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The evolving digital workplace

This article appears in the issue October 2012, [Vol 21 Issue 9]
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What many employees understand as their intranet—company news, some business forms and countless directories jammed full of outdated Word and Excel files—has become largely irrelevant.

The issue here is not that traditional intranet services have somehow lost value. Rather, business units are simply moving on. They don't want to be obligated to participate in an enterprise intranet. They want specific services to help them become more effective at work.

Welcome to the new digital workplace. This workplace is actually less a specific destination or tool, and more a strategy that creates services so badly needed that you'll never have to complain about "poor adoption" ever again.

Intranet managers should realign with this new world and focus on services that businesspeople can use in the flow of their daily work. Alas, you won't find silver bullets in "cloud," "social" and "mobile"—although all those technologies are increasingly important. Your challenge is to avoid the hype around those technologies and find smart ways to exploit them.

The social workplace

There's no magical alchemy to unleash the social and collaborative potential of your enterprise. Every organization is different. Yet, we see two key opportunities for the new social workplace:

  • applications over platforms and
  • social as a layer.

Why do most workplace discussion forums sit empty? Surely your colleagues have things to discuss. The challenge here is that your co-workers want applications, not features. For example, they want a specialized Q&A service, not a generic bulletin board. Or an expertise location application, not a collection of whitewashed employee profiles.

That accounts for much of the dissatisfaction today. While top-tier infrastructure vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle can check numerous functional boxes for collaboration and social networking, they don't provide many polished applications out of the box. Make sure you consider productized alternatives as part of your broader procurement strategy.

Social "as a layer" posits that employees want to interact and collaborate with peers in the natural flow of everyday work rather than hanging out on a separate social island. Smart workplace leaders are focusing less on driving employees to social silos and more on bringing social and collaboration services to applications that employees already use in their daily work.

Gamification

To be sure, that's more easily said than done. Many architectural and integration hurdles can challenge a social-layer strategy. Also, scant few vendors are cooperating here. But clearly it represents the next phase of social workplace evolution.

You should take the same, businesslike approach to another prevalent buzzword: gamification. There's a place for some game dynamics within certain applications, but much of what is getting promoted breathlessly by vendors and pundits alike can come off as contrived ploys to most coworkers.

Games are fun, but your coworkers want above all to be effective. And along the way, there's something they crave even more than winning and rewards: recognition. Focus on recognition first, and remember that the quality of participation in the workplace will almost always prove more important than the quantity of participation. You may need to educate your social technology vendor here, because most of them rely on tallying volumes of contributions.

What's the best role for cloud?

Cloud means many things to many people. For most of your business colleagues, cloud may well represent freedom—freedom from having to use enterprise-sanctioned tools. Cloud-based vendors with workplace applications have taken note and explicitly bypass IT departments in their deal making with enterprise customers.

The savvy digital workplace leader recognizes that cloud is no panacea. Even the largest cloud vendors can experience outages or engender other unpleasant surprises, not the least of which is poor information lifecycle management. Even Redmond's vaunted SharePoint Online (part of Office 365) brings many unexpected limitations (http://www.realstorygroup.com/Research/Advisory/Download/145/Office-365:-SharePoint-Online-Review).

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