For Matt Varney, his “light bulb” realization of the full power of digital workplace came when a visiting consultant rapidly located the PowerPoint presentation they were about to deliver using the cloud and machine learning. He often shares that experience with end users to help them see the benefits of an intranet that can bring disparate content together and put it in context.

Varney has been intranet administrator for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) and its 8,500 employees for over eight years and helped initiate the intranet at the collection of quasi-independent colleges. Prior to that, he worked with internal document management systems and the public web at KCTCS. As is true of many people in digital workplace-related positions, where roles have often taken time to become well defined, he has found himself wearing several “hats.”

“Luckily, as we’ve slowly matured, the roles have been sorting themselves out,” he said. “I am still heavily involved with our web services group, which oversees the public web and consumer social networking experiences for our 16 colleges.”

Shaping an Intranet to Stand the Test of Time

As KCTCS has started growing and maturing its internal service offerings to its 80,000 students across Kentucky, it is transitioning some of its experience from the public web site to a more cohesive, internally-facing experience that connects its digital tools through single sign-on. Varney interacts almost daily with the KCTCS web services team as he continues “to shape the direction of our intranet.”

Varney’s degree in geology and a brief stint as a geologist for the state of Kentucky gives him a unique perspective. “I tend to attack problems by taking the long view, looking at the big picture and trying to see if solutions will stand the test of time,” he said. “I’m also able to see how intense pressures over time can morph even the most hardened and seemingly stable positions.”

The digital transformation underway in many organizations is somewhat akin to the forces transforming the earth — only at a much faster pace.

“Geologic time is usually measured in millions of years, while digital workplace time is more likely measured in minutes and seconds,” Varney said. “At the core, there are external forces that act upon existing foundations. Whether producing catastrophic changes in a very short time or acting constantly over a longer period, with the foundation responding slowly but surely, the result is something that is radically different from what was present before.”

Varney 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 a session on June 19 sharing how KCTCS is increasing the value of its strategic digital workplace assets titled, “Extracting More Value From ‘Business As Usual.’”

We chatted to Varney about what’s next for the KCTCS intranet, his advice to win over new digital workplace users and his hopes for digital workplace advances.

Use Machine Learning to More Easily Succeed at Work

CMSWire: How have you seen collaboration and communication technologies evolve over the years? What do we still struggle with and why?

Varney: The more things change, the more things stay the same. We have many tools available today to collaborate and communicate, but we often still have the same issues of simply getting the work done.

However, the effective and judicious use of those tools remains the real issue in many cases. We can technically and quickly reach out to targeted audiences with discreet and appropriate messages, but we often lack the data or judgment to properly identify the audiences and we revert to broadcast blasts that get lost in the day-to-day noise.

We are able to use cloud-based solutions to co-author and co-edit documents in real time with rich and engaging experiences, but we again revert to familiar ways of sending copies of the documents around to a team via email or even courier.

CMSWire: What do you think have been some of the biggest disappointments in the digital workplace so far and where are the biggest advances coming from?

Varney: Digital workplace tools can exponentially increase the volume of noise and copies, further compounding the challenges we have always faced. That lack of consistent or effective use, along with the frequent inability to adequately focus on the pressing work tasks, are the biggest disappointments in my mind.

The biggest sources of hope (and the biggest advancements recently) have been with the digital workplace platforms that can leverage big data, machine learning and other aspects of AI. Not only do these advancements help to sort out and filter some of the noise from the vast information stream we face each workday, but they can also help identify patterns, trends and new connection points for engagements. I’m hopeful and optimistic that these technologies can begin to address the disappointments for many organizations.

If the very tools in the platform can more accurately predict what you need to see, with whom you need to work, and what processes you need to follow at a given time for a given workplace scenario, then the future is bright indeed. Not only do the outcomes of the work have a better chance at being correct and excellent, but also the experience of working can be more pleasant and meaningful.

Doing a good job feels good. Easily succeeding at work feels good. Seeing immediate and positive results from your work feels good. If we can have more of all of that because of the platform itself is guiding us in those directions, then everyone wins.

CMSWire: As an intranet evangelist, what have been some of the hardest user preconceptions to overcome? How have you won users over?

Learning Opportunities

Varney: The most commonly voiced concern about the shift from a loose collection of fragmented digital tools to a more cohesive ensemble of highly connected tools and platforms centers on the preconception that the digital workplace platform is itself just another fragmented tool.

Many users see the introduction of the digital workplace concept as yet another thing they have to learn, with a separate experience they have to segment and partition within the context of their day. Often times, the hardest part is getting them to that point of making that shift and understanding that the digital workplace is not an “extra thing.” Positioning the digital workplace as an evolved (and eventual) replacement to the set of tools and experiences they have now is the challenge.

One technique I use to quell any fears and to put their minds at ease is to bring up familiar experiences they have in the consumer world. Almost everyone has shopped at Amazon or is a Netflix customer or has used Facebook. Even the casual user of these services can recognize how those systems provide value by suggesting content they may enjoy or predicting when they may need a new batch or version of a product they recently acquired.

After I get users comfortable thinking about those experiences and how they benefit from them, I simply ask, “What if we had a similar system for your work stuff? Well, we do have that. Let’s talk about what that can do for you.”

CMSWire: As you look at the KCTCS intranet, what’s next in your digital workplace journey?

Varney: For us, it is about building on our momentum and deploying new services (or migrating existing services) to Office 365 and supporting Azure functions and components.

We have long realized that an intranet is not a single system in the classic IT perspective. It isn’t just a few servers and a database that you stick in a server closet. A much more powerful and scalable infrastructure is needed and for us, the Office 365 cloud represents that.

With advanced graph capabilities to help sort out and focus the digital noise, we’re positioning our cloud-based intranet not as “a single system to rule them all,” but rather as “a common set of user experiences that binds them all.”

CMSWire: Which three people living or dead would you invite to dinner and why did you choose those guests? What would you serve them to eat and drink? What do you think that the four of you will talk about during and after dinner?

Varney: I would go with Elon Musk as someone from present times with big ideas and ambitions, Billie Holiday as a pioneering artistic influence, and Benjamin Franklin as another inquisitive organizer and first-hand observer to great historical events. I would serve a selection of roasted vegetables and a New Mexican spice-rubbed Pork Tenderloin, along with top shelf Kentucky bourbon.

I would ask lots of questions and would be doing a lot of listening. In particular, I’d ask Benjamin and Billie to tell me more of their experiences in their time and would ask them about how they felt about experiencing a day in 2018. Was it frightening? Exciting? Overly confusing? When they hear that they are featured prominently in our history books and collective consciousness, what is their reaction?

For Elon, my questions would be more about his thoughts on the future and diving into the details of how that future can be realized. I would then ask our historical guests how they felt about hearing that. That would all be fascinating!

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience here.