Enterprise portals over the last decade have been less than successful in making knowledge work flow smoothly. The future digital workplace could do a much better job of accomplishing this task if these key elements are put into place.

Improving knowledge work is primarily about making it flow more smoothly, allowing it to take the optimal route from start to completion. Unnecessary activities, interruptions, friction and delays needs to be avoided. In that respect knowledge work is not any different from highly repeatable processes and routine work.

What is different, however, is that knowledge work is dynamic and collaborative by nature. The actions you need to perform a certain task and their sequence often differs from time to time, and so does the information you need to perform the task. When the information needs change from time to time it gets tricky to know that you actually have the right information once you find or get access to it.

In addition, you often depend on timely and correct contributions from other people to complete a task. Sometimes you can complete a task in a single session without any interruptions or delays, but it is likely that a lot of your tasks remain on your to-do list while awaiting some required information.

Enterprise Portals have Fallen Short

During the last decade, many organizations have invested substantial time, resources and prestige in developing enterprise portals, with the purpose of giving their employees single-point access to information from various sources and systems through a web-based user interface. The general approach was to segment the needs of employees into different roles and to map a predefined set of tools and information sources to those roles.

Learning Opportunities

Unfortunately, few enterprise portal initiatives started out with an ambition to really understand the characteristics of knowledge work, how it gets done and how it can be done in a better way. Typical symptoms were low adoption and usage rates and the absence of any positive effects on knowledge worker productivity.

Steps for an Optimized Future Digital Workplace

The future digital workplace, with solutions using new technologies such as social software, mobile apps and cloud computing, needs to do a much better job than most enterprise portals have done so far at making work flow, specifically:

  • Make it possible to switch between tasks and resume interrupted tasks.
  • Provide simple ways to keep and organize information which you might need at a later stage.
  • Provide ways to quickly locate and access the expertise you need to complete a task, no matter where that expertise is located or if you know that person or not.
  • Make it possible to perform and continue a task from anywhere using any device -- it should not matter if you are working on your laptop at an office desk, sitting in a meeting room with your tablet or on the run with only your smartphone readily accessible.
  • Provide traceability that allows you to know who provided a piece of information and when, thereby making it more likely that you dare to trust and act on the information.
  • Automatically signal if you have something that can contribute to making someone else’s work flow smoother, and vice versa.
  • Automatically signal when it is your time to contribute when you and other people are involved in the same task.
  • Automatically suggest likely actions to perform based on your own and other people’s previous actions.

Design Services to Make Work Flow Smoothly

The technologies needed to make this happen are available today. Unfortunately, many organizations still think in terms of platforms and will continue to throw platforms at their employees. What they should be doing is to try to understand the nature of knowledge work and design services that make it flow as smoothly as possible.

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