TECHNOLOGY

Future of Work: 3 Big Predictions

Hardware is the new software. Here's how it will boost your productivity, efficiency, and collaboration--without you even knowing.
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Computing pioneer Alan Kay had some advice in the 1980s that Steve Jobs clearly took to heart: "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware." Enough said, right? Kay's prescience came to mind again when Google recently announced it was buying Nest, maker of the smart home thermostat, for $3.2 billion.

That's not pocket change, and it's prompted the digerati to proclaim once again that hardware is the new software. And they're absolutely right. The Internet of Things has gone mainstream. Here are three predictions on what it will do to the way you work:

Rise of the 'Thingernet'

Until now, the conversation around the Internet of Things, a neologism that imagines a future dominated by machine-to-machine communications, has been a low murmur--at least outside of tech circles. But with Google's acquisition of Nest (and its $13 billion buyout of Motorola before that), that buzzing has been amplified into a full-blown chorus. We're no longer talking about automatic syncing between a smartphone and a computer or the on/off switch on a Bluetooth device. It's becoming increasingly obvious that the Internet of Things (or, "Thingernet," as The Economist calls it) is rapidly changing the way we, as humans, interact. Just as important, the Internet of Things is fundamentally reshaping how we work.

Let me put this another way: Until now, the hype about machine-to-machine communications has mostly focused on nonessential conveniences. Say, for instance, the office vending machine has run low on Coca-Cola. How great that the machine can automatically alert the soda distributor to the impending sellout, right? It's a win-win, for the vending machine operator, parched office workers, and employers eager for a sated, productive workforce.

What I'm talking about is much more than that. I'm talking about a scenario when our machines know us--what we're thinking, what we need--almost before we do. And where we're going to see this level of interaction play out is first and foremost with our mobile devices.

The Most Personal Type of Assistant

Sorry, Apple. In the machine-to-machine world I'm talking about, Siri doesn't stand a chance. The iPhone personal assistant is useful, but Nest and other technological advancements like it are promising a more integrated experience--one that is not only personal, but also intuitive. In the case of Nest, understanding when and how to regulate the temperature in your office or personal space. It also means that other devices can alert things like Nest when and how to regulate without a human prompt. All of this, experts suggest, will happen before the end of this decade.

Here's how Mani Zarrehparvar, president of Visage Mobile, envisions this brave, new world: "I'm imagining I walk out of my front door with my device, my device locks the door behind me. It starts my car. It pays for my coffee at Starbucks. As a matter of fact, it knows that when I get in my car and I say 'I'm going to Starbucks,' it has my order waiting for me when I get there, because it can communicate with them. It recognizes that I'm late for a meeting and changes my meeting because it knows--by my location--that I'm not going to be at the office in time to be there for my video conference meeting and it changes it to a voice call."

On Call: Employees and Product

Amazon's ballyhooed decision to test airborne drones for product deliveries to customers' homes feels to me like the "Rise of the Robots." But the underlying thinking behind it isn't gimmickry. Jeff Bezos recognizes that consumers want--and increasingly expect--instant gratification. For shoppers, that means getting their hands instantly on a new pair of shoes. At the office, this means managing rote tasks without a click, connecting employees through machines, and improving the office space for workers.

Office managers are already embracing tools like Nest to change temperatures remotely. Eventually, the same tools will evolve into much more than a fancy remote control: they will let employees, for example, control coffee machines and water coolers to create the correct beverage relative to office temperature. I exaggerate when I say that the sky's the limit when it comes to how the Internet of Things will change the way we work. But trust me: what may seem ludicrous today is more than likely to become the norm--if not tomorrow, sooner than we might think. It wasn't long ago that ubiquitous Wi-Fi seemed like a distant dream.

There are monetary benefits to the Internet of Things, too. Robotics are evolving and becoming less expensive options that cater to remote workers who need to "roll" around the office. Rather than pay for employees or contractors to fly directly to the office, robot options like Double and Beam offer new ways for employees to interact with one another through things.

We're still a long way off from "beam me up, Scotty," but we're getting closer. If you don't believe me, just ask Google.

Last updated: Jan 24, 2014

BZUR HAUN | Columnist | CEO, Visage

As CEO of Visage, Bzur leads all facets of the business, including the strategy and operations of Visage.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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