E20 Summit: the challenges of enabling the digital workplace

The Enterprise 2.0 Summit that took place last week in Paris featured a series of discussion panels dedicated to debating key concepts and challenges around the E2.0 theme.

I was invited to participate in the panel entitled Digital Workplace Framework, aiming to shed some light on the building blocks & framework of the digital workplace, as well as discussing the concept and challenges of systems or applications integration. So, it was a very tech oriented theme but one that I find very important to address.

I was there as a practitioner with a non-IT background which for a panel discussing technology is quite interesting. The goal was to share my views on how practitioners should challenge their IT teams and the vendors working with them – thinking about users’ needs and experience, solving the integration challenge when integration is needed, building tech capabilities for a future of work increasingly interconnected – and also to talk a little bit about an experience I had with a pilot project.

The panel featured Stephan Schillerwein as a main speaker on the topic of the Digital Workplace Framework, Jon Froda (co-founder of Podio) and myself on the discussion panel and Claude Super as moderator.

Stephan shared his views on the topic of Digital Workplace, drawing attention to some misconceptions around this concept. He emphasized, for example, that too many times the discussion focuses too much on the digital aspect and not that much on how work gets done and should be supported by technology. He defines Digital Workplace as

A Digital Workplace is the enabling technology to bring out the best in people – individually, in teams and entire organizations – for work in a post-industry age

and feels we should look at the concept from the perspective of the employee and his tasks. He then went on to tackle the technology aspect, offering some reasons that help distinguish the technology enabling the digital workplace from previous technologies such as portals (many of which notoriously failed), namely:

  • technology has moved forward
  • the Digital Workplace is now seen as business critical in many organizations, a trend due to continue
  • there’s no reason for us not to think about the architecture, and the logical interaction/integration, of the different systems or applications enabling work

And on this final topic I jumped in to share how a pilot project I managed proved that the apparent strong interconnection between social and content managing capabilities, as shown in the pre-pilot/on paper & Powerpoint stage, in fact proved not quite true for the sole reason that technology really didn’t respond how we expected (expectations are an interesting thing, aren’t they?)

I also shared some thought provoking quotes which I share here:

  • [on integration at a process level and in the flow of work] when it comes to integration on a process level, in the 2013 Digital Workplace Trends report, Jane McConnel concluded that “very few organizations are currently integrating social collaboration into enterprise processes in a way which is changing how they work”
  • [on the importance of open standards to ensure interoperability] in an article last year entitled Enterprise Social Networks Need Open Standards, Dion Hinchcliffe said that “social media in general has proliferated so extensively now that there are often a half dozen or more social apps that we use every day in our personal lives, in the workplace, or both. But they usually have quite limited interoperability when it comes to our identities, data integration, and inter-social network user experience. Thus, our work in them is fragmented and siloed, limiting their reach and value”. But in his opening keynote Dion Hinchcliffe stated that one of the few predictions he made last year that did NOT materialize was the adoption of open standards, which left me wondering how we will achieve that interoperability. During the Q&A session following his keynote both Cordelia Krooß and Luis Suarez asked very relevant questions related to integration, both at a process and technology level, which makes me confident that at least part of the community will continue asking the tough questions.
  • [on challenging the current state of technology to enable the connected organization] in her brilliant post entitled 2013 Prediction: Social Business Tech will Stop Blaming Culture for Failure, Deb Lavoy offers this statement “In 2013 the industry will acknowledge that while we’ve made great progress in the last five years, the technology that naturally leads to a well orchestrated, connected, collaborative organization has yet to arrive”. From some of the stories I’ve heard practitioners’ experience often validates this: we are not there yet.

During our preliminary discussions to prepare the panel, Jon Froda, which during the debate warned that there’s “too much intra and not enough net in the discussion about intranets/digital workplace”, offered an interesting perspective on the topic of integration which I picked up and brought to the discussion table.

His view was: if many employees are in fact handling the ever growing number of exceptions to defined business processes through excel files and emails, thus flying away from the business applications put in place to support those business processes, then should we in fact worry about integrating existing business applications with social software capabilities, or should we just let social software help address those pain points and transform the business processes without worrying too much on the efforts of technological integration? [and on the topic of social software for business performance you cannot miss this report from the Deloitte Center for the Edge]

The way forward remains undefined as it seems that different opinions prevail and we have yet few concrete results from what companies are doing in this front and the impacts they are observing (again, we are not there yet). And I also believe that we won’t find a magic formula for how to solve the integration challenge. Maybe the answer will be the not so glamorous “it depends”: on the organization, on how work gets done, on how work & business will be transformed.

Stowe Boyd offered another interesting perspective on this issue this week when stating:

enterprise vendors want to build broad tools that can be sold to thousands of people at one time, in one deal. They are stuck in an enterprise software sale mindset. The vendors are caught in a trap, building big flat layers of software that are designed for sales reps to sell instead of deep and narrow software tools that are designed for users to solve their most critical issues

And Harold Jarche also wondered this week that

Enterprise knowledge sharing will never be as good as what networked individuals can do. Individuals who own their knowledge networks will invest more in them…Whoever creates an organizational structure that bridges the individual-organizational knowledge sharing divide may have significant business advantages

As I’ve stated in my last post, diversity of perspectives and the questions that they generate are a sign of a community which is down-to-earth & focused on making sense of the current transformations affecting organizations, work & society. So we may not have all the answers but we surely can’t stop fighting the good fight, asking the right questions and continue the discussions (at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit or elsewhere).

I’ll shamelessly “steal” Deb Lavoy’s end tagline from her posts and for the moment just say: the best is yet to come!

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2 thoughts on “E20 Summit: the challenges of enabling the digital workplace

    • Thank you for stopping by and for the comment Luis. I’m not sure we’ve fully grasped the “2.0″ yet to be moving to something “3.0″.

      But wording aside, thank you for the link you’ve shared. I did not know the Open Group and was pleased to see it is “a global consortium that enables the achievement of business objectives through IT standards”. I particularly like this objective: “Facilitate interoperability, develop consensus, and evolve and integrate specifications and open source technologies” as I think it’s an important topic.

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