Insights from the GDS Group CIO Summit
I took part in a recent panel discussion where other tech firm executives and I shared our thoughts on hybrid work and digital transformation – specifically how IT organizations can best use technology to help businesses navigate the changes that are taking place in the world of work.
Two clear themes were evident throughout our discussion:
1. People need to be the main driver of transformation
Deploying technology for the sake of technology will never be successful in achieving the long-term transformation organizations are looking for. Instead, it should be used to address the specific challenges of employees, with their needs being a prime consideration in all tech decisions. Employees should also be involved in decisions about what and how to transform so they have a sense of ownership over the changes that will be taking place.
2. Innovation should be the goal
The digital transformation organizations are now facing is no longer about simply facilitating connectivity for remote work. It’s about how to use technology to enable remote work to be viable over the long-term. This means thinking beyond the routine to create new and innovative solutions for fostering connections and collaboration, supporting wellbeing, and building a digital workplace that helps employees achieve optimum work/life integration. These are themes that come up often when discussing leadership in technology:
Here's how they featured throughout the questions that were asked during the panel discussion...
What are the key trends in digital workplace transformation?
And how does IT need to support the move to hybrid work with technology?
The most common trends we discussed weren’t really a big surprise. They included reaching employees where they are (i.e. in the platforms and channels they prefer to work in) and making hybrid work sustainable over the long-term.
To address those trends, IT teams need to be more adaptive than ever in how they approach the delivery of capabilities across the hybrid workplace. They also need to use technology to fill in the gaps of what’s missing in a hybrid environment, such as enabling authentic distributed communications and building engagement.
Fostering engagement in a hybrid work environment takes a different approach than in a fully-based office-based environment.
How should organizations collaborate with vendors to accelerate digital transformation?
The concept of “work-life balance” has been replaced with “work-life integration” as remote and hybrid work have taken center stage. Organizations should choose vendors who are focused on supporting workers in that challenging process by providing solutions that eliminate friction, help manage attention, and enable them to work wherever and whenever it is convenient.
Ideally, vendors should work with IT teams to figure out what ideal outcomes look like and what is needed to achieve those goals. They should also provide modern, innovative solutions that ensure that all workers, whether in the office or remote, can have equitable digital experiences.
Consolidating tasks and information into a central location is a great way to eliminate friction and help employees better manage their attention.
How should IT manage their applications and data ecosystems and the relationships that underpin it?
With the goal of giving employees more time to do the job they were hired to do (which just makes good business sense) IT leaders should take a bottom-up view of the organization to deploy technologies that help employees quickly and easily accomplish the intent of their actions.
Take the example of scheduling time off. For most organizations, the current process requires multiple clicks across a variety of systems. IT should focus on how technology can be used to help workers make that time off request in a click or two, so the employee can get back to higher-value work that not only brings them fulfillment but helps drive business success.
Simplifying complex, routine processes increases productivity and improves the employee experience.
There are many ways IT can make innovative use of technology to help employees spend more time on their strategic work. This includes addressing tech sprawl, simplifying interactions with complex systems, aggregating and abstracting complexity across the enterprise, reducing the need for institutional knowledge etc.
How do you lead digital transformation?
As with any leadership initiative, a focus on the people who are being led is critical for success. This is especially true for big transformation projects, because enacting any kind of big change in an organization is such a tricky endeavor. Leaders must be authentic, fostering a true understanding of the people within the organization, the domain the business is in and the objectives to be achieved. Being authentic – genuinely interested in creating modern, intelligent digital experiences that reduce friction, help employees better manage their attention and enable them to work wherever and whenever it’s convenient for them - is necessary to help people buy into the vision of the transformation that’s about to take place.
With understanding as the foundation, communication is the next important step. Leaders should establish a good cadence of communication with employees throughout the organization and create opportunities for unstructured dialogue. This can lead to insights into employee need that can make the transformation even more effective.
Frequent communication is key to successful digital transformation.
As for innovation, leaders should focus on delivering solutions that support the success of hybrid over the long term. This means facilitating collaboration, helping employees communicate effectively, supporting health and well-being initiatives, and any innovation that aids in delivering digitally equivalent experiences for things that would typically have been done in a physical office.
What do you challenge other leaders to do going forward?
Business leaders have had to face a barrage of changes over the past few years and there’s no clear indication of when (or even if) it will ever slow down. Yes, hybrid work seems to be a concept that’s gained a foothold, but then what?
Leaders can insulate their organizations against future shifts by remembering that there is no longer such a thing as “business as usual.” The world of work has changed and will continue to do so, and no one can predict when or for how long.
So instead of trying to optimize old-school processes that no longer support the needs of the people, innovate! Innovation around what employees need to be successful is the key to long term success, so leaders should focus on creating an environment that encourages a “try, build, fail” mentality. Organizations shouldn’t be afraid to take risks and innovate, because when it’s done in the interest of meeting employee needs, you can’t go wrong.