Ovum principal analyst Richard Edwards on how a new wave of consumer technology is revolutionizing thinking and behavior at work.
Enterprise employees are first and foremost consumers. And in 2014 the impact of consumer ICT on them is only going to accelerate with the arrival of new device types, use cases and apps — and a fresh set of challenges and opportunities for business leaders — that none of us could have imagined.
Think back to the launch of Twitter or Facebook. At that point in time we didn’t expect either tool would be used as it is in businesses today. We didn’t really expect them to be tools of consumer marketing or valuable sources of market insight but one technology begets another, so the whole area of social analytics has grown out of the advent of such social sites.
Each wave of devices, communication mechanisms and software models produces an IT cocktail that is extremely unpredictable. That can be a good thing if you’re in a position to ride the wave or turn a particular aspect of disruption to your advantage but it can be very damaging if you ignore it or pretend it doesn’t relate to your organization.
Today’s employees want to do things differently — particularly those who are just entering the workplace and don’t have the habits of their mid-career colleagues. And this is bringing about something of a clamor for next-generation collaboration solutions, with individuals self-sourcing tools they believe are required to get their job done.
Disassembly of email
As a result, enterprise social networking is evolving into a new genre of collaboration software. Organizations that perhaps explored these technologies three years ago are now coming back for a second look and moving into a new world of collaboration — and away from email.
If you think of email as siloed working, in an office with the door and blinds closed, then enterprise social networking (when used correctly and in the context of line of business applications) is more akin to an open-plan environment, where people can easily discover what others are working on and support each other.
Our research tells us social networking does provide a real alternative to email. For one, it is targeting the human-centered needs of employees. At Ovum, we wrote a research paper that takes the idea of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and translates that into a work model. There is clearly a need for employees to have the ability to not only express themselves but also to feel worthy. And surprisingly, getting a few Likes on your achievements on a social network can give a real boost to your morale. People like to be liked, so we shouldn’t demean or dismiss that.
Closely allied to many of those cloud-based collaboration tools is the area of file sync and share where we’re seeing incredible interest from users and almost every vendor — Microsoft, Citrix, VMware, Box — now with offerings. Together, these two areas represent a disaggregation and disassembly of email: conversations are moving off email and onto the enterprise social network with related documents available via file sync and share, producing a working environment that’s effective for end-users.
New technologies, new thinking
Not long ago, the almost universal business computing device was a desktop PC running Windows or, for a select few, a laptop. But the introduction of tablet computers, in particular, has presented an opportunity for organizations to reassess the ideal working toolset and the technology preferences of the workforce.
The end of support for Windows XP is prompting organizations to rethink what workplace computing is all about. People aren’t necessarily rushing to replace one PC with another — sometimes they’re introducing additional devices to complement the use of the PC; in other cases they’re discarding a PC and using another device, whether Windows, Android or iOS-based. This unprecedented extent of choice is an exciting aspect of the new world of work.
“The tools we select shape our thinking and, in turn, the way organizations go about doing business.”
That has led many to conclude that the future of work is about helping the workforce to tune into, select and use the most appropriate technologies for a particular role. The self-selecting of applications and devices is really changing the face of corporate computing, in that the tools we select shape our thinking and, in turn, the way organizations go about doing business.
Looking at many organizations today, I see them as still email-shaped. But that is changing. We know in our heart of hearts that email is a bit of a blunt instrument when it comes to collaboration, particularly when we need to respond quickly. But we don’t just need new tools, we need to reprogram ourselves and our working practices to make really good use of these potent technologies.
• Richard Edwards is a principal analyst at Ovum. Focusing his research stream on the ‘knowledge worker,’ Edwards has over 25 years’ experience in the IT industry across a range of industry sectors, including pharma, finance, and engineering. He was speaking at Ovum’s Future of Work Summit in London.