measuring up
So many digital workplace discussions focus on the technology or the culture. But at the end of the day, it's just a means to an end PHOTO: woodleywonderworks

"Forty percent of businesses in this room, unfortunately, will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years. Seventy percent of companies will attempt to go digital but only 30 percent of those will succeed. If I'm not making you sweat, I should be" ― John Chamber, former CEO of Cisco 

Earlier this year, Gartner analyst Matthew Cain said the company doesn't routinely see digital workplaces. Only 15 percent of Gartner’s clients claim to have one and 50 percent haven’t pursued one in any meaningful way. 

This peaked my interest. It also reinforced a somewhat unconventional notion I have around the digital workplace concept. 

The Digital Workplace: A Means to an End

Despite the current popularity of the term, there is little agreement as to what a digital workplace means or how to achieve it. 

Many definitions focus on technology — 'consumerizing' the technology environment, providing sophisticated collaboration tools and making more use of architecture and APIs to link applications, data stores and digital devices. Others describe a change in culture, facilitating collaboration and introducing different methods of working. 

While a workplace needs all of these items to earn the 'digital' moniker, the definitions significantly miss the mark in their portrayal of the digital workplace as an end in itself, a standalone target to be achieved. 

I think of the digital workplace as a means to an end, a required evolution of a company’s internal environment designed specifically to help achieve business outcomes made imperative by digital disruption. Business outcomes that include: providing seamless omnichannel customer experiences; turning the explosion of personalized digital data from customers into contextually relevant responses that increase trust and satisfaction; innovating products and services to take advantage of digital capabilities; and improving business agility to react to changes at the speed of digital. 

That said, several critical building blocks are required to transform a work environment into one that takes full advantage of digital capabilities. The following questions can help you assess how far along your company is to an internal work environment that facilitates the business outcomes most important to you.   

Assess Your Digital Workplace Maturity

Do You Have a Clear Digital Strategy, Coupled with Executive Mandate?

Much has been written about the need for culture change and leadership during a digital transformation. While important factors, they are not unique to digital. 

Any sweeping organizational change must account for culture and include appropriate leadership support. The first step in a transformation that incorporates these critical factors is to have a clearly articulated strategy that is tied to desired business outcomes, a cross-functional planning and implementation team, and a detailed plan highlighting required changes, specifying milestones and assigning accountability. 

Questions to ask include:

  • Is there a CEO mandate for this initiative? Can the entire executive team articulate the strategy, the overall effort and the anticipated benefits? Is the effort regularly monitored at the board level?
  • Is the digital transformation strategy closely tied to digital business outcomes (e.g., customer experience)?
  • Does the implementation plan define milestone steps and do these parallel the steps needed for digital business outcomes (e.g., providing store employees with tablets allowing them to communicate with each other as well as access information for customers)?
  • Is there a clear change management process in place?
  • Does the plan identify business processes that need to change in order to complete the transformation? Is a team assigned to that?
  • Do the rank and file employees understand the initiative and what their roles will be? Do they know how it will affect their responsibilities?
  • Are skills gaps identified and is there a clear plan to hire or retrain?

Have You Made Measurable Progress?

Measuring progress toward desired digital business outcomes is a great way to determine the true maturity of a digital workplace. While mature organizations may focus on both customer experience and digital products, most companies start with one or the other. 

Questions to ask include the following. 

Customer experience:

  • How quickly can you recognize and respond to a change in customer expectation?
  • Have you personalized and contextualized all customer communications?
  • Is there consistency across all communication channels?
  • Do you determine communications and responses based on customer insights?
  • Does the company engage with the customer community through social media?
  • Is the customer experience a competitive differentiator and are you measuring loyalty and satisfaction? 

Digital products and services:

  • Have the products and services been modified to use digital capabilities (e.g., mobile claim reporting for auto insurance)?
  • Is there a digital innovation group looking at possible enhancements to both products and services?
  • Do the products and services incorporate customer insights or produce them (e.g., smart appliances)?
  • Can partner solutions be integrated seamlessly (e.g., social media or mobile location information incorporated into real-time responses)?
  • Do the digital products or services provide a competitive differentiation? If so, is it measured? 

Do You Have a Flexible Technology Backbone Providing Ready Access to Data?

Technology can either act as the greatest facilitator or the biggest inhibitor for agility and collaboration — two critical qualities found in leading digital companies.

Questions to ask about the technology backbone include:

  • Is a flexible systems architecture in place that allows ready access to information?
  • Is high quality master data available for both customers and products?
  • Can social, IoT, mobile, unstructured and other emerging digital and big data sources be easily incorporated?
  • Does the architecture provide API access to both internal and external entities? 
  • Can the transaction processing applications be modified to handle changes in process or information? Can digital services be incorporated?
  • Does the technology environment facilitate frequent experimentation and A/B testing?
  • Are there systems that facilitate collaboration, knowledge sharing and flexible workspaces? 

Yes or No? You Know Your Path Forward

If you answered yes to most of these questions congratulations, you are a digital leader with a workplace to match. 

If not, the negative answers should provide an indication of the areas to shore up as your company speeds down the digital path.