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PHOTO: Kirill

Vacuuming. Folding everybody’s laundry. Paying the power and water bills.

What do those household tasks have to do with enterprise collaboration? Nothing, on the surface. But owners of a company’s digital workplace need to understand that more than half of surveyed employees report they’d rather perform mundane chores and pay household bills rather than deal with the frustration of toggling between too many applications at work. Yes, it’s come to this: the tangled, messy digital workplace full of “bring your own” tools and single-use applications is less preferable than dealing with the necessary evils of home management.

Collaboration Houston, we have a problem.

Over the past several years, it has been widely accepted that the consumerization of IT meant end user employees could and should be using any tool they might find interesting or helpful. Even Gartner advised in a 2017 report that “shadow IT is here to stay,” implying organizations wouldn’t be able to provide the official consumer-grade experience that employees desire.

According to Gartner Research vice president Donna Fitzgerald, “the reality is that most organizations will support technology devices, software and services outside the ownership or control of IT organizations. The only solution to this problem is to improve the ongoing collaboration and communication between IT and the business so that the possibility of a surprise is minimized.”

Attention digital workplace leaders: “Not being surprised” is not a good digital workplace strategy! We can do better. That’s why the concept of intelligent activity streams, blending a modern and user-friendly interface with really solid integrations, makes so much sense today.

Wait, I can hear you saying, Haven’t we already tried activity streams in the enterprise? The short answer is yes. They’ve been around for more than a decade in products like Yammer, Socialcast and other “microblogging” tools. But over the first decade of activity streams in the enterprise, they weren’t used to their fullest potential, causing people to think that they were basically just unstructured social feeds. It’s like looking at a four-door sedan and thinking that it’s a regular commuter car. If you get creative and invest in a better engine, some good wheels, and a few nice aftermarket performance parts, suddenly your sedan is a race car. That’s how we need to think about activity streams today. The basic infrastructure is there, but real digital workplace performance comes through integrations and customizations.

Note: This is part three in a four-part series on digital workplace technologies, sponsored by Beezy.

How Intelligent Activity Streams Work

The idea behind a well-crafted enterprise activity stream is that it brings together all of the important information that a user needs to interact with in a single place. Most of us work in a variety of systems throughout the day. Aside from email, we use HR apps, help desk apps, inventory apps, ticketing systems, CRM and the list goes on. An activity stream, when crafted correctly, can bring information from all of these systems together in one place.

Some of the best examples that have worked in practice include:

  • Helpdesk integrations with Zendesk and JIRA: When a customer issue or question changes in the help desk system, such as a new comment or a closed case, the activity stream pulls that alert into the view of both technical and customer support professionals. When these teams then comment on the update in the activity stream, the integration pulls that comment back into the native helpdesk system.
  • CRM integrations: At a predefined moment in a customer’s sales journey, the activity stream can alert sales teams, their managers, and other professionals who may not log into the CRM regularly that something has changed. If a customer opportunity changes to 80 percent, it’s likely, for example, that the activity stream can alert all potentially affected personnel so they can prepare. The entire team can then have a conversation in the stream about this particular update, allowing them to stay focused without logging into the CRM.
  • Inventory alerts: A book publisher integrated its local inventory system into its global collaboration tool, generating alerts to the activity stream any time a particular book title was running low. Subscribers to the particular genre or location of the affected seller could then make inventory and shipping adjustments, commenting in the stream that this had been done — and all without leaving the activity stream.

Related Article: Getting Digital Workplace Personalization Right With Good Technology and Better Practices

Why Intelligent Activity Streams Work

With a highly integrated experience, an activity stream allows employees to access the data they need without “context switching.”

Context switching in the enterprise is a real problem — one that costs significant time and money every year. Research has demonstrated that employees jumping from app to app are less productive and more prone to errors. A Ring Central study found that two-thirds of workers report spending an hour each day jumping between applications, and they toggled between apps up to 10 times every hour. One 2007 study — crafted well before the advent of modern systems which arguably have more notifications and alerts — found that each alert from another work system caused a 10 to 15 minute delay before the user would return to their original work activity. Some of this delay came from the behavior of employees using one system alert to then check multiple other applications. Using and checking this many applications at once is a real problem: studies also show that that employees using 30 or more applications during a shift have a 28 percent higher error rate than those using fewer apps.

Context switching is costly, and it’s an unintended yet real consequence of having multiple collaboration and task-specific tools in the enterprise. IT and business leaders need to team up to fix this, and intelligent activity streams can be one of the best solutions. Historically, most organizations have not spent the time or IT resources required to integrate multiple technology solutions into an activity stream platform. But with the ammunition of how costly context switching actually is, the business case for crafting smart activity streams is a no-brainer.

Related Article: The Role of AI in the Enterprise: Changing Everything and Nothing All at Once

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