What is the Digital Workplace and what makes it so special?

By Simon Gale

The Digital Workplace: What’s so different? There’s a lot of talk about User-Centric IT, and for me, this is a key attribute of the Digital Workplace. So I thought perhaps I should rewind and explain what the Digital Workplace is…

The question in my title has become a fairly common one, sometimes phrased a little differently, for example:

“What’s so special about the Digital Workplace?” or

“What do you think the Digital Workplace is/means?”

So let me try and answer them here. For me, the distinguishing features of the Digital Workplace are the way it is delivered and supported and what it enables users to do. Let’s break these down a little further:

  • The way it’s delivered
    In a world of changing work patterns, where the boundaries between work and social are getting ever more blurred, the provision of corporate access and services has to change too. The goal must be for a more consumer-like experience: simple device set-up, self-enrolment of new devices, user-friendly applications and tools with frequent enhancements, and excellent collaboration facilities. This is a change that companies like Apple and Microsoft recognise, just look at their latest operating systems, the insistence on auto-update and the frequency of major updates.

Read the Digital Workplace in the Cognitive Era Forbes report

  • The way it’s supported
    With more and more employees spending at least some of their time away from a fixed-desk and with many organisations retiring the concept of fixed desks almost completely, we have to provide support for a mobile user population. This user population is now more IT literate than ever before and has a growing number of digital natives who expect to be able to resolve things themselves. This means providing excellent automation, self-enablement facilities, videos, and curated knowledge articles and forums. In fact, what it means is that we have to provide multi-channel access to support services that focus on getting the user back to full productivity as soon as possible.
  • What it enables users to do
    Specifically, the Digital Workplace must enable easier and deeper levels of collaboration than the traditional workplace. It must allow for much greater and simpler access to the tools and information necessary for the productivity of one’s role, and a much greater integration of work and social if the user wants it. To coin a phrase: it should provide anytime, anywhere access from any (approved) device.

So what is so special about the Digital Workplace?

Well, the whole experience must be more “consumer-like” and generally much better than most traditional corporate IT, making the user feel valued and empowered, thus providing the organisation with much greater flexibility and agility.

The Digital Workplace leverages the latest technologies, thinking and tools to provide an environment that delivers value to users and businesses alike. By enabling users with the right technology and access, and treating them like trusted members of the organisation, employers see an almost immediate improvement in engagement, satisfaction and productivity.

At the same time, the availability and use of this technology, and the way it is delivered and supported provides a much more flexible platform for the business. One that respects the necessary restrictions and safeguards but delivers far greater agility through the de-coupling of core components and the adoption of an “as-a-service” approach. Interestingly, most organisations will find that all of this can be achieved with modest investment and a reduction in ongoing costs. However, the biggest benefit comes when those happier users and the more flexible and agile IT facilitate an increase in business revenues and/or profitability, and that’s a realistic goal.

Some level of “choice” is also an essential element. That might be as simple as a business choice that means users can now have those devices that are best suited to their role making them more productive and improving employee engagement levels.

Choice might extend to giving some, or even most, users a choice of the device and maybe even application they use. For example, allowing a new joiner to continue using a Mac like the ones they’ve used all through their education or in their previous job. And perhaps allowing them to continue using Keynote and Pages as their productivity tools. At the extreme of choice, an organisation might also offer the choice to “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) perhaps restricting it to certain user groups, certain types of device or by operating system or just excluding certain platforms or manufacturers.

Giving employees “Choice@Work” can feel challenging to anyone accustomed to the more common “one-size-fits-all” approach that has typified most user environments to date. But there are solutions that will make your employees more satisfied and productive in their jobs.

The key to the Digital Workplace is really the focus on enablement rather than restriction. By combining IT with cultural changes, users understand that with new freedoms come new responsibilities. Both you and your employees will see that working in a Digital Workplace allows for more productive, personalised and efficient environment.

Are you ready for your changing workforce?

Read the Digital Workplace in the Cognitive Era Forbes report


Written By

Simon Gale

CTO Mobility & Workspace Services UKI at IBM Global Services

Simon Gale is an Associate Partner and CTO for Mobility & Workplace Services in the UK & Ireland at IBM. In almost twenty years working in end-user computing, he’s seen technologies come and go but always held the belief that the essential goal is ensuring that the business,…

Other Articles by Simon Gale
See All Posts