Contextual workplace: The journey has started

Enterprises have already, without realising it, started a journey to delivering contextual experiences.

Context enables a relevance of information. It’s an experience where information, apps, files and other data are presented based on intelligence and an understanding of a worker’s activity, location, schedule and external factors. The integration of services and technology required to deliver a contextual experience is not something that will happen overnight; it’s likely to be several years before most of the elements are introduced.

But before considering a phased approach to delivering contextual experiences, it is worthwhile thinking about the integration, as it is these elements that will maximize (or limit) what can be delivered.

Evolving conceptual architecture for contextual experiences

The first assumption, when thinking about context, is to realize that the enterprise won’t own the entire experience. Each individual will own the development of many contextual workflows, primarily using codeless interfaces such as If This Then That (IFTTT) or Zapier. The focus is on workflows, as most experiences will rely upon some level of logic that combines information from many sources — not just the enterprise.

Publicly available data, personal data and enterprise data will be combined to provide the basis of the contextual experience. This will drive two basic requirements:

  • APIs that can allow secure data flow between systems
  • A recognition that enterprise, public and personal data when combined provides the richest context

The enterprise will be responsible for controlling the APIs between themselves and the outside — who will they trust, with what data etc. The challenge already exists today. An example of a very rich contextual experience is a simple content promotion activity, where the cloud collaboration platform uses out-of-the-box  machine intelligence to promote content for a knowledge worker. When the worker accesses the productivity app, he sees that promoted content, ensuring a more efficient focus and use of time. We are seeing this today with Office 365 and the Delve Analytics feature.

The richest experience is one that has more context from surroundings. For example, say the knowledge worker is focusing on a critical deliverable in the comfort of her home office. The intelligent lighting is set to a high blue mix to maximise alertness. Lost in a productive task, it is easy to miss key incoming alerts or information, and so the lamp is set to turn red as meetings approach or flash if key critical data becomes available that warrants distraction.

Fanciful and years away?

Today I can link my Office 365 account using IFTTT to Philips Hue lights (and many other services) to provide different ways of alerting me to important information (now I agree that alerting isn’t the same as context, but with each iteration of Office 365 Delve Analytics, we are getting closer to what is described here).

IFTTT and Zapier are being joined by codeless interfaces that allow workflows to build from events or triggers from enterprise systems. Microsoft Flow can trigger a new item created in SQL based on a new item in Salesforce or allow users to integrate a project Slack channel with SharePoint, bridging different modes of collaboration. The importance here is it is all user-driven, and the flow of data between systems enables more context.

Another great example from IFTTT is that you can now integrate enterprise systems (via Office 365 which in turn can be driven by Microsoft Flow from other enterprise systems) to alert you of important items via the dashboard of your BMW, Tesla and soon more. Connected vehicles will become important elements of contextual experiences, not only acting as a mechanism to receive information but also to trigger events (i.e. get my workspace ready for my arrival by adjusting heating and light based on being a certain distance away, and launch any enterprise services I may need to remove login and boot times). This is already possible with workflow management tools like IFTTT, Zapier, Microsoft Flow and Citrix Octoblu.

The power of context becomes stronger as machine intelligence and analytics are used to better collate the experience across enterprise systems and complete the user experience. Blending data from customer relationship management systems, finance systems, resource planning systems and even the data from increasingly instrumented products and services, enterprises can gain new insight, identify new focus and working practices and enable differentiation while increasing productivity.


Stu Downes is a Distinguished Engineer in DXC’s Workplace & Mobility offering group. Stu’s role working with product management, industry analysts, key clients and partners gives him a unique view of market trends and client needs. Stu has held a number of roles delivering, designing and leading solutions and products that make people more productive and businesses more effective. He is now shaping workplace products that enable the hyper-productive digital workplace.




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  1. […] Contextual workplace: The journey has started […]


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