Like anything involving language, words tend to lose their meaning when use too frequently or improperly. It can be a particular problem when complex topics overlap as they often do at the Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit running through Wednesday in Los Angeles.
In an effort to combat that, two Gartner execs boiled down the challenges facing today's IT managers to just four words, setting the stage for the 2,000-plus attendees attending the show in the JW Marriott. Managing VP Susan Landry and Research Vice President Jeffrey Mann focused on engagement, digital, content and integration while refining the meanings of those words to apply to today's context.
Why are those words more important than all the other techno-babble terms floating around? "Because they are bigger for a reason. They matter," said Mann as he and Landry began their keynote presentation.
Engagement, Mann noted, can be used many ways, but in the workplace refers to whether workers are able to effectively use the systems that IT puts into place. An engagement, he said, is something always planned and agreed to. For Gartner, it is also part of a three-point approach to IT: engagement, consumerization and the changing nature of work.
Consumerization is related because it has raised the expectations of workers who now rely on sophisticated tools and apps in their personal lives. When they arrive at the office, they expect the systems to work at least that well, but the tools often fall short -- leaving the workers unengaged. Mann noted some innovative startups and enterprise engineers create better apps that reflect their passion, and these are almost always better. "You can always tell the difference between these applications -- the ones built by the unengaged and the ones built by someone who really cares about it," noted Mann.
He cited data from the Conference Board that shows companies rated in the top 25 percent for worker engagement have 2.5 times the revenue growth as their less-engaging rivals. Gallup, however, found that only about 13 percent of workers say they feel engaged in their work.
"What you find is that disengaged employees will be killing your business," he said.
We live in the digital age, carry digital devices and digitize just about everything we can. But do we work in truly digital businesses? Not so much, said Landry.
She made her point with a vignette about the retail boutique Story, which reinvents itself every six weeks or so in the manner of a magazine or a gallery. On the digital front, it positions an infrared camera above its display floor to create a heat map of the areas that attract the most attention from shoppers. They then re-arrange displays to improve the results, continually changing the business. In its current iteration, the company has focused on the theme of "color," bringing in large partners who can share in the heat map data generated in stores.
While many stores might be happy to see customers spending 10-15 minutes on the show floor, Landry said Story's visitors linger for an average of 40 minutes.
"Each of you have the opportunity to help your organizations on their own digital journeys," she said, urging the IT professionals in the audience to recognize the difference between simply digitizing what they've always done and transforming the business with the help of digital technologies.
Content, in the IT world, is often linked to "management," but Mann said he now dislikes the term "content management" because it can infer such things as managing or minimizing a problem. Content is much more than that, and it is much more than the text documents that need to be shared or saved in the database. It also includes sounds, files, movies, likes, tweets and other types of information..
"Content is also what your organization thinks and that is really more important that what it has done," he said. Mann said the challenge for IT is "getting to the point where you can really take advantage" of all that thinking. "Content connects the dots and connects the thoughts," he said, comparing it to the connective tissue that allows the human frame to work efficiently, and to the grease that keeps a machine running smoothly.
Content is part of data, which Gartner considers the oil of the 21st century. "Just like oil, if it remains buried underground, there isn't going to be any value to it," he said.
Most IT professionals look at integration as linking two or more applications, Landry observed, but that's just the start. "A digital workplace needs a lot more than a well-constructed integration," she said. Today, integration also means making applications available far beyond the four walls of the business.
For example, there are tools available for collaboration but they tend to be used by small groups of workers rather than across the enterprise. "When you're doing those things in isolation, you're forcing the users to do the integration," she said.
As a practical example of a well-integrated workplace, Landry pointed to the doctors of OpenPediatrics.org, a highly interactive site created by doctors in Boston to share life-saving surgery procedures and research with colleagues around the world. It includes videos of surgeries, demonstrations and text versions of any presentations so that they can be translated easily into any language.
Site users are encouraged to share their knowledge, ask questions and provide peer reviews of research. The site is now used by over 1,000 doctors in 75 countries, and Landry said the business outcome is that has saved the lives of children while training doctors.
All Together Now
To show the connection of the four words, Mann gave the fictitious example of how a digital workplace could help a salesperson named Jeremy, starting with an appointment shared across his calendars -- something most sales people already do. After that, Mann suggested the nature of the appointment could be automatically shared through an internal sales collaboration system with Jeremy's coworkers around the world.
The system could then gather responses and connect all that to existing content, and then automatically download all that information to Jeremy's tablet to help him on the call. It could also download any contracts or forms he might need to complete the order, rather than making Jeremy find them himself.
The network could also look for problems while Jeremy is sleeping, adjusting his alarm clock if it spots delays in traffic and updating files if there is news that Jeremy should know before he holds the meeting. The car's audio system can even read the files to Jeremy en route, and take dictation from Jeremy after the appointment, sharing those immediately with his colleagues.
The Gartner duo left the audience with three exercises. First, they suggested that each person think of three "digital stories" that would enhance the operations of their companies. Second, they advised IT managers to identify the parts of their infrastructure that "must go." Finally, they urged them to create a list of the skills that are no longer needed and the skills that will be needed to accomplish their goals.