Investments in workforce productivity and collaboration have gone from a 'nice to have' to a critical piece of enterprise IT strategy. The demand for more agile business and more contextual work experiences is driving a renewed focus on software design and implementation that addresses these demands. It's becoming clearer that productivity improvements help more than the bottom line because the software powering productivity is showing up in other conversations, like those in recruitment. According to our research, 81% of job seekers would consider a prospective employer's tech stack at least somewhat important in their decision to take a job.

Identifying these high-level themes is a good start, but it's not enough to help IT leaders and business decision-makers navigate the complex trends that will define workforce productivity in 2020. Leveraging our proprietary field data and industry analysis, 451 Research has identified trends in the market that we believe will be essential to the trajectory of 2020 in two of our TBI reports – one on workforce transformation and another on communications and collaborations technologies. Here we provide a brief overview of the trends to help prepare for the year ahead.

The 451 Take

The future of workforce productivity and collaboration software will be defined by its ability to properly address the needs of a wider range of constituents and their employee experience, embed intelligence, offer automation and workflow building opportunities, enable new work models and extend autonomy and ownership over work. Understanding and leveraging these trends can be a force multiplier for improvements in worker efficiency and talent retention while also helping to mitigate long-tail work friction and lessen administrative burden.


1. Cross-functional Collaboration across Business Departments will Grow

It's already a norm in many businesses for individual employees to belong to multiple types of teams, some of which exist beyond their reporting line. The appetite for that kind of collaboration is growing, as is evident in our Voice of the Enterprise (VotE): Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Work Execution Goals 2019 data, which shows that 30% of C-level heads want their own team to collaborate more across departments.

Businesses will therefore have to organize to support individuals and teams operating within their own Venn diagrams of different work projects, work streams, initiatives and collaborations. As more of those circles form, involvement in each circle will likely introduce the end user to other adjacent circles, something that the system of delivery could play a role in intelligently orchestrating. This confirms our belief that the growth in appetite for more purposeful, high-value collaboration is one of the manifestations of the mainstreaming of agile principles across the workforce – that the best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams, that businesspeople and technical people should be able to easily work together on projects and that projects should be built around motivated, self-guided individuals.

2. Supporting the Digital Employee Experience for Frontline Workers 

We anticipate vendors and organizations will expand their use of voice interfaces and intelligent assistants for enterprise applications in 2020, with a focus on improving workplace productivity. We also expect organizations will explore their use for enhancing the digital employee experience, particularly for use cases that lead to efficiency and productivity improvements and where data input or real-time collaboration via a voice user interface is what works best.

When it comes to the enterprise segment, early deployments of voice user interfaces were initially driven by vertical-specific use cases. There are indications that enterprise adoption is becoming mainstream and expanding to include broad, horizontal use cases. According to 451 Research's most recent VotE: Customer Experience & Commerce, Digital Transformation survey, voice user interfaces and digital assistants are among the top disruptive technologies that organizations plan to adopt within the next 24 months.

Figure 1: Voice-activated interfaces and digital assistants are among the top disruptive technologies for tech leaders

Source: 451 Research, Voice of the Enterprise: Customer Experience & Commerce: Digital Transformation 2019

3. AI and Machine Learning will permeate Communications and Collaboration Workflows

As vendors across the enterprise continue to add artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities to their product roadmaps, we expect communications and collaboration vendors to do the same. In the past two years, vendors such as Cisco, Google Cloud and Microsoft have included references to 'intelligent communications' and 'contextual intelligence' in their product updates. In addition to intelligent assistants and voice user interfaces, other areas where the use of AI and ML in communications and collaboration workflows is already evident include contextual intelligence to enhance the digital employee experience.

While technology leaders may be using AI and ML to differentiate their products in the market, some of these capabilities are becoming commodified and increasingly available to other vendors – including offerings from Google Cloud and AWS, as well as some from CPaaS providers like Twilio and Vonage. As these capabilities become more commodified, providers of business communications and collaboration will incorporate them into their product roadmaps, raising the profile of tools like unified communications as an enabling component for the digital employee experience.

4. Next-generation Business Communications and Collaboration Technologies will be defined by Programmability 

The business communications and collaboration landscape has been increasingly influenced in recent years by CPaaS, a disruptive model for delivering programmable communications that enables developers to integrate real-time voice, video, chat and messaging into web and mobile applications. 451 Research believes programmable communications will play a key role in enabling the 'liquid enterprise,' which we define as a new breed of highly responsive, digital-native businesses.

A distinctive element in these organizations will be 'programmability,' or the ability to manage workflows and applications in a highly customizable way. This represents a major shift in how organizations plan and execute work, as described in our August 2018 report WorkOps: A primer on the new way of working. And, as our data shows, IT and business leaders are becoming increasingly aware of how relevant programmability will be to their business.

Figure 2: Which of the following, if any, are the most important to your organization's future software investments?
Source: 451 Research, Voice of the Enterprise: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Lifecycle 2019

5. Supporting the Digital Employee Experience for Frontline Workers 

Organizations are paying more attention to their frontline workforce, i.e., those workers who deal directly with customers or are closely involved in the production process. We anticipate that in 2020, organizations will expand their digital transformation initiatives to encompass the role frontline workers play in driving business outcomes. Frontline workers have long been outside the lens of IT and business communications, but that is beginning to change.

According to 451 Research's 2H 2018 VoCUL: Corporate Mobility and Digital Transformation survey, a majority of early adopters of digital transformation initiatives consider it a top priority to make content across different repositories more easily searchable, shareable and usable by employees. This has led to new communication and collaboration approaches that have enabled organizations to engage 100% of the workforce, including frontline and remote workers. We expect that in 2020, organizations will look to expand their digital transformation initiatives to provide contextually intelligent, personalized workplace communications encompassing their entire workforce. This will require a comprehensive approach to business communications and collaboration that includes real-time communications tools such as mobile messaging and push-to-talk applications, unified communications and the 'next generation' of the intranet.

6. Employee Experience Initiatives will push HR and IT closer Together

The growing realization of both the importance of the employee experience and the role productivity tools play in that experience force tighter data and technology integrations between IT and HR. This means that all vendors in the relevant sectors must begin considering new direct personas in their own area, as well as indirect personas in adjacent lines of business that may be affected by their own product map or have a say in how their product is implemented.

We believe that companies will begin to explore what a stronger IT-HR bond will look like regarding the employee experience, with some attempting to form employee experience panels that include all relevant parties. This is an important trend, because productivity-centric software tools begin to affect the employee experience before a candidate is even hired. Our VoCUL Corporate Software survey from September 2018 found that 81% of job seekers would consider a potential employer's tech stack at least somewhat important, with 43% of those considering it very important. As a part of the employee journey, productivity tools can play a role in recruitment.

This trend also has potential to address IT's view of its evolving role in digital transformation. In our Voice of the Enterprise (VotE): Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Lifecycle survey fielded in Q2 2019, the biggest IT-led priority in digital transformation is found to be improving employee collaboration and productivity tools. This shows us an interconnectedness between the employee experience and digital transformation from the lens of IT.

Figure 3: Main IT-led priorities in digital transformation

Source: 451 Research, Voice of the Enterprise: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Lifecycle 2019

7. CPM Ownership and Participation will be Democratized/Streamlined

A few years ago, many CPM vendors began ingesting and analyzing data from adjacent areas of the business – such as operations and HR – to provide more granular detail around the financial implications of those areas. While it boosted the power of the financial analysis of these tools, it also began to lay the groundwork for more holistic planning initiatives that could eventually empower more intelligent planning in areas like supply chain, workforce dynamics and internal mobility.

While no one vendor has yet emerged to be the cross-organizational, contextual planning vendor of the future, we believe vendors are moving in this direction. Operations are the most closely adjacent to finance in terms of planning, but we believe the shrewdest CPM and planning vendors will go after workforce analytics and talent planning KPIs because it helps to solve a distinct need within organizations. These metrics, if properly tied to finance, can better inform recruitment strategies and help businesses think more productively about internal mobility as well. This helps to address key challenges we see in our field research data, specifically in our VotE: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Work Execution Goals survey.

Figure 4: Employees want their companies to improve recruiting, retention and development

Source: 451 Research, Voice of the Enterprise: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Work Execution Goals & Productivity 2019

8. Metadata is Crowned King of Content Management

Metadata is a critical component of future workforce productivity in content because it has implications for the user experience, potential workflow automation and the powering of universal search. There are multiple challenges when it comes to proper management of metadata, but chief among them are the actual tagging of the metadata and the rectification of metadata when tags are inconsistent or unmatched.

Manual tagging has held metadata back in the past, so we expect to see automation (both with and without intelligent assistance) being a differentiator for content management vendors in 2020. Once AI and ML are more broadly adopted in metadata tagging strategies, we predict an increase in the use of machine vision, natural language processing and optical character recognition in tagging. However, these advances have to happen in tandem with advances in metadata cleansing and consolidation as well, in order to allow enterprises to make full use of their content at hand.

9. New 'Workspaces' are what Users want, but add Confusion to Market

One of the driving forces behind the evolution of productivity software is the need to address the growing sprawl of applications that's happening within most companies and the context-switching; silos of people, information and workflow; and disengagement by the workforce with their day-to-day tooling that continue to be highly attritional to employees' morale and productivity. Our VotE: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration survey reports that only one-third of employees are very satisfied with the mix of tooling they must use to get their work done. Having to use too many apps is the biggest overall work pain point, with 40% of respondents thinking the number of apps they have to use will only increase over the next year.

To combat this, a growing number of vendors in traditional segments including content management, project management, big productivity suites, intranets and other tools are creating new types of converged workspace experiences. This market is in early stages and hasn't crystallized into a defined category yet (and may not do so – at least not into one single category), with vendors putting their stakes in the ground variously calling out their workspaces, work platforms and work systems. This is definitely a positive direction of travel but brings with it confusion around the naming and capabilities of a workspace product.

10. The Future of Work will be an Immersive Experience

The amount of data generated today is at the point where humans can't manage it properly. Highly immersive workplace vendors can capitalize on this trend by thinking beyond the confines of the specific use cases they address and looking at the needs and evolving workstyles of digital-native workers in data-heavy environments to inspire innovation. We define visual productivity as the use of diagrams, charts and other images to better organize, analyze and communicate information. Despite it being the natural propensity of most people to learn visually, in workforce tooling it's been a niche concern – diagramming tools, immersive workspaces, whiteboards, some content creation and screen-sharing tools. This is an underserved need we anticipate changing over the next few years.

Automation, connectivity and intelligence are generally improving workplace digital experiences, making room for higher value and more engaging ways of working. Add into the mix new virtual, augmented and mixed-reality technologies and there is the basis for a significant shift in how work is done over the coming years. This is obviously good news for vendors already supporting visual productivity. Immersive team collaboration technologies are garnering industry attention as more people realize how impactful yet how pigeon-holed visual productivity has been in certain product niches.
Conner Forrest
Senior Analyst, Workforce Productivity & Collaboration

Conner is a Senior Analyst with the Workforce Productivity and Compliance team at 451 Research. His areas of focus are content management, HR tech and corporate performance management. Before joining 451 Research, Conner worked as a senior editor with CBS Interactive, covering a variety of enterprise tech trends. 

Brenon Daly
Research Vice President

Brenon Daly oversees the financial analysis of 451 Research's Market Insight and KnowledgeBase products, having covered more than a quarter-trillion dollars' worth of deal flow for both national publications and research firms.

Partick Daly
Analyst, Information Security

As an Analyst in 451 Research’s Information Security Channel, Patrick Daly covers emerging technologies in Internet of Things (IoT) security. His research focuses on different industrial disciplines of IoT security, including the protection of critical infrastructure, transportation and medical devices.

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