Hemant Sahani’s professional journey started in software engineering, but what really piqued his interest was understanding and finding innovative solutions for customer problems. "Early in my career, I came to the realization that I wanted to be close to building technology solutions and be close to the customer at the same time," he said. 

Sahani is passionate about his role as VMWare’s senior director of product management because it provides a 360-degree view, starting with the customer problems all the way to the business outcomes. “In addition to the domain, business to enterprise (B2E) product managers must understand all the personas — buyers, influencers, procurement, information technology teams, end user personas, operations teams, go-to-market partners, etc. — to effectively create a solution offering a seamless experience. And product managers must work collaboratively using data as a competitive advantage.”

VMWare is a sponsor of Simpler Media Group’s Digital Workplace Experience Fall Event, taking place online on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15. Brian Madden and Marshall Anne Busbee will lead a session on the state of AI/ML and automation in the workplace. We spoke with Sahani to hear his thoughts on how AI and ML can improve employee experience, remote work trends which will carry on into the future and the role of IT in the current workplace.

Measure Employee Experience Proactively, Not Reactively

Simpler Media Group: Have you experienced any unexpected learnings recently regarding the state of AI/ML and automation in the workplace?

Hemant Sahani: I was a little disappointed when I learned that AI today is not really “artificial intelligence,” but is more “augmented intelligence.” All the things we watched JARVIS do for Iron Man and sci-fi TV shows like Westworld showcasing general intelligence are not going to happen anytime soon.

However, machine learning with human-in-the-loop is being effectively used today to improve employee experience. Helpdesk call volumes have gone up by approximately 20% since the start of the pandemic. Data science techniques, such as anomaly detection, can reduce the helpdesk call volume by proactively helping IT observe and remediate issues. Automation can help inform users who are impacted by a problem before they get a chance to log a helpdesk ticket. And time series data can help operations teams visualize the device changes on a timeline so the operations team can more quickly find the root cause and reduce the mean time to resolution (MTTR).

Overall, I’m very bullish on the future of ML/AI, but I’m grounded in the reality that most data science projects fail, and success is an iterative process.

SMG: What are the main challenges in the context of a digital employee experience? How might those challenges be addressed?

Sahani: It doesn’t make sense to base employee experience scores solely on the results of a survey, or how long it takes to resolve helpdesk tickets, because those metrics are reactive in nature. The right way to measure employee experience for an organization would encompass proactive telemetry from devices, apps and network. A single experience score can help the organization see trends as the digital employee experience tool continuously monitors the environment. When an incident happens, the notification should inform the impacted users in the most meaningful way possible as opposed to mass company emails that may or may not impact the individual.

User sentiment should also play a role in employee experience scores to ensure that qualitative feedback is considered along with the quantitative data. IT organizations should commit to experience level agreement (XLA) instead of service level agreement (SLA). SLA measures the uptime of a service, but a service that is up can still lead to a bad user experience due to long load time, app crashes, network issues, etc. On the other hand, experience level agreement (XLA) makes IT accountable to the actual end user experience. We are breaking silos by putting users at the center of the world and measuring their experience, instead of measuring the availability and reliability of each service in silos.

VMWare's Hemant Sahani: "The changes related to hiring practices, collaboration, and inclusive and empathetic organizations are here to stay."

Learning Opportunities

Catering to the Remote-First Experience

SMG: What have you learned about platform value over the last few years? How might things have been different if the pandemic had not necessitated the sudden ubiquity of remote work?

Sahani: Overnight, the pandemic forced organizations to change how they operate, and in one year we saw 10 years of progress with regards to digital transformation because the pandemic created a “do or die” moment. I saw how customers that had adopted the Workspace ONE platform were able to quickly adapt to meet the needs of their remote workforce. New hires got their laptops delivered straight from the factory and were up and running within 20 minutes. Some customers rolled out virtual desktops for employees in regions where they had delays in getting laptops. New apps were rolled out to entire employee populations within minutes to ensure seamless collaboration. We met the different needs of different groups within organizations because we built Workspace ONE with a platform mindset. Retailers and branch offices with shared mobile devices scaled up their device fleets to meet the needs of new programs, like buy online pickup in stores. We started seeing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs being used for frontline workers as shared devices were considered risky during the pandemic. Special purpose device needs peaked in hospitals and healthcare organizations, and Workspace ONE helped customers scale without missing a beat. Remote support solutions that are fully integrated in the Workspace ONE platform saw significant growth. Digital employee experience management (DEEM) is an area where our customers highlighted the opportunity for us because they see the power of the platform and how it can benefit their operations.

SMG: As it relates to human capital, what current beneficial practices do you feel will outlast the pandemic? Any that won’t?

Sahani: With regard to human capital, the changes related to hiring practices, collaboration, and inclusive and empathetic organizations are here to stay. Before the pandemic, many companies were fixated on hiring within their particular work locations. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to look at talent globally so we’re able to hire the best person for the role as opposed to the best person for the role in that region. I believe this will outlast the pandemic as it is a win-win for the company and the employee.

If you were a remote worker before the pandemic, you know that it felt like a major disadvantage during meetings. People used physical whiteboards to draw but it wasn’t easy for a remote user to follow along.

I think that the future of work will be hybrid and the tools (such as digital whiteboard tools) will cater to a remote-first experience. I also believe that companies will need to create opportunities for people to meet more frequently to build social capital. These meetings can be more team building exercises than strictly work discussions.

Overall, I think the pandemic has taught us to be real. It has brought us together. We have more inclusive and empathetic organizations than we did before the pandemic. For most people, their work and home personas are more blended than ever before. There is a focus on outcomes and not the number of hours put in. I certainly think this is a great change and hope it will last.

Claim your free pass to the Digital Workplace Experience here.