Kicking and screaming with the digital workplace.

In my post “Is the Digital Workplace in danger of being the board’s next taboo?”, I wanted to explore the dangers of spending too much time on the esoteric nature of giving modern business evolution a completely different name. I firmly believe the greatest danger of the Digital Workplace is that someone associates that term with their product as a cute marketing idea and connected to this is risk that key decision makers start to think that a single product is the solution.

However, I do believe that the Digital Workplace, as a goal and a differentiator from today’s clunky information handling is a worthy objective and one that we will see adopted by all businesses in the near future, the question will be if they have moved seamlessly towards this new world or if they have been dragged kicking and screaming all the way.

James Robertson’s excellent paper “A week in the Digital Workplace” runs through a real world example of how Morris, a company’s Digital Workplace can help a new employee through the pains of onboarding and being productive fast in her new role. But this approach, whilst totally valid, allows us to easily miss an important part of the message. The digital workplace is not just a tool for a knowledge worker, it’s not just a really cool intranet; it’s the enabler for the business.

In thinking about what the Digital Workplace looks like for another class of worker all together I thought I’d start right at the beginning with a birth (I said we would be talking about kicking and screaming). I’m not going to suggest that we stick a Logan’s Run style chip in the kid… but let’s look at what happens with the Digital Workplace for the midwife.

I’m able to use the case of a small local hospital with around 500 births per year and some scarily chaotic processes, mainly because my partner is one of those midwives but also because Infocentric Research is involved in some exceedingly interesting information management and Intranet projects in other hospitals.

My first observation is that midwives in hospitals often start without the right information at hand. This is certainly scary; it’s totally possible that a patient comes into the hospital and that her patient records have not been processed and that key facts such as blood group information is not to hand. The midwife is expected to do the intial processing. The patient is expected to be the custodian of much of the information and to remember to bring the right documents and papers to the right people at the right time.

In a true Digital Workplace that information will be at hand for the midwife the moment the patient staggers into the maternity ward. We will know that Mrs. Smith is here for the delivery, the key information such as blood group is at hand, we’ll know all her allergies and even what her thoughts on an epidural are so far. It’s very likely that Mrs. Smith will have already pre-registered with the hospital via the Internet and may even have been provided with an app for her mobile phone to give the hospital a status update, before she leaves the house for that one time that the police may turn a blind eye to a little heavy-footed driving.

If some part of this vital information is missing, a string of telephone calls will no longer be necessary. Instead, a simple request from the midwife’s hand held device will initiate the procedures to get the information, be it from the doctor or by activating the call-out service for the lab technicians.

The Digital Workplace must be:

  • Connected
  • Relevant
  • Process driven

My second thought is that midwives spend a lot of time doing what they shouldn’t be doing;  this goes for care and emergency services as a whole. They spend of lot of time documenting. Even in a slightly less litigious society than the U.S. such as Switzerland or Germany, a great deal of documentation is required for any birth.

Most of this documentation is done after the deed itself, there is little time during the process to visit the systems and they are too cumbersome to deal with quickly. Here the Digital Workplace will be capturing and sharing data when possible. For example, cardiotocography data (heart and uterine conditions) will be stored automatically; a simple recording app will be used by the midwife to enter milestone events on the fly, such as examination results, medications given, patient well-being etc.

Data entry will be highly process based, so it’s not a case of hunting for right fields all the time and all this may even be connected with expert systems that start to react to unusual events.

The Digital Workplace must be:

  • Invasive
  • Multi-device
  • Mobile
  • Simple
  • Effective

The doctor will often only attend part of the birth, but in the Digital Workplace they are able to remain informed of the whole process so far. The midwife is able to give the youngster’s ETA directly from her app and the arriving doctor will already know what’s happened so far.

In the case of a birth at home, the midwife will still have access to many of the same tools and will also be keeping the e-paper trail running. The trail will not only inform the doctor, but will also be passed to the health insurer who ultimately pays the midwife’s bill. If things go wrong, or change, then the data from the birth so far arrives at the hospital before the ambulance.

The Digital Workplace must be:

  • Interconnected
  • Flexible

In summary, in the modern world even non-information workers have to deal with information of some kind, the Digital Workplace is not somewhere that you go, it’s the environment in which you move.

Someone once asked me what Intranet stands for, whilst tempted to make something up, I resisted and was able to describe what a typical Intranet is. With the Digital Workplace, I hope to be able to say, “It’s all the things going on in the background to make your job easier”. Which just leaves me to wonder, how easy is the birth of the true digital workplace going to be?

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…