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IT pros: Are you ready for the 'smart office'?

March 14, 2014

Technology is transforming the way people do business in virtually every industry. Never before have IT careers been so plentiful and so geared toward helping companies to create new and better ways to achieve their goals and serve their customers. From the cloud to wearables to the Internet of Things, recent advancements in the tech world promise to revolutionize both personal and business activities. The corporate workplace of the future will be a "smart office," one that embraces fluid, integrated technology to facilitate creative, efficient work and better interactions with customers.

As an IT professional, what do you need to know to meet these opportunities running? Here are some of the traits that are expected to shape the next generation of the office.

Reimagining the office with technology
Disruptive technologies are innovations that can radically reinvent the workplace and change how business operations are carried out. At the 2012 All Things D conference, Kleiner Perkins Partner Mary Meeker described how virtually every industry has the opportunity to reimagine how it approaches its tasks and achieves its goals, according to Business Insider. For example, she noted how hailing a cab used to consist of raising an arm on the side of the street, but now people can turn to convenient location-aware mobile apps that have even facilitated new types of transportation services. Technology isn't just allowing organizations to function more easily and efficiently, it's offering opportunities to create entirely new processes and services.

That's a large part of the reason why executives are increasingly turning to their IT support teams as partners and advisers in driving the business forward. They want tech pros who can be more involved in the overall trajectory of the organization, providing insights that help to shape the direction the company takes. At a basic level, IT professionals with expertise in business intelligence and analytics fueled by Big Data can offer robust reporting resources to help their corporations develop strategic plans. But the office of the future goes beyond these capabilities, leaning on IT experts to develop integrated, fluid solutions that catalyze business transformations.

Smart offices: bringing back the human face
Investment News envisioned tomorrow's "smart office" as one where technology is central—but less visible and more integrated, mobile and fluid. Innovations like wearables, the cloud and the Internet of Things will make it possible for employees to have practically constant connectivity without giving it a second thought. The source mentioned smart coffee tables that allow colleagues to collaborate and use electronic resources in a casual setting, bowls and tables that automatically charge devices and projectors that turn walls into giant screens.

As technology becomes more omnipresent, it also becomes less intrusive. Wearables like Google Glass empower workers with ready access to a wealth of information without requiring them to turn away from customers or drop what they're doing to type a search query. Collaboration tools and digital networks are also fueling a trend toward social business practices that optimize advertising strategies and boost engagement. In short, these developments are creating a work environment where technology doesn't interrupt personal interactions, it catalyzes them.

As an example of a company that turned to IT services to transform its operations, The Container Store recently developed an innovative communication device for its store associates, Retail Systems Research reported. The technology was designed as a sort of "Siri without a phone," the source said, allowing employees to send hands-free voice messages along targeted channels to reduce the noise that typically accompanies retail walkie-talkie and intercom systems. Created by a partnership between the store and a technology company, the new system energized workers by allowing them to concentrate on their own tasks instead of constantly monitoring messages.

Innovative ideas and IT support
The opportunities for cultivating unique and powerful workplace solutions are endless. In addition to bringing their expertise and creativity to the table, tech experts will be in high demand to support IT networks and infrastructure that serve as the foundation of these developments. Two of the key attributes of the "smart office" are connectivity and mobility—they largely depend on technology such as the cloud, virtualization, mobile applications and Software-as-a-Service options.

As technology continues to transform the modern workplace, people in IT positions will be called on to assist with the implementation and management of advanced systems. The office of the future will be highly integrated, which means that IT pros who understand the broader picture and how the services they provide connect with other aspects of the system and the business will be valuable assets. For example, Information Age suggested that tech experts should understand virtualization as organizations transition to virtual data centers, even if it's outside the scope of their roles. A solid understanding of cloud-based options, information security, mobility and the basics of their company's industry will likely offer additional career opportunities and advancement potential for tech experts.

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