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Digital workforce will enable future business

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Kathy Gibson reports from Gartner Symposium in Cape Town – There won’t be any digital business in the future if organisations don’t start implementing a digital workforce.

Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann points out that the digital workplace is the internal counterpart to digital business. “Digital business is about changing the enterprise, while the digital workplace is about how we interact with each other, how we work together.”

Typically, the workplace of the past took an incremental approach to workplace transformation – something that was very frustrating for organisations. “Companies would basically take new facilities or tools to the workforce and ask them what they could do with it. So they would get the technology then think about how it could be applied.

“That was a very frustrating adoption strategy – and often it didn’t work. All it did was lead to a lot of shelfware and indistinct value propositions,” Mann says.

“The new digital workplace approach says that, rather than taking an incremental approach, it’s going to jump up five levels and take a top-down approach. We are going to look at the expectations about how we work, what we want to change, where the area of inefficiencies are, and what business results we are trying to achieve.”

Once those goals are identified, then the CIO can start looking at the technology that can support those changes.

“What are the expectations of the company and the people?” Mann asks. “And what can we learn from the consumer environment?”

The new top-down approach would typically be driven by the CIO, usually with the support of the CEO and with involvement from HR and facilities management as well as strong alignment from lines of business.

Now it’s not so much about the technology but about whether the workforce is engaged; that messages are going out – and coming back. We are looking to achieve a buzzing collaborative environment.”

IT organisations typically focus on secure and stable business systems, Mann says. They haven’t really looked at ideas like personal growth and development; or well-being and a sense of community that are important to employees.

At the same time, there also hasn’t really been much emphasis on things that are important to the employer like high-impact performance and high impact performance or driving brand value across all stakeholders.

“The digital workplace encompasses all of these activities,” he says. “It extends the scope of the things that IT needs to be worried about.”

So IT needs to be involved in issues of personal growth and development, making sure that all employees’ voices are heard, helping them to get involved via various technology tools; helping them to grow in well-being and a sense of community.

CIOs are also getting involved in discussions on employer value: encouraging high-impact performance from high-impact performers; and driving brand value.

“IT is playing a bigger role in these transformations,” Mann says. “They are involved in the changes and are at the table. The involvement and the kinds of connections IT makes is becoming much broader.”

According to Mann, the digital workplace is built on three pillars:

  • The changing nature of work – to agility, innovation and collaboration. “There is a shift from focusing on transactional activity,” Mann says. “We see it in behaviour from customers where it is no longer unusual to have flexibility in how and where we do our work. It’s no longer about coming to work in the morning, getting your task and trying to finish it before the end of the day.”
  • Reimagining the workplace technology – there is more emphasis on mobility, learning from consumer technologies; and the application of these technologies.
  • Engaged employees – this is the ultimate goal, to have employees who feel that they are part of the organisation, and contributing all that they can. “They will be more innovative and more agile,” Mann says. “Driving all this is more difficult. It’s hard to have an agile, connected employee if they are working in a locked down security environment – they need to be able to use their creativity and engage in the work they are doing.”

For organisations to make the connection between engagement and workplace technology, he recommends a couple of points:

  • Promote work:life balance;
  • Supply new forms of recognition;
  • Facilitate continuous learning and skills acquisition;
  • Provide new ways for employee contribution;
  • Emphasise concerns over health and safety;
  • Increase transparency and trust; and
  • Boost agility and local leadership.

But why do organisations need to worry about the digital workplace? Mann asks.

“Well, we are doing more stuff; and it’s less structured than before. Simply doing more in the same way won’t work,” he says. “This drives the need to react in a creative and innovative way – and this will mean aggressive investments in digital business.

“This, in turn, drives changes in how work gets done. Staff mix up where they do their work; and who they work with, while the boundaries with partners and customers or constituents becomes very porous.

“It means that organisational structures are changing. We are seeing more unified job titles, flatter organisations and more ad hoc with teams coming together and moving apart.”

Mann points out that there are a number of catalysts or triggers for the digital workplace, including:

  • Corporate intranet redesign;
  • Employee dissatisfaction with the service desk;
  • Facilities consolidation;
  • Migration to Office 365 or Google Apps;
  • Opening up new geographic locations to attract talent;
  • BYOD and mobile first programme initiation;
  • Digital business competition; and
  • Remote work optimisation.

When planning the digital workplace, he says CIOs should be aware of several elements that may make a different, including any instances of citizen IT – where, why and how; the current level of employee engagement; how extensive BYOx is; whether IT is seen as a business partner that will help the organisation work more efficiently; and if there has been a demographics change.

The main objections to the digital workplace that are likely to be raised include:

  • Employees are already doing what they want anyway;
  • Security concerns;
  • IT does not have the charter;
  • Employees are not engaged;
  • Lack of management support;
  • Don’t need it; and
  • HR is not interested.

“What the CIO needs to be is to create an environment where the digital workplace is seen as necessary,” Mann says.

In terms of maturity, organisations typically start as reactive, where they are doing nothing; and move through the exploratory stage, where they doing something unknowingly; to the emerging stage, where there are specific digital workplace projects but they are disconnected; into the integrative stage where the digital workplace is run as a portfolio of services; and finally reaching the stage of optimising, where the enterprise strategy is treated as pervasive.