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Digital workplace or digital transformation? The destination versus the journey

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Why the digital workplace makes more sense

The terms ‘Digital Workplace’ and ‘Digital Transformation’ can often cause an element of confusion amongst organisations. Simplifying it, the digital workplace is what organisations are ultimately trying to achieve as a result of the transformation process. The transformation is the journey a business goes on to reach the destination – the digital workplace.

A digital workplace is about more than just technology. It’s about business priorities, processes, and most importantly people. Of course, it may leverage best-of-breed, cutting-edge technologies to achieve a more digitally progressive environment, but ultimately the goal is to enable employees to work efficiently and deliver the best service to their customers.

On paper the merits of embracing digitalisation are easy to digest but the reality of converting this movement into quantifiable and tangible actions is not always as easy. Take the prospect of going paperless as an example.

The idea of a paperless office is not a new concept. A quick Google search will reveal that a lot of organisations see this as the first stepping stone in their digital transformation process. But in reality, outlining your intentions to go paperless against the prospect of actually doing this, are quite different. In truth, a lot of organisations don’t know where to start. Jumping in at the deep end and deploying a new software solution offers many risks – cost, disruption and user uptake to name just a few.

The journey from paperless to Intelligent Information Management (IIM)

As mentioned previously, the idea of the paperless office is certainly not new. In fact, in the 90's everyone wanted to ‘go paperless’. Yet a huge number of businesses still rely heavily on paper today:

  • 65 per cent of people print paper copies to obtain signatures or to take to meetings (AIIM)
  • The average US worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year (EPA)
  • 66 per cent of organisations have an initiative in place to reduce paper usage (IDC)

How are these printed paper copies managed? Where are they stored? How do people find and share them? How do they ensure they are accessing the correct version?

In the 00’s, the focus moved on to organising and controlling documents digitally. Yet how effectively is this really being done today?

  • 52 per cent of organisations use four or more content systems (AIIM)
  • 70 per cent of organisations have a poor content strategy (if they have one at all) (Forrester)
  • 25 per cent of badly filed documents will never be located (Gartner)

This final stat is critical. Despite organisations putting tools and systems in place to allow employees to find and manage information electronically, something simply isn’t working. Adding more technology, more content repositories, simply exacerbates the problem.

As we moved in to the 10’s customers began to demand process digitisation, but with paper heavily in use, and documents and information dispersed across multiple silos or lost in deep folder hierarchies, how can business processes ever be streamlined? Mobility mandates, ever increasing security and compliance requirements, and the pressure to keep up in a digital age further add to the information management chaos.

Metadata

It's next important to consider how this digitised information is stored and managed. Folders simply don’t work. They are an archaic concept that worked for paper but there’s no reason for using them when it comes to managing information digitally.

Instead, manage information by describing “what” it is, rather than where it is stored. With metadata, you can classify a document as a proposal, relating to a customer, a project, a team, for example. Instead of searching for the location of that document, you or your colleagues can search for any terms relating to that document, and there will only ever be one version – the single version of truth.

System neutral

Users don’t want to be restricted to working in a single system, or to have to 'lift-and-shift' all content into a new repository. Perhaps an organisation uses shared network drives and folders, file sync and share applications, or legacy document management systems.

It shouldn’t matter to the user in which of those locations a piece of information is physically stored. What matters is that they are able to quickly and easily search for, consume and manage it with the same user experience, regardless of where that information is stored behind the scenes.

A key part of the digital workplace is ensuring that information can be accessed from any system, and using any device, at any time. This will prevent people from having to print paper copies to take to meetings with them, sharing content over file sync and share apps, or saving duplicate copies of documents USB sticks for example. Information should be easily yet securely accessible whether the user is working in the office, out on the road using their mobile device, or even working offline.

Intelligent

It’s important that any technology deployed in a digital workplace makes life easier for employees. Leveraging intelligence services to help auto-classify information streamlines the process of managing information, and can ensure consistency and compliance across an organisation. Not only will a user no longer have to think “where should I save this document”, they will now not even have to think about “how should I classify this document” or “what metadata should I apply” as artificial intelligence (AI) can help automate this process.

Deploying an information management platform may be a critical part of achieving the digital workplace, but the way in which this is approached should be carefully considered to reduce risk, cost, and most importantly ensure employee buy-in – as without employees actively embracing these systems they will simply become another failed digital transformation project. This is where the importance of an agile platform, and an Agile project methodology, come to the forefront.

Agile versus Waterfall

When it comes to software projects, there are two common project management methodologies – and the approach you take can massively impact if, when and how you achieve your digital workplace vision.

The dictionary definition of agile – “able to move quickly and easily” or “able to think and understand quickly”, and the definition of an Agile project methodology basically suggests the same.

“Agile project management is an approach based on delivering requirements iteratively and incrementally throughout the project life cycle. At the core of agile is the requirement to exhibit central values and behaviours of trust, flexibility, empowerment and collaboration.”

On the other hand, the ‘waterfall’ methodology is a more traditional approach in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards like a waterfall, through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, implementation and support. Each stage of the waterfall needs to be complete before progressing on to the next. With a waterfall approach to something as fast moving as digital transformation or software, by the time your project reaches the bottom of the waterfall it will be time to return to the top again – and that’s assuming it ever gets there!

Think big then start small

Having a vision of what your digital workplace looks like is crucial, but don’t simply dive straight in at the deep end. Instead, think big but start small – address one use case or department at a time, and deliver a ‘Minimal Viable Product’ (MVP) which addresses that requirement. Get user buy-in, learn from the experience, refine it if needed, and then move on to the next.

The Agile methodology will only succeed if it’s built on an agile technology platform. When considering the technology used in your digital workplace, ensure that these technologies are quick to deploy, flexible, highly configurable (rather than requiring complex, costly customisations), and can scale and grow with your business, and evolve with you as requirements and priorities change.

Tim Waterton, Director of UK Business, M-Files
Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock