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Employees don't stop being consumers at work... CEOs must digitalise

22 Jul 2014

IT leaders have a significant opportunity to contribute to the business by creating a more flexible work environment that accommodates the needs of the business consumer.

"Starting with the rise of PCs and the internet era, users have a greater influence on IT strategy," says Matthew Cain, research vice president, Gartner.

Cain claims the industry is currently witnessing the rise of what Gartner calls the "business consumer" — an employee for whom business activities are one part of a wider lifestyle.

"Individuals do not stop being consumers when they go to work," Cain adds.

"Business consumers often make more consumer-like choices in their workplace computing tools and styles to increase efficiency."

Given the complexity of work environments and the geographic distribution of expertise across organisations, a critical competitive advantage will accrue for businesses able to create a socially active workforce that can tap internal and external knowledge and expertise easily.

The digital workplace provides significant advantages in how business consumers work, by:

* Exploiting new work styles across the globe, such as crowdsourcing, social networking, job sharing, swarming and microwork

* Harnessing the substantial, consumer-learned digital literacy of employees, partners and customers — leading to more sharing and information awareness, plus the creation of a more results-oriented work environment

* Increasing the productivity of distributed workgroups through the introduction of technology and engagement styles that facilitate interactions similar to those experienced by employees working in the same physical location

* Delivering higher returns on technology investments by leveraging technology and skills across partner, employee and customer channels

* Boosting overall employee engagement, resulting in a more flexible workforce and improved talent attraction and retention outcomes.

* Enhancing best-practice sharing, collaborative problem solving and enabling faster project execution for sales, research, customer support and other groups

* Increasing knowledge creation and reuse capabilities by finding and supporting communities of expertise inside and outside the enterprise

* Increasing volume and flow of information from partners and customers inside the organisation, leading to more informed product development, supply chain and customer service

* Aligning the strategies of key work teams, such as digital marketing, customer relationship, HR, and product support and development

"The substantial gap between the business computing environment and the consumer computing environment is traditionally explained by reasons such as culture, security and compliance," Cain adds.

"However, those assumptions must be re-examined. For many organisations, the partial or wholesale embracing of a consumer style of computing for business purposes will be beneficial and, in some cases, transformational.

"Considering a digital workplace helps organisations determine if and how rapidly they should embrace consumer-style computing trends."

Gartner research shows that most organisations are responding to consumerisation in an ad hoc fashion, with IT groups and/or business units juggling initiatives such as: bring your own device (BYOD), bring your own application (BYOA), mobile application development and DevOps development.

The issue, according to Cain, is that these efforts are being made tactically and in isolation, and many are customer-facing, with little impact on the partner or employee communities.

Gartner recommends that IT leaders assemble a portfolio of digital workplace tools and services to better manage and amplify the impact of the investments.

"By collecting related digital workplace tools and services into a common portfolio, IT leaders can more easily promote skills transfer and application reuse across the three constituencies: employees, partners and customers," he adds.

"Experience gained in mobile application development for employees, for example, can be applied to partner and customer communities, or skills developed in user experience design for customers can be applied to employees."

The digital workplace portfolio also assists in determining the appeal of related emerging technologies.

First, it needs to focus on understanding how workplace trends, starting with consumerisation, are currently affecting the organisation and what the long-term effects on the business will be.

Second, it should determine what the IT response has been, so far, to the workplace trends.

Third, a plan needs to be created to proactively respond to workplace trends over the next several years — with a portfolio of policies, skills, tools and services.

"The critical element is not necessarily how IT leaders will respond, but that there is a program in place to strategically and consistently respond to these changing workplace dynamics," Cain adds.

It's inevitable that organisations will have to embrace consumerisation trends, and respond to broad changes in the workforce and workplace. For some, it may not take place for a decade, and for others it has already taken place.

Most organisations, however, are somewhere between these two extremes.

"At a minimum, IT organisations need to be working with business and human resources leaders to identify workplace changes that will affect the business, and determine if a response is warranted," Cain concludes.

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