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What is the Modern Workplace – Getting Started

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It has become quite common to hear the terms “modern workplace” and “digital transformation” used interchangeably, but for most people, it all sounds like marketing-speak. While the layer of marketing is relatively thick on a subject area like this, the depth and breadth of content circulating on this topic is an indicator that there is something important behind the terminology used.

Other titles in this blog series: What is the Modern Workplace – Developing a Strategy

Where Digital Transformation is about fundamentally changing how you do business by leveraging technology, the Modern Workplace is about establishing a culture of change and innovation that allows you to quickly assess and incorporate the latest, greatest technology, which often begins with digital transformation.

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According to Microsoft:

Digital transformation is about reimagining how you bring together people, data, and processes to create value for your customers and maintain a competitive advantage in a digital-first world.

I like this definition, and the keywords around which Microsoft focuses their messaging also describes the necessary components of the modern workplace: Engage, Empower, Optimize, and Transform. In fact, the focus of last year’s Microsoft Envision Conference in Orlando was digital transformation, with content built around each of these themes. You can also read more on this topic in my previous post “What is Digital Transformation?

The problem is that far too many organizations approach digital transformation much the way they do the rollout of a new software tool: they install it, and then forget about it. This approach often (I would say always) leads to an unhealthy cycle of unsuccessful technology deployments, leaving the management team wondering why they never seem to get the promised value out of their technology. That’s the difference between a one-time digital transformation and an organization that can truly be called a modern workplace: Transforming your internal systems and business practices is about improving the ways in which you interact with your customers, partners, and employees, not only taking advantage of the latest technology to streamline and automate wherever possible, but constantly reviewing the way you work and iterating on your model.

The vision of the modern workplace is an organization that is more quickly able to respond to industry and economic changes, better able to capture the collective knowledge and expertise of their employees, and capture and leverage that knowledge to innovate ahead of their competitors.

Incremental versus Transformational

If digital transformation is about assessing your current business systems and processes — both the human factors as well as the programs, platforms, and applications used to accomplish your business goals — a modern workplace is about a change in culture, developing strategies in which to better leverage the latest, greatest technologies in alignment with your business processes, and with the input from your people. The goal is to dramatically improve the volume and quality of innovation produced, rather than simply modify or iterate on existing models.

An important aspect of any modern workplace is enabling a company to increase the speed at which new technology can be assessed and then integrated. Often our systems and processes are incrementally improved, but few organizations truly take the time to review them in their entirety to examine whether a complete overhaul, or transformation, is necessary (or possible). Arguably, simply adding new technology on top of what is in place today is not necessarily the answer, and without a thorough understanding of how it can or will impact your people, processes, and technology, it means you’re adding unnecessary risks to your business.

The traditional approach to change, especially with technology, has been incremental. However, this method may be causing more harm than good. Using SharePoint as an example, most users are focused on the projects and tasks at hand, and do not have the time or skill to understand the long-term impacts of the add-ins they use, the design choices they make, or the way in which they use lists and libraries. As a result, team sites can quickly become unwieldy, impacting the searchability of the site, and degrading the quality of the overall platform as a knowledge repository and innovation hub. Most organizations will conduct an audit and “clean house” every couple of years, which can be costly and time consuming to conduct. Instead, incorporating a change management model that includes end user guidelines and a consistent, transparent governance process can help end users accomplish their tasks more efficiently, managers maintain security and compliance of the platform, and IT Leaders to more quickly and effectively respond to change.

Microsoft has a number of customer and partner evidence examples on their website to showcase digital transformation, including an eBook co-created with Forrester that provides a framework for digital transformation.

Aligning People, Process, and Technology

Some of the fundamental issues behind SharePoint deployment failures stem from the organizations’ inability to adequately manage the platform. If end users request changes and your IT organization are unable or unwilling to make those changes in a timely manner, they will go elsewhere.

End users circumvent their IT organizations not because they want to subvert the chain of command, but because they want to get their work done. When they don’t receive timely responses to their requests, they go where their requests can be met. With so many cloud services and mobility apps available to anyone with a credit card and smart phone, the phenomena of “shadow IT” has become a major problem for organizations.

Ironically, much of SharePoint’s early success was due to slow or non-responsive IT organizations. As requests were submitted by end users for new team sites and advanced features, most IT organizations were unable to respond quickly or with acceptable solutions. As a result, users went out and deployed a free version of SharePoint (first WSS, later Foundation), and were able to very quickly demonstrate value — without the help of IT. Likewise, with cloud and mobility options at their fingertips, end users are quick to circumvent IT to get the features they want, and get back to work. As mentioned in a recent post (What is Citizen Development?), we are entering the age of the Citizen Developer, where end users want more control over the tools they use — and they want a seat at the table when IT decisions are made. At its core, the citizen developer is someone who steps in to solve a business problem, and this role is an indicator of the cultural change underway in the modern workplace.

At the core of cultural change is recognition that very little about what makes your business work is the technology used. Instead, success is tied directly to the people in your organization. When your people are engaged and empowered, and the change process is transparent and consistent, your organization can be successful even with weak business processes and outdated technology. However, the inverse is never true: you can have strong process and the latest technology, but if people are not included and have no visibility into the black box of IT, your organization will experiences problems with adoption and engagement — and will ultimately fail.

People are the number one factor for success.

Did you know that 43% of you test your SharePoint customizations ad-hoc. This points towards many implementing a poor governance approach. Download the full State of SharePoint and Office 365 Customization 2018 report by clicking the button below!

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Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, consulting CMO and researcher, and the Founder and CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent analyst and technical marketing services company based in Salt Lake City, Utah.