The Digital Workplace
The cloud-driven, digital workplace is enabling better ways of working, new ways of doing business, and entirely new business opportunities. It is also breaking down traditional boundaries and barriers within and between enterprises large and small, and crumbling key foundations upon which most businesses have been built. Leading and managing business in the digital workplace environment requires advance rethinking of core enterprise foundations and boundaries, before the enterprise finds itself unable to do business.
In my work with enterprise CFOs and COOs, and with IT providers, I typically see four foundational areas most likely to crumble as digital transformation breaks down traditional barriers. Each of these is briefly examined as follows.
Technology foundations and barriers
Domains of business responsibility and authority tend to be built in large part around business technology. Software especially has defined not only how work gets done, but how different people, functions, systems, and groups interact. As digital Workplace initiatives make more, and increasingly adaptable, business technology available everywhere to practically everyone, tech-derived foundations and barriers crumble. Access to knowledge, data, and even people gets restructured, changing avenues and methods of business communication, collaboration, and coordination. It also reshapes traditional foundations and focuses of IT responsibility and control, whether you are ready for it or not.
Functional/Operational foundations and barriers
Traditional businesses, especially large enterprises, have delineated peoples’ responsibility, organization, leadership, and value based on function. As technology-based barriers break down, business functions can more easily be shared, and resources can be freed. That means that operationally/functionally-defined people, groups, and systems need rethinking. Many leadership teams working on digital transformation assessments are amazed (or alarmed) to find how many groups and systems perform similar or identical functions. Effective realignment of resources too often becomes a critical task poorly executed due to a lack of foresight.
Organizational foundations and barriers
The dissolution of technological and functional/pperational foundations and barriers has helped break down long-standing, silo-style, org structures that focus work, information, and interaction. More groups and systems are speaking the same business language more frequently. This enables not only improved operating efficiencies, but also much more business and technological innovation at a faster pace with wider reach. Also, it can be much easier and less expensive to support more users and groups. This also means that the organizational foundations of the business are suddenly not supporting the business. Organizational disarray engenders operational inefficiency, even chaos. Planning, execution, and management lose focus and responsibility. Organizational structures between enterprises and trading partners, competitors, suppliers, and entire markets also open up for rethinking.
Cultural foundations and barriers
When working through digital transformation, leadership teams often find that what they thought was their company culture was more aspirational than actual. Company cultures tend to be built around how, where, and why people work. This depends in large part on combinations of technology utility, functional responsibilities, and organizational structures. Changing those affects company behavior and norms, because it alters how we do business, when, and with whom – and sometimes, even why we do business. But enterprise and market culture are also affected. As markets evolve and adapt to digital workplace realities, communication changes and methods of doing business change. Additionally, behavioral norms adapt and traditional industry norms tend to fade or shift. Inefficiencies (and worse) proliferate more easily when cultural principles fail.
While digital transformation – especially enabling full-scale digital workplaces – enables great opportunity, it is easy to see these four digital re-shaping’s of business foundations as threats. In fact, they will be, if some fundamental rethinking is not developed and applied in the immediate future. The digital workplace is spreading faster than most firms perceive. It accounts for almost half the growth in IT and business services usage over the past few years. It is happening in your business right now.
The best approach is to not focus on the foundations and barriers directly. Yes, it is important to see what’s crumbling and you should perceive the scope of business change as accurately as possible. Rapidly develop, apply, and refine guidance that leverages the dissolution of barriers to improve the business. Focus on where and why a lack of barriers can improve how things get done, then consider how your technology, functional/operational, organizational, and cultural foundations need to be rethought/re-imagined to sustain the improvements.
When the foundations crumble, traditional enterprise thinking must die for digital business to live. Any enterprise attempting any digital transformation, but especially wholesale digital workplace environments, needs already to be rethinking all four enterprise foundations.. If you’re not at least considering how these create and sustain barriers to digital improvement, and how those the removal of those barriers will improve business, you’re behind the curve.
By Bruce Guptill