This is a guest post from David Smith, Founder and Principal at Inflow Analysis. Dave is an IT industry professional with 20 years of experience in the collaboration and workplace technology markets, having helped thousands of enterprises with their collaboration and workplace strategies.
About Inflow Analysis: InFlow Analysis is a technology research, advisory and consulting services firm, specializing in strategies for technology enabling business processes.
Summary: Digital workplace technology platforms must be all-encompassing, intelligent, and flexible, provide a unified and contextual experience and have myriad solution sets to solve actual workplace problems and issues. Investments in this technology require putting people at the center and focusing on experiences.
Modern workplace transformation is partly due to the recent disruptive global COVID-19 pandemic. The importance of communications and collaboration technology has never been more clearly understood as keeping business operations running while people had to work remotely became critical. However, it is even more vital to communication and collaboration-enable every business application and process. Therefore, it behooves organizations and decision-makers not to make strategic technology decisions in a vacuum or silos. Instead, think about solutions that can integrate contextually with minimum friction. It also helps to have a digital workplace infrastructure and platform that is secure, flexible, and open for strategic integrations.
Requirements for Digital Workplace Platforms
When we think of technology to support the workplace, it is critical to think of people and how they work. Most business processes and workflows involving people are collaborative. That collaboration must be secure and in context. Organizations must consider the entire collaborative ecosystem of processes and workflows that consists of interactions between people that are both internal and external to the organization, applications, and data in multidirectional iterations. Organizations can use the requirements below as a reference and guideline for digital workplace technology investments.
The technology areas for investment must include the following:
- Video conferencing, meetings, and webinars for real-time collaboration and communication.
- Team chat and messaging for persistent and contextual collaboration. E-mail messaging is included here as well.
- Cloud content and storage services for easy access to shared collaborative documents, files, and outputs.
- Remote access tools (virtual private networks) so employees can access work devices and files from remote locations.
- Integrations with business applications, such as CRM, HR software, and project management tools, are critical for consistent data exchanges across systems for efficient business processes and workflows.
- AI and machine learning for task automation, enhanced decision-making, personalizing user experiences, and overall productivity improvements, as you can predict and solve issues ahead of time.
- Analytics and reporting capabilities to measure activity, usage, and productivity to have clear organizational visibility.
- Security provisions must be a priority for protecting data, preventing, and guarding against cyber threats, maintaining business continuity, and following industry regulations.
Along with the critical technology areas above, consider adjacent attributes. Flexibility and adaptability are essential for allowing employees to work from anywhere and on any device. Digital workplace platforms must be scalable to adapt to the organization’s changing needs and accommodate many users and data. A part of that flexibility is the need for customizability. Therefore, adjacent or built-in low-code development platform capabilities are essential to empower businesses and users to create custom apps to address specific business needs with little or no coding. These attributes aligned with the critical technology requirements lead to a more seamless and intuitive user experience, which must be the goal for all workplace technology investments and strategies. People need to be able to easily navigate and access the tools they need when they need them.
Focus on People and Experiences
Notice that we’ve gone this far without mentioning the usual industry buzzwords like UC or UCaaS. Focusing on the actual workplace solutions people need is more important than getting caught up in technical jargon. And now I have broken our streak! However, this is deliberate because you must match capabilities with actual needs, not technical acronyms, which often obscures the relevance and usefulness of specific technology offerings. Instead, place people at the center and paint clear pictures of how the technology will come down into the flow of how they work and impact processes. The focus must be on how people experience the technology tools in their day-to-day workflows and processes.
Enabling Customizable Centers of Gravity
So, digital workplace technology offerings must provide a unified experience by unifying communications and collaboration applications and tools that can be accessed from a unified contextual interface. Organizations need to have customized centers of gravity for each specific line of business domain. The digital workplace platform must be customizable enough to center and be the main access point for all areas, such as sales, marketing, HR, and IT.
The platform must be customizable to meet the unique needs of each business, allowing organizations to create centers of gravity that align with their specific workflows and processes. For example, organizations must be able to centralize collaboration and data to achieve a single source of truth so everyone is working with the most up-to-date data and information. Centers of gravity will also help to streamline workflows and improve communications so organizations can work more efficiently and effectively. For example, an organization can set up a center of gravity for sales to make it more straightforward. It would have a central hub for all the tools and resources the sales team would need to communicate and manage client relationships and close deals.
Who are the digital workplace platform providers?
When we think of representative vendors who provide all-encompassing digital workplace platforms or solutions, there aren’t many. But on the other hand, many vendors offer significant parts of the platform and may partner with third parties for other functional components. So as organizations evaluate vendors, understand the categories of providers you are considering. For example, as it stands now, there is one leading provider that arguably has a complete digital workplace platform from all the applications to the underlying infrastructure. With its Zoho One offering, which includes Zoho Workplace, Zoho has a first-of-its-kind and the most all-encompassing solution. Microsoft has some of the infrastructure bits but not all the apps. Google Workplace lacks many business application components to address specific lines of business workflows and processes.
Finally, we can list those who do elements of workplace technology, such as Salesforce for CRM, Zoom, Cisco, and RingCentral for UCaaS and contact center. These aren’t negatives per se, but a readout of what capabilities a representative list of vendors provides. This guideline is an aid to organizations as they evaluate digital workplace offerings. Some organizations already have existing investments with workplace providers where any additional investment with another vendor for other capabilities will require integration and flexibility as critical evaluation criteria. From an infrastructure standpoint, this is another area where Zoho shines, with its ability to integrate and play nicely in heterogeneous environments. Its Low-code/no-code capability in Zoho Creator adds additional customization capabilities for developing applications for specific business processes and workflows.
Organizations need a digital workplace technology platform that serves almost like an operating system that powers and runs their business efficiently. A complete platform and solution set should provide business users and buyers peace of mind. The platform must unify communications and collaboration and provide a unified experience to streamline processes and boost productivity. It is critical that the technology decision is born out of the people’s actual needs, how they work, and how they want to work. Anything less than this perspective will result in poor adoption of any tools deployed. Engage users early in the technology decision-making process and consider the entire ecosystem of people, internal and external, to the organization. For business decision-makers evaluating potential technology providers’ offerings, it is vital to do so on how they integrate into existing infrastructure to minimize any possible friction.