A new model for productivity: ‘flow’

How cognitive systems impact the way we work

A focus on productivity is that one thing that we all share in the workplace. Whether you are a cashier staring down a line of increasingly frustrated customers, or a knowledge worker on a new project trying to remember the name of that excellent contact across the other side of the company you worked with six months back.

If you run a business, you may experience the productivity problem more acutely. Employees report wasting over 8 hours per week searching for people they need to perform their jobs. They waste over 7 hours looking for information.

Enter productivity systems like email and intranets. However there’s an inherent paradox in many of our current systems. They can be a real barrier to the kind of productivity that we are trying to create. They can take us out of the moment. How many times have you been distracted by your email inbox just as you were getting into your creative groove? Or have you been in a great collaboration session that gets prematurely cut short by a colleague raising the lid of a laptop?

Cognitive systems to the rescue. The application of artificial intelligence to productivity systems can help them be just that… they can augment productivity by presenting the right information at the point when it’s needed, in a format that is more conducive to helping you get the job done.

As an example, at this week’s IBM Connect event in San Francisco, Jim Anderson III from workplaceON described how they are working with a number of colleges across the globe to create an intelligent assistant for students that can help them with everything from making sure assignments are completed on time to organizing a get-together for the tennis team.

These systems can capture all the conversation that happens around an organization, parse it to understand the context, and sense when is the best time to present it. In the keynote at the IBM Connect conference, Inhi Cho, General Manager IBM Collaboration Solutions, talked about “purposeful environments”. This is the polar opposite to the filing cabinets that adorn many an office space: there’s much knowledge stored in them, but it can be a devil to find that nugget you need at a specific point in time. We’re entering an age where systems can understand what we’re doing, reason from it by forming hypotheses, learn from the world around it, and interact with us in more human ways.

Look how Woodside Energy uses IBM Watson to give engineers on oil platforms a conversation service into millions of pages of engineering reports. All via an iPad that the engineer can slip under their arm as they wander around the platform.

Rather than having to spend time chasing information or taking you out of your groove, these systems introduce a new productivity ‘flow’.

Why now?

Collaboration has become fundamental to the way we work. We see tropes like agile development in the software field (where small teams work in sprints on a specific task) move into other areas of business such as marketing. As Ami Dewar and Matt Holitza (authors of Cognitive Teamwork for Dummies) point out,

If you ask anyone to describe their work today, it most assuredly involves collaboration. Work is transactional by nature; therefore, the effectiveness of how an organization teams, no matter the size or the manner, can make or break its bottom line.
On top of that we live in a global, fast-moving, highly competitive climate, where we must be able to quickly sense and respond to market shifts. Collaboration is critical to organizations’ ability to rapidly team to evaluate opportunities, understand business impact, make informed decisions and then execute with agility.

We’re also seeing developments in technology, such as the availability of open and integrated cloud environments that allow you to pull together data from various backend systems. Being open also allows for rapid prototyping and testing, for instance see the ease at which we here at IBM were able to develop 1,000s of apps in less than a year through our Cognitive Build. The degree to which we can secure these systems is improving, giving us added confidence that information flows only to those who should have access.

You can see this play out in partnerships like that between IBM and Cisco: where functionality such as Webex video conferencing can be directly embedded into a calendar service like IBM Verse, so you can swiftly schedule video chat sessions.

So the combination of a number of factors is giving birth to a new breed of cognitive productivity solutions that can help us better navigate our working day (or night).

To sum it up, it’s all about understanding what happens in conversations.

To learn more about how you can introduce productivity flow into your working life, check out IBM’s social collaboration software.