Is the Digital Workplace in danger of being the board’s next taboo?

I’m wondering if, in 1812, as the embers of the looms were swept away, a group of consultants were sitting around a table trying to convince management that what they really needed was a good industrial revolution.

As an industry we’re very good at inventing terms that nobody really defines or possibly understands and scarily we are getting better at it. I’m not the only one that thinks this, Mr Carlin also had something to say on the subject… but before you run off and look at the clip that I dugg out of one of the many social media channels of web 2.0, that contribute to my digital workplace, consider this…

The industrial revolution was a process, with a whole lot of new technology that business had to assess, adopt or reject and stand or fall by their decisions. When assessing what a business needs to do to stay up to date or even get ahead of their competition a board want concrete business cases, supported by facts.

It’s hard to convince a board that they need to embrace social media when most of them believe that the whole point of that is looking at pictures of your party when you should be working. However, it is somewhat easier to get buy-in when you can show how activity in particular channels can lead to increases in customer interest, satisfaction, engagement, retention or even sales.

The digital workplace is a harder sell… because it’s not just a channel, it’s an attack on the very fabric of the way an organisation works. It’s a moving target and ironically, even if it has a strong case for the management, it’s an even harder sell to the investors who have to finance a transformation when a company is already healthy. One could argue that the smart move is to invest in someone else; someone who has built from the ground up with these new technologies and just milk the old investment dry. At least up to the point it gets bought up by someone more in line with market trends.

This means we need to find pragmatic ways to move organisations forward and at each step we have to try to be ready for the next big thing. The majority of large organisations that I work with aren’t ready to talk about the digital workplace. They are still fighting legacy issues from the last set of buzzwords they were sold. I often find myself in a situation where I’m not allowed to use words like ‘portal’ (nobody ever knew what that was anyway), ‘knowledge management’, ‘taxonomy’ and ‘e-business’ because someone has burnt their fingers badly. Possibly on the basis of a rather flimsy business case, scribbled on the back of a paper napkin during a rather drunken night with a bunch of salesmen.

Wikipedia defines a revolution with the following text “A revolution (from the Latin revolutio, “a turn around”) is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.”. We’re not looking at just a digital workplace, we’re in the midst of a revolution and we will have to evolve with a whole lot of new possibilities, ones that will rock businesses to the core. How do we ensure that the Digital Workplace doesn’t become one of the taboo words of next year, is it already a Euphamism for some of these previous taboos? It’s all about the tools, practices and channels we can use to support business growth and even survival during this time. On the subject of channels, here’s that clip I promised…

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3 comments on “Is the Digital Workplace in danger of being the board’s next taboo?

  1. Hi Richard, I got the shivers when you mentioned “knowledge management” – yes all the talk about “digital workplace” and what it means was starting to make me think of KM. Buzz words come and go, the stuff beneath them is actually of value happens gradually while they’re around and after they fade away. “Enterprise 2.0” was the all the talk in the last few years and what I find speaking to IBForum members is that if they talk to senior management (or any of their non tech colleagues for that matter) about the wonderful virtues of social, or wikis, or microblogging etc. it’s usually to a blank stare – whereas if they talk about ways of meeting business needs and issues then they start to get traction. Digital workplace encompasses much more but I don’t think it’s that different – it’s a useful term for those working in the tech/ future of work space (so long as people don’t get hung up on defining it) but inside organisations people need to focus on (as you say): “the tools, practices and channels we can use to support business growth and even survival during this time”. At Dwforum we’ve just opened a survey to find out more about how people are approaching the DW business case: http://www.dwforum.com/2012/03/trends-get-key-insights-on-making-a-digital-workplace-business-case-participate-in-the-dwf-survey
    Best wishes,
    Elizabeth

    • Hi Elizabeth, I totally agree and I’m very interested to see how your business case study comes out. I’m especially interested to see where the key sponsors for such a project could sit. I’m expecting the answer to be quite varied and there are a whole lot of very sensible business cases but they are seldom aligned as they cross such disparate areas of business. A lot of pies to stick fingers in and toes on which to tread! One almost feels that HR would have more success driving the change than traditional IT organisations but they would be a much harder sell. The questions would seem to be; how can we divide the digital workspace up into managable chunks and where are the pivot points for those business cases? Where are the quick wins and how do we snowball that into a total transformation? Can’t wait to see what you come up with! Richard

  2. Pingback: Kicking and screaming with the digital workplace. | Musingcentric

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