AnyTech is characterised by common forces that will alter workplaces and commercial real estate demands across a range of industries in a similar fashion. It creates a workplace environment where fixed costs and sunk assets are minimised; employees and teams are more mobile and regularly in flux; and everything from software to desk space is delivered on an agile, as-needed basis.
12 December 2019
"With technology reshaping the entire world of work, it no longer makes sense to view change exclusively in sectoral 'boxes.' Fin-, reg-, bio- and all the other 'techs' are part of a broader pan-sector transformation: AnyTech." - Robert Wilkinson, Director of Corporate Solutions – APAC, Colliers International
One of the primary and fastest-growing applications of technology in the workplace environment is the automation of repetitive tasks and increasingly complex functions. The global market for robotic process automation (RPA) and its more sophisticated cousin, artificial intelligence (AI), is expected to be worth $150 billion by 2020, highlighting the speed at which AnyTech platforms are being scaled up by businesses. The benefits are clear: automation expedites tasks, enhancing overall workplace productivity, and reduces error and accidents in the workplace. It also frees up employees' time to focus on higher-value work, which in turn enhances job satisfaction.
This trend can now be seen across industries as a growing number of workplace processes and functions are being handed off to machines. Banks and insurance companies are using bots to handle customer complaints and process claims; law firms are using blockchain to draft smart contracts in a matter of minutes; while the logistics industry is automating tasks from invoicing to tracking inventory. AI and RPA are also being put to use in healthcare and manufacturing, streamlining hospital administration, and production and shipping schedules, respectively.
The global market for robotic process automation and artificial intelligence, is expected to be worth $150 billion by 2020, highlighting the speed at which AnyTech platforms are being scaled up by businesses.
The shift away from self-owned and maintained technology infrastructure (like physical servers) that enterprises house on-site or in dedicated facilities, to flexible, cloud-based systems is only set to gain momentum. Research by workspace management software provider Condeco shows the cloud is widely viewed by business leaders as the single most important workplace technology, and that companies anticipate a range of benefits from cloud implementations, from reduced costs and scalability to enhanced collaboration.
Closely linked to the growth of flexible, on-demand infrastructure is software as a service (SaaS). SaaS solutions are typically based on the cloud and delivered via the internet on a subscription or per-user basis, with no need for companies to install or maintain programmes locally. The rise of cloud-based collaboration platforms means more tasks and much of the employee experience can take place in a virtual environment; by some estimates the market for collaboration solutions like Microsoft Teams and Slack is expanding at 9% a year. This trend will drive changes in the workplace as the need to allot space for sprawling server racks or to convene large teams declines.
Overall Colliers International expects a preference for smaller, lighter workstations that can be easily moved or reconfigured. Reductions in IT’s physical, on-premises footprint, and lower demand for large, dedicated meeting facilities or fixed desks as more employees choose where to work, may help enterprises scale back their real estate requirements. More proactive owners and occupiers may repurpose space for wellness or leisure facilities to boost staff morale and productivity.
Increasingly sophisticated collaboration solutions, improvements in networking and video presence/conferencing technology, as well as employee demands for more versatile working arrangements, will all conspire to make work less location-dependent.
According to the Condeco research, over 40% of organisations already offer their employees the chance to work from “home or anywhere else for some or all of the time,” with staff retention and reduction of office costs as the primary motivations. What’s more, 60% of business leaders expect remote working rates in their organisations to rise even further over the next five years. While this trend may complicate organisational oversight of human resources to some extent, it also offers enterprises a potential solution to pressing labour shortages by allowing them to effectively harness talent in far-off markets. A number of providers have emerged in recent years that promise to assemble international teams in response to urgent resource demands, a more dynamic twist on the traditional outsourcing model that in effect provides ‘talent as a service.’ This will fuel decentralisation, by reducing the necessity for certain employees to be accommodated at a central headquarters or major offices in prime urban locations to participate in teams or perform certain functions on any given workday.
The rising viability of remote work and virtual collaboration will enable firms to distribute functions across a number of smaller sites to enhance flexibility, control costs and offer employees more choice – and even, in some cases, to forgo taking up space altogether. Efforts to accommodate a more mobile workforce and ad-hoc teams will support the continued development of the flexible workspace sector, which continues to gain traction in key real estate markets globally. In Singapore, for example, flexible workspace has posted a compound annual growth rate of 36% over the last three years.
In addition to increased use of flexible workspace, the trends encouraging decentralisation point to further growth in demand for office space in city fringe districts and business and technology parks. Good examples in Asia include Caohejing High-Tech Park in Shanghai, Zhonguancun in Beijing and Neihu Technology Park in Taipei. Recent demand growth in such areas has tended to be driven by domestic companies operating in areas such as AI, 5G, biomedical and pharmaceuticals.
The collection, retention and use of data as a business asset to serve strategic decision-making and automate key processes will drive up data requirements exponentially in all sectors, forever altering the human-server balance at many firms in the process. One recent global study by McKinsey showed nearly half of all enterprises surveyed had adopted at least one artificial intelligence (AI) capability to address a business problem, and that another 30% were involved in some kind of AI pilot. Another international poll shows over 90% of organisations are already using automation to replace repetitive business processes.
One recent global study by McKinsey showed nearly half of all enterprises surveyed had adopted at least one artificial intelligence (AI) capability to address a business problem, and that another 30% were involved in some kind of AI pilot.
While the extent to which these shifts will displace human talent is a hotly debated topic, in general Colliers International expects the demand for data and SaaS-delivered or cloud-based AnyTech to increase as a percentage of the workforce. The amount of commercial space required for people – or at least the amount of commercial space per person – may become streamlined or evolve into a greater mix of “Flex and Core” or decentralised city campus models, as AI and robotics refine and simplify more manpower-intensive functions.
Despite the growth of cloud and outsourced infrastructure, many firms will for regulatory, security or other reasons also have to secure more real estate to house their burgeoning data resources. Data creation and utilisation requirements are increasing exponentially, leading to a higher percentage of data-related real estate in the commercial real estate portfolio. In Hong Kong alone, for example, the data centre market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 16% to hit US$1.4 billion by 2021, amid relatively tight supply.
AI and automation are working their way into workplace infrastructure as well as business processes. Together with connected Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets, workplace-specific devices and enterprise performance platforms – what Colliers calls the Internet of the Workplace, or IoW – these create environments in which resources can be allocated and conditions changed on a continuous basis to support demand fluctuations, boost efficiency and enhance the employee experience.
In Condeco’s study, no less than 85% of business leaders polled saw transforming the physical workspace as very or fairly important to the success of their organisation. Using emerging technology to track workspace occupation and usage, and to drive productivity – for example by integrating sensors to better understand employee performance, workplace utilisation and workforce needs – were viewed as the top priorities.
The potential rewards for these investments are significant. Studies show even relatively simple sensor installations can, for instance, help organisations predict demand for workplace facilities in advance and slash electricity costs. More companies are also embracing wellness solutions, from air quality monitors to fitness motivation programmes and on-site health and gym-related amenities, to improve employee retention and productivity – not surprising given the race to find and retain talent. Research has drawn clear links between workplace wellness, and employee performance and engagement.