From a technology point of view, the digital workplace industry is thriving. It’s a growing market, that responds to users needs and provides new tools that facilitate new ways of working.
But if you scratch below the surface of this rosy picture painted by research papers from the big consulting companies, and smaller analysts, you'll see that this only tells a very small part of the story.
The Digital Workplace Continuum
For every multi-billion dollar global enterprise that can put the time and effort into organizational culture and change management, there's a small to medium enterprise that blows its budget on technology, leaving no resources for the softer side of its project.
For every nimble, avant-garde, early adopting organization, there's a highly regulated, highly conservative organization that cannot spin on a dime, and cannot take advantage of the latest and greatest tech trends.
For every enterprise full of knowledge workers with the latest mobile tools, there are half a dozen more that have no way to give intranet access to factory floor workers.
This is no polarization, this is more of a continuum.
At one end are the organizations that can take advantage of the tools, technologies and concepts that constitute a digital workplace. At the other are businesses stuck with email, applications and intranets that require Internet Explorer 8 and find it difficult to move themselves forward. Between these lay all the rest of the organizations at various stages of maturity on their digital workplace journey.
When I was a technology-focused business consultant, we used the “iron triangle” of People, Process and Technology to apply different lenses to any given problem. Let's apply them to our mid-year digital workplace health check.
Check Your Digital Workplace Health
How do we apply the people-centric view to the digital workplace? Simple, talk to them and uncover their pain points.
Do your knowledge workers spend hours searching for stuff they know exists somewhere on the intranet? Or customer service reps who can’t find the product specialists they need to speak with?
Tried and tested business analysis techniques work to assess your workforce's needs within a digital workplace context — no rocket science required here. Of course different groups doing different jobs will probably have different points of view and different priorities, but hopefully within a single organizational culture reference model.
Bigger multi-national or global organizations may not have a single, homogenous corporate culture. Organizations that grow by acquisition might also fall under this umbrella. Which brings us to the process part of the triangle, and potentially to the technology part as well: There may be no “one size fits all” approach to the digital workplace, but rather a toolbox approach, where workers select the right tool for the right job.
How does your digital workplace fit into the business processes that drive your strategic agenda, your organizational performance and your profit margins? Did you give your workforce an awesome social collaboration platform that integrates with nothing and just adds yet another interface to explore where they can occasionally have a useful conversation?
Whether you have in-house business process analysis skills or rely on external consultants to work on projects, are they aware of the overall digital workplace strategy and on the tools your people have said would be useful? Are the process engineers aware of who owns the digital workplace space in your organization, and vice versa? Can the digital workplace specialists bring value to the table when re-designing or enhancing processes?
Digital workplace design involves a lot of moving parts, which not every organization takes into consideration.
Take integration: Some tools come equipped with strong APIs or pre-built integrations, but others require more labor. Organizations that take a build rather than buy approach may have an easier time integrating their business process specific tools into their over digital workplace. Others may choose the route of investing in a single vendor's ecosystem. Others may struggle piecing together technologies from multiple vendors into an integrated digital workplace that fully supports or adds value to important business processes.
Vendors continue to rapidly develop products that play a central or peripheral role in the digital workplace.
Regardless of what previous technology investments you've already made, it can be hard to keep up with the rapid pace of technology releases. While some organizations find it easier to deploy and integrate new technologies, some heavily regulated industries, such as financial services, health care and pharmaceuticals, need to prioritize regulatory compliance, which creates a clear hurdle when trying to keep up with the pace of technology change.
Of course, updating for the sake of updating provides little value, but leaving that aside, we can probably agree that cloud-based services makes the upgrade cycle easier. Whether SaaS or PaaS, public cloud or private cloud/secure hosting, vendors are architecting their products for ease of upgrade and adding features without taking down the service.
The digital workplace can definitely benefit from cloud computing, even if circumstances prevent us from being bleeding edge.
Digital Workplaces Need More Than Shiny New Tools
If you're lucky enough to work in a well-resourced organization that understands the business benefit of a well crafted and looked after digital workplace — congratulations — life is good!
If, however, your organization is at the other end of the spectrum, there's still hope. Your digital workplace will benefit when you apply thought to the people and processes sides of the triangle — and there's plenty of research and case studies available to support you with that.
Providing your employees with a highly effective digital workplace doesn't require the latest tools (hey, wait for version 1.1 at least!), but it does take strategy, a well thought out plan and some clear objectives on what you want to accomplish.
Please join the conversation and leave us some comments on your mid-year digital workplace health check in the comments below.