Balancing Democratization of Technology and Employee Collaboration
Slack! Box! Teams! Talk! Jabber! Zoom! Skype! Eko! Chat! Jira!
A consultant once told me that humans are hardwired to process single-syllable words best, anything else is quickly dismissed or forgotten. So no wonder that my company is flooded daily with new and “all-in-one, mobile-first, AI-powered, FBI-grade-secure” platforms and tools for our employees. Besides mostly having a catchy single-syllable name, these solutions also often claim to be the panacea to all your collaboration or productivity pains: sharing files, connecting with others, collaborating across regions is all possible with intuitive and API-enabled apps. For a CIO though this quickly translates to complexity, incompatibility, integration challenges, and cost overruns. So how can we balance the unavoidable increase of end-user enterprise tools (which are expected to grow from $26.68 Billion in 2016 to $49.51 Billion by 2021, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13.2 percent) with the need for simplicity in our enterprise IT landscape?
I turned to my personal life and being a converted Design Thinker (Empathy Mindset of Human Centered Design), I conducted a brief immersion study with my own teenage daughters. When I asked them what their favorite apps are for connecting with friends, their answer was, “Depends. For pictures it’s Pinterest, for photos it’s Instagram, for gaming it’s Steam, for ‘old-school’ (=parents) it’s FB, for shared interests it’s Tumblr, for homework it’s email and so on.” Of course teenagers are not your typical employee, but they soon will become one. And many millennials are already in our organizations expecting a technology ecosystem similar to what they use outside of work.
Back to work: at Logitech we have embraced collaboration on a global scale, running 12,000+ video calls a month with almost every employee participating in at least one video call a day. There’s no doubt that the ubiquity of technology, ease of implementation and use of cloud solutions have improved employees’ productivity and created more options for them to collaborate. So more apps or tools, maybe a good thing? In order to make a particular technology or app valuable in the enterprise there is a couple of criteria I’d recommend:
The challenge for end-users and employees is the overload of choices in tools and apps
• Experiment first: Similar to the products we bring to market for our customers, find the fans of the tool/app you’re evaluating, that when asked would say “I love this product and must have it!” In a smaller setting, employees can experiment with the tool/app and quickly determine its value. If it catches fire and the love for the app spreads then you don’t have to arbitrate within your company about who should/could use it or not.
• Don’t look for the “all-in-one”: As with the example from my teenage daughter, users find different tools valuable for different purposes. Although many apps have similar capabilities, each typically has a core unique feature that is most compelling. When many employees naturally gravitate towards one app, then you have your answer on the value it provides.
• Embrace Ecosystem Technologies (ET): Apps and tools are increasingly crossing corporate boundaries and allowing end users to collaborate with partners, customers and third parties. By looking at new apps as a way to modernize IT for scaling innovation, as a CIO, internalize capabilities that accelerate product development lifecycles or expand market size.
• Define new security standards: Adoption of more external tools and open APIs does not negate the need for protecting your company’s IP, data or other competitive assets. As platforms become increasingly interdependent, an IT organization should define new standards that are architected and published to support external partners’ integration while protecting its security posture.
Examples of apps and platforms that we have embraced internally to accelerate our digital strategy include: 1) the deployment of 3rd party Point of Sale data into our internal sales intelligence platform for more targeted marketing and accurate sales forecasting, 2) the integration of customers and suppliers trading documents into our ERP ecosystem to power real-time order fulfillment, and 3) the adoption of agile software development tools to enable services and platform APIs for more powerful consumer experiences.
The inevitable democratization of IT is reflected in trends that go beyond the millennial surge in organizations. The growth of IoT in the enterprise is an example of a technology that CIO’s will need to plan for and find ways to exploit, instead of trying to block it or avoid it. The same goes for machine learning and cloud, as they both have compelling applications in people’s personal lives as well as at work.
Besides changing the mindset of IT to designing open ecosystems that enable productivity and growth, the challenge for end-users and employees is the overload of choices in tools and apps. That struggle often lands on the CIO to define what our messaging or project collaboration tool should be. To tackle this, I take a page from my teenage children: it depends! Put your enterprise information and usage in context of the specific need and try out the app that best fits that need. If your monthly active users are more than you and the person at the next desk, you may have a winning tool!