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At the end of last August Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2019, (subscription required) identified five distinct, emerging technologies and trends that will enable enterprises create and enable new experiences.

According to the research, digital workplaces have now reached maturity and cutting edge enterprises are starting to move beyond that. In the future, Gartner says, we will see the emergence of digital ecosystems. Digital ecosystems are not the same as digital workplaces, although the original goal of digital transformation was, in fact the creation of digital ecosystems.

Digital ecosystems, the hypeycle report points out, use an interdependent group of actors (enterprises, people and things) sharing digital platforms to achieve a mutually beneficial purpose. Digitalization, it adds, has facilitated the deconstruction of classical value chains, leading to stronger, more flexible and resilient webs of value delivery that are constantly morphing to create new improved products and services.

Distributing Data

Is this not the same as a simple digital workplace? It seems not. Ecosystems are evolved workplaces, which at their best, give workers access to any data, tool or communications device they need to achieve business goals. Bernard May is CEO of Los Angeles-based National Positions. He pointed out that digital ecosystems can supply a much faster distribution of data and communications than current digital workplaces. “The rate at which organizations are relying on cloud-based SaaS platforms, allowing for true friction-free global workspaces, is staggering — and exciting,” he said.

This type of ecosystem gives businesses both flexibility for their workforce as well as the ability to make more rapid and accurate decisions. There is also is a reduced chance of losing assets due to segmented or siloed information/data banks. Operating in a digital ecosystem means that, for the most part, if an internal hard drive burned out or snapped in half critical data would still be living somewhere in the cloud.

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Impact On Work

However, it’s more than just a technology construct. A digital ecosystem, Maryanne Steidinger, head of marketing at Webalo, said is a foundation that allows you to build an infrastructure to capture, enforce, share and proliferate your good work practices.

Every company has procedures that they expect their employees to follow to ensure standardization and repeatability in processes. This is extremely important in organizations where the products must act, look, perform and behave the same and in doing so meet customer expectations for quality, taste, look and feel.

Most companies, she added, have oversight regulations that they must adhere to and they respond by keeping "books" (literally, it can be a binder with paper, or it can be more sophisticated digital versions) that capture their good practices, with all of the nuances associated with building those products. “This newer platform technology that creates a 'digital ecosystem' allows companies to build those purposeful apps that are associated with production workers and the tasks that they must deploy,” she said.

It provides the infrastructure to integrate to all relevant plant and enterprise data sources so that the tasks have the information that is required (with context) for the workers to make informed decisions, as well as closed loop workflow to ensure tasks are completed/authorized/released according to procedures.

The idea of the digital ecosystem is to connect the relevant information, from their respective applications/databases, and configure in a way that will help the workers be more productive, informed, educated about their process, allowing them to make decisions that are in compliance with regulations and maintaining the quality and production targets that the organization requires to maintain their competitiveness.

Related Article: How to Digitally Transform Into an Intelligent Workplace

Enabling Productive Work

Suresh Sambandam is CEO of Wilmington, Del.-based Kissflow. He pointed out that the work environment is changing, and today’s global distributed teams are in need of tools that can help them be more effective. However, tools also have a point of diminishing returns — a team that isn’t leveraging tools at all is perhaps slow and unproductive. But, as the number of tools being used within the organization increases, and the amount of creative energy spent on the upkeep of these tools increases, it adversely impacts productivity.

Evolving Digital Ecosystems

The best digital workplaces have evolved into digital ecosystems and have has the ability to bring all the tools used within the organization into one cohesive, productive environment that allows users to measure the contribution and impact of each team member and business unit to the organization’s overall outcome. “Companies of today will be built around digital workplace platforms that hold the intelligence and consistently make an effort to simplify things for them so that they can focus on making the main thing the main thing and not worry about writing reports and managing the silo of tools” he said.

A digital ecosystems is the sum total of all the various apps and programs being run by different people and teams across different regions of a company's geographical footprint — together with all the data being produced Riversand's Global VP of Marketing, Katie Fabiszak, said.

It is also a workplace that has been redefined and harmonized with the use of a system-wide easily accessible digital work-grid made up of compatible technologies and information sharing practices for handling the data output? To be successful — a digital workplace has to be the latter.

To get started, she said, a company has to find the right definition of what digital means for the organization — no company should try to tackle digital just for the sake of doing it. Define the business goals and how it will be embodied in the organization. Next, strong executive support and leadership required, you simply must have buy-in and participation from the top. “Successful digital workplaces understand it's about way more than just technology — culture and organizational changes are required. And of course — technology does come into play, and there are great examples of technology that bring organizations together, breaking down data and people silos so the business can eliminate barriers and improve the most important thing: serving customers better” she said.

The ‘Right’ Technology

Salt Lake City, Utah-based Workfront released its 6th Annual global State of Work (registration required) report at the beginning of October. Among its findings were that enterprise business leaders still have plenty of opportunities to help their employees focus on strategic, high-value work by implementing the right technologies, practices, and leadership.

The 2020 study, conducted by Workfront, surveyed 3,750 knowledge workers across the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.

It showed that digital workplaces are inhabited by a technically astute global workforce, where employees want to do purposeful work, take pride in what they do, and crave modern technologies that help them work more strategically and efficiently.

However, it also found that they are looking for more than just technology — they are looking for the right technology. Adding more technology solutions, the research found doesn't necessarily make for better work. The study found that globally, employees spend just 43 percent of their workweek on the jobs they were hired to do. And 42 percent of respondents said the number of work applications their companies provide actually make them less productive.

There are many solutions to this problem, most of them involving connected thinking and connected workplaces that are ultimately, the result of building digital ecosystems. Digital ecosystems are not just desirable, it seems, they are also necessary if organizations want to keep a competitive edge.