple; most organisations have to change their mindset towards failure, which could be a massive culture shift. It will take time, but you have to start. Innovation thrives where experimentation and failure are celebrated. Experimentation means you build real things, for real users to test and provide feedback. It’s important to democratise the development of technical solutions. Just as we moved from a world where a select few could read to where almost everyone can today, so must we move to a world where almost everyone can use and build technology. This will allow technology to live up to its potential and make it more affordable.”

Brainstorm: What platforms, tools and technologies define innovation in end-user computing?

Xavier Nel, CloudGate: Virtual desktop solutions, cloud-based productivity solutions, mobile internet connectivity technologies such as 5G, remote monitoring and management tools. There is no doubt that the world has evolved into one where remote working and social interaction is part of the new normal and that we will see a lot of new developments and innovations that will make it even easier to work, connect, collaborate and socialise virtually and to allow businesses to maintain a high level of productivity while maintaining a strong company culture – even over digital platforms.

Ian Jansen van Rensburg, VMware Sub-Saharan Africa: There are various solutions available on the market. Still, the basics need to include an application store, mobile device management, end-to-end intrinsic security, seamless VPN capability and most critical identity management. To increase productivity and maintain ongoing innovation, end-users should be able to run private applications next to business-critical applications seamlessly.

Brainstorm: What lies ahead for the end-user device and how will it impact on culture and landscape?

Ian Jansen van Rensburg, VMware Sub-Saharan Africa: Internet access available from everywhere is one of many futuristic enhancements that have been made. Many vendors are working hard to get internet to the entire world so that anyone can be connected. Having internet in the form of 5G speeds available everywhere will expand possibilities and drive more innovation. Edge computing will also become a reality. Bringing data closer to the smart devices and having virtual datacentres within cellphone towers, factories, oil rigs and multiple, unexpected, locations, will be one of the enhancements to look forward to.

Tjaard du Plessis, Synthesis: The famous futuristic analogy is the Uber for ‘X’. What is the Uber for the workplace? What happens if you remove space and time constraints at the workplace? What other constraints will be challenged? Perhaps the on-demand generation used to Netflix and Uber wouldn’t understand a contract with an employer. Perhaps they would work in a more freelance style? If everyone can build with technology and change our world so rapidly, the era of choosing a career for life is probably over.

Xavier Nel, CloudGate: The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of how businesses need to operate to stay competitive and one of the big shifts has been the need to adopt remote working strategies for their workers. One of the key requirements to successfully deliver this is the end-user device and this has created a demand for cost-effective and innovative hardware and technologies in this space.

Intelligent screen

A locally developed, AI-based risk screening mobile application that’s designed for Covid-19, but capable of monitoring employee health and wellness.

End-user device computing is not just defined by the devices that improve productivity and employee capabilities. It’s equally about investing in solutions that focus on the people behind the desks, the machines, smartphones and monitors. This is the ethos that has seen the development of the world’s first AI-based risk screening mobile application that can not only support organisations in managing employee screening during the pandemic, but provide general health- and wellness-monitoring facilities well beyond the ongoing threat of Covid-19. Instant Vitals uses the camera on a mobile phone, the algorithms of AI, and the intelligence of sassy dev skills to turn any mobile device into a clinical device that can save lives.

“We’ve been in the AI space for many years now, but the Covid-19 crisis accelerated our goal to develop a solution that could provide people with rapid and relevant access to medical care,” says Quenti Daffarn, MD, UC-Wireless. “Instant Vitals has two modes of licensing – one for the individual and one for the enterprise – and both contain the same intelligence and processes to deliver the same results.”

The app screens the individual using the primary recognised symptoms and measures the key indicators of oxygen saturation, heart rate and respiratory rate that are the early indicators for risk. It uses the mobile device camera to scan a person’s face and establishes their risk status of either green, amber or red within 20 to 50 seconds.

“Photoplethysmography has been around for a while. It’s the same technology that is used by doctors and hospitals to measure vital signs on your finger using infrared light,” says Daffarn. “We are using our AI to convert mobile devices into medical devices that can measure vital signs with medical accuracy using this technology.”

The leap from infrared hospital device to smartphone is not insignificant. Smartphones don’t have infrared built in so the app does the work instead. The camera captures the video image that’s then processed and interpreted using the algorithms and AI, extracting the waves of light and working out the oxygen saturation in the blood vessels. It’s an intelligent tech that makes medical grade insight into Covid-19 symptoms, and general health risks, instantly available to the end-user. It can be used by the enterprise to monitor people as they enter work, or it can be used by high-risk individuals to manage their care.

“Instead of the generic questionnaire that’s filled in by employees as they enter the building, companies can use the app to gain immediate and accurate insight into a person’s health status,” says Daffarn. “It makes health awareness and care accessible to anyone at any time, which can save a person’s life. Sometimes they will have no symptoms, but their oxygen will be extremely low – they could be sitting at work suffering from silent hypoxia and nobody would know, not even them.”

Instant Vitals is an SAHPRA-approved app that combines AI with an accessible tech toolkit that provides an immediate, colour-coded risk status. It has multiple applications for organisations across multiple verticals, from airlines to restaurants to remote working environments, people can assess their stats and manage their health in the crisis. It also has longer legs that can potentially take the app over the pandemic and into daily working life as a tool used by organisations to ensure ongoing health and wellness for employees.

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