In his career, Dion Hinchcliffe has worked “on both sides of the fence” — as a customer leading large IT projects, and as a consultant providing organizations with strategic advice and helping them come to grips with emerging technologies.

Hinchcliffe is currently vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. He also remains a practicing enterprise architect. It’s important not to “lose touch with this reality,” he said, since the role of an enterprise architect is to “understand how everything connects” as a company executes a digital transformation and rethinks its digital workplace.

Where the Digital Workplace Fits in Digital Transformation

When thinking of a digital workplace initiative within the larger context of a digital transformation, Hinchcliffe advises organizations take a “decoupled” approach rather than a tightly integrated one.

“Digital transformation is so all-encompassing that it makes more sense to approach it as a collection of related efforts heading to the same goals,” he said. “Digital workplace is part of a chorus of efforts, which are clearly in sync with each other and supporting each other.”

Together with reimagining the employee experience, organizations also need to work on reinventing customer experience and supplier experience, he advises. In that way, companies can ensure they put in place the three key foundational elements needed to create a successful digital transformation.

Hinchcliffe will be speaking at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 18 to 20 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will give the keynote session titled “Creating a Sustainable Digital Workplace in the Exponential Era” June 19. Hinchcliffe will also give two workshops on June 18 titled “Driving Rapid Results with Today’s Digital Workplace Tools” and “Developing a Successful Digital Workplace Strategy and Program.”

We spoke with Hinchcliffe about the continuing evolution of the digital workplace and how companies should approach these shifts. We also discussed how businesses can measure the success of their collaboration endeavors.

Design the Way You Work Around Your Tools

CMSWire: How have you seen the digital workplace and collaboration technologies change over the years? Where are we now?

Hinchcliffe: We’ve learned a lot in the last 30 years about how to use technology for collaboration and communication. There have been improvements in scalability and usability. Enterprise social networks have been a good change. It’s been challenging culturally as we learn the best way to work as teams, as large entities made up of people, as the tools automatically share what we’re doing with everyone.

One thing to watch is how the industry moves from a focus on specific tools to a more comprehensive and holistically designed digital workplace. We’re moving from an accidental digital workplace to something that’s more planned.

Fragmentation has been a very significant problem. I talked to an HR director who said there’s a significant cognitive load on workers on which tools to learn and when to use them. Practically, there’s a limit to that cognitive load. We’ve got to eliminate the friction and better organization the toolset.

The technology fragmentation has led to channel segmentation. You have to figure out which channel someone’s on. Is it Slack or Microsoft Teams or WhatsApp? Everyone all over the place is in little silos.

The integrated digital workplace is the big trend. We’re finally making some progress and seeing some shifts, with vendors like Slack saying that collaboration tools are the perfect hub to integrate the digital workplace and bring hundreds of apps together.

CMSWire: How should companies tackle and think about fragmentation?

Hinchcliffe: I’m promoting a multilayer collaboration strategy, where you may have a couple of central activity streams and then you’re evaluating innovation on the margins.

On the edge, fragmentation is a source of innovation which can serve up even better ways of working together. You can then integrate edge tools into the hubs of your collaborative environment so the whole environment becomes even better.

That’s a future job — creating a more integrated employee experience. It’s very important that you use a people-centric lens, in terms of how does this all work and how does it make me feel?

CMSWire: What do you see as being the next major evolution in the digital workplace and what’s exciting about it?

Hinchcliffe: The next shift is one of the biggest. It’s going to be the intelligent digital workplace, supported by artificial intelligence (AI) to inject just-in time digital knowledge right inside conversations. For instance, doctors working with digital tools to diagnose a patient who’s far away. The collaboration tool is listening into that conversation in real time and automatically searching all known diseases to match the patient’s symptoms to the right treatments.

I’m excited about how AI and machine learning will improve collaboration. What we’ve seen with early chatbots, that will dramatically improve. But, let’s be very clear, strong AI doesn’t exist and won’t for another 10 years, if at all. I’m firmly in the camp that AI will be complementary to what humans do rather than replace them.  

CMSWire: How should companies prepare to meet these shifts so that their digital workplace is a sustainable and long-term endeavor?

Hinchcliffe: There is a significant advantage for companies in adding AI to their workplace. What they really need to do is vendor management to make sure that your current tool providers have a plan to take you there. It’s been amazing to see Microsoft surge from not being taken seriously in collaboration to a leading role.

We’re going to see a continuing merging or blurring between the physical and virtual worlds. For instance, in how we conduct meetings and use virtual white boards. We’ll see more augmented reality and virtual reality as the technologies get more lightweight and cheaper.

Learning Opportunities

Most organizations are exploring around the edges. People are experimenting with AI and digital workplace primarily through embedded services like chatbots for customer service and concierge-type actions for HR. It’s early days yet, the tools are very immature and people are not sure what the best use cases are.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for companies who feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of collaboration tools available and who possibly also feel burned by earlier unsuccessful collaboration attempts?

Hinchcliffe: One challenge in having so many tools is that many of them are perceived as being optional. You don’t have to use them to get your job done and so you gravitate to what you feel you can use.

There’s a whole bell curve of collaboration tool adoption from those organizations where it’s not worked out so well, to those who are getting something out of it, and then to the very high performers. High performers design the way they work around what these tools can do.

For instance, a very large multinational manufacturer has redesigned 10 to 15 strategic initiatives around its social network. So, when new people come onboard, the organization says, ‘This is how we do budgeting.’ Everything is out in the open, it’s on the social network.

If you don’t redesign the way you work around these powerful tools, it’s a recipe for limited success.

CMSWire: How should organizations think about measuring the success of a new digital workplace strategy?

Hinchcliffe: We’re seeing the first millennial CIOs arrive. They have a very different way of looking at digital workplace, not as a means to an end, but as the end itself, it’s about making the stakeholder happy.

Before where we might have measured ROI, now we can do much more continuous measuring. In the work we do, we take a growth hacking approach where we adjust the design of the digital workplace every few weeks, then take the metrics again, and we don’t stop doing that in perpetuity.

The analytics revolution allows us to measure everything — from the correlation in the financial system, HR or talent management numbers and down to sentiment what people are really thinking and saying.

Digital talent is scarce. Some very large professional services companies experience a 25 percent yearly turnover. It’s so expensive to hire and train staff so you want to measure everything that relates to the health of the individual and of the organization and if the digital workplace is addressing those issues.

CMSWire: As someone who constantly travels, do you have one or more destinations which feel like a second home? What appeals to you about them?

Hinchcliffe: I do get to travel all over the world. The obvious answer is Paris. It’s one of my very favorite places on earth — the food, the elegance, the entire city is beautiful right down to a single garden. You can get very used to that level of living. Everything is amazing. I love café culture, sitting there and getting work done while also watching the world go by.

The not-so obvious answer is Bali, Indonesia. It’s a magical place. It’s not only cheap to get to, but it’s incredibly cheap to live there. It’s a beautiful, elegant culture. It feels like everyone is an artist in Bali. I highly recommend visiting Bali.

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience here.