by Devin Maguire 03/03/2021
Digital transformation is not (just) about technology. It is about experiences. It is about creating new ways for people to engage with content and communities and delivering great employee experiences that make work more enjoyable and effective. Technology enables and supports these experiences, but from personalized playlists on Spotify to tailored news feeds and unified digital workspaces, it is user-centricity that makes these experiences so transformative.
User-centric tools and experiences break away from the legacy of silo-centric and data-centric approaches that historically shaped the workplace. One enduring example of data-centricity is traditional enterprise search. For decades, difficulty finding information across sources and tools has created bottlenecks in workflows. The legacy enterprise search approach of moving and aggregating data not only takes months and costs millions, but it focuses on organizing data rather than addressing the user problem of too many places to search and work. That isn’t digital transformation. It’s digital iteration.
Data-centric questions lead to data-centric answers. If instead we start with user-centric questions, we arrive at different user-centric answers. Regarding search, the question shifts from how to organize and index data to how to eliminate gaps between people and the information they need. Instead of aggregating data, we start looking for ways to transform the employee experience so information navigates to people. This one change in perspective yields simpler workflows that are easier to adopt and generates richer user data to fuel personalization. So how do you make your digital workplace more user-centric and engaging for employees?
Start with the user.
This seems obvious, but it is worth emphasizing. Rather than starting with the capabilities of technology, digital transformation leaders and vendors should obsess over ways to empower people to contribute more valuable and meaningful work. The keys to this lie in liberation from menial tasks and enablement of ingenuity, creativity, and collaboration. The first seeks to mitigate or eliminate disruptions and automate low-value tasks which tax productivity. The second fuels execution and accelerates uniquely human processes of ideation and innovation.
Contemporary workflows often look more like workarounds where users adapt to technology. It should be the other way. If we return to the challenge of finding information, the problem stems from a document and data-centric model that constrains information and people in silos. The metaphors we use reflect this: data is harnessed, not unleashed or liberated. And people must navigate to data where it is harnessed. Often, this is not where the data is needed.
This disconnect between where information exists and where people work is one of the greatest inhibitor to productivity and transformative digital employee experiences. It leaves manual search tasks in the critical path of digital work. In effect, this turns digital transformation ecosystems into hand-cranked super computers. It all sounds good, and in theory it’s fast. But operating and living with it is difficult and the performance is often disappointing. We need to make the ecosystem work for people by designing it around them in the first place.
Integrate into the flow of work.
Consolidation is emerging as a dominant trend in digital transformation. From Microsoft 365 and Salesforce 360 to the pervasive “one tool for all you [insert function here],” there is a consistent effort to simplify digital work and enable people to do more in fewer environments and interfaces. Microsoft and Salesforce pursue this through expansion of their respective suites. The broader the suite, the more of the user experience they can serve and the more synergies they can create between tools. However, the benefits to users depend on adoption of the suite and its central silo. If you want to access information across Microsoft 365, it must first be stored in SharePoint. This monopolistic approach excludes aspects of users’ workflows, and these gaps create disruptions that leave people as the conduits between tools.
There is an alternative to the monopoly: ubiquity. In contrast with the dogmatic silos, silo-agnosticism reimagines the boundaries that define digital work. Instead of migrating and indexing data or expanding the capabilities of a single suite, API layers and integrations create the digital glue that fills gaps in user workflows. This approach is not about competing for users with exclusive features but enriching the entire ecosystem by making valuable data and capabilities available across tools. Not only does this provide a user benefit, but it also expands the breadth of data available for AI and machine learning algorithms to leverage. The conditions imposed by monopolistic tools work both ways: users only get the benefits if they adopt the platform, and the platform only gains user data when they use the platform. In contrast, tools that integrate across platforms and put users at the center gain a broader understanding of users and can better deliver personalization.
Deliver personalized employee experiences.
As consumers, we are surrounded by engaging personalized digital experiences. Advertisements tailored to our interests surround us. Entertainment curated around our preferences streams to us feeds. New and curated content flows freely and we consume it in engaging interfaces. Our digital work experiences often pale in comparison.
Much of this contrast comes down to personalization. Consumer applications obsess with us as individuals and conform the experiences they deliver around us. On the other hand, our professional applications are often static and force us to conform around them. They mandate how we should work rather than liberating us to work in ways that make us most productive, creative, and effective.
User-centricity in the digital workplace brings the personalization we expect as consumers to our professional experiences. Personalization includes both the flexibility to work the way we want – to use the tools best for the way we work not just those mandated by others – and the delivery of content and capabilities that match our experience, expertise, role, and context. Personalization means that a senior expert and recent graduate can each gain value from the same tool through different tailored experiences. Flexibility and personalization are critical to the adoption of new technologies competing for a place in digital workflows. They also kick off a virtuous cycle where better experiences lead to more use and adoption which in turn deepens personalization and keeps users engaged and active.
Propel a Virtuous cycle
Employee engagement, productivity, and performance all benefit from the core commitment to user-centricity. By putting users rather than technology and data at the center of the digital workplace, digital transformation leaders can deliver better employee experiences with faster adoption and create knowledge-first cultures powered by human ingenuity and collaboration. So, what does this look like in a practical example? Let’s compare the silo-centric enterprise search example above to Keeeb’s user-centric universal search broker.
Keeeb’s universal search starts with users and their experience. The core user frustration is not the distribution of data but the gaps between the information they need and the places where they work which make findability a challenge and introduce frequent disruptions to digital work. Keeeb approaches this problem not by creating a single unified silo that contains and restrains data but instead by enabling data to permeate across applications and silos to connect with people when and where they need it. This silo-agnosticism powers an understanding of users and content across applications and context to drive relevancy and personalization. A partner at a consulting firm preparing a proposal and a new hire onboarding to a project team might conduct the same search query, but based on their data sources, profiles, and activity, there should be some overlap and some differences in the search results. And as each continues to use the tool, similar users benefit from their activity and eventually the system can preempt and automate the menial task of searching while delivering more meaningful information faster.
This isn’t digital iteration. This is true transformation. And it starts with a simple shift toward user-centric technology. It doesn’t require a long data migration, groundbreaking AI that needs months to train, or massive change management efforts to motivate adoption of new ways to work. We just have to look at how technology can weave into users’ workflow to create a more seamless and powerful experience. In the next post we will continue to explore this topic and dive into why user-centricity argues for technology to become silo-agnostic.
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