Why businesses should tackle the digital workplace

IT chiefs should make implementing the digital workplace core to their company’s digitisation strategy, says analyst Gartner

Gartner research vice-president Monica Basso urged delegates at the Gartner Digital Workplace summit in London to plan to use a digital workplace initiative as part of a wider digital business strategy.

“We believe that the digital workplace is an unavoidable step for any business that wants to succeed in digital transformation,” she said.

But a study from Gartner found that passion for digital workplace initiatives among the CEOs and business executives who took part was low, said Basso.

“If you ask the CEO about the digital workplace, they’ll say it is not a priority. But the study found that when business chiefs were asked about their priorities, the top priority was business growth (58%), followed by IT-related (31%) then the workforce (16%),” she said.

“CEOs need to rapidly adopt technology and align it with business objectives. They also need to align people with tech change.”

This is where Gartner sees a role for the digital workplace. “The more the workforce evolves, the more achievable business growth becomes,” said Basso. “This is the digital workplace and it should be a priority. There is a desperate need for a digital workplace initiative to drive business outcomes.”

But she warned that this is only possible if the IT organisation helps: “IT needs to stand up and play the role of a business partner to help CEOs achieve their goals.”

In another Gartner study, 66% of staff said their digital skills have no impact on the business, said Basso. “Employers block staff from leveraging new technology,” she pointed out. “Managers actively discourage staff from using new technology to drive business outcomes. This is is very bad. It prevents companies’ digital transformation.”

Basso said a digital workplace can change the way people work, fostering transformation of business processes, making employees more agile and engaging clients in a more efficient way. “If your company wants to become a digital business, it needs to transform the workforce first, to eliminate old inefficiencies and let workers focus on higher-value tasks,” she said.

Basso urged IT leaders to create an “A” team with all stakeholders including HR, employee representatives, senior executives and business owners to build a shared vision for the organisation.

“Build a manifesto for a digital workplace vision,” she said. “Understand the changes that are coming and use the manifesto to justify tech investments.”

She recommended IT teams to speak to employees regularly: “To be successful, users have to be at the centre. You need a dialogue with staff to understand their skills and expectations.”

Read more about the digital workplace

  • Enterprises often deploy software to solve a specific problem, but close cooperation between technology pros and line-of-work staff can lead to greater efficiencies.
  • The digital workplace, including the CIO shop, is moving toward cross-functional collaboration, greater openness to outside contributors and the uptake of artificial intelligence.

According to Basso, IT chiefs should expect newer enployees to be early adopters of digital workplace initiatives because it reflects how they prefer to work. But IT should also engage with more senior staff, who probably have a good understanding of the limitations of the existing ways of working, she added.

She also recommended that IT should rethink the IT helpdesk. “You have change the way you work with employees,” she said. Some employees may want to use a self-service portal for IT support rather than rely on a traditional IT helpdesk, she explained.

CEOs have great expectations for IT leaders to become real business partners, said Basso. “Today IT is tactical, focusing on operations and on keeping the lights on,” she added, urging IT leaders to take a more active role and use digital workplace initiatives to drive this change.

Gartner’s research has identified three core technologies driving the digital workplace – cloud-based office suites, enterprise content management and collaboration tools. Cloud-based office suites represent a simple place to start, said Basso. “Cloud-based office suites are unavoidable. The path is already there and there is a big push from the suppliers.”

She said these software-as-a-service (SaaS) products enable IT to assess how users explore the capabilities of the cloud, such as cloud storage and file sharing, which open up the potential to transform simple paper-based processes.

Digital workplace strategy

One company that is adopting a digital workplace strategy is Swiss bank UBS. Speaking at the Gartner event, Ryan Purvis, strategic technology leader at UBS, described how the bank has deployed a new workplace strategy based on replacing physical laptops and desktops with a smartcard, which retains the settings for all the IT tools users need to do their work. Users use the smartcard to long into their personal virtual desktop environment.

The bank’s goal is to move users from physical hardware into a virtual environment. The initiative, called A3 (Any device, Any time, Any location) started in June 2015. Purvis said A3 comprises thin clients for users on-desk. The project’s aim is to provide the right size of machine for the user’s requirements, giving them with access to all the tools they need.

“The dream is that we will have 120,000 users on A3,” he said. “But the reality is that there will be 10,000 users who will never have A3 because they need connectivity from anywhere.” For these users, such as client advisers, UBS will go back to offering them pool laptops instead of A3, said Purvis.

Speaking about the migration to A3 for the majority of users, he said: “There is a lot of status around a device. We had to change the mindset of users from devices to devices driven by a smartcard.”

The organisation’s virtual desktop environment is monitored using a tool called SysTrak Workspace Analytics from Lakeside Software, which provides a dashboard both for IT and users. From a user perspective, Purvis said employees can see the health of their virtual environment, and are given tips such as when to reboot and to monitor application usage.

Licences for applications that are not used can be recycled, he said. Users are also given individual health scores for their virtual desktop environment. IT has introduced gamification, where different departments compete to see which one has the best overall score. Purvis said this monitoring means UBS can now detect user profiles and can push out alarms if they have too many windows open or they have not rebooted recently.

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