Work democratization and consumerization are rapidly changing when, where and how people work. Newly autonomous employees are effectively "business consumers" — digitally literate employees who have adapted the latest consumer work styles and increasingly expect a comparable workplace experience. In this new world order, often called the "Digital Workplace," savvy organizations are taking a strategic approach to promoting workplace effectiveness by adapting innovative work styles and offering consumer-like technologies.

To learn more about becoming Digital Workplaces, hundreds of senior IT and business leaders gathered last week in Orlando to attend Gartner Research's first Digital Workplace Summit. Conference attendees learned about the analyst group’s latest insights and recommendations.

Here are some of the Gartner's takeaways from the conference and what I think they mean for your business.

‘Consumer-Grade’ is the New ‘Enterprise-Strength’

Finding: People are literally connected to their mobile devices. An audience survey found that 73 percent of conference attendees sleep next to their smartphones at night, and these devices are increasingly being used for work. In fact, 81 percent of employees report using their own mobile apps to improve workplace productivity.

On the other hand, 96 percent of employees see barriers to technology introduction in the workplace, and a Gartner CEO survey identified technology as the biggest factor affecting business over the next five years.

Finding: Trying to force employees to switch from familiar consumer tools to new enterprise ones doesn't work. So Gartner predicts “the blurring of the boundaries between personal productivity applications, content repositories, portals and collaboration.” As such, it recommend that organizations embrace a host of technology tools and trends such as BYOD, Internet of Things, people-centric work methods, and analytics to enable workers to complete tasks and collaborate effectively with colleagues.

What this means: Creating consumer experiences at work is proving difficult and organizations are resisting the introduction of consumer tools at work because of security and data leakage concerns. Smart organizations are finding ways to be flexible by allowing workers to use the tools they like for work, rather than lock down devices. A new BYOA (bring your own app) movement is thriving: become part of the movement. Balance security concerns with employees’ productivity needs. Resistance is futile. Ignoring employee’s desires will just drive their use of consumer tools underground, which will further undermine security.

The Digital Workplace Introduces Risk... and Opportunity

Finding: Fifty-six percent of respondents to a Gartner survey say that technology will be detrimental to their job security and work/life balance. On the other hand, the Digital Workplace is also creating a new array of business roles such as data scientists, UX designers, workplace ethnographers and digital ethics advocates.

Finding: Modern IT workers need to change their traditional focus as digital machinists — people who concentrate on work processes, product features and coordinating tasks and activities — to become digital humanists — people who concentrate on work behavior, contextual relevance, volitional participation and experiences that create business value.

What this means: People fear for their jobs and rightly so. Changing work patterns and the introduction of new technology are creating uncertainty and affecting work/life balance. But this is also a huge opportunity. Stay ahead of the curve by keeping on top of new consumer technologies. Identify an area where you can become a source of knowledge for your organization. For example, invest time learning about new consumer productivity tools and thinking about how they can be applied to your own work situation. In this rapidly changing environment, there is a lot of opportunity to reinvent yourself, but you need to be proactive.

The Digital Workplace Introduces New ‘App-ortunity’

Finding: By 2016, there will be more than 300 billion mobile app downloads from mobile app stores every year, and apps will be the primary entry point for people to access complex data. As such, the workplace will shift from a web-centric world to an app-centric world.

In this app-centric world, the following four types of apps will be used to increase productivity:

  • business productivity — e.g. dashboards, business intelligence, note taking, and task management apps
  • collaboration — e.g. document sharing and virtual meeting apps
  • communications — e.g. chat, email and real-time messaging apps
  • social networks apps

What this means:  New availability to operational data will increase the number of information sources you will need to do your job. You will find yourself toggling between disparate apps trying to see "the information forest for the data trees." Focusing on what matters most will become difficult. 

Learning Opportunities

Companies like Microsoft are trying to solve this problem by introducing "graph-based" clouds that analyze data to present only the information it thinks you need to see. But single-vendor solutions will always be limited, because the world is a multi-vendor space. And besides, organizations are rightfully wary of trusting data to a single provider. In short, this problem is going to get worse before it gets better.... But don't despair — aggregation of information sources will temper this information explosion.

Aggregation Will Temper the Coming ‘App-ocolypse’

Findings: Organizations will seek out new ways to simplify employees’ increasingly complex information work environment. Simplicity will be driven by aggregation of disparate information sources "under a single pane of glass." Apps will emerge that will aggregate multiple information sources such as email, instant messaging, activity streams, calendars and contacts, social networks, content (e.g. documents), access to corporate repositories, business analytics and business apps. The benefits will be increased usability, accessibility to corporate systems, productivity and efficiency.

What this means: New "super" apps will emerge that will intelligently surface information from multiple sources so that you can see the information forest for the data trees to focus on what matters most. These apps will not only aggregate information from multiple sources, they will also apply context-based intelligence to let you slice and dice information to expose important insights and trends.

The Use of Context Will Usher in an Era of Smart Machines

Finding: The use of context will usher in an era of smart machines, starting with presenting information based on business context, like where I am or what I am working on, to proactively presenting information based on understand my needs, to finally acting on my behalf using learned behavior.

What this means: Context is the key to solving the inherent information overload problem brought on by the proliferation of information sources. Different work situations call for different contexts. For example, before you walk into a meeting with a customer, being able to view all the recent interactions with that customer would be extremely valuable, regardless of the number of apps across which this information might be distributed. Alternatively, being able to see what team members are working on will help keep projects on track.

Eventually context will be extended from a filtering mechanism to enable smart machines to take actions on our behalf.

The Bottom Line

The new Digital Workplace is daunting because it encompasses so many simultaneous changes: in business environments, work patterns and technologies. While change is never easy, this time workers have an advantage, because many of the workplace changes are being driven by consumer experiences.

Here’s my advice: You will find exciting new opportunities in the new Digital Workplace if you stay ahead of the curve. A Gartner poll found that only 4 percent of organizations had appointed a "Digital Workplace leader," and of those selected, many came from departments other than IT. So become an expert in the consumer productivity tools already readily-available in consumer app stores. And volunteer to be a leader in the move to the Digital Workplace... you might just find yourself in a completely new career.

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