digital workplace

Mind the gap – the key to an effective #digitalworkplace

mind the gapIf I was in the happy position of designing a new digital workplace completely from scratch, I would develop a beautiful suite of applications which seamlessly ooze into one another and which dance daintily onto the variously sized screens used by employees in offices, on trains and while sitting comfortably on heated toilet seats … I think you get the idea!

However, in the real world, a digital workplace is a cobbled together bunch of bits and pieces, from e-mail to expenses systems, developed and purchased by a company over many years. In most cases, making wholesale changes to your bits and bobs to bring them closer together in terms of usability and user experience is out of the question.

This only really leaves one option. Being clever with the spaces between your digital workplace components. How you design a fluid user experience into these spaces will make or break your digital workplace. In fact, if you’re not clever with the way you squeeze your users through these narrow spaces, they probably won’t even know they’re in a digital workplace at all.

I think taking this approach is pragmatic, simpler, quicker and cheaper than focussing on the experience inside each application. It also feels much less daunting and more do-able.

The moral of my medieval fable ( #intranet #digitalworkplace )

Following my last post, several people asked me to explain further what I meant by my Medieval Fable … some even seemed a little upset (<- sorry about that) … so, here goes!

Evolution of the intranet

Simple diagram on the left

In May 2011, I published the simple diagram on the left asking the question about the relationship between the intranet as we then knew it and this new-fangled Digital Workplace thingy which people were beginning to talk about (if you have time to read through the comments on the original post, they make quite interesting reading).

You see the ‘graph’ on the right of the simple diagram on the left … er … well, that’s the moral of my fable.

WHAT, you need MORE explanation??? Seriously, what’s not to get???

OK … I’m going to go out-on-a-limb here and make some assumptions (<– I realise that this is tantamount to sticking a ‘Kick Me’ sign on my own back, but here goes …!)

Assumption 1: Any company worth its salt has an intranet of some description.

Assumption 2: An intranet is an environment/platform/whatever where content is published (<- I know the word published is a bit 1990s, but it still pretty-much covers what has to happen to stuff for it to become visible to other people on an intranet).

Assumption 3: Most – maybe all (?) – intranets have an Intranet Manager of some description.

Assumption 4: Intranet Managers are appointed because they know something about intranets (even those who don’t could pick up the basics from half-a-day’s reading of a handful of great intranet blogs). Intranet Managers know stuff like: good governance is essential; intranet strategy needs to support the business objectives; put users at the centre; business- not technology-led; blah blah; etc. etc.

Assumption 5: Given all the above, being an Intranet Manager is not rocket science (<- that doesn’t make it easy by the way!).

Assumption 7: Intranet Managers can’t count (<- just checking you’re still paying attention).

Assumption 6: As a company’s intranet matures, the list of stuff in Assumption 4 becomes business-as-usual and things start to run themselves to some extent.

Assumption 7: lots/many companies have probably got to Assumption 6 in their maturity cycle (<- OUCH … who kicked me!?).

Assumption 8: So, the more effective we are as Intranet Managers, the more invisible we are to users and, ironically, to senior management who only really take an interest when something goes wrong and they are looking for someone to blame (<- that probably came across a little more cynically than I intended but you know what I mean!).

… and then, along comes the Digital Workplace Monster. As my simple diagram on the left shows, the Digital Workplace Monster gobbles up the intranet. By gobbles up, I mean the intranet as we now know it, suddenly becomes a (small?) component of a bigger ecosystem known as the Digital Workplace.

To put it another way, the intranet becomes the utility cupboard under the sink in the Digital Workplace kitchen … the place where stuff (content) gets put so you can grab it when you need it. The stuff in the cupboard under the sink is important if you need to unblock the plug-hole, descale the kettle or clean the sink etc. … but, frankly, it’s not very exciting. It’s reliable … always there … and useful when you need it.

So, here’s the thing … six months ago you were the Intranet Manager – the go-to-guy (or guyette) guiding your organisation digitally into the twenty-second century. Today … you manage the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

It’s worth thinking about … that’s all I’m saying!

The fall of the house of intranet – a cautionary fairy tale for intranet managers

[Allergy advice: written in an office containing nuts; may contain sentiment offensive to intranet managers]

MonsterOnce upon a time, workers lived among reams of paper – newsletters; memos; phone books; and much more besides … as soon as these bits of paper were spewed out of printers, they were out of date … the cunning and ruthless Sir Lever Arch infiltrated himself into every aspect of corporate life.

Like rising damp, armies of managers emerged from under rocks and from within cracks to manage each other and all sorts of other stuff which oiled the wheels of the corporation, but which were ultimately pointless.

This was a pretty poor state of affairs so, one day, a very clever wizard – no one knows exactly who he was but his magic wand and pointy hat were very magic and pointy – decided that all this paper could be replaced by the interweb.

Not the big-wild-west-interweb-dominated-by-porn-and-gambling-since-discredited-by-Tory-MPs-who-wouldn’t-know-the-interweb-even-if-it-donated-squillions-of-pounds-to-their-evil-cause … but secret interwebs owned and managed inside companies only accessible to those in the pay of the big bosses who were the direct reports of King Arthur himself – for it is he …

And so the intranet was born.

Soon after, it became clear that these secret interwebs needed a firm hand and a stout heart to keep them in order and make sure they delivered shareholder value, met the needs of users and supported business objectives … and lo-and-behold White Knights, or intranet managers, strode confidently from the magic forest to pick up the gauntlet.

These White Knights rode on stallions named Governance, vanquishing unofficial servers … ruthlessly slaughtering poor user experience. For a while, the White Knights ruled supreme – proclaiming the word of the intranet … ‘governance; cost savings; user testing; cost savings; usability; cost savings; business requirements; cost savings; and many more black-magic-type-cost-savings which were lapped up by the men-in-suits who pandered to King Arthur himself’.

All-the-while, in a dark cave high in the mountains of IT-shire, a strange and unknown creature was emerging called the Digital Workplace. At first, the intranet managers hailed the Digital Workplace as their saviour … they saw it as a way to ingratiate and elevate themselves to the Great Round Table at which King Arthur himself sat. Fortified by PowerPoint and buoyed up by free trips to exotic lands in which they supped at the famous and unlimited Fountains of Conference, they enjoyed the good times and grew complacent – talking up the great Digital Workplace and their perceived control over it.

However, the unwitting intranet managers, in feeding the Digital Workplace, were unleashing a power beyond their wildest dreams … a power so strong it would one day turn on them and swallow them up … coughing up their semi-digested remains in a tangled furball of BYOD, tablets, real-estate, smart phones, work-styles, collaboration, network access and slimy social media …

However hard the White Knights fought to untangle themselves from within this furball of complexity, they could never free themselves … and their power and influence was lost forever.

[The End]