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What Would a 'Smart' Digital Workplace Look Like?

September 22, 2020 Digital Workplace
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By Kalyan Kumar

The creation of a digital workplace is about much more than layering technology into an organization. It is a complex intertwining of employees, IT, HR and more. The work of product managers provides a useful model for how to coordinate this tapestry of factors. Let’s consider four key components a product manager might manipulate and coordinate in order to bring an effortless, highly productive digital experience for employees and/or customers.

1. Smart IT

Smart IT refers to the real-time data that captures the employee experience, which supports IT in making fact-based rather than instinct-driven decisions about technology tools. Just as the user experience index has become an important KPI looking externally, it should also be the bedrock IT organizations build on for their organization’s internal customers.

Without systematic visibility into key areas of business operations, companies won't have a direct view into the obstacles employees face. By assessing how employees interact with technology, IT can gain a better understanding of the purpose different tools play in day-to-day activities, leading to insights on where and how improvements can be made.

Put simply, everything that impacts user experience is potentially relevant and needs to be captured.

Related Article: What it Takes to Create Exceptional Employee Experiences  

2. Smart Machines

Smart machines stem from the idea that an enterprise should use intelligent digital components that can detect and self-correct to keep the user experience flowing smoothly. The goal is to create a consumer-grade experience on top of an enterprise-class productivity stack.

Consider the simple everyday example of when an employee’s laptop runs slow. What if the enterprise could define a threshold for CPU utilization of laptops within its purview and have corrective actions take place on the user’s behalf to moderate the issue without having to take any action? Or a traveling executive visits a new office and needs a printout. Rather than jumping through hoops to select a printer, the smart solution simply asks, “color or black/white” and tells them where to retrieve their print.

Smart machines detect, correct, heal and learn about what users need in order to make people more productive. In a large organization, these small savings in trouble tickets can quickly add up to thousands of hours per year, previously lost time that can now be spent moving the business forward.

Related Article: When the Machines Report to Work, Digital Ethics Should Too

3. Smart Users

Smart users respect the intelligence and capability of the worker. For example, instead of placing help desk and IT barriers in the way of the employee, create an enterprise application marketplace where, similar to Amazon, a user shops for what they need, checks out and the item is automatically delivered, provisioned and configured for their preferred device.

Smart users are enabled when IT first conducts a functional and technical assessment of the personas in an enterprise to identify the tools and applications people might use to be productive. A suite of core applications can then be made available by default. However, rather than racking up the expense of providing these tools to every user, individuals can select the licenses they need and for how long. This “marketplace” is highly contextual and will vary by role, geography and other parameters.

Related Article: Providing Employees With Flexibility in Workplace Tools Doesn't Mean It's  a Free for All

4. Smart Spaces

Smart spaces mean we create physical workplace settings that are responsive to the needs of the employees. Leveraging advances in internet of things (IoT), virtual reality/artificial reality (VR/AR), devices and construction, it is increasingly possible to assist, protect and enhance the employee experience in ways that not only boost productivity but impact employee health and wellness.

The foundation of the smart workplace is the user profile, which allows the nano-personalization and coordination of the entire breadth of IT products to the employee’s needs. What could this look like in practice?

A sales executive is about to meet a key client. As he takes a last look at his presentation, his laptop fails, but the executive simply switches to his mobile phone. The data, in this case the presentation, has followed the user, along with permissions needed to access it. Unknown to the executive, there is a problem with an audio driver on the device, but because it is monitored, IT is alerted to the issue, sees that the executive is scheduled to present, and takes care of patching the driver. Reaching the floor for the presentation, a map appears directing him to the room, where the lighting has been adjusted and the display awaits a connection to the smartphone.

It is easy to imagine how these four factors might be managed to great effect in a typical business environment. But that is a very limited view of how a digital product manager’s perspective could impact a workplace. Picture miners working in a mine, people who are not typically considered part of an IT-managed work environment. But with the addition of smart wearables such as jackets and helmets, smart IoT sensors, and more, we can as effectively manage these non-traditional spaces as we would any office environment. In some regards, the changing chemical composition of the air in the mine is no different than the slowing of an executive’s CPU. By intelligently reacting to change and striving to maintain a great user experience for employees, we create better, more productive workplaces.

Related Article: Architecting for the Liquid Workforce

About the Author

Kalyan “KK” Kumar is the corporate vice president & CTO, IT services of HCL Technologies and the company’s business line leader for Global Cloud Native Services and DRYiCE products and platforms. He also leads the Service Line for Global Infrastructure Services.

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