When Chris McNulty joined Microsoft in October 2015, he brought a wealth of SharePoint experiences from the perspective of a customer, software developer and systems integrator. “One of the things I really hope I bring to the job is real-world understanding,” he said.

McNulty’s current role is senior product marketing manager for SharePoint and Office 365 at Microsoft. As well as previous CTO positions with Cryptzone and Dell Software, McNulty is able to draw on the years he spent as an executive working for GMO, John Hancock, Santander and State Street. “Financial services companies have some of largest and most complex systems architecture with really big challenges to solve,” he said.

Learning from Customers

Being on the inside at Microsoft, McNulty has discovered some aspects of company culture which hadn’t been readily apparent to him as a customer or partner. “What’s fascinating, for instance, is the way we look at telemetry when we’re making decisions about specific parts of the employee experience.”

Data on millions of users provides Microsoft with actionable insights on which methods are proving most effective for users to achieve a particular result. “Microsoft is, in some ways, a much nimbler organization than you might expect for a company of its size,” McNulty said.

McNulty will be speaking at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place today through June 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will give a session titled “The Future of SharePoint Is Now — Reinventing the Digital Connected Workplace” June 20. 

We spoke with McNulty about common struggles organizations face when implementing an intranet, his advice on how companies should start thinking about intelligent workplaces and the importance of blockchain technology.

Reinvent How You Engage with Your Workforce

CMSWire: In your experience, how have organizations changed the way they think about and position their investment in enterprise collaboration software over the years?

McNulty: Paradoxically, some of our largest customers — who have 100,000 or more employees — they get it. They have no other choice than to use technology to bring employees together, there’s no other way they can unite them. At the other end of spectrum, our smallest customers may not have C-suite buy-in or even have a C-suite, but they’re nimble enough to have early adoption.

Ten years ago, you’d see mid-market customers had the budget and were investing in enterprise collaboration. But now, in particular as you look at cloud and beyond to blockchain and AI, the midmarket is having the most challenges adapting to and adopting newer technologies. They don’t have board-level pressure on them and so have a little bit more leeway about when to invest and proportionally they have a larger investment in on-premises software and in the careers of people supporting it.

I think there’s a real silver lining, a huge opportunity and upside, nw for that middle range of customers to move up to some of the disrupting technologies now. Digital transformation is about being able to go back and really reinvent what you’re fundamentally doing to engage with your workforce and customers. It’s about really achieving productivity gains, which had not been easily accessible before.

CMSWire: What do organizations struggle with the most when planning and then implementing their first or their latest intranet?

McNulty: One of biggest challenges is a failure of imagination about what it means to build an intranet, a digital workplace, here in this decade. If you’re not careful, you may take a fairly static bunch of HTML pages running on premises, dress them up with some graphics, and run it in cloud. That’s failing to reimagine a digital workplace which shouldn’t just manage but should lead the way work gets done.

When you get a mismatch between the technology and the way people are working, they lack that connection. If there’s a match, the technology helps streamline collaboration for them. They like it, they use it and you get a virtuous cycle where they use the intranet as a platform for productivity.

CMSWire: In your opinion, how should companies think about reinventing their current digital workplaces to move to intelligent workplaces?

McNulty: Although it’s important to have a good understanding and grasp of intelligent workplace technologies, it’s really dangerous to equate those technologies with the creation of a digital workplace. Just because you have some degree of automation or machine learning tied to your information, doesn’t mean that you’ve achieved your digital workplace goal.

You have to be able to shift the culture. For instance, historically intranets were built by IT and often for IT. You build an intranet and what’s the first department you put on that intranet? It’s IT and then every other department looks like IT but those departments don’t see themselves there on that intranet.

Learning Opportunities

To be really successful, you have to break down some of those boundaries to reflect the variety of your workforce and flexibility in your culture. It can be as simple as removing geography barriers and making sure that the intranet digital workplace project itself is decentralized. It’s more about expressing outcomes in tangible business goals versus successful IT implementations.

CMSWire: Which emerging technology or technologies do you anticipate will have the most significant impact on the workplace of the future?

McNulty: The one I think will do that is blockchain because it has ability to create these tightly coupled chains of transactions around processes and content.

Blockchain is one of those technologies that’s so broad that there are some companies that will be disrupted out of existence, while in other cases we’ll end up deciding it’s not appropriate to use it. Because blockchain has that ability to fuse all actors in a system with their transactions without a central clearing house, it has an impact for your entire organization.

CMSWire: How will organizations need to train or retrain employees to navigate and succeed in an intelligent workplace?

For your workforce, if it’s consumerization of business software from monolithic IT reformulated into mobile apps, the technologies should just work. It’s implementers who will need to acquire a different set of skills.

Everyone who is a traditional implementer needs to be able to understand business goals, so to be able to read a balance sheet. There’s also a separate set of tools that people need to have a basic understanding of like elements of data science and new user interfaces.

CMSWire: If you were to travel to Mars and you could take three luxury items with you, what would they be and why?

McNulty: I would take a pair of Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones to listen to music. I tend to listen to a mix of ambient and classical music. I’d also take a Coke Zero vending machine. If you’ve seen how much Coke Zero I drink, you know it’ll come in handy! Then, I’d take a digital copy of every work on record in the Library of Congress. I’d probably not get to read all of them.

I’d only go to Mars with a return ticket. I like mountains and oceans too much and I’d miss my family and friends. But it’s Mars — you have to go if you can go!

Editor's note: Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience here. It's not too late to register.

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