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Are you ready for a digital workplace? An interview with Adam Warby

  • Posted on September 1, 2015

Digital WorkplaceThe following guest blog post was written by mobile industry analyst Maribel Lopez. It originally appeared on Forbes on July 20, 2015.

Today, no one would argue with the statement that cloud computing, mobile and big data are changing the future of business. The social networking evolution led to an increased culture of sharing. Additionally, social, mobile and the upcoming wave of connected Internet of Things devices means we have more data than ever before. Hence, companies are seeking out better data processing and analytics solutions, currently termed big data, to collect and make sense of this vast wealth of new information. Business leaders know that times are changing and successful leaders are embracing this change.

Technology and behavioral shifts have laid the foundation of the second wave of digital business. Ironically, certain aspects of conducting business have gotten easier, while others are more complex. It’s easier because every company has access to best in class technology that resides in the cloud. The technology is relatively low cost and readily scalable with the click of a button. Yet, business is harder because companies must have both the technology and business processes in place to react quickly to market shifts.

Purchasing technology isn’t enough to be successful. Businesses must evolve to digital workplaces. In the 2000’s this meant embracing the Internet and e-commerce evolution. In the 2010’s, companies turned to new collaboration solutions to improve business. Today business leaders are layering in mobile, cloud computing and big data. But as I mentioned before, digital workplace is more than technology.

Avanade, a business technology company, defines a digital workplace as “one that brings together applications, information and collaboration in an intelligent context that is tailored to the individual employee’s role, location and tasks.” I love this definition because it discusses the integration of technology silos to create contextual services. Avanade recently fielded a digital workplace survey that revealed:

Confusion remains about what a digital workplace looks like with an overwhelming majority of companies (84 percent) mistakenly believing that using email and social media alone constitute a digital workplace

More than half (56 percent) of companies have not adopted digital workplace technologies, and only one in four companies indicated that more than half of their organization’s software and applications can be accessed seamlessly outside of a physical office location – and another one in four don’t even know if they have this capability.

Seventy-five percent of companies indicated that digital workplace capabilities (such as tools that prioritize company email or proactively suggest products to customers) would significantly benefit their organization, yet only 44 percent of companies have adopted these tools.

I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not. I spend a majority of my time helping companies understand the shift to mobility and analytics-driven experiences. Businesses are struggling because each layer of the technology stack is changing at the same time. IT and line of business managers must navigate through a wide range of technology choices that include cloud computing, collaboration, security, identity, data processing, analytics and mobility. These choices must then be integrated into a cohesive plan that supports a business goal.

For example, contextual services require collection and analytics of data from existing systems of record, systems of engagement as well as capturing new sentiment and sensor data from social networks, mobile and IoT. The data must then be used to improve a business workflow that impacts a business key performance indicator (KPI), such as increasing customer satisfaction and improving efficiencies. These workflows must be tailored to a specific employee role or type of customer. The process must also be available on a wide range of devices in a way that secures corporate data. Obviously, this is no small feat.

Last week, I spoke with Adam Warby, Chief Executive Officer of Avanade, to ask for his insights on how leading companies are making the transition to digital businesses. Speaking on Avanade’s most recent survey, Warby said that “Fundamentally, most companies are equipped to make the change to a digital workplace/business if the company can define what change it needs to make. Most business leaders think of digital business from the customer backward, such as digital marketing and consumer services.” He noted that this is necessary but it falls short on delivery if the company hasn’t created a digital workplace to support its digital customer initiatives. This is great insight. It’s one of the challenges companies have struggled with since the e-commerce days. Many companies created beautiful digital customer facing services, but failed to create a digital back end to support transaction completion and employees access.

Warby offered three tips to support a company’s move to a digital workplace. A company should start by defining a digital workplace business case. Next , the company needs a corporate sponsor such as HR, Finance, IT or sales to champion this use case from ideation through delivery. Finally, the team should build a solution to address the needs of a role or persona.

Effectively, a digital business focuses on workflows that support a specific user, task and business outcome. While the business case point seems obvious, I’ve found companies frequently focus on deploying technology first before the business case has been defined. Warby noted that this is changing. He said, “Increasingly, the digital workplace is tied to a revenue generating process and is driven by a line of business (e.g. cabin services, HR, sales).”

He provided several examples of companies have worked with Avanade to make this transition.

  • Delta Air Lines built new employee apps that connect to its back end systems to support processes such as on-board retail sales and dynamic access to seat availability and upgrades. The airline can also reduce credit card fraud with real-time access to financial systems.
  • To continue to grow and increase productivity on a worldwide scale, global manufacturer Henkel AG wanted to empower its 47,000 employees in 75 countries to deliver information on any device, anywhere, at any time. A digital workplace based on this vision would increase productivity and innovation, enabling better data-driven decisions. Championed by the COO, an obvious first step in achieving this vision was migrating from Microsoft MSFT -4.88% Office 2003 and an aging Lotus Notes infrastructure to Microsoft Office 365.
  • The human resources team at Telenor, a global telecommunications provider, was the driving force behind embracing new collaboration solutions to reduce travel and increase communications globally.
  • An airline wanted to improve its on time departures. It turns out that this problem can be addressed through collaboration tools that increase information flow across various groups such as aircraft maintenance, cleaning crews, catering and gate agents. By focusing on a strategic metric, the company could justify funding for technology and services.
  • The marketing group at a large beverage distributor focused on using mobile and collaboration tools to improve retail displays, deliver accurate promotion information and eliminate paper binders.

One could argue that we’ve always lived in a world where better technology utilization could provide strategic advantage. Yet, it never seems truer than it is today. Effective use of collaboration, cloud and mobile services has allowed small companies such as Uber to take on larger companies and disrupt industries. It has also enabled established companies, such as Wal-Mart, to separate itself from the pack. What does being a digital business mean to your company? How did you get started?

Maribel is the founder of Lopez Research, a market research firm. She's the author of the Wiley book "Right-time Experiences" and co-founder of the Mobile Research Council. Follow her on Twitter @MaribelLopez

punit sharma

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January 12, 2016

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