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The digital workplace can be a powerful platform for improving how the business operates. In part, this stems from the opportunities that new technologies offer, such as enterprise mobility. Equally, however, it’s about the broader mindset and vision of the digital workplace, and the evolving ways of delivering solutions.
Before proceeding too far down the path to a truly digital future, the digital workplace team (or whatever it’s called!) needs to decide what role it wants to play. This determines what new challenges the team takes on, and what day-to-day work it does.
The role of the digital workplace team depends on a range of factors, including:
- where the team sits in the organisation
- size and skills of the team
- available budget and resources
- degree of formal ownership (such as of key systems or platforms)
- broader governance model
- vision and ambition of the team
There’s no wrong answer to this. Some teams may sit at the heart of the digital transformation of their organisation, with a team of several dozen delivering new business systems. Other teams may still be small, with narrow responsibilities and modest goals to deliver more.
Where things go horribly wrong is when the team isn’t clear about its role and responsibilities, or when there’s a mismatch between ambitions and capabilities.
This is particularly crucial when it comes to delivering business solutions that have a strong technology component. These projects are often more complex and costly, tightly interconnected with other platforms, and typically involve ongoing management.
It’s therefore useful to distinguish between three approaches to delivering digital workplace solutions:
- product owner
- service provider
- solution provider
1. Product owner
The concept of being a ‘product owner’ is spreading throughout the digital world, particularly in customer-facing environments. It involves being the person or team who manages a site or system, shaping its future, and liaising with business stakeholders.
The most obvious example of being a product owner in the enterprise space is the intranet team. Long-recognised (although not correspondingly resourced), the intranet team plays a leadership role, as well as managing core elements of the intranet platform. (See Who should own the intranet?, as well as the Intranetizen post Intranets are products not projects for more on this.)
In the age of the digital workplace, there are other potential products that have owner roles:
- collaboration and social tools
- enterprise mobility
- productivity tools (eg Office365)
- digital workplace (potentially as an expanded version of the intranet)
While the role is bigger for some of these platforms, the responsibility remains the same: to be a custodian, and to run the platform in a sustainable and effective way.
2. Service provider
The next step up is to take a product or platform, and to offer it as a service to the wider business. This is often seen in larger and more complex organisations, where the central parts of the business take on a responsibility to support the periphery.
Taking the intranet as an example, being a service provider may include:
- empowering local areas of the business to create their own intranet sites
- offering the underlying technology platform, packaged with templates, modules, etc
- upgrading the platform over time with new features
- providing initial training and advice
- providing support and problem resolution
- fostering skills and knowledge
- running an intranet community that enables peer-to-peer support
There may even be a ‘service level agreement’ (SLA) between the team and business areas, outlining what is offered (and what isn’t!).
This same model applies to the digital workplace, and the list of technologies in the previous section. The digital workplace team can even become internal consultants, offering expert advice and assistance, independent of any technology or platform.
As a service provider, the digital workplace team has a deeper connection with the business, but also a greater responsibility to meet expectations and needs.
3. Solution provider
The definition of the digital workplace emphasises that the workforce experience should be simple, seamless and productive.
The current workplace experience is far from this ideal! Technology products sit as disconnected islands, with different user experiences, and too often, different usernames and passwords. Many tasks are still done manually, on paper, or via workarounds. Processes are cumbersome and time-consuming.
This is why the digital workplace should focus on making work better.
But who will actually improve the state of things? This is where the digital workplace team can play a solution provider role.
- conducting needs analysis to understand workforce issues
- fully understanding the business problem
- working with the business to identify a solution
- prototyping or piloting a solution
- implementing the solution into production
- handing the solution over to an ongoing product owner
Well-resourced and mature IT teams are often effective solution providers. Alongside this — or separately — the digital workplace team play a similar role.
This is where digital workplace teams can have the greatest impact, bringing together business, technology and design. It also requires the strongest set of skills, the greatest sophistication, and the most resources.
Choose your path
It’s worth emphasising that there’s no one right approach. Digital workplace teams can be valuable and productive, regardless of whether they’re product owners or solution providers.
The most important thing is to clarify the team’s role — and to have that endorsed by the business — before wading far out into the digital workplace future.