Over and over again we see many clients struggling with their digital workplace efforts because they take a project-by-project approach, implementing the latest and greatest technology without an overall plan or program based on user’s actual needs or solving business problems. Ditching the project approach and implementing a digital “program” mentality is often the first necessary step to move towards digital workplace excellence.

Frustration is real and growing

I was recently presenting at a digital workplace workshop for a strategic internal communications conference. The attendees in the workshop were for the most part communications managers who, on top of their other internal communications responsibilities, ran their organization's intranets to varying degrees of success.

We started the workshop with Nonlinear's quick digital workplace maturity assessment exercise. It gave the attendees a sense of what we mean by a digital workplace and to see where they stood across 10 characteristics on a 5 point scale.  It also started a great discussion about common challenges and specific solutions. One of the attendees articulated an all too familiar frustration that piqued the interest of the others attendees. He said that his organization had implemented most of the technology related to a digital workplace but they weren’t even close to actually being a digital workplace.

Digging a little deeper, he felt a growing frustration and that he was hitting his head against a wall. His relationship with his CIO was a relatively good one as far as relationships between Communications and IT go. They spoke regularly and planned on new tools and functionality and worked together to secure the budget to implement. But it was the post-implementation that was increasing the frustration. The relationship and the planning was good but everything usually ended after implementation.

He was very happy to have the new technologies and was carefully trying to use new tools and functionality to be more effective by measuring, and refining, and improving. The CIO on the other hand, was only interested in the new technology project status. Once it was implemented … check it off the list. ‘We now have social networking’ or ‘mobile single-sign on is now good to go.’ 

Finishing a project isn't enough

My conference colleague felt that wasn’t enough, and he is correct. He wanted to improve the user experience and to start answer to questions like: How can we use the technology to collaborate and network better? How can we better use the technology to capture and reuse knowledge easier? How do we derive better insight and action from data we are collecting? The CIO simply pointed to the latest collaboration and dashboard technologies project his team recently installed and said ‘That’s how!’

But it wasn’t really working. Yes licenses had been bought and everything was installed. Except none of the technologies were integrated and people spent all day getting into various siloed systems to find answers held in yet other technologies. Nothing was easy and nothing was being properly adopted. The CIO, as in most organizations, held the purse strings, and our colleague was frustrated that not much was going to change. 

The power of transforming the silos into a network

There is a growing chasm between the old way of thinking and the truly strategic application of digital to transform the organization.

CIO’s, like my conference colleague’s, are still too often rewarded based on implementing or creating things (intranet, app, database, etc.) and by providing access to employees to use the things. They are not measured based on how the employees use the things. Few organizations measure the total cost of ownership and even fewer the value to the employee, so a typical CIO’s staff are rarely focused on providing true value for the organization or employee. They assume, often wrongly, that if they implement the things, then value will flow from the things.

The ubiquity of technology has changed the game. And we’ve seen it coming for a long time. Way back in the May 2003 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Nicholas Carr examined the evolution of information technology in business and showed that it follows a pattern strikingly similar to that of earlier technologies like railroads and electric power. For a brief period, technologies become opportunities for forward-looking companies to gain strong competitive advantages. But as their availability increases and their cost decreases – as they become ubiquitous – they become commodity inputs. They may be more essential than ever to society, but from a strategic business standpoint, they become invisible; they no longer matter.

Organizations that are centered around measuring their value only by the physical things they produce, are certainly not born in the digital era. The digital disruption that we’ve seen in the last few years, from the front runners shaking up the print publishing, taxi, and hotel industries, make that very obvious. Taking a business model that dispatches taxis with 15-20 minute waits and charge credit card ‘convenience fees’, or hotels pricing rooms based on industry supply and demand can easily be outsmarted by companies that think about how ubiquitous technology can help use existing physical assets and create better service, consumption, and profits.

Measure production AND consumption

Measuring productivity is very important to all organizations and it is a key point for us when evaluating the usefulness of a digital workplace. However, Gerry McGovern, a popular speaker and thinker about increasing online satisfaction, points out in a recent post that organizations must move from a traditional pre-digital model that measures production, to a post-digital transformation model that measures consumption.

 ‘It is much easier to measure the consumption and use of digital things than it is to measure the consumption and use of physical things. If you sell a print book, magazine or newspaper, it is very difficult to measure how it was consumed. What parts of it were read? What parts weren’t? The same goes for most physical products. Because consumption was so difficult to measure, it wasn’t measured. The companies that are measuring the use of digital, or its consumption, are gaining in efficiency and effectiveness. They are delivering better, more refined services. They are serving their customers’ needs with much greater precision.’

While McGovern’s article is focused on companies selling services to the outside consumer, the same can be said for the services and products and especially knowledge that is being consumed ‘internally’ by employees, contingent workers, partners and suppliers.

As McGovern says, ‘digital transforms the silo into the network’. It transforms the individual technologies into an easy to find and use service. In an effective digital workplace, the deeply knowledgeable silos are connected creating an even more powerful network of easily findable and usable knowledge across all parts and levels of the organization.

The networked "whole" is greater than the sum of its siloed parts as it moves from a way to simply store and distribute information and evolves to a place that fosters the easy contribution and consumption of information and knowledge. Increasingly, this content is coming in the form of answers to questions at people’s fingertips so they can be efficient and productive both internally as well as externally at organizations.

To make sure things are really findable you bring them as close to the employee or consumer as possible. To maximize findability you must minimize the need to search. It’s there, exactly where the employee or consumer is. It is placed at the point of consumption so its chances of being consumed are maximized.

My workshop colleague who is trying to improve the technologies his CIO has implemented is on the right track by trying to be more effective by measuring, and refining, and improving. But alignment about a better way to use the siloed technologies is lacking and his organization, like many, struggle how to take the next step.

We help organizations unsilo their technologies and improve their digital mindset starting with a new digital workplace strategy.

We’d love to help you transform your silos into a networked digital workplace. See what the 7 traits that define the digital workplace are and take our Digital Workplace Maturity assessment to get started.



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