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We were super-excited to successfully deliver the first full Technology Lab from DWG’s brand new innovative venture, the DWG Technology and Research Institute. The DWG Institute aims to “bring together members and other organizations, technology providers and experts, to share knowledge, ideas and perspectives securely and confidentially, to significantly improve and reimagine the way we work today and in the future.”

One of the key formats for bringing together members of the global digital workplace community is our quarterly Technology Lab, an online meeting that draws on the best of the DWG research programme, our member meetings and online events like DWG24.

Our June Q2 Lab, hosted online from Chicago, proved to be a very well-attended session, with an eclectic mix of organizations both large and small, including DWG members and non-members. It also featured strong contributions from three well-established technology providers in the digital workplace and intranet space – Beezy, Valo and Workgrid. Feedback has been very positive and planning for our September Q3 Lab is already underway!

Digital workplace acceleration: Identify, Illuminate, Innovate

The overall theme of the Lab was “Digital workplace acceleration”, a poignant and timely theme given the situation in which we find ourselves, where most digital workplaces have “accelerated” in the past few months to meet the remote working necessitated by the pandemic.

The Lab explored some of the associated themes around digital workplace acceleration in three main parts of the Lab – Identify, Illuminate and Innovate.

IDENTIFY: Identify the themes and issues that are on our minds. This was carried out through an exercise called VOP3, “The Voice of the Practitioner / Provider”. Here each practitioner organization and provider told us about three things: one technology item they could help with; one technology challenge on which they could do with some advice; and one thing they wished either technology providers (or practitioners) would understand better.

ILLUMINATE: Illuminate the discussion through knowledge sharing. In this section we heard from technology providers, giving perspectives and advice on digital workplace issues through expert “Lightning Tech Talks”. These were short, focused presentations designed to deliver some valuable nuggets of knowledge.

INNOVATE: Finally, we explored areas for future innovation, through roundtable discussions. Here we broke up into three smaller “rooms” to explore different innovation areas, each of which was led by one of the providers, with the discussions rotating through each room.

Eight takeaways from the Chicago Technology Lab

It was a very packed three and a half hours and there was a lot of content. Here are some of our high-level takeaways from the day. Note that you can also find more detailed posts in our reports on the sessions from our technology providers:

1. Practitioners and providers can learn from each other

This Technology Lab was an excellent place for both practitioners and providers to share insights, and learn from each other. In our VOP3 session we asked practitioners one thing they wanted providers to understand better, and vice versa. People had plenty of things to say and it validated one of the key reasons we set up the DWG Institute in the first place – to create a safe forum where all parts of the digital workplace community and industry can come together to discuss and learn.

2. We are starting to look beyond the pandemic

One thing that felt quite different in this Lab compared to some other recent events was the relatively few mentions of the pandemic and its consequences – even in the VOP3 session, where practitioners mentioned aspects with which they need help or where they can offer advice. Here, most of us were focusing on the tech, implementation and the future.

3. Integrating multiple applications is a priority need

A consistent theme mentioned throughout the Lab is the need to think more about integration in the digital workplace, not only in terms of providing a consistent user experience, but also in the way tools, platforms and data talk to each other. One practitioner described this well in a VOP3 session when she said she wished providers would do more to ensure that their solutions don’t “exist in a bubble”. This desire to produce digital workplace solutions that truly connect the dots was echoed in presentations, discussions, questions and perspectives.

4. It’s all about the experience layer

All three technology providers in their various ways offer solutions that aim to integrate different applications, connect the dots and act as a kind of “experience layer”, as well as adding workflow, governance content management capabilities, and more. The team at Workgrid specifically talked about the idea of the “experience layer” across the multiple apps in use across most digital workplaces. But Beezy too provides a layer that fills in some of the gaps evident in SharePoint and Microsoft 365, while Valo provides a focused intranet which includes an employee-centric experience layer that can be quickly deployed.

5. Intranets are definitely not dead

For a technology platform that has often been described as “dead” or “an anachronism”, intranets certainly featured prominently during the day. While this may have been inevitable because we had providers of intranet technology in the Lab, many practitioners were tangibly focused on delivering better intranets and keen to get help with certain aspects of delivery. Some organizations were also looking to invest in a new platform.

The longevity of the intranet as a medium was covered in two sessions from Valo: one that looked at the evolution of the intranet over the years, and the other that focused on the future, where intranets will continue to evolve into digital workplaces and incorporate artificial intelligence (AI).

6. Search is changing

Search is one of those areas where many enterprises offer a less than satisfactory experience, and where consumer search continues to evolve and outpace that in the digital workplace. There was an interesting session led by the Workgrid team, which looked at how personalization, voice, image search and other trends are evolving in the consumer space, where there is an increasing emphasis on providing answers, not just links. There are various intelligent technologies that can provide a way for the enterprise to catch up; these include answer extraction techniques from systems and documents, semantic search and machine reading comprehension.

7. AI is waiting in the wings

The hype and media attention surrounding AI can sometimes detract from its actual current value. In fact, AI is now making some difference in current and on-the-horizon digital workplace tools. Some of the sessions touched upon areas where the intelligent workplace is already having an effect, such as search, employee experience, conversational interfaces, auto-tagging of content and knowledge management. Project Cortex from Microsoft, for example, looks like it has exciting potential. It’s clear that AI is waiting in the wings, but there is perhaps still a seed of doubt about how quickly and to what extent its impact will be felt.

8. Governance underpins a lot of the tech on show

This was a Technology Lab and so, inevitably, we talked a lot about technology – but it was also clear that governance is an important factor in enabling much of it to work. For example, the Beezy team did a deep dive into some of the approaches they have implemented on their platform to allow global and local content to be properly targeted, and the intricate division of responsibilities between global admins, local admins and content creators that is often needed. Here, an underlying governance model that includes clear roles and everybody buys into is key; then Beezy’s set-up can help make it work in practice.

Overall, this was an excellent Technology Lab, and our thanks go to everyone involved!

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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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