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Perhaps more than any other digital technology, email has transformed the way we work. Its convenience and immediacy have ensured it remains the most popular form of business communication, despite the alternatives that have come after it. Yet according to Des Fisher, innovation principal at SAP, the potential of email as a business tool is not being harnessed — and nor are those who send and receive hundreds of emails every day.

“Email is really good at putting you in touch with other people digitally, but it doesn’t tell you what all your emails actually mean,” says Fisher. “It doesn’t tell you what should you do as a result of all that has been communicated through your emails. And typically, as humans we spend a lot of time thinking about that — usually after we’ve finished work for the day.”

Fisher believes the future of work is far more digital than it is at present, and he conceives of a time when a digital platform with analytical capabilities could collect data from emails to discover patterns. With the aid of machine learning and artificial intelligence, those patterns are transformed into valuable insights. In manufacturing, enterprise applications are already being applied to existing systems to find insights linking manufacturing and finance data. If something similar was applied to email systems, it could prompt the following insights: Do you realise you answered the same question in roughly the same way to a cohort of 20 people, and that you do that every week? Is there a better way to work?

Cohesive collaboration

Digital technology has the power to serve as a sense-making tool — it can combine huge amounts of data to enable more cohesive collaboration. It can identify how different roles intersect and thus identify opportunities to solve common problems. SAP also uses a tool that identifies the types of personalities attending a meeting. It understands whether individuals are creative thinkers or if they might more process or people-orientated. Along with providing training on how to maximise productivity in a heterogeneous group, SAP is currently working on a tool with its partners that would maximise the face-to-face opportunities available when people are in the office, and manage the follow-on work that needs to get done remotely, afterwards.

“The future of work is far more collaborative than it ever has been,” says Fisher. “That is important, because these days we have highly specialised roles to solve macro problems. You need ways of identifying potential collaborations that may not happen naturally.”

He is excited about the possibilities in a hybrid work environment and sees new technologies making it a more seamless experience. “What we've got to do is enhance the linkages between collaboration styles in a hybrid environment. The most important part is ensuring consistency between the office-based experience with the remote experience, so a task that has been started in a face-to-face environment can be completed just as effortlessly in a remote environment.”

Ending geographic bias

The future of work is more inclusive because hybrid work eliminates what is known as “geographic bias”. A barrier to participating — in the form of a three-hour commute — simply no longer exists.

“Over the past couple of years, it has been established that everybody can contribute digitally to an organisation,” says Fisher. “Not only do we have the face-to face-workforce, with its whiteboards and chemistry, and the ability to come up with great ideas, but we also have digital access to every member of the organisation.”

Fisher says this shift in work culture will have long-lasting positive consequences. “These days, most people will accept a well-written meeting invitation, whereas before the pandemic, they would have asked themselves, ‘Why am I being invited to this?’ The change in how we think about opportunities is huge.”

For your opportunity to discuss this and more please join SAP at the live event series, e'ffect in Melbourne on 30th November and Melbourne on 2nd December. Registration is free.