7 ways Apple can improve enterprise productivity

Platform-scale robotic process automation seems a logical step for a platform so deeply rooted in the modern enterprise.

Apple, iOS, macOS, enterprise, FaceTime, Mail, Siri, Workflow, Shortcuts
Jason Cross/IDG

With iPhones now in use across the Fortune 500, Apple has a good reason to invest in business process automation for iOS. It already has many of the building blocks to make work easier and more productive. Here are some of the ways it could improve its offering with enterprise-focused automation.

What’s up with Mail?

Mail is limited in contrast to other email apps. Apple could add (or simply support) features offered by the excellent Boomerang app, particularly tools that enable you to schedule your response to emails, such as: “Reply at XX o’clock,” “Reply in the morning,” or “Send email response 14.”

We know email kills productivity, as the expectation that mail should be immediately responded to means no one can get things done. It also leads to people answering mail ineffectively when they respond late at night — not to mention the impact on family life.

There are good arguments to invest more AI in Mail, enabling its users to create their own automated responses, rather like a limited subset of Shortcuts. Apple AI already looks at email to help populate some shortcuts. Why not extend this with enterprise-specific tools?

Put security on the edge

Apple is in a prime position to develop on-device network traffic analysis tools that work around the clock to identify and alert when anomalous data patterns are detected that suggest some form of malware is at play.

Now, I don’t believe Apple has any intention of putting iOS security vendors out of business, but platforms do have a role to play in terms of fostering the development of edge-of-network security tools.

Far more effective than standard perimeter defense security models, network security watches traffic to identify when exploits are taking place. For enterprise users, AI-led security tools to monitor this on a platform basis would be a blessing.

Think about Messages

Apple Business Chat shows it is possible to automate routine conversations via Messages — but why not introduce a limited set of sub-fields enterprise users (and others) can create within their own accounts?

Enterprise users might use these to let people know their message has been received and when they are likely to be responded to, to automate standard responses such as “I’m on my way,” or even to let managers know when field service technicians are on site.

(The last action is already possible using Siri; just tell it, “Send a message to [name of manager] when I arrive at [name of place],” as long as both are in your contacts book.)

All that I’m arguing is that a little automation could conceivably save enterprise employees (and everyone else) from the tedium of handling routine requests — just like technology promised us it would do. The Share pane it isn’t.

Time off is productive

There is a growing body of evidence showing that macho 24/7 work cultures are toxic, creating stress, damaging relationships and generating health problems.

What’s a good response to this?

First, employers must agree to define just when employees are expected to work, and second, they should not discipline any employee who is not available outside of those agreed hours.

Once that’s done, why is it not possible for iPhones to simply refer all emails, messages and phone calls that emanate from anyone identified in a user’s work contacts to an ‘Out of hours’ folder?

Employees would check through the contents of this when they next use their device during agreed work hours — and employers could pay for out of hours cover when it is required. Apple could make an app for that. How many hours are actually productive anyway?

FaceTime for the enterprise

With its focus on consumer users, FaceTime just doesn’t have the skills it needs for enterprise use. Whither is the document sharing from within the app? Where sits the space for collaboration? What about automated data detectors to pick up when a deadline or other schedule is agreed? Is it really impossible to include Otter.ai-like transcription while online meetings take place? Automated minutes creation, distribution and task assignment?

These are the kinds of features you already find within enterprise-class video collaboration tools, and while it’s nice to turn yourself into a unicorn with AR, that won’t help you get work done. FaceTime’s real competition is more GoToMeeting, WebEx, Jabber and Microsoft Teams than anything else. Apple’s evolving AR vision should exploit this inherent opportunity, assuming the company has hopes beyond AR Arcade. And what about the ability to securely share health or other data for users who need an online medical consultation? Is it not time for FaceTime Pro?

Learning machines

While adapting Apple’s own on-board AI to work with third-party apps would require distribution and adoption of APIs for such things, the company could look to its own apps in order to figure out how to automate repetitive tasks.

To some extent, Siri Shortcuts tries to do this, but only at a relatively trivial level, picking up things like people you call regularly, places you visit, apps you open and so on.

I imagine many employees are required to regularly write personalized emails around a specific topic in the course of their working days. Imagine if one could tell Siri, “Hey Siri, learn this task,” and let the AI monitor what you do until it can repeat it.

At some point Siri would become your digital twin, capable of handling the majority of the work involved in handling trivial tasks — all the enterprise knowledge worker would need to do is check that work, enabling them to focus on more complex and (hopefully) challenging tasks. Give them the right set of APIs, and enterprises could develop these as proprietary in-house apps.

Filling and filing

Digital natives spend a lot of time handling and filing digital documents. Apple’s tags feature could perhaps be extended to help automate this.

Imagine you regularly receive invoices or order forms and must file these in a relevant folder. Imagine you must also then send those forms to a relevant third party.

Surely it is then possible on receipt of a document to mark it up with the relevant tag in order to automatically save a copy in the relevant folder (or shared folder) while also forwarding the document to the next person in the chain?

Apple already supports Folder Actions, which can fulfil some of these tasks, but both the available commands and interface are extremely limited. The foundations already exist, however — why not fully realize them?

It’s getting better all the time

I think people’s working days get easier one automation at a time, and that most of us prefer to spend time solving complex problems rather than handling routine tasks.

I’m not alone in thinking this. A now exists, with vendors such as Blue Prism, EdgeVerve and UiPath offering complex tools to help optimize enterprise workflow.

Now that Apple really is in the enterprise, it has an opportunity to offer an ecosystem-wide suite of low-level workplace automation tools, and doing so seems a natural direction, given its investments in AI, Siri and Shortcuts. Many of the building blocks are already in place.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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