Seamless and pervasive digital experiences outside of work are raising the bar for what employees expect in their workplace. People regularly connect with friends on social media on their mobile devices, make big and small purchases at the touch of a finger, and learn new skills through online videos. Their homes are equipped with intelligent sensors that automatically adapt features such as lighting, security and entertainment to their changing needs during the course of the day. The digitization of work spaces, on the other hand, has been less than impressive. Digital natives still navigate a world of email and desk phones, use fragmented and often manual processes for organizing meetings, and search for information in largely unstructured intranets. Clearly, there is a critical need to rethink the workplace. Yet organizations are finding it hard to implement digital experiences that capture the imagination of their workforce while enhancing business outcomes.
Analysts predict four in ten businesses will disregard this critical shift towards workplace digitization, and will therefore fail within the next five years. Surprisingly, organizations that are looking to digitization as the new way forward, are also making a critical mistake. Most believe the concept of workplace digitization applies only to knowledge workers – those that work in the “carpeted spaces” of the office - failing to see how organization-wide digitization can transform operations – including field and on-site operations.
To understand this better, let’s look at a couple of Mindtree’s workplace digitization engagements. Mindtree experts created a workforce tracking system for a mining firm using RFID tags on helmets. This enabled near-real-time tracking of zone entry and exit, leading to 10% increase in punctuality, besides improved mine zone safety. In another engagement, we developed a spray equipment monitoring and tracking solution using GPS for a large agricultural firm. The digitization initiative enabled productivity gains to the tune of USD 1 million/year by reducing operating costs by 15% and increasing spray time two-fold using multiple shifts.
But there’s a hitch – no organization is homogenous by design and a typical workplace comprises people with diverse needs, skills, and capabilities. How then does one design a digital workplace that satisfies the myriad needs?
Three key questions to ask before going digital
Digitization of the workplace starts with a vision for the future of work – how you want to define the customer and employee experience in future and why? Organizations should begin by asking themselves these three critical questions to help them articulate a clear vision:
#1 Which processes to digitize? Whether an organization chooses to prioritize cost, employee safety, customer experience or any other aspect, depends on its nature of business, maturity and market standing. Accordingly, an organization may decide to digitize processes that cut costs, improve safety of employees who operate in risky or hazardous conditions, or enhance employee comfort and engagement. The idea is to focus on the business aspect of digitization – define clear business case with ROI, supported by measurable parameters and intent, with success criteria identified beforehand.
#2 What devices and infrastructure will be needed? This focuses on the technology aspect of digitization. Is it enough to leverage smartphones or does a company need enterprise grade mobility tools, wearable devices, and RFID tags to ensure seamless connectivity across locations? An organization must evaluate legacy technology versus the new and emerging technologies thoroughly to make an informed choice.
#3 What are the digital identities this new workplace should cater to?
Digital identity brings the human aspect into the picture, emphasizing the need to leverage digital transformation for simplifying workplace complexity – across roles and hierarchies. It is akin to an actual worker identity. Workplace digitization must therefore enable the right impact on digital identities – neither going overboard, nor underestimating their needs and priorities. Whether an employee works a field job, is a contingent worker, or works full time out of an office location, a digital workplace should make it easier for all to connect and collaborate in real time. This brings us to the question – what are the assets or physical devices that should be digitized to cater to the myriad needs? For knowledge workers, mobility and BYOD may suffice. Those that work remotely or on-site may require RFID tags, or wearables such as smart watches. Digital identities of workers may also keep changing over time as they progress from one role to another within an organization.
Approaching workplace digitization – what’s the best road to take?
Organizations need to choose well when embarking on their workplace digitization journey as the stakes are high and business continuity is a critical mandate in the modern, always-on world. Adopting a fail fast approach that involves quick deployment and learning to enable ongoing solution optimization is critical for success.
Here are two possible approaches to workplace digitization:
#1 Progressive: This focuses on enhancing what is existing by taking small, incremental steps, without resorting to a big bang approach. For instance, in a large organization, it is not uncommon for employees to lose their first five to ten minutes of meeting time, either in finding the room or setting up conferencing equipment. Such an organization might want to make the process easier for its employees through an indoor discovery and navigation assistance mobile app. Some others might opt to begin work place digitization with a mobile enabled micro learning platform that helps employees access bite-sized training courses anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
#2 White space oriented: This involves seeking out new areas that have escaped attention, to make a greater impact from ground zero. For instance, a large retail store might want to empower its shop floor workers by sending real time inputs on what customers are buying ‘more’ or ‘less’ of -to optimize product placement and inventory. This would involve giving hand-held connected devices to workers with access to enterprise data where and when required.
Collective intelligence, not silos will characterize the future of work
As workplace digitization gathers traction, employees are demanding seamless multi-channel engagement across devices and touch points. Yet, studies reveal that 95% of global companies are woefully unprepared for the new digital reality of work. While they realize the need to optimize their existing infrastructure to take advantage of digital opportunities, they are not sure how to go about the process, what to prioritize, and how to ensure seamless transition. True workplace digitization is about leveraging collective intelligence gained from mobile interfaces, analytics, and other sources to automate processes and enable anytime, anywhere access to real time insights. That being said, there is no one-size-fits-all or fail-proof approach to it. For organizations looking to make the leap, the answer lies in how they envision their future workplace to enable better connectivity for their workers.
(The blog is a summation of discussion between the author and other senior leaders such as Janardhana Reddy, GM – Digital Practice; Srinivas Rao Bhagavatula, AVP – Digital Practice; Satyarth Pandey, Senior Consultant – Digital Practice; and Mukund Setlur, Senior Product Manager Marketing.)