reading with a magnifying glass
A digital workplace is only as strong as its weakest link. And unfortunately, that weak link is often poorly planned search implementations PHOTO: João Silas

Organizations have embraced the digital workplace to offer their employees more flexibility and to optimize business processes. While digital workplace definitions vary, the common denominator is a connected environment of enterprise software systems. Early definitions of digital workplace were heavily biased towards technology, but a digital workplace now relies primarily on knowledge sharing and collaborative interactions, with the support of technology.

A successful digital workplace requires responsive systems that provide the right data when needed. It must be built on findability of information and a people-centric approach. It goes beyond a company’s intranet and beyond technology to include business processes and employee engagement. It includes intranet, RSS feeds, enterprise social networks, email and instant messaging, CRM, collaboration tools, document management and more.

Users access the digital workplace via personalized applications, multiple devices (laptops, mobiles, tablets) and connectivity solutions, allowing flexible working and knowledge sharing. Creating a digital workplace requires change management and a solid internal communication strategy to get all users on board and get their input.

The Foundation of Digital Workplace Success

Planning is vital when adapting business processes and implementing technologies that enable employees to do their work more efficiently. Information silos are major barriers to the implementation of a digital workplace. The demand for accessible data across different databases and devices requires a strong enterprise search strategy comprising standard processes and compliance, as well as flexibility and personalization.

Users expect search to produce good quality results and a Google-like search experience in the enterprise. However, according to McKinsey, they spend almost 20 percent of their time searching for information. Searchable records as a result of the right enterprise search strategy can reduce time spent looking for information by about a third.

Businesses need to look at how to access content instead of simply imposing a technology solution. The success of a digital workplace relies on the collaboration between IT, management and employees.

The lifecycle of digital workplace implementation should include:

  • Consultation.
  • List of user requirements.
  • List of business requirements.
  • IT systems requirements.
  • Compliance guidelines.
  • Governance.

Digital Workplace Technology and Business Challenges

From a technical point of view, the primary challenge for digital workplaces is the connectivity between separate enterprise systems. Some systems can be connected to SharePoint search, like file shares, websites, Exchange public folders, etc. Others need custom or third party solutions, like Google Drive, IBM Connections, Lotus Notes, JIVE, OpenText Documentum, Salesforce, etc.

Enterprise search is often an afterthought when creating an integrated user experience. The main reasons are cost and complexity, but it shouldn’t be that way. Enterprise search continues to evolve and improve.

From a business point of view, there are some challenges, mainly:

  • Identifying the use cases of digital workplace where and how the users need aggregated and unified cross-system information.
  • Finding a way to unify the information (metadata, metadata, metadata!).
  • Finding a way to display the information in each case (list, chart, diagram, map, etc.).

Let’s look at these challenges in more detail:

Identifying User Needs

One of the most important components in a digital workplace strategy is integrating the various systems and the information they store, including documents systems, collaboration systems, databases, HR information, customer information, invoicing and accounting. These documents are usually distributed between multiple systems, so devising a plan for integrating them is complex, but essential. For example, with data such as customer information, we may store it in some systems as a customer ID, in other systems as a company’s tax identification number, while in another as either the full name of the company or a shortened name. All these documents have to be unified to produce good search results.

Unifying the Information

Delivering all search results with the same interface prevents users from becoming confused by inconsistent use of data variants. It's essential that all stored information meets a certain standard of quality to provide a superior user experience in a digital workplace and in enterprise search. If data is messy or has too many empty or wrong values, it can be misleading for the users. Better metadata equals better user experience.

Displaying the Information

The key to success for a digital workplace is to understand the psychology of users and how they work in digital workplaces. Most users want visual information, they want the information to be presented in a way that makes sense for them. For example, they want to see a map when searching for geographical information or a chart to display statistical data. Without good quality metadata it’s impossible to build charts and other visual data.

Managing Data

Organizations need a plan for storing and retrieving information. This requires a taxonomy, a system to classify information and metadata. The taxonomy should be easy to understand to ensure users can find relevant information. Data needs context to improve search results, and search quality still needs fine-tuning to filter out duplicate, irrelevant or old content. The information management system needs to provide consistency across all databases, and users have to comply with an agreed taxonomy. This will reduce time spent sending emails requesting information and enable self-serving.

Office 365, for example, can analyze how many people interact with documents and will score those documents for better findability. This saves time in the long run because documents that are accessed on a regular basis are presented as top results. This is particularly useful for remote teams working in customer service who need to access document templates, proposals and other important documents.

Businesses need to define what their search requirements are, raise any concerns about implementation issues including compatibility with existing legacy systems, and they need to allocate a search team to manage the implementation process.


Planning the implementation of a digital workplace is not a purely technical decision. Vendors tend to talk up the benefits of their software solutions and downplay the complexities of implementation.

For example, many vendors, such as Microsoft, release newer software features every month, especially in the cloud, and encourage their enterprise customers to implement them immediately. However, without knowing why you need those features, without knowing if you have a demand for them, and without a plan for user adoption, it’s inadvisable to implement everything as soon as it’s rolled out.

Identifying needs comes first, and choosing the right tools follows.

A digital workplace can only be as strong as its weakest point. My advice is to plan, plan and plan some more!