The Elastic Enterprise is a new concept we’ve established to describe the new requirement for surviving in the current and post COVID-19 Era. At Ephesoft, we specialize in creating automation within organizations and driving maximum productivity, helping customers reduce their human touch on business processes and drive amazing results with our platform.

With the current state of the world, work as we know it is going to change and it is up to us to adapt and overcome in this new global environment. We have to enable our people to work and succeed under new circumstances. If we are going to survive as an organization, every aspect of our business needs to go through a transformation. But how do we approach this uncertainty, and how does it translate to a strategy we can implement as a business?

Black Swan Events

If you aren’t familiar with the term “black swan event,” it is a phrase commonly used in the world of finance and is an extremely negative event or occurrence that is impossible or difficult to predict. In other words, black swan events are events that are unexpected and unknowable. These events seem to be more and more common, just look at our past history: floods, fires, COVID, cyberattacks, political disruption, financial crisis, Brexit, and many others over the years.

That was the past though, right? Yes, but we must be prepared and equipped to handle future black swan events, even if we can’t predict them. Just as the human race needs to flex, adjust and adapt in order to overcome and survive, businesses need to be elastic to prevail, too.

What is Elasticity in a business environment?

First, let’s look at the definition of elasticity: the ability to return to normal shape. The ability to change and adapt. I think we can all agree this is a requirement for business in the new normal, from our business operations to IT to how we work with customers, partners and employees.

The Elastic Enterprise is a strategic mindset and an overarching theme that gives us the ability to adapt and change dynamically to external market and world forces. It provides for a constantly mobile and transient workforce that can quickly migrate and provides all the services and applications for users to be productive and complete their work. 

Its main tenets are:

  • To provide infrastructure and services that are scalable and available to employees, customers and partners at all time
  • To create a foundation for extending automation to where work is being done
  • It provides the environment for new apps and next-generation intelligence to thrive.
  • And, it can provide all this anywhere, any time

Organizations around the world are figuring out how to become more elastic in their strategy. In a recent survey by IDC, they revealed these top priorities from CIOs within the pandemic to build a strategy and foundation for the new normal:

  • Strengthen software capabilities for digital innovation at scale
  • Creating digital culture
  • Improve efficiency and reduce costs to optimize operations
  • Create a new remote office and collaboration system

Challenges to Building a New Model

What becomes clear to building the Elastic Enterprise to maximized productivity is the following: proving context to remote workers, fully adopting the cloud, groundwork for next-gen apps and truly work from anywhere. One factor, which contributes to adding context is the “watercooler effect.” An office is a place for collaboration and socialization and we just didn’t know how important it all was until it was removed from our daily grind. With a large percentage of users now remote, that source of discussion and knowledge was removed.

With not many options, virtual meetings become our way of interacting with coworkers, partners and customers. But is it really a replacement? Psychologists and social researchers are investigating this idea. They have found that there are quite a few issues with remote meetings. First, focusing on the meeting is difficult with all your applications available. Emails come in, chats are started and work is available to do. In addition, the “mirror effect,” or the habit of constantly checking your expression and adjusting can consume some users. The cognitive loading of those, combined with our brains struggling with reading normal body language or signals is taxing on our systems and mentally wearing us down. 

I work remotely and love to get back to our office headquarters. I get so much more out of those face-to-face conversations and can get things done quickly with focus. People leverage other people and their tribal knowledge. It adds context and provides a basis for problems. Solving and being productive. It’s this living contextual library, removed and now absent with new remote work, that many have struggled to overcome.

Are social and collaboration apps the answer? It’s easy to take things out of context in chat. What could be done with a 5-minute live conversation now becomes an hour-long string of chats that are missed on the other side? In addition, not all workers are tech-savvy and may lack the skills to completely get the most benefit from these apps. With email duplicating conversations and multiple chat platforms, conversations and meaning can be lost.

Context is King

The context theme will arise over and over as a key theme to ensuring maximum productivity in a dynamic landscape with remote workers. To truly be effective, applications will require “contextual extensions” that can provide instant reference and context to a discussion. For example, an extension on a Slack accounting conversation can add documents, data and information, which helps to add context and depth to a conversation, augmenting capability and deepening the ability to be productive in the moment.

Tapping into cloud architecture and solutions will help build the elastic enterprise. It seems like we have been talking about the move to the cloud forever, but it is still a hot topic with the 2020 cloud spend predicted to be over $231 billion. There are still organizations that won’t move for perceived security risks or it just hasn’t been high on the priority list.

Cloud is a Top Priority for CIOs

COVID has changed all that for now and the cloud is top on the priority list according to this IDC survey of CIOs. The cloud has become more of a priority to enable of the elastic enterprise.

Cloud allows for the distribution of services to your users and pervasive access. A combination of SaaS offerings, private cloud and public cloud can give organizations a hybrid approach to providing extended automation and driving productivity to all users, regardless of location or device. In general, the cloud allows for scale-up and scale-down operations to conserve costs and handle unknown fluctuations in volume. It provides always-on, dial tone availability to users globally. Many organizations have quickly realized it can provide the horsepower from a processing perspective to power machine learning and AI efforts. Finally, the lack of physical locations and assets to manage eliminate the rigidity that was a blocker for elasticity.

Today’s Remote Toolkit

As humans, we have adapted to remote work during this crisis but our applications have not. With a focus on enabling high levels of productivity, we as a community have tried to take our current corporate toolkit, and make it available for all to leverage. Content services and file sync apps allow for remote access and sharing. Collaboration tools and mobile capture provide a simple way to onramp files, and most workflow tools can be used to maintain continuity with the home base. But what about robotic process automation (RPA). And, where is the context and AI?

With many of the RPA implementations being attended processes that require desktop access and user engagement at some point, leaders need to re-evaluate RPA strategies and digital transformation plans. How can they move to unattended processing and eliminate the “robot helper” mindset or human in the loop? How can they create a digital watercooler for digital workers to glean context and reduce human input?

There must be a move to using AI and machine learning tools. According to Gartner, “AI augmentation of processes generates $2.9 trillion in business value and can recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity.” It’s no mystery that AI is required to make the next leap and drive new levels of productivity and automation in our applications. By augmenting our automation and processes, we can drive unseen levels of productivity and save billions of hours that can be spent on more important tasks.

Barriers to AI

While there are strong barriers to implementation, the elastic enterprise can remove most of them. With the elastic enterprise comes a new level of transformed business that can take advantage of new infrastructure to drive AI initiatives. As the move to the cloud continues, most cloud vendors have strong AI infrastructure and toolsets that are readily available and can provide a seamless integration point for application to take advantage of machine learning and AI. Finally, vendors are taking a pre-built solution focus that will give companies an easy starting point or provide solutions that can provide value immediately.

Tomorrow’s Toolkit

Soon, our future tools will provide enriched data around and in applications to drive context and provide users with the information they need now and in the future. Knowledge graphs will automatically provide connected and related data, insuring context is front and center, and collect true enterprise process knowledge. This understanding through artificial intelligence will drive augmented automation across the elastic enterprise and new levels of productivity.

Will office headquarters continue to exist? Will it become obsolete? In some conversations with commercial realtors, they see organizations not shrinking space, but reorganizing and repurposing for not only changing staff sizes and remote workers but also for transient workers. Those that come in here and there for meetings and to catch up with coworkers, but only stay for a day or part of one. With higher percentages working from home, the office transformation will be focused on hoteling and meeting spaces.

To accommodate this ebb and flow of workers, that elastic foundation needs context and automation, making it available in the office, at home and anywhere the user decides to park for the day. This consistency of service will drive productivity and remove barriers to efficiency.

Digital Workers and the Digital Office

Do robots need their own office? The current crisis has brought to light the fact that digital workers are immune to the virus and are not subject to ebb and flow. They can remain up, and ready to work, especially if they are now converted to unattended processors. The obvious place for this office is a virtual carve out in the cloud or with an RPA SaaS provider. But are they ready to be autonomous? Do they have the context and AI to run unattended in their own environment?

This core set of principles and subsequent questions, hopefully, makes sense and you can see the foundation that needs to be built. How will you make your enterprise elastic to enable productive, remote work anywhere? With an elastic infrastructure in place, organizations can revisit and refine their strategy to achieve high levels of autonomy and productivity. 

Providing context to your applications, especially RPA and workflow, can reduce human interaction by providing the data required to make decisions without human help to your digital workforce and applications. 

How do we climb the barrier? The solution to this problem is an overarching theme called Context Driven Productivity and it starts with becoming an Elastic Enterprise. Rigid organizations will die – we see it in the news every day. A focus on people, remote work, ensuring productivity through new applications and a focus on providing automation will glean amazing benefits. Finally, context will fuel the next wave of true autonomy as we give both human and digital users and our applications the context they need to make decisions, reduce human-in-the-loop requirements and take us to the top level of the autonomous journey.

Register to watch the webinar on Ephesoft’s BrightTALK Channel here.