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In the last 12 months, Millennials became the majority generation in the U.S. workforce, enterprise adoption of cloud technologies continued to accelerate, Big Data matured from hype to an essential business component, Microsoft introduced an accelerated approach to operating system upgrades, and the concept of bimodal IT began to gain serious attention.

These changes are blurring the extra bold lines between personal and workplace technology, between IT and the end-user, and between traditional and digital business. They also demonstrate that digital transformation is no longer a catch phrase but a shift that’s under way.

A visualization by Nikkei Big Data that shows how senior workers see a steep decrease in their wages when they cross the 60-year-old threshold.

Data visualization apps like Tableau and other self-service tools enable business users with no coding experience to extract value from data. Expect even more user-friendly tools in 2016. Pictured: A visualization by Nikkei Big Data that shows how senior workers see a steep decrease in their wages when they cross the 60-year-old threshold. Via Tableau Public. Click to enlarge.

Here are some of the highlights from 2015.

A multigenerational workforce

In May of this year, Pew Research reported that Millennials had surpassed Gen X as the majority workforce generation. The report underscored the need for business leaders to understand and respond to the different working and learning preferences of a workforce made up of three generations.

Millennials, for example, are digital natives. They are accustomed to frequent changes and repeated distractions, and they prefer texting over talking. Older generations, on the other hand, have had vastly different experiences with workplace technology—they were in the workforce when training was a step in a long career with one company, and when collaboration happened in person, or via email.

Boomers will be retiring soon, but their absence will not simplify the enterprise tech landscape. Rather, it will only increase the need for more flexible approaches to learning and support. (For more on blended learning approaches, see our post from August titled “Small talk.”)

Office 365 and the cloud

It was a very good year for Microsoft and other cloud technology providers. Adoption of the Office 365 cloud-based productivity suite grew more than 300 percent, according to one annual report by cloud security firm Bitglass. The report also states that, overall, 48 percent of enterprises are using cloud-based productivity and email suites and that almost 60 percent of organizations with more than 1,000 employees have embraced cloud technologies.

This increased adoption of cloud technologies is also good news for end-users. It encourages better collaboration, and can increase productivity and efficiency. It enables them to work anywhere, anytime, and with the most up-to-date technology and tools.

A more efficient, productive and happier workforce is good news for business leaders, of course. But they need to ensure their end-users know how to use the technology before they can experience the benefits. For 2016, business leaders need to place a greater emphasis on end-user adoption and productivity.

Big Data and analytics

This year, Big Data matured from hype to an essential business component, but that doesn’t mean businesses are much closer to figuring out how to extract value from it. The most pressing big data-related challenges that materialized in 2015 were: the amount of available data continued to grow, as did the shortage of people with advanced data skills.

The good news is that investment and innovation in analytics tools and approaches also grew, according to McKinsey Quarterly. Using these tools, organizations can work toward their long-term goals with small but strategic steps. In 2016, the importance of data-driven decisions will increase, as will innovation in analytics tools. (See “Quality time,” a blog post from September, for more about big data’s challenges and opportunities.)

Bimodal IT

In July, we wrote about bimodal IT, a term created by Gartner Research to describe an organizational model that separates IT into two modes—one that’s traditional, emphasizing safety, efficiency, accuracy and scalability, and another that is driven by agility and speed. (See “The two faces of IT,” July 2015.)

With one eye on maintenance and another on innovation, organizations that implement the bimodal model can improve teamwork and morale, gain a competitive edge, and help increase cooperation between operations and business units.

The hype surrounding many workplace trends often fizzles, but bimodal IT is showing no signs of slowing. Its relevance continues to grow—it was one of the dominant themes at the 2015 Gartner Symposium/ITexpo conference in October—and it is expected to gain even more attention in the coming year.

Windows 10

When Microsoft debuted Windows 10 this summer, it marked the beginning of a new approach to business technology upgrades. With this release, Microsoft has begun the transition from providing sweeping version upgrades to delivering them in smaller, more frequent updates.

This new approach should eventually eliminate the disruption that goes along with version-to-version upgrades. But without preparation, these major and minor changes to critical elements of the software could still disrupt business and stifle end-user productivity.

With Windows 10, business leaders have a new mandate: They must prepare for a higher and more frequent demand for support and rethink their approach to end-user productivity and adoption. This means providing training, employee software coaching and access to a self-help portal not only during migrations, but throughout the year.

Factoring in Gartner’s recent prediction that more than 50 percent of businesses will have begun Windows 10 deployments by January 2017, the obligation to end-users becomes even greater.

The digital shift is under way

Workplace technology may be catching up with personal technology in terms of speed and capabilities, but it’s not “there” yet. This year demonstrated that the new normal is constant change and persistent uncertainty.

Business leaders should expect even more disruption in the coming year, considering what’s on the agenda—migrations to Windows 10 and its new upgrade tempo, transitions to Office 365 and the cloud, an increasingly mobile and multi-device workforce, IT departments with two discrete concentrations. By keeping a focus on end-users—understanding how all these changes can affect their productivity, taking steps to minimize disruption, ensuring they have the training and support to use the tools they rely on—business leaders can ensure their organizations remain competitive.

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