Preston Harris, Digital Workplace Leader from CDW

What Preston Harris finds most remarkable about the evolution of collaboration and communications technologies is the convergence that’s taken place between the IT and end-user consumer worlds.

“I started my career when remote communications consisted of a pager and a flip phone — and we were very excited about that,” he said. Then, the BlackBerry, with its keyboard, “transformed how we interact with small electronic devices” and next came smartphones which “have become the platform for a higher order of anytime/anywhere communication.”

Harris is currently principal solutions architect in Digital Workspace Services at technology solutions provider CDW. He draws on a deep background in mobility technologies with roles at organizations including T-Mobile, ActionLink and national retailers.

Align Digital Assets to Improve Collaboration, Productivity

As a teenager growing up in Lisle, Ill., Harris’ “intense interest in technology” led him to spend so much time at the local computer store that “they eventually put me on the payroll!” He also gained a passion for retail at the same time and has pursued both passions — technology and retail — over the next 25 years

“What I think about today is how we can help organizations align digital assets to improve collaboration and productivity by connecting people no matter where they are: in an office, on the road, in a store or at their homes,” Harris said.

As mobile and collaboration technologies have continued to evolve, employees have seen the appeal and delivery of rich technology connections in their personal lives. “They have come to work demanding that their employer provide that kind of environment for their professional lives,” he said.

Harris spoke 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 co-presented a session at the conference with Edward Taylor, lead consultant at Digital Workplace Group titled “Measuring Digital User Experience” on June 19.

We spoke with Harris for his take on measuring digital workplace success, where most organizations are in terms of their mobile maturity, and the likely benefits of the Device as a Service (DaaS) model.  

The Emergence of Self-Connecting, Real-Time Collaboration

CMSWire: What emerging technologies do you think will potentially have the most impact on the digital workplace (DW) and what do you see as their likely benefits?

Harris: Proximity is a great emerging technology — in other words, self-connecting, real-time collaboration services.

If you think about what happens most of the time today, you walk into a meeting room — probably early, just to be on the safe side — and spend time making sure that you and your devices are connected and fully available to other participants in the meeting you’re about to start. Then, you start the meeting and you cross your fingers that the platform you use is working for everyone.

Proximity technology is a body of services that enable the digital instruments we use to detect where we are and immediately engage us for collaboration without our intervention, or with only minimal intervention. Proximity illustrates what the most transformative emerging technologies will do. Like the BlackBerry keyboard, they’ll make digital instruments and services more intuitive and more attractive to users.

CMSWire: What are your thoughts about the future of work and the skills employees will need to cultivate as what constitutes work evolves?

Harris: Many organizations have a love/hate relationship with the idea of “anywhere, anytime” work, but it’s important to recognize that these technology changes are being driven by a cultural shift toward collaboration that permeates the modern workforce — especially as more and more digital natives move up the ladder.

As digital tools for collaboration and activity management mature, organizations will have no choice but to embrace that cultural shift. Employers and employees alike will need to be savvier about their digital tools, and employees will have to be well prepared to work from anywhere.

CMSWire: How does a company know when its digital workplace and the user experiences it provides are successful? Which tools and measurements should organizations use to gain insight into how to optimize and evolve their digital workplace initiatives?

Harris: Let’s use hospital systems as an example. In that environment, you have teams of people focused on coordinating their work to help one patient in a bed. The team spans many functions on multiple shifts — often more then 10 people, from surgeons and physicians to nurses, housekeeping and more.

In that scenario, with the digital tools delivery systems use today, we can see who’s actually placing messages and when, and the outcomes are measured not only by the patient’s medical condition, but in terms of the patient’s satisfaction.

Tools such as the HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey probe for the patient’s satisfaction with their experience. The survey asks how responsive and informative all the people were who helped the patient, which reflects the digital tools the care team uses as well as the communication skills of the people themselves.

We can generalize that type of measurement to other audiences. We can examine how well our collaboration improves our customer’s experience, whether our customer is in a retail store or business-to-business setting or a co-worker inside our own company. The measurement tools are straightforward, and we can gather that kind of input from customers in real time.

CMSWire: In your opinion, where are most organizations in their use of mobile technology deployments and what are the most significant challenges they face today in the monitoring of those deployments?

Harris: Most organizations are what I would call 'sophomores.' They’ve procured and distributed many mobile devices and they’re using tools like mobile device management to manage and secure them. Many organizations are now trying to move beyond basic collaboration resources such as email and conferencing toward adopting more significant productivity enhancements — toward using those mobile devices more effectively to accomplish the core mission of their enterprise.

They want to do more, but there’s a lot of effort required to solve for their next step, to increase the business value those mobile endpoints deliver. That implies more advanced applications, more advanced data controls, more device security and more strategy in general to orchestrate all those elements and advance from sophomore to junior.

CMSWire: How can the Device as a Service (DaaS) model help organizations in the rolling out, management, retiring and replacing of remote mobile assets?

Harris: What’s happened with mobility management — evolving from mobile device management to enterprise mobility management (EMM) — is that it’s become much more than just about the devices. It’s also about controlling the applications, the content, the authentication of the end user and security more broadly. EMM strives to do all of that while delivering a satisfying, intuitive experience for the user.

Device as a Service (DaaS) is an opportunity to finally do all of that right — to optimize the environment and effortlessly align your organization with the cycle of mobile technology.

As new technologies and devices emerge, you want to stay on top of them to remain competitive. DaaS is a chance to achieve ongoing modernization without taxing your internal team to deliver it — so they can focus on more strategic activities that provide greater competitive advantage in support of the business strategy.

The additional benefit of DaaS is that it avoids the disruptive budget and management headaches of system-wide endpoint upgrades and refreshes. You can solve the financial issues, the end user experience issues and support IT, and that gives you momentum that you can use to actually move the business forward.

CMSWire: Which historical or present-day person would you most like to meet and why? If you could spend a day with this person, what activities would you plan for the two of you to do together and why?

Harris: Steve Jobs — and I would probably just follow him around all day like a puppy, trying to understand his perspective on the future and how he was able to bring his vision of it down to the design and evolution of present-day technology.

I think it would be fantastic to see how he interacted with his businesses, internally and externally.

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience here