In a February 2014 industry brief, Forrester Research defined the Engagement Workplace: the next generation business user experience “that empowers employees using any device to take the next most likely action in their moments of need.” In a subsequent report, Forrester noted that in the Engagement Workplace, the

end user experience [will] help workers focus on their jobs by integrating multiple investments, including employee self-provisioned (cloud-based) applications, collaboration applications, and line-of business applications, which are all mobile-enabled and in the context of business results.”

To understand the practical implications of these findings, recently commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a custom study of US IT decision makers to explore the business use case of cloud-based technology investments and how they plan to develop the optimal end-user experience within their organization.

The results of this survey have just been published in the Forrester Consulting Technology Adoption Profile (TAP), “Delivering Contextual Experiences Drives Business.” The report found that organizations need to deliver a contextual employee experience to drive business value.

The TAP report combines existing Forrester survey results with custom research. It explores key aspects of the Engagement Workplace, including the following:

  • the technologies in which organization are investing,
  • where organizations see value in business cloud services,
  • how cloud services are being rolled out in practice,
  • the reasons that workers are not yet seeing value in mobile apps,
  • the key success factors for delivering business value in the engagement workplace

The results, summarized below, might surprise you.

Where are Organizations Investing?

IT decision-makers are investing and leveraging a mix of collaboration, cloud, social, and mobile tools. The Forrester’s Forrsights Software Survey, Q4 2013 revealed that:

  • Two thirds of software decision-makers identified the increased use of SaaS/cloud services as a critical or high priority for their organization.
  • Sixty-five percent of software decision-makers also believe that investing in mobile applications for employees, customers or partners is a high priority over the next 12 months
  • Forty-five percent of software decision-makers believe that embedding social into their business processes is a critical or high priority

This is in line with conventional wisdom that says cloud, mobile and social technologies are key parts of the future workplace, with cloud and mobile leading social investments.

What is the Value of Investing in the Cloud?

The same survey found that software decision-makers invest in cloud/SaaS for improved business agility; specifically the top reasons for investing in the cloud were the following:

  • Almost all (95 percent) of IT decision-makers surveyed believe cloud technology will make the organization an attractive employer as it will have more collaborative and flexible working environments. This number stands in stark contrast to the popular notion that cost is the primary driver.
  • Ninety-one percent of IT decision-makers surveyed responded that cloud solutions allow more effective and targeted selling through seamless access to critical business information.
  • Almost 90 percent of IT decision makers agreed that cloud-based technologies allow for better services and therefore improve customer satisfaction.

It is surprising that the top reason for investing in the cloud is related to attracting employees. Furthermore, none of the top three reasons are associated with cost savings afforded by cloud technologies, the main reason presented in the media for migrating to the cloud.

Why Aren’t Business Users Getting Value from Mobile Apps?

The Forrester’s Business Technographics Global Telecom and Mobility Workforce Survey, 2014 found that 40 percent of information workers have a tablet that contains more than six work-related applications and a further 24 percent have downloaded six or more work-related applications on their smartphone. This number of mobile business users is quite surprising, especially considering the disappointment expressed by mobile workers regarding the low level of business value attained, which was uncovered by the Forrester TAP report -- this report identified top reasons for the expressed lack of business value derived from mobile apps as follows:

  • Lack of integration: 24 percent of respondents selected the lack of integration as the primary reason for why workers do not receive the full value from their mobile applications. Switching between multiple applications that look and act differently, are not designed to work together, and do not offer a full array of the information necessary to make critical decisions frustrate users and drive down business benefit
  • A lack of business context in information delivered. Information is presented on smartphones or tablets without any business context. Users want all of the information available to get a full view of a problem or opportunity
  • Disjointed experience: The need to switch between multiple applications makes it harder to see the bigger picture when making business-critical decisions

Knowledge Workers are Provisioning Their Own Cloud Services

The good news is that mobile users are not giving up. The need is so great for mobile business users to be able to work on the go, that they are supplementing their organization’s investments in cloud services, by self-provisioning their own services. The Forrester TAP report reached the following conclusions:

  • IT organizations inevitability fail to match the same level of sophistication with their own technologies
  • Employees download apps of their choice on their devices, irrespective of whether a PC, tablet or smartphone is their own or not
  • End users self-provisioning their own cloud-based tools and services to help them solve critical business problems

What this means is that while organizations are providing cloud services to their workforce, business workers are supplementing these services with self-provisioned ones.

The downside is that with so many unrelated cloud services in the mix, the business user experience is disjointed, since the app that corresponds to each cloud service shows only a small slice of the business picture. It becomes very hard for workers to see what is happening across their business.

The Right User Experience Will Lead to Breakthrough Business Results

With the frustration expressed from the poor user experience, it’s no surprise that survey respondents overwhelmingly expressed the need for “an optimal user experience for business professionals that use a host of different cloud services and applications” and one which “content and communication are delivered in the business context, even when line-of business integration is required.”

The top business values to be achieved from such a user experience, as expressed in the survey were improved sales performance due to easier access to information, improved customer service and improved capabilities of product and services.

Where Does This Leave Us at the End of 2014?

At the end of the day, the enterprise move to the cloud is still in an early stage. A Gartner study found that while only 10 percent of enterprise information was in the cloud in 2013, half of enterprise information will make its way to the cloud in the next two years. So while we have a bit of time before this becomes a critical mainstream problem, it is clear that trouble is brewing on the horizon.

In a recent article entitled Connecting Workers to Information in the Digital Workplace, I laid out some ideas for addressing these challenges, including adopting emerging cloud ecosystems, leveraging meta-search capabilities, employing context-awareness in apps, and developing and adopting standards. I have developed a companion PowerPoint presentation which contains additional information, entitled The Consolidated Digital Enterprise.