Will digital workplaces get even more fragmented in 2019?

There are two types of digital workplaces today.

The first began in the late 1990s. Technology-focused enterprises started investing heavily in early ERP and CRM systems for all of their highly structured work around production and sales.

Anything that didn’t fall into the realm of ERP and CRM was mostly handled by three applications: email, spreadsheets, and word processing. This included unstructured work and collaboration, but also structured work that was outside what the main systems were programmed to do.

For these digital workplaces, email takes care of all communication. This includes short messages, sending large files, making requests, initiating processes, collaborating on projects, sending announcements, circulating meeting notes, and much more. Unstructured data is kept in word documents, and structured data in spreadsheets.

Depending on when you started your career, you probably either used to work in this kind of digital workplace, or still are today.

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Options galore

As technology moved into the 2000s and beyond, it was obvious that there were significant problems with the first type of digital workplace. ERP and CRM systems continued to advance, but they couldn’t include all other types of work. Email wasn’t equipped to handle all forms of communication and individual messages were hard to find amidst the other barrage of information.

Handling projects, processes, cases, and general collaboration all in email stressed workers out. People reached their limit with word documents and spreadsheets and needed more structured and flexible ways to collect data specific to the type of work.

This created the environment for the second type of digital workplace. Here, companies took advantage of the hundreds of new software options available. In addition to ERP, CRM, email, word processing, and spreadsheets, these new types of digital workplaces include separate applications to:

● Manage projects
● Send instant messages
● Handle department-specific functions (e.g. HR, finance, marketing, procurement)
● Track support tickets
● Create expense reports
● Get reimbursed
● Schedule travel
● Get approval on workflow processes
● Conduct polls
● Host town halls or Ask-Me-Anythings
● Video conference
…and many more.

The limits of choices

While older versions did not offer enough options and couldn’t handle work, these new digital workplaces are extremely fragmented. When onboarding a new employee, the IT team might need to create at least a dozen or more new accounts in all the essential software the company uses.

When trying to manage work, team members must keep open multiple tabs and windows to stay alert of notifications. They have one app on their phone just for expense reimbursements, and a separate one to approve purchase orders.

While specialized software has opened up new doors and opportunities, companies are starting to feel the strain of too many options. All of this happens in the name of increased productivity, but when your data is sitting in dozens of different cloud servers, it is impossible to keep everything connected and in context.

In fact, many of these tools act as a deterrent as organizations try to march towards digital transformation. By keeping data and work separate and siloed off, it becomes even harder for tech leaders to find ways to integrate systems and collect and analyze the information they need.

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A unified digital workplace

Modern organisations aren’t ready to go back to handling everything with email and spreadsheets, but they are also getting tired of maintaining so many different tools. The solution is to use a unified digital workplace.

Most work and most software solutions can be grouped into one of four categories. First are the highly structured processes that happen the same way every time. These processes are predictable and can be managed with automation.

The next category are projects and cases. Projects require structure and coordination tools, but they aren’t usually repeated. Once a project is completed, the framework around it is no longer required.

Cases are different in that they are repeatable, but are not predictable in how they will be handled every time. They usually require a human or an intelligent chatbot to discover more information before knowing how to solve the case.

Finally, there are collaboration tools that handle unstructured data like celebrating milestones, sharing documents for meetings, announcing revised policies and many other examples.

New digital workplaces allow you to perform all four types of work from the same platform. That means that all of your employees can use the same platform to request a new hire (process), coordinate roles for the new website launch (project), handle online web enquiries (cases), and share information about upcoming company party (collaboration).

Rather than keeping dozens of tabs open, all of this can be done from a single platform. Unified digital workplaces keep the work in context so that you can have conversations and manage tasks from the same place you do the rest of your work.

Breaking free from fragmentation

The age of too many software choices has already hit a critical mass. Companies that continue to adopt new solutions for niche problems will further burden their workforce and will distance themselves even further from a complete digital solution.

Instead, smart companies are looking to unified digital workplaces to bring all of their work to the same platform. They keep work in context and let teams focus on the work they do best.

About the Author:

Suresh Sambandam is the Founder & CEO of OrangeScape, makers of KiSSFLOW, a disruptive, SaaS-based enterprise-level workflow and business process automation platform with more than 10,000 customers across 160 countries. He is an expert and renowned entrepreneur on a mission to democratize cutting-edge technologies and help enterprises leverage automation. Suresh is passionate about entrepreneurship, technology startups and spends a significant amount of time in the startup ecosystem mentoring young companies.

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