The purpose behind IT technology development is to make work processes simpler and the knowledge worker more efficient. But if that is the case, why is so much of today’s workforce so frustrated with the tools it uses to meet its objectives?
According to systems developer Unit4, more than a third of business professionals feel negatively about their software applications, with 20 percent saying they make their daily lives more difficult, not less. Meanwhile, 17 percent say they hate their technology “with the power of a thousand suns,” while 6 percent have actually contemplated quitting their jobs because their systems are so inadequate. Perhaps most telling, however, is the fact that the vast majority, 76 percent, report profound indifference to technology, saying it neither helps nor hurts their job performance.
A closer look at the numbers may reveal some of the causes for these feelings. For one thing, more than half of the respondents use between two and four different apps to perform common admin or operational tasks, while about a third devote three hours or more per month performing routine functions. When asked what they would most like to see in future versions of their apps, most respondents cited improved usability and integration, followed by automation.
This is one of the reasons why the enterprise is starting to wade into areas like robotic process automation (RPA). According to Tractica, deployment of robots focusing on enterprise processes will jump from 83,000 last year to 1.2 million by 2022, a 57 percent compound annual growth rate that will push revenues from $5.9 billion to nearly $68 billion. The increase is expected to hit industries across the board, in everything from agriculture to construction, and permeate multiple enterprise functions such as warehousing, logistics and customer service.
Among the key methods in which robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to improve application performance are the twin functions of voice recognition and natural language processing. This will allow users to speak their commands to the app, rather than tap, type or click, and have the app speak its response in return. However, Amazon’s Alexa Vice President Al Lindsay is careful to note that this will not replace the traditional GUI, but merely enhance it. Speaking at the recent VB Summit in Berkeley, California, Lindsay noted that seeing a list of 10 options is still more efficient than hearing it. This type of integration is, in part, the rationale behind the “Alexa Prize,” which rewards developers for the most innovative bot designs.
Of course, one of the best ways to improve application usability is to invite users into the development process. This is one of the goals behind the DevOps model, although it can be difficult for business people to wrap their heads around the intricacies of coding and infrastructure support – they just want their systems to work. Companies like OutSystems are looking to change this by championing low-code development, which utilizes common APIs to compile existing services like mapping, cloud storage and social networking rather than incorporate them directly into software. In this way, even non-technical users can craft their own apps in their own way while relying on OutSystems and other platforms to handle infrastructure, integration, testing and the like.
With any new technology, the initial learning curve can often skew the perception of its impact on established processes and workflows. This can be seen with each new release of a PC or mobile operating system, which is typically greeted with complaints from users before eventually settling in as the new normal – only to repeat the process with the next release.
Emerging technologies, however, will have a much greater capacity to adapt themselves to the work habits of their users, meaning that they should get better over time. This will require a little patience on the part of the user, of course, sort of like training a new assistant from scratch.
But hopefully, as technology matures, it will start to become more of a help to the knowledge worker and less of a hindrance.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.