The digital transformation is set to make the workplace more productive and flexible. But what does a digital workplace need to fulfil these expectations? Five IT experts talk about the various challenges they are facing and the strategies they are relying on to meet them.
Mobile devices, innovative apps, and fast networks are revolutionising the workplace and providing employees with new ways of collaborating with partners, service providers, and customers. Companies are aware of the impact that these changes will have. Almost 75% of European IT and HR Managers who took part in PAC’s Digital Workplace in Europe survey believe that the quality of the working environment will have a strong influence on, and even be vital too, the success of their business.
Unsurprisingly, many companies see this as an important area for action. According to the ‘Workplace of the Future’ survey conducted by IDG in 2018, the workplace is ranked second in a list of eight key topics, with only IT security considered more important.
Andreas Plaul, Head of ICT Services at Haufe, a provider of software, consultancy, and training solutions, believes that IT departments must, first of all, ensure that employees’ basic functional requirements are met. “Employees must be able to work remotely and securely from anywhere, and have access to collaboration tools,” says Plaul.
Daniel Oestmann, CIO of Kaefer Isoliertechnik, also believes that providing the necessary technology is a core task for IT. “For us, the digital workplace means providing the technological basis that will enable our employees to complete their work as efficiently and productively as possible.”
For Boris Awdejew, CISO of Lekkerland, a wholesaler and logistics provider, security is a key aspect in this regard. “Nowadays, employees access company data from anywhere using a wide range of devices. We have to ensure that these really are our employees, that there is no possibility of a man-in-the-middle attack, and that no one can listen in to our communications – and that is a matter of authentication.”
When it comes to enabling employees, processes also have a role to play, says Oliver Schorer, CIO of digital workplace specialist CHG-MERIDIAN. He sees the digital workplace as an environment that provides employees with all the information and processes they need to make their work simple and successful.
This is a key point for Sonepar, an electrical wholesaler. Its employees need to have a solid knowledge of the company’s products and services in order to offer customers the right solution. That is why Sonepar uses a product information management system in addition to its procurement, warehousing, and sales solutions. The system stores product data based on ETIM, an electronic information model, and contains photos, deep links, prices, and more.
For Sonapar’s CIO, Jürgen Bartling, the challenge is to make this information available through a standardised interface that allows users to access it from a PC, tablet, or smartphone. “We want to ensure that it is as easy as possible for our employees to enter information into the system and make it available for Sonepar processes.”
That is why Bartling focuses on two aspects which, at first glance, have no direct connection to the digital workplace. “First, we have to define which data we need for our processes, for whom we are making it available, and how we measure and guarantee its quality. Then we have to select the appropriate programs, modules, and tools. To do this, we need to establish beforehand how using a tool changes the data and what additional information can be made available,” he says.
Having tools and technology in place and establishing the right processes are no guarantee of success. “Technology certainly drives the discussion, but it does not automatically ensure success,” says Andreas Plaul. Boris Awdejew agrees: “While the IT department ensures the security of the IT systems, it is also vital to get employees on board and to teach them how to use the tools.”
Haufe is looking for solutions to this by concentrating on questions of change management. It is focusing not only on the people who work at Haufe – in particular in the context of a software company – but also on changing forms of organisation. “We are experiencing a significant transformation away from hierarchies toward agile working and cell structures. It is the IT department’s task to support this development,” Plaul says.
Schorer believes that companies have to develop strategies to ensure that this succeeds: “These should include getting employees involved, communicating advantages and progress, and creating a positive user experience through new technologies, platforms, and processes. This way, the digital workplace can give companies a competitive advantage in the war for talent.”
To make it quicker and easier for employees to familiarise themselves with new tools and technologies, Daniel Oestmann and his colleagues are currently discussing how to replace the conventional approach with pilot programs, multipliers, and individual training. “Our goal is to end the central management of training. We want to use e-learning portals based on gamification to motivate employees to engage with new topics and learn by themselves instead of having to wait until they are given training,” he says.