Today's digital workplace is constantly inundated with new applications and devices, as tech investment also decentralizes. Top technology leaders are seeking an orderly path to improvement, yet the the way forward remains more turbulent than ever. Fortunately, there are perspectives that can help.
With technology investment spreading ever farther and wider in most organizations -- to lines of business, the CMO, and the new Chief Digital Officer -- the CIO still owns the sometimes mundane but ever-challenging job of creating a coherent and effective digital workplace in most organizations.
Perhaps complicating the task the most is that technology change coming from outside remains at an all-time high -- and is still increasing -- while technology itself, from innovative new software and devices, to even the fundamental business models of the organization -- are remaking nearly each and every corner of the organization in the process.
The fundamental issue at hand seems to be whether a centralized technology enablement function (the IT department) invented for another, simpler age can service the full range of complex and specialized needs across countless departments and divisions, while still keeping up with the blistering pace of digital progress, all of which are on Internet-time.
Strategically Enabling Data, Mobility
At the same time, demand for several broad digital enterprise sensitivies have grown into competitively significant and increasingly urgent needs:
The first is the need for a consistent and ubiquitous corporate information landscape that's easy to access and easy to use, so that workers can find accurate, timely information, analyze it, and share the results. While yesterday's IT could be somewhat siloed, today's modern enterprise must have an open architectures, from data to APIs, to search and discovery, that makes it possible for the knowledge that flows within the organization to find its way to wherever it needs to be, and to do it all securely as well.
The second is to move all existing applications and information onto many more digital channels and devices. The pressure in particular is to move apps into emerging mobile form factors of every description (phone, tablet, and very soon, wearable) much more quickly, and to take advantage of their unique and differentiating capabilities, not just literally replicate them from legacy environment onto these powerful new platforms.
Certainly, the cloud and SaaS has made it easier to for organizations to move much faster, since much of the required technology foundation is already ready to use, scalable, reliable, and hardened. Yet while enabling rapid change in the short term, the cloud can greatly complicate the process of managing and governing IT long term, as it puts many critical digital capabilities far outside of direct control of the organization.
It can seem like a no-win situation, yet organizations can clearly not do nothing, and in fact, most realize they must do far more than they have until now. The net result of all of these trends and forces is that most organizations are busy undergoing some form of large-scale 'digital transformation.' A recent study by Altimeter found that 88% of the organizations they studied are in middle of such change efforts already, with social media, mobility, and information discovery as key elements of the process for more than half of respondents.
A recent -- and typical -- case examination of State Street Bank's efforts to reinvent a technology foundation to enable the requisite capabilities in this regard show that it's a three year and ongoing effort. Yet each wave of new technology -- frequently measured in months -- brings with it all new possibilities and transformation efforts that don't continually alter their trajectory to hit a moving target.
As I observed in my recent examination of the future digital workplace, many businesses are still struggling with basic software upgrades and the fundamentals of enterprise search, not sophisticated and pervasive changes to the information and service delivery landscape or the organization's digital business offerings.
The modern CIO's purview is typically bounded by three major constraints: The size of the business opportunity represented by a given digital change, the risk to the business if it's not done properly (or the risk of not doing it at all), and the combined cost and time frame. If all of these don't sum up to a net gain for the bottom line -- or ever more often these days, just as table stakes to stay in the game -- then it's a non-started.
The New IT Mindset: Emergence, Co-Design, Engagement, Omni-Channel/Device
But as more and more CIOs are starting to realize that almost everyone has become a technologist in their daily lives. So many more people (workers, customers, and business partners) work so deeply with technology in their part of the business, that they often have local expertise.
As part of grappling with this confluence of new technology, hard-to-ignore vectors of change (see diagram above), and the realities of operating a service organization that must keep the digital lights on, entirely secure, and compliant with a constellation of regulations and laws, many blueprints and checklists for updating IT, making it more agile, transparent, and modern have made the rounds the last few years. After examining a great many of them over the years, I can safely say that most of them net out to the following set of strategies:
Co-design for a consistent digital user experience, inside and outside. Augment and update frequently. As IT fragments and proliferates, maintaining a clear path using a consistent set of visual cues becomes ever more important, to answer worker -- and other stakeholder -- questions about whether they're using official systems or not. Just a critically, an ongoing joint design effort of such experiences, conducted closely together with stakeholders, into a rational journey through high value business processes and engagement scenarios is sorely needed in many organizations. Revisit frequently to add the latest digital capabilities. Design thinking, emergent architecture, business process optimization, and real multi-device, multi-channel native UX design are key here.
Seek out major digital gaps in workplace processes and operations, end-to-end, and plug them as part of a more cohesive strategy that includes digital skill building. Most organizations have well-known shortfalls in digital capabilities. These are often best understood by seeking out knowledge about them on the ground from line workers and customers. Don't fix them as band-aids but as part of a consistent and continuously updated digital vision. Lastly, ensure that workers are aware of and have the skills required to use the new tools, as there is a significant and growing gap between what enterprises make available, and what workers know about and can use (
Pro-actively provide data-driven stakeholder enablement through self-service, but communicate a consistent and clear digital workplace vision that everyone can support. Data has become the lifeblood of our businesses but is still too often trapped in silos or not discoverable through shortfalls in access, indexing, location, or ability to turn into insight. As I've discussed before with enterprises getting a 'clue' about big data, the consensus is building that self-service search and analytic tools combined with an much more open, integrated information landscape is the key to creating business value, as workers can help themselves to what they need for their knowledge work, rather than having to work through IT to provide tools, design queries, and otherwise do what every worker should be able to do for themselves.
Put together a joint business/IT roadmap for all of the above, and start enlist help across the organization. The successful IT department of the near-future will be one that is much more an enabler and orchestrator, than a doer. Simply put, infrastructure is moving to the cloud while bandwidth to manage change requires the entire organization and its ecosystem to be enlisted in realizing it.
Manage your channels of change at the sources. Today, tech change is introduced via employees, independent action from the lines of business, initiatives from the Chief Marketing Officer and now the Chief Digital Officer, as well as external vendors and technology companies, as well as from customer/marketplace demands. Each channel must be monitoring, anticipated if possible, and roadmapped in conjunction with your stakeholders. I also see many organizations create artifacts that articulate a common vision for the entire organization to both a) get on board with and b) help shape.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that large organizations have when it comes to proactively re-designing the digital workplace, is the sheer complexity involved. Most Fortune 500 and Global 2000 firms have hundreds, and usually thousands, of pre-existing legacy applications. While most of these are for local or specialized needs, they all have an impact to the overall workplace, and issues with integration, data duplication, underlying constraints they impose on upgrades, and other factors all impact the total worker experience and the so-called 'future of work'.
This then is the reason that there is no one 'master' modern workplace design. Instead, it's a balance between local shaping by the business, which is using the guidelines, constraints, and enabling tools/platforms/designs from IT, and the IT department itself, which provides a core digital workplace framework (that's say 40%-60% complete), with holes cut out for the business to put the rest of its needs in, using enterprise/consumer app stores, cloud, and custom applications/services as needed, but following the overall roadmap.
Are organizations actually broadly doing this? In my opinion, yes. The widespread rise of the so-called center of excellence model is has been one clear indication that organizations are seeking to drive best-of-breed new capabilities into the organization by not trying (and failing) to do it all centrally, but by enabling change close to the point of need within the business by provided tools, best practices, accumulated experience, and sustained support for local change.
In the end, it's an exciting time to be a CIO, but also one of the most challenging to be one. Today's CIO must be focus on knitting together all the workplace technologies flowing into a modern organization, regardless of how they are acquired. To get there, the good news is that a pattern (the for creating a new operating model for IT is emerging, and I believe that organizations that can quickly adopt these new models have a good chance at succeeding.