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image of hands holding a tablet device with 2013 on the screenAt the Digital Workplace Forum we speak to many organizations about their implementation of new technologies which have the potential to transform the enterprise. In our experience, for every inspirational success story about the new world of digital work (some of which will feature on Digital Workplace 24) there are many more examples of frustratingly slow progress.

This is often the result of a lack of co-ordinated strategic thinking. As DWF Founder and CEO Paul Miller points out in his book “The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work”:

“The Digital Workplace offers an inevitable change that transforms work. Most leaders are blindly wandering into the future, [but] if you take the trouble to understand the Digital Workplace and design it into your future, you will be among the winners.”

Trends in the digital workplace

Our observations are corroborated by the latest edition of Jane McConnell’s pioneering Digital Workplace Trends.  Now in its seventh year and based on data from a survey of 362 companies, this important report gives us a unique view of where we are on our digital workplace “journey”. 

This year McConnell has made some changes to make the report more practical to use. Pages are landscape so can be used presentation-style to enable conversations with stakeholders, and there are many case-studies written by practitioners.

McConnell has also used a points-system to define the top 25% of organizations, whom she calls the “early adopters”. By comparing results from this group with the majority, she gives an illuminating picture of the direction taken by those applying more co-ordinated and imaginative approaches to the digital workplace.

A shift in interest

One highly positive take-away from this year’s Trends is that senior leaders are taking more of an interest in the digital workplace.

A majority of top management is now “vocally supportive” of the concept, and among early adopters over a third has senior management as the actual “driving force”. Only 3% of organizations think the digital workplace does not concern them.

This echoes our own experiences where we have found the central messages in Paul Miller’s book often resonate strongly with senior management.

From thinking to action

McConnell’s report also suggests that this interest is being translated into action. The digital workplace is being included as an element in more enterprise transformation programmes, and interest and investment in mobile working is accelerating.

The interest in mobile has taken a long time to come to fruition. For example in last year’s report only 7% of organizations considered mobile a “high priority” and were making “significant investment”.  However this year the combination of those making significant or moderate investment in this area has risen from 39% to 69%, and the level is nearly at 90% for the early adopters.     

A varied pattern

However McConnell also shows extremely varied patterns of implementation.  For example the report examines the maturity of different social collaborative tools and compares levels of deployment with the levels of satisfaction with adoption. While real-time messaging and video-conferencing have matured and are now widely used, social networking, multimedia sharing and activity streams still have a long way to go. 

Activity also varies dramatically between the early adopters and the others. It’s a salient reminder that tools take time to bed-in, and that employee social networking is still very much a work-in-progress.

Fragmentation and the drop in strategic-level governance

One of the real stand-out trends from the survey is that digital workplace platforms are fragmenting. Over half of all digital workplaces operate from a fragmented platform with tools delivered over different technologies. This is not a problem per se, but the report also finds the user experience is fragmenting too, with less than 1 in 10 have having what might be termed a “unified” user experience (down from 1 in 5 last year).

The generally poor user experience in the digital workplace is a topic that DWF is currently researching and we believe is a major issue.

Another key trend is that strategic-level governance seems to have stalled. Last year’s survey suggested the emergence of cross-functional structures equating to a “Digital Board”, but this year the survey reports a decline in the figure and fewer organizations intending to introduce one. Even among early adopters there is stalemate with governance.

There has been a significant drop, for the second year running, around levels of digital workplace “decision-making processes and procedures” and also to “roles, responsibilities and reporting”. It seems that a lack of governance is directly contributing to the fragmented user experience as functions and lines of business ‘do their own thing’.

Overall the message coming out of the report is that the road to the digital workplace is not straightforward, and potentially long and winding.

The value of research

More research and data about the digital workplace can help organizations move forward. In this respect, Jane McConnell’s work is important and essential reading. It contributes knowledge to this area and can help to facilitate conversations with stakeholders about the digital future.

Meanwhile we’ve been busy consolidating our own thinking about how we can help organizations, and will be making an exciting announcement about future plans shortly. Watch this space!

Disclosure: Jane McConnell asked me for feedback on the structure and style of the report as a work-in-progress.

Download full details of our 2013 research programme


About the author

Steve-BynghallSteve Bynghall is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management, collaboration and other digital themes. He is DWG’s Research and Knowledge Lead, a benchmark evaluator and research analyst for DWG. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing its global extranet programme.

Connect with Steve on Twitter: @bynghall or on Google +.

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