Digital Workplace and Intranet : the 2013 trends (part #2)

dwtrends2013-300x232As promised, here’s the second part of my post on the Digital Workplace trends for 2013.

• User Generated anything

Initiatives aiming at having users generating content or anything fails to take off. Once again the reason is not hard to find. That’s the legacy of the times when businesses used to imaging that any employee could become a blogger, an idea that still survives in the collective unconscious even if it’s now proven that not any internaut is a blogger. So if you add the constraints that are the proper of business, employees are even less likely to blog than internauts.

What does not mean that user generated content has no value or interest. It’s only unrealistic in the context of most businesses and the even the best technology won’t change it.

 

• Activity streams still not trendy

Another interesting finding : activity streams are not still massively deployed. That’s a pity but it’s logical.

A pity because that’s the only way to provide users with a single access point to information and situational intelligence. Without activity streams the center of gravity of the work environment will stay in the email (unless the stream moves to the email client, what is also a solution).

Activity Streams : not well known and poorly used

But this is not surprising for some reasons :

– a too skimpy vision of the activity stream that is too often exclusively tied to social networks and short status updates while it’s can become the pivot of the workplace and aggregate signals coming from anywhere.

– vendors being responsible for this skimpy vision to such an extent we can wonder if their R&D departments are able to think without looking at Facebook. First because most of them offer not more than moving alerts from the email to the activity stream. Second by locking the activity stream into the social network instead of making it easy to use it in the email client or in the portal.

 

• Difficulties to find what one needs.

That’s a recurring matter that can be observed in nearly all businesses : in spite of the increasing number of tools available to share information, it’s still very difficult for people to find what they need. Digital Workplace does not mean Swiss Army knife (one product doing everything but nothing very well) but integrated environment (having the best of breed for each need while giving users the impression they use only one tool). It raises the need for a single and unified search engine for the entire work environment.

In many cases what is seen as a sharing problem is in fact a search problem.

• Communities do not work

What a surprise ! And that’s not for lack of warning : communities make sense for some needs and some context. For the rest they’re groups structured on business activities. Today, in many cases, businesses have pushed the creation of communities that made no sense for employees, generating distraction and bringing no tangible benefits. So it’s time to move back to the core of work and stop trying to solve anything with communities. Limit communities to what they’re good at and move on !

Communities : poorly understood, poorly used

In fact the point is not that communities do not work but the managerial context that is often not suitable and expectations that are not realistic. Businesses don’t know what a community is and technology can’t be blamed for that.

• Processes being left out the workplace

Very few businesses brought social capabilities into their processes. Like activity stream that’s a logical pity.

Pity because that’s the only way to directly impact people’s real work. This is not necessarily a matter of heavy integration : a process can be any kind of activity, structured or not and the approach can work for collaborative project management, social task management etc.

Logical because many inspired evangelists have spend the last years repeating that social was not about process, that processes were dead and about to be replaced by conversations. I still can’t understand what made so many people believe that but the damage is done.

Logical also because it would mean to question and reinvent many business processes, in other word to deal with a sacred cow.

But don’t search elsewhere the reasons for poor adoption and lack of tangible ROI.

• A poor user experience

A lot is still to be done on that matter. Poorly integrated tools that provide a fragmented experience with broken flows, terrible mobile experience, interfaces designed to be nice looking but not effective.

Bu that’s a mandatory step. Unification is often seen as a useless cost, the cherry on the cake. That’s why early adopters are ahead in this field : they faced the teething problems before the others and understood how important it is.

The world of the Digital Workplace : still immature despite what’s at stake

• An immature world

Digital workplaces are still measured on the activity they generate, not the value created through their use. That’s logical at the beginning : if no one uses a tool there’s few chances it will bring any benefit. But it’s not enough for a sustainable approach and the impact on business activities and processes will have to be measured.

That was only a quick skimming over of the report. Consider buying it to access to all the numbers, cases and analysis it provides – which are much more advanced that my quick feedback.

Jane McConnell’s work confirms what I also see on the field. Digital Workplaces are not the goal but the lever of the enterprise transformation. Even if technology has a part to play, difficulties are often elsewhere :

– understanding the need for transformation

– the vision central departments (HR, IT, communication) have of such an environment : each one sees its own challenges and has a biased view of the global reality

– the reassuring illusion that technology will drive change

– specifications that focus on tools and functionalities instead of cross-tolls use cases.

– the survival of immature concepts : social collaboration is about communities and conversations, social is the opposite fo process, activity stream are locked in the social network, intranet are communication tools, work is not communication.

So I leave you with two quotes :

We should not expect an application to work in environments for which its assumptions are not valid.

Eliyahu M. Goldratt

 Reorganization to me is shuffling boxes, moving boxes around. Transformation means that you’re really fundamentally changing the way the organization thinks, the way it responds, the way it leads. It’s a lot more than just playing with boxes.

Lou Gerstner