There’s no doubt artificial intelligence is transforming the very concept of work and, when combined with effective collaboration, the possibilities are endless. In this six-part blog series, I use my nearly 20 years of industry expertise to dive into these possibilities, imagining a world where AI meets collaboration—and work is never quite the same.
What happens when artificial intelligence meets collaboration?
That question was on my mind back in October of 2018 when I participated in a Mitel Next demo. It leveraged the chatbot and agent assist skills of Google's AI platform in a Mitel contact center scenario. I was playing the role of a live agent who receives an escalation after a customer asks the chatbot a question it doesn’t have an answer to. In this case, the system set off a workflow that generated a warm handover from the bot to myself, and I connected with the customer via text.
During the conversation, the Natural Language Understanding (NLU) unit took over. In the margin of my screen, it offered me potential answers to the customer’s questions, as well as potential collateral, websites and other assets the customer might find useful. Thus, the power of artificial intelligence was magnified tenfold by effective collaboration.
Collaboration Siloes Are Productivity Killers
When collaborating on a project, we often spend months suffering through weekly meetings, a long wish list of tasks and double-digit versions of files. Then we find out someone on another team made a decision that renders all our work useless and adds a month to the project completion date—that has already moved twice.
This happens because the intersections of knowledge and responsibility in organizations aren't always apparent when we kick off a project. For example, we invite people to collaborate who we think are relevant stakeholders. We don't know if someone in a different department has proactively taken up the same project. And we make assumptions on the existence of data, or lack thereof, that someone we've never met may actually be an expert on.
Add to this the fact that frequently there isn't a standardized team collaboration tool in the company. Yes, there may be an IT standard, but people still use email for text-based communication, desk phones for voice conversations and video conferences for collaboration. And don't get me started on pockets of shadow IT involving specialized cloud apps that may or may not be secure. The fragmentation of people and data across multiple tools continues to create collaboration siloes that hinder progress.
Collaboration Meets Artificial Intelligence
Technology advancements like AI can make these kinds of organizational siloes obsolete. Just like the Mitel Next demo in which the AI NLU chatbot was listening to my interaction with a customer, AI can be fully integrated within a collaboration environment and in every channel used for data storage and communication. For example, AI can:
- Monitor, transcribe and index phone calls
- Monitor, record, transcribe and store video conferences
- Monitor and index email
- Monitor collaboration tools, including all groups, streams and communications
- Integrate with ERP, HR and other systems, wherever applicable
No one in an organization can see everything at once, including connections between employees on opposite sides of the world. Think about what work would be like if there was an intelligent entity that saw the organization as a complex system – not components or individual workstreams – and understood how each team and location interacted.
Over my next couple of blogs, I’ll investigate how AI could supercharge enterprise collaboration in the following ways:
Uncover Tribal Knowledge: What work has already been done that relates to this project?
Team Selection: Who is the best person to work on this project based on expertise and availability?
Collaboration Assist: What relevant content exists in the organization that supports current discussion, or who has context that might support the current topic?
Intelligence Everywhere: Where can I access the intelligence to ensure the information I need is always available?
Internal and External: What external resources exist that support the project in context with the current discussion?
Don't Let What Ifs Scare You
During Enterprise Connect 2019, I discussed the implications of adding artificial intelligence to collaboration with some IT professionals. Like many others, they were uncomfortable with some of the possibilities AI offers, and I get it. However, think aggressively about the possibilities before you dismiss it.
Barring data security risk and employee discomfort with the notion of Big Brother watching, shifting the paradigm from "this will never work" to "what if it could work" will stretch our minds and enable us to see how far collaboration can go.
Social media gave us Six Degrees, yet Facebook was possible.
E-commerce gave us NetMarket, yet Amazon was possible.
Web search gave us Archie, yet Google was possible.
What if we had started with Facebook, Amazon and Google in mind when we began? Where might we be now?
It's time for us think big if we are going to unleash the transformative impact of bringing collaboration and AI together. If it makes you nervous, good. Lean in and think even bigger.