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Digital transformation can’t be constrained to new data-driven business models or an enhanced customer experience; increasingly, it means focusing on employees, empowering them with technology to better work and collaborate.

This has made building a digital workplace a priority for IT leaders. In a recent survey conducted by Box and Okta, 80% of European IT leaders surveyed felt that a digital business was a key component in their organisations ability to implement key strategic changes. Half thought improving employee experience and retention through a modern digital workplace is a priority task, and approximately 56% had investments planned to build it.

Defining the digital workplace

But what are they trying to build? Gartner has defined the digital workplace as a business strategy aimed at boosting employee engagement and agility through the consumerisation of the work environment. PCs, laptops and mobile devices are brought together with collaborative applications, chatbots and virtual assistants, AI and advanced analytics, all to give employees a more creative and intuitive work environment.

In the words of Matt Cain, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner, the end-result should be ‘greater customer-centricity, more employee-led innovation, accelerated process outcomes, higher employee retention and greater appeal to prospective employees.’

This has never seemed so critical. In markets where disruption is becoming the new norm, business needs to reach for a new gear, meeting faster cycles of feedback and innovation. Employees are looking for flexibility and seamless collaboration in their work, and for best-of-breed tools that can support their creativity. They want access to business content in a way that’s both secure and free of friction, where the insights and feedback the business thrives on is always close to hand.

IDG’s survey suggests that the digital workplace could have the answers. When asked what outcomes they look for from the digital workplace, IT leaders pointed to the ability for the business to act quickly on opportunities without delay and cutting the time to complete content-driven processes, with higher levels of employee engagement and empowerment just below. Increased employee satisfaction and empowerment also ranked high amongst the areas for change with the most potential, as did accelerated business process cycles.

The digital workplace enables all of this.

Building the digital workplace

So, how can organisations get started? First, they need to begin with a vision, focused on clear business goals and driven by an understanding of real employee needs. Harnessing technology to raise engagement is the aim, but that can only happen when employees have a voice in the process. As Ascential CIO Sean Harley told CIO.co.uk, ‘the biggest challenge of the workplace of the future is culture – understanding the people who are going to come in to your environment, what they need and how they operate….It isn’t just a technology problem; it’s a business problem.’

This means taking a close look at existing workflows and at how new technologies could augment or replace them. Could new technologies like IoT or AI drive improvements? Is there scope for automation? Which new tools could support creativity or enable a new approach?

Most importantly, the digital workplace isn’t just about bringing in new tools and services, but about integrating them in platforms that deliver the apps and content workers need, as and when they need them. It’s about doing so with appropriate security, so that both corporate data and customer data have the necessary safeguards. Disparate, unconnected apps and services slow productivity and collaboration down. Bringing them together, enabling content to flow between teams and applications, is the best way to accelerate both.

The workplace strategy doesn’t have to answer every question on day one, but the vision needs to be clear and communicated, preferably in a way that promises quick, highly visible wins. As Gartner Fellow Mark Raskino has said, this has to be backed up by metrics.

‘You have to define what a digital business means for your business. What is the number one goal? The metric which shows we are moving towards this digital goal? Then what are the KPIs we will use in the management structure to drive that change?’ KPIs will inevitably be specific to your industry or even your organisation. At Pladis, the manufacturer behind McVitie's, Jacob's, Carr's and Godiva, CDO Anthoula Madden has realigned KPIs to be more customer centric reflecting the overall business and IT strategy. Other firms may go for KPIs around internal adoption of systems, software development cycles or customer retention.

Getting the right team

The next step is to get the right team in place, coordinating activity from across all areas of the business, forming a coalition of leaders and workers from both inside and outside IT to drive through change. This will not just help inform technology decisions, but also ensure that new workflows and initiatives are adopted, with the different teams committed to the change. Training, incentives and recognition will all help, as will new partnerships that straddle departmental borders. Building the momentum is one thing, but it takes a wider team to keep it going.

The end result should be a workspace that connects the right people with the right information at the right speed, where content flows quickly and securely between best-of-breed applications in one coherent environment. It should reflect the needs of each project and team, acting as a single, reliable source of truth that connects the right content with the right people across various different departments. Together, Box and Otka provide the foundations for this workplace, combining class-leading cloud apps and services with seamless, secure managed access. If you’re ready to build the digital workplace, it’s time to take the first step.

For more information on this topic watch the webcast from Box & Otka