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Why a True Digital Workplace Transforms the 'Messy Middle'

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The “messy middle,” where most employees spend their workday, is frustrating for workers and costly for business. Here’s how to tackle it.

Organizations and workers alike face many challenges in the modern workplace. On any given workday, employees are likely to be faced with fractured communications, multiple software platforms and a browser with 30 tabs open. When combined with the increasing pace of technology updates and releases, it gets exhausting. We need to face the facts: workers today jump through a lot of hoops to get their work done.

Rising employee expectations only add to the complexity. Employees now expect to find the same seamless and pain-free experiences they have in the consumer world in their workplace too.

Welcome to the “messy middle,” the place where employees spend most of their working day. The messy middle is characterized by remarkable inconsistency and lack of uniformity in how work gets done. It is the world of email threads, aimless meetings, and multiple applications open on the desktop. There might be pockets of great collaboration and efficiency, but mainly there are workarounds, roadblocks, and delays, resulting in frustration and inefficiency.

Companies need to transform their workplaces and processes to resolve these issues. But many are failing, and CIOs are struggling. The issues the messy middle causes can negatively affect onboarding, retention, productivity, and morale.

The bottom line is this: failing to address the messy middle will be costly for your business.

Process and Workflows Are Complex and Unpredictable

At the center of the messy middle is a huge variance in the complexity and predictability of the everyday processes that happen in any one organization. Take a snapshot on any given day and you will find processes and workflows that are:

  • Super-complicated and highly dynamic.
  • Predictable but with patterns that need to be very adaptable to certain situations.
  • Extremely flexible, but with the need for structure.

Organizations and their CIOs find it hard to tackle this nebulous space. There are clearer paths to sorting out the back end (ERP systems) and the front end (CRM), but the middle is far less defined. Most leaders aren’t addressing the silos caused by fragmented systems or providing effective options for the highly granular and flexible workflows required to actually meet the way people work.

The resulting outcomes can quickly lead to enormous unified communication challenges, along with confusion and frustration for your teams, and quite often, the wrong tool being used for particular processes. It makes organizations that should be great places to work, painful places to work and could be costing your business its best workers.

So how do leaders start to clean up the mess?

6 Major Challenges of the Messy Middle

For senior leaders and CIOs these are the six key issues that need to be addressed in order to start cleaning and organizing this challenging space.

  1. Inefficiency: The digital ecosystem is deeply fragmented with inefficient practices. Systems aren’t joined, employees can’t find the everyday items they need to do their jobs efficiently and everybody uses way too much email.
  2. Costs: Licensing costs are high with a large overlap in functionality. Maintaining multiple systems is also unnecessarily expensive.
  3. Employee experience: The everyday user experience for employees is frustrating. Getting things done takes time and even the simplest tasks can be clunky and confusing. There are too many apps to choose from and people suffer from information and system overload.
  4. Governance: There are no real systems of record for much of the activity that takes place in the messy middle. Shadow IT is rife and holds significant risks. Making changes and implementing policies across a fragmented application landscape requires far more effort than it should.
  5. Support: Many applications that are used by employees each day aren’t supported by the helpdesk. In the meantime, inefficiency and the fragmented digital experience means there are high volumes of password resets or basic questions that need to be addressed. Many of these queries and issues around siloed and peripheral systems end up getting dealt with by super-users rather than the helpdesk, creating problems for everyone involved.
  6. Transformation: Every company wants to use IT to modernize, and is on some kind of transformation journey, whether to meet a specific objective or as a wider organizational evolution. But without sorting out the messy middle, it’s very hard to achieve the kind of transformation that will put your organization or department at a competitive advantage.

A Fragmented and Siloed Enterprise

Senior leaders, CIOs and delivery teams want different parts of the organization to work together more like a machine, but this is a huge task to accomplish. While some more simple, straightforward processes can be easy to fix, the truth is that most organizational processes are messy, chaotic, fragmented, and unstructured.

Learning Opportunities

Many CIOs try to provide clarity and structure to less predictable processes by providing collaboration tools. This is welcome, but in truth email is still the default tool for many of us, and often collaboration spaces get used for what is essentially workflow rather than true collaboration.

There are also solutions and applications that can prove highly effective for an individual process or are adopted successfully by a team or function. Unfortunately these are not applied successfully on an enterprise-wide scale and end up being supplemented by high-risk shadow IT, typically endemic within particular divisions.

The end result is silos with systems that don’t talk to each other. A consequence of this is that it becomes the status quo, driven by well-intentioned best-of-breed strategies or policies that keep certain teams happy as they have their tool of choice.

One of the reasons Kissflow resonates so strongly with customers is because they are crying out for an enterprise solution that genuinely sorts out the messy middle. We go where other digital workplace solutions fear to go, providing a single tool where users can combine their own workflows with collaboration tools in context to create a genuine digital workplace.

Bringing Order to the Messy Middle

A critical step that CIOs can take is to start to simplify and streamline the application landscape where work actually happens. A single enterprise-wide solution can have a huge impact on meeting these challenges. Our customers have found that when technologies like Kissflow have been implemented as the primary workflow and collaboration tool, a digital workplace emerges that is able to:

  • Connects the dots and breaks down silos: There is one system that deals with the vast majority of the work that inhabits the messy middle. This reduces complexity overall and can help workers be more productive, by not having to multitask between multiple platforms and applications.
  • Provides structure and flexibility in equal measures: There is a real-world digital workplace that can deal with simple and complex processes, as well as the predictable and unpredictable.
  • Embraces “no code” and is easy to use: The digital workplace empowers end-users to drive their own work, increasing productivity and reducing IT involvement. This in turn, allows IT functions and support teams to focus on more value-add activities.
  • Proves to be an engine for transformation: Allows organizations to drive efficiency and new ways of working at scale to underpin digital transformation.

Success Requires That Your Business Addresses the Messy Middle

Improving the messy middle is an imperative for CIOs, but it is challenging and it doesn’t happen overnight. Practices around managing the back-end systems are mature, and management of CRM and other front end systems have improved considerably over the last few years. Now it’s time to sort out the complex and unpredictable parts in the middle with a digital workplace that balances structure, creativity, and collaboration and workflow, making lives easier for employees, and reaping benefits for organizations.

A product demo from Kissflow can truly be an “aha” moment.

About the author


Kissflow is the first unified digital workplace for organizations to manage all of their work on a single platform. Kissflow is used by over 10,000 customers across 160 countries, including more than 50 Fortune 500 companies.