Steps to setting up a digital workplace

Keith StrierKeith Strier of EY’s Innovation & Digital Enterprise Strategy practice about how CIOs can set up a digital workplace.

Since the introduction of the electric telegraph in 1838, technology has been continuously reinventing communications and commerce. And this, in turn, has fueled the evolution in how, where and when we work.

In fact, the timeline of workplace technology is the story of work itself. In the pre-digital era, technology was functional. Like a duffle bag, it served a purpose — it carried your stuff.

Today, technology still carries your stuff — never more so, in fact. But it’s also cool, more like today’s high-end luggage. Still functional, but also well built from the best material, it’s reliable and rugged, even something to show off.

Processing an invoice is not more glamorous because it’s done on an iPhone rather than a PC tower with a green screen. But it is probably more convenient, more productive and a better work experience. Unfortunately, most of the workforce lug around laptops loaded with enterprise systems coded before we appreciated that duffle bags weren’t the only option. Time to trade up.

In December 2012, Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote, a game-changing digital note-taking app, posed a simple question during an interview with TechCrunch, an online IT magazine: “Why does enterprise software have to suck?”.

It does not, of course. As a CIO, making enterprise technology “suck less” is probably not your life’s goal (though it has a certain raw appeal). But what does makes sense is embracing the idea that equipping your workforce just with duffle bags may “check the box” on functionality, but it fails on multiple other fronts. And it misses a valuable opportunity to empower and engage them as only a connected digital enterprise can.

Once digital takes root, there is a shift in what consumers and employees want (and expect) from technology. This shift irreversibly changes their patience level for technology that is not intuitive and that does not make their life easier.

To keep up with these changes, corporate IT departments loosened up device policies (BYOD). But the trend I’m talking about is wider and more universal, extending far beyond smartphones.

People want flexibility and choice in how they work and in how they get the information they need to make decisions, execute tasks and build customer relationships. This is only possible, however, when a workforce is backed by an enabling infrastructure and a digital ecosystem engineered with these design goals in mind. Few workplaces meet that standard today.

In fact, the digital workplace is not a place at all; it is just that we work wherever and whenever we need to, and digital tools and networks make that possible.

However, enterprise IT departments are rarely seen as enablers of this new workflow. More IT departments should move away from just protecting data and keeping the lights on, in order to help unleash the productivity and creativity of their workforce.

Here are some of the foundational steps you should take to add this level of value:

  • Understand and harmonize (but do not standardize) your disparate workplace technology efforts around a common vision
  • Establish a program-level user-experience strategy to shape not just your user interfaces, but also communications, support and training approaches
  • Engage more directly with end users, not just business unit or line managers, to ensure that those engaged with digital platforms are clearly empowered by them

Trying to explain the business value of user experiences and digital innovation to a room full of engineers may make you feel like your sanity, along with Elvis, is leaving the building. But CIOs who help redefine work through digital innovation deliver something more powerful than technology enablement … they deliver a competitive advantage.

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