Envisioning and shaping the future of work and business.

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's a Bird, it's a Plane...it's The Digital Workplace

9:47:00 AM Posted by Oscar Berg 1 comment

Intranet owners and other IT product or service owners are often confused when they hear the term ”Digital Workplace”. What is it? Is it the same thing as an intranet? Is it a virtual desktop? Which function owns it? Who governs it? Where does it start and where does it end? What platform does it run on?

These are all motivated questions, but the real question is; what need does it answer to? Why do we need a Digital Workplace in the first place?

For a couple of years now, Jane McConnell has been stressing the need to for organizations to define new and enterprise-wide strategies for an expanding online workplace. With collaboration tools, social media and mobility entering the picture, the online workplace stretches far beyond the traditional corporate intranet. I recommend you to read her Global Intranet Trends report from 2011 and the Digital Workplace Trends report from 2012 to trends and insights on the changing nature of our online workplaces.

Mark Morrell is another well-known Intranet professional who has become an advocate for the Digital Workplace. He defines the Digital Workplace as “Work is what you do, not where you go to” and detail what a Digital Workplace will should allow you to do:
  • Work in any location. This may be at home, in your own or anyone else’s office, on the train, or ideally anywhere that suits you at the time you need to. 
  • Do your work. This may making a room booking, checking a person’s contacts details, searching for information you need, or reading the latest news. 
  • Use any device. This maybe your laptop, a shared PC, a smartphone (iPhone), or tablet (iPad). 
  • Share information. This means being able to use collaboration tools to help other people. 
  • >Search across all places where information is and you have permission to use. 
>I agree with both Jane and Mark, but I would also like to add that the Digital Workplace is first and foremost representing a much needed shift in perspective and not so much about a set of features or capabilities.

Stephan Schillerwein, author of the excellent business white paper “The Digital Workplace: Redefining Productivity in the Information Age”, avoids trying define what a digital workplace is and instead approaches it by asking what business problem it is intended to tackle, coming up with the following answer: "the Digital Workplace is going to solve the huge problems organizations of all sizes and industries currently have in information work."

I like Stephan's approach. As I have previously blogged, I believe that one of the main reasons why organizations often fail at designing and implementing solutions for information workers is that they are asking the wrong questions. Rather than defining solutions with features and/or characteristics, they should put some real effort into asking the right questions.

In order to find the right questions to answer, we also need to take on a different and less technology-centric perspective than we previously (and in many cases currently) have. Building on Stephan's answer to the question what business problem the Digital Workplace is intended to tackle, I would define the Digital Workplace as an approach (as apposed to a specific solution or set of features or capabilities) for solving the challenges of information work in highly collaborative and complex digitalized work environments.

I have tried to illustrate this shift in perspective below.

The key point is that we need to look at information technology and tools from the point of view of the person using it instead of from an organizational or even process point of view. The reason is that our biggest challenge is to empower people to become more productive and innovative at work, managing the increasing complexity people are facing in their daily work. People don't really care about dividing things up in intranets, collaboration tools, ERP’s, productivity tools etc. They want to be able to perform their tasks in an easy and seamless way, moving from one activity to the next, without having to bother if they are currently using an intranet, CRM system or collaboration tool.

A technology-centric perspective often makes us focus on which part of the organization that the platform or solution should support and who (what organizational unit) should own, fund and govern it, while people-centric perspective more naturally puts a heavier focus on the work (tasks) to be performed, the people who are to perform them and the situations they need to perform those tasks.

In essence, I see the Digital Workplace as a people-centric approach to empower knowledge workers by simplifying the online work environment for people doing information work. In addition to "approach" the key words are "people-centric" and "simplifying". "Simplifying" can mean many things, such as making it easier to collaborate with other people, minimizing unnecessary interactions, simplifying and making the user experience more consistent, making it easier to access and find information of any kind and from source whenever it is needed, and so fort. "People-centric" is related to how we ask questions and define solutions, and it has implications on everything from how we craft strategies and design and implement governance models to how we develop services and enable continuous improvement of information work practices.


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