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Why do connected workplaces need connected data?

The digital, connected workplace is the future of business. It’s not just about cutting-edge technologies that promise a future-proof environment, though, it’s about the benefits to your people. A more flexible workplace with unified communication tools means your staff can work together better, feel motivated when they manage projects effectively and rewarded with the flexibility that remote working provides. When your people are happy, your business thrives. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

It’s not always as straightforward as that, however. A connected workplace needs to be unified from the inside, out. You can empower your people to work together seamlessly across continents with high-end business mobility, you can instil a positive culture that promotes teamwork not silos, but the infrastructure that sits behind your workplace practices and your business data needs be just as well connected.

So, how do businesses connect their data as well as their workforce and their communications? The answer is in managed cloud services.

What is a connected workplace?

From consolidated communication technology that connects people across multiple devices, intelligent IT to manage and improve workflows and productivity, through to a secure and robust Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy, the connected workplace is a product of the cloud, and the Internet of Things ecosystem.

Some companies use smart technology to collect workplace data. This can help them establish which work spaces are underused or understand how staff are managing their time. While it can cause controversy, this valuable data provides a deeper understanding of operations, processes, systems and helps optimise workplace budgets and real estate.

Everyone is the IT department

Transforming the office into a connected workplace has a profound effect on the IT department, moving it up the food chain from operational to strategic. The most forward-thinking, digitally successful enterprises have a CTO or CIO that sits on the board, influencing high-level decisions on how technology will enable a more productive business and a healthier bottom line.

“The IT department has to get out of the basement and into the boardroom.”

We discussed the concept of the digital workplace with Martyn Croft — former CIO of the Salvation Army. “The whole organisation has to be much more technologically aware,” He explained. “But what it the role of the IT department, then? You don’t need one anymore. My favourite phrase is we have to be device agnostic. The IT department has to get out of the basement and into the boardroom.”

Technology investment, innovation and strategic planning needs to happen throughout the business, so ensure you involve key decision makers across the organisation.

From on-premises to the cloud

How do digitally connected businesses manage their data, then? Traditionally this involves physical servers that demand office space, costly racks, power supplies, cooling systems and manpower to manage them. For some businesses with unique data compliance challenges, this solution works best. On-premises data centres are tangible, you can reach out and touch them. You are wholly responsible for your critical information. Your data doesn’t leave the four walls of your business.

But what happens when your business scales outside of those four walls? In an increasingly global landscape, more enterprises are expanding their workforce across multiple locations, giving their staff more remote capabilities and freeing them to work from their choice of location. As the world becomes smaller – technically and economically – more people work together globally than ever before.

The cloud offers a streamlined means of centralising your data and information. It gives all your workforce access to the same data and systems, so information sharing and collaboration isn’t just a mindset, it’s a process.

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The right information at the right time

So, why does a connected workplace need connected data? Unified communication tools ensure your people are talking to each other, collaborating more effectively on projects, and providing an enhanced worker experience. Isn’t that enough?

If your back-end infrastructure is static or manually-heavy, your business can never be as agile as it needs to be. If your data storage is disjointed, what happens if there is an outage or failure? Disaster recovery planning is futile if your information is insufficiently audited and managed. Your people need access to the right information at the right time.

Deploying a managed cloud service or infrastructure ensures your information transmission is always seamless. From sharing basic files to mission-critical backup, your data is connected no matter where your people are located. To present yourself as digitally transformed, innovative enterprise that attracts the best people for the job, you’ve got to be connected on the inside, as well as out.

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Technology doesn’t drive digital transformation, people do

I read recently that digital transformation is 1% tech, 99% people. On the whole, this is true. Your unified communication strategy and cloud infrastructure service are only as good as the workforce behind it, after all. Technology may not drive change in its own right, but it certainly is an enabler.

First of all, why do businesses decide to digitise their infrastructure and communication processes?

It’s for your people

The benefits of a digitally transformed workplace are well noted, largely for the main driving force behind your brand — your people. Work is something we do, not somewhere we go in modern business. Giving people this extra scope to work remotely and opening better lines of communication increases overall user experience, and frees everyone up to work from their preferred location.

But creating a more flexible place to work, with extensive remote capabilities, is as beneficial for business as your people. With more opportunity to personalise their experience, your workforce will feel more valued. When people feel appreciated, their motivation and productivity increases. This can only grow the bottom line.

What’s more, you’ll increase your talent acquisition in the younger millennial workforce by offering them a desirable work environment. Giving people more freedom, to do what they do best, communicates trust. They will be more loyal to your business, boosting your retention.

Giving people more freedom, to do what they do best, communicates trust. They will be more loyal to your business, boosting your retention.

Digital transformation has some tangible cost benefits, too. If you’re streamlining all your business communication into one unified channel, for example, you’ll reduce the cost of managing multiple contracts and suppliers.

Also, giving your workforce more real-time, synchronous communication channels like IM or high-def video conferencing means they are less likely to pick up the phone. Fewer long-distance calls reduces the cost of legacy phone line charges. When your staff do make calls or set up audio conferencing, it takes place over IP or broadband, which saves money.

Changing a mindset

Human behaviour, as I already mentioned, is the most important aspect of digital transformation. You can implement the fastest networks, give your staff the best cutting-edge technologies and all the latest communication tools but if they don’t understand the benefits, they will struggle to shift their working practices.

Instilling a forward-thinking business mentality is about leadership and business culture. Encourage your management to trust their employees from the top down, to ensure you have full buy-in across the company. This is absolutely critical; McKinsey found that 84% of CEOs are involved in and committed to transformational change while only 45% of front line employees are. If the culture doesn’t filter down to the ground-level, you’ll never achieve the desired results.

The businesses that have truly transformed their workplace into a future-proof digital environment have technology ingrained in their brand DNA. These businesses live and breathe innovation, and their staff enjoy the benefits of a more cohesive, collaborative, and productive workplace.

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Breaking down silos

In a chat about digital transformation, Martyn Croft – former CIO of the Salvation Army – explained to me that he’s been an advocate of the digital workplace for many years.

“The Salvation Army is a traditional organisation. Instead of embracing mobile working, it prefers to keep people widely distributed in physical areas,” explained Croft. “Something we observed, when you stretch the collaborative channels you remove the ability for people to get together. We broke down the cohesion from being so geographically dispersed.”

As a result of a growing silo culture, Croft oversaw the implementation of a number of unified communication tools, and deployed a private network that allowed role-based access from any location on any device. As part of its digital transformation, the Salvation Army encouraged its staff to collaborate in real-time using technology.

Using the most appropriate platforms available at the time – Microsoft Sharepoint and IBM connections – the workforce suddenly had all the tools at their fingertips to collaborate more effectively. But did it change the Salvation Army culture? Croft found he still struggled to unify the people behind the new technology.

“It’s not just about the platform, it’s about the people.”

“You’d think it would work well for the Salvation Army,” he concluded. “We had 60,000 people that could all contribute to the conversation. But I learnt it’s not just about the platform, it’s about the people.”

But the tech helps

Digital transformation, then, is a business learning curve. You can lead your people to water, as they say, but you can’t force them to drink. With the right platforms, you can provide the tools to get people talking from anywhere, but the conversation has to be forthcoming. Technology is an enabler for digital transformation, not the driver.

So, is digital transformation 1% technology, 99% people? Cloud infrastructure services, like those from Intercity, give your business all the next-generation unified communication tools it needs to improve productivity and reduce operational costs. Without the workplace culture and buy-in from the people, however, your technology sits in a vacuum.

In my opinion, tech doesn’t drive digital transformation, people do; but the tech helps.