close up of an elephant
PHOTO: Joel Mbugua

Too many organizations fall into the trap where each business domain or system owner prioritizes their own goals and needs before those of the organization as a whole. For example, they defend their own systems when they find out the same functionality is included in the systems of other business domains.

It's similar to the Indian parable of the six blind men and the elephant. Each man feels only one part of the elephant and describes this part to the others as if it was the whole. Inevitably their descriptions end up contradicting each other. Each man only considers the elephant from his own perspective, none of them see the whole. This makes it very hard to take care of the elephant in the right way.

Related Article: Digital Workplace Leadership: It Takes a Village

Tunnel Vision Is Bad for Business

If this parable rings true for your organization, the root of the problem to be solved is organizational in nature. IT system providers do not think and act on the basis of what is best for the individual employee or for the organization as a whole. Instead, they think and act based on their organizational and individual areas of responsibility. 

This is a textbook example of sub-optimization, which can happen when an inside-out perspective is allowed to lead the way. The result is you end up competing with each other instead of collaborating. The individual parts of the digital work environment overlap and are often in direct conflict with each other.

fable of six blind men and the elephant, adapted for the digital workplace

The question of ownership comes up naturally in this context. Who takes ownership of so many resources that are intended to meet so many different needs?

Related Article: Digital Workplaces Start With the Big Picture

Digital Workplaces Need an 'Owner'

According to a 2015 Gartner report (registration required), 46 percent of all organizations surveyed had a digital workplace initiative in progress, but only 4 percent had identified an owner and leader of their digital workplace.

Does someone need to take ownership of the digital workplace? The answer is a clear yes — just as someone needs to be responsible for city planning within a city. A lack of ownership of the whole is the cause of many of the problems in a digital workplace. Each person owns and is responsible for their part, but no one feels responsible for ensuring the optimal functioning of the digital work environment as a whole. This is why digital work environments are often found in such a poor state.

Any organization without someone taking ownership of its digital workplace can expect a significantly greater risk of failure. Holistic ownership is a key part of the solution. Without this, there is a high risk that the digital workplace will come to a halt at a single initiative instead of developing continuously as a process.

Taking ownership for the entire digital workplace may seem both scary and difficult. It's not easy, that is true. Nevertheless, someone seeking a challenge who has the experience and skills to take the challenge should not be afraid to do so. In our opinion, this is a significant and meaningful role because the digital workplace is an enabler for the digital transformation of the enterprise.