Home Workforce Productivity Exploring the Digital Workplace: Microsoft Ignite and Gartner Digital Workplace Summit

This May is an exciting month for those interested in collaboration and productivity. Two great conferences – Microsoft Ignite, May 4-8, and Gartner Digital Workplace Summit, May 18-20 – will shine the spotlight on the digital workplace. These topics speak directly to Tahoe’s mission to radically change the way people engage and collaborate with customers, partners, suppliers, and staff. As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we utilizes their technologies and the cloud platform to enable our solutions. As fans of Gartner, we are proponents of organizations that challenge, educate and facilitate the transformation of the digital workplace.

In preparing for these upcoming events, I thought it might be an opportune time to address some of the questions we often hear from clients and prospects:

How is the digital workplace defined?

You’ve heard the expression ‘digital workplace’, but what does that really mean? The digital workplace is not a finite solution, a collection of (productivity) software tools, or some new, state-of-the art device – it is all of those things and much more. It is a holistic (or better yet, a systemic) environment comprised of many elements working dynamically together to accomplish a common purpose or stated goal. The components of this environment may include such things as:

  • Attitudes, perceptions and expectations
  • Business norms, governance policies, and decision-making rules
  • Structured and unstructured data
  • Integrated business processes, workflows and ad-hoc activities
  • Software, services, and devices
  • Infrastructure and security

These components should evolve alongside organizational learning, and be continually refined to meet the needs of the business. In truth, it’s rare that we work with organizations that design and deploy digital workplaces that balance all of these components efficiently, but that doesn’t mean that we (as a collective group) should strive for anything less when reimagining a company’s digital workplace.

The bottom line is that the digital workplace is, or should be, something that people enjoy using as part of their everyday work life. It is not a set of ‘systems of record’ or a series of repetitive tasks that have been automated, but an environment specifically designed to empower workforces, drive engagement and collaboration, and ultimately spark productivity and innovation.

What are the primary themes associated with the digital workplace?

While many themes associated with the digital workplace are intended to foster collaboration, the primary drivers (in no particular order) are:

  • Access: Providing access to people and relevant information (traditional and nontraditional content) through robust search capabilities
  • Social: Engaging internal and external communities to increase business value
  • Consumerization: Utilizing consumer-based concepts and technology within the business environment
  • User-Centric Design: Designing people-centered solutions that meet the needs, wants, and work styles of individuals or groups
  • Personalization: Tailoring site content to meet the needs and wants of the individual
  • Mobile: Offering the flexibility of device independent solutions that enable users to work anytime, anywhere.

What are some real life examples?

While we view the digital workplace as a holistic environment, it manifests itself in a series of solutions, best defined as intranets, extranets, web, and line of business solutions:

  • Intranets: The core, internal social platform driving engagement and collaboration with a goal of significantly improving productivity and innovation. Next generation intranets are supported by strong user experience designs, personalization capabilities, mobility, and automated governance and compliance. Typical features include social business communications, content creation, robust search capabilities, productivity toolsets, and facilitate the sharing of business knowledge.
  • Extranets: Similar to an intranet, but the core user audience is now expanded to include customers, partners, and suppliers. Features and functionality are closely aligned to the intranet, with additional emphasis on security and authorization. While ease of use and intuitive user experiences are required for intranets, organizations typically put additional emphasis on these attributes when designing extranet solutions, in order to help facilitate adoption and reinforce the organization’s brand identity.
  • Web Solutions: The customer-facing solutions intended to drive engagement, collaboration, and e-commerce. A typical user audience includes customers and end-consumers of the product or service offering. Specific functionality is dependent on business objectives, but a strong consumer-focused customer experience is critical to the adoption and success of the solution.
  • Line of Business Solutions: Standalone solutions that produce a specific outcome or deliverable. Users may be internal or external, with these solutions typically termed as ‘systems of engagement’ vs. ‘systems of record’. These solutions often integrate with transactional based systems. Strong data governance is established to determine and manage data access and transformation policies. Key features of these solutions include a well-designed user experience, security and authorization, and automated workflows. Depending on the scope and audience, social business functionality may be included. These line-of-business solutions can be executed directly from within the intranet or extranet platform, and may be directed at customers, partners/suppliers, or internal staff.

How do I measure the benefits of the transformed digital workplace?

Specific ROI metrics can and should be identified in the planning stages, factored into the design, and managed throughout the lifecycle of the solution. While the benefits of a line of business solution may be the easiest to identify and quantify, intranets and extranets present their own return on investment. Areas to measure include content relevancy rates, content contribution rates, employee adoption, engagement and collaboration rates, employee productivity rates, innovation rates, and even customer service or satisfaction rates. The bottom line is capturing the impact of the intranet or extranet on your core business goals – and if you can’t define it, you can’t measure it.

What are the primary challenges to establishing the business case for the digital workplace?

Every organization faces unique challenges to developing and approving business cases, and whatever those are within your organization, they will hold true for the digital workplace. Some of the challenges we see most often:

  • Scope Considerations: The digital workplace can be defined as a holistic environment or a specific solution, app, or device. Regardless of how it is defined, it is critical that there is agreement and understanding of the breadth and depth of the solution, the business value expected to be achieved, and the timeframes for deploying. If expectations are grounded in reality, conversations around the other challenges of establishing a business case will at least have appropriate context.
  • Financial Considerations: The key to a successful digital workplace environment is adoption. While enthusiastic adoption may be based on several factors, a critical component is how much users enjoy using the enabling technologies (or don’t). Their level of engagement tends to be in direct correlation with the degree to which their experience with the digital environment matches their expectations formed by the use of everyday consumer technology. The cost of creating a compelling user experience is real. It needs to be accounted for, but more importantly, the value therein needs to be clearly defined and appreciated by the appropriate decision makers.
  • Mental Model Considerations: The mental models of senior leadership may not correlate with the operational needs of today’s workforce. The images, assumptions, and ‘sacred cows’ through which management view themselves and their peers, staff, partners, and suppliers may not be aligned with today’s world of work. The primary user of the digital workplace is the knowledge worker. The goal of the knowledge worker is to engage with people and information in the most efficient way possible. Today’s hyper-connected, distributed workforce is redefining how, when, and where work is performed. The gap between perception and reality (management and workforce) must be closed or at least narrowed so that the mental model of the digital workplace can be reimagined and redefined.

How do you go about creating the digital workplace?

It’s been said that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. If you’re on a road trip, that’s great, but embarking on creating a digital workplace without a blueprint of the future can (and has) resulted in disaster. The appropriate time and energy must be put into the design of the solution before simply launching into a development initiative or, as in the case with many SharePoint deployments, simply providing users with a powerful platform for productivity and hoping they get it right. How often have you heard grumbling about a SharePoint environment gone bad: “I don’t understand the structure! I can’t find anything! This content is out of date and unreliable! The user experience sucks!”

Transforming your digital workplace is a significant undertaking, and must be addressed as you would any other major initiative. At a high-level, I recommend the following guidelines:

  • Design a solution that matches the need – don’t build a luxury hotel if your users would be better served by a no-frills motel.
  • Build a foundation that will accommodate the ever-evolving needs of the business and the workforce.
  • Initiate change management and adoption activities at the very start of the digital transformation effort.
  • Identify, understand, and empathize with the various user personas of the digital workplace in order to design effective solutions that drive adoption.
  • Educate, educate, educate! To create a shared vision amongst leadership and stakeholders, expectations around business goals, objectives, scope, and the roadmap to success must be clearly aligned.

At Tahoe Partners, our mission is to radically change the way people engage and collaborate. If the word ‘radical’ implies that we are making dramatic improvements, it’s because we are attempting to shift focus from making incremental improvements to quantum (measurable) leaps in performance. We are trying to create a digital workplace that matches the expectations and needs of today’s workforce, and eliminates barriers to performing productive work however, whenever, and wherever it needs to be done.

As a best case scenario, we suggest creating a roadmap of your digital strategy to provide the blueprint for achieving your business objectives. Once the roadmap is established, we identify a series of short-burst initiatives that may be executed over a 24-36 month horizon, with each initiative building upon the last, and extending the features and functionality of the digital workplace. Below, you’ll find an illustration of the high-level components we consider when planning for the digital workplace.

Digital Workplace

Still more questions? If you would like to discuss the digital workplace, collaboration, engagement, or any other topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly.

In addition, stop by and see us at Booth #555 at the Microsoft Ignite Conference May 4-8. We look forward to connecting with you, learning how your organization is tackling the digital future, and discussing innovative ideas to radically change the way people engage and collaborate. I also encourage you to consider participating at Gartner’s upcoming Digital Workplace Summit 2015, May 18-20 in Orlando, Florida.

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