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The Digital Workplace of the Future: 5 Must-Have Features

B_Chaloupka

When you think about how the workplace has changed in the past couple of decades, it’s nothing less than astonishing. In that time, we’ve seen the rise of integrated productivity suites (remember when multi-tasking was the holy grail of innovation?) We’ve seen mobile devices hit the mainstream with the arrival of 3G connectivity about fifteen years ago. Then the “bring your own device” movement and the surge of support for employees working remotely. There’s no sign that things are slowing down, with the hybrid cloud wave still unfolding and artificial intelligence just starting to make its presence felt. What will the next decade look like?

At HPE, we are constantly developing our vision for the future of the digital workplace and the technologies to accelerate it into reality. We’ve identified five essential features of the next-gen digital workplace that can help businesses start building future-ready capabilities right now.

The digital workplace of the future will be:

Mobile and secure by design

 Most businesses today support mobility and offer plenty of mobile applications. But in the majority of cases, these services constitute an additional layer that was created on top of the traditional back-end and legacy repositories. It’s true that some cloud services provide secure-by-design, mobile-first capabilities. But even in hybrid IT environments, today’s digital workplaces often consist of a collection of mobile apps that are still highly siloed and tied to an unwieldy legacy infrastructure.

This type of approach enabled companies to quickly meet demands from users and management for at least some mobile capabilities so that employees could work safely from home, from a customer site, or while traveling. But it came with significant disadvantages. The lack of an integrated, overarching security architecture can result in unnecessary exposures. In addition, from the employee’s point of view, disparate services result in a limited and disjointed user experience. Employees may have to work with a mobile communications app that offers voice and chat, but not slide-sharing or video. Or one that looks and works one way on a PC, but a very different way on an Android.

Workplace aggregation is key. If an employee needs 20 applications to perform daily tasks, he or she shouldn’t have to struggle with 20 different links and pathways to access those tools. They should be aggregated into one workplace, desktop or dashboard – basically one window to get the work done. And the experience should be very similar, independent of the device that the employee is using. Intelligent workplace platforms can deliver this kind of unified experience, as well as robust, integrated mobile security.

AI-enabled

Artificial intelligence has been around for a long time in the consumer space – think of those pop-up windows in online travel-booking portals, for example, which guide you through the process with help from an AI engine. The corporate sector has lagged a bit, but AI and big data analytics can now provide a range of tools to enable business users to be more efficient, including easier search, navigation, and connection to colleagues, as well as rapid analysis of corporate information. Platforms such as Microsoft 365 and Google’s G Suite are already equipped with artificial intelligence functions built underneath the office tools.

Chat bots and other AI systems can already provide much of the support that traditionally came from IT help desks. Let’s say you want to provision a new SharePoint site; the bot can show you a checkbox, take you to the right web page and open it, show you an instructional video. In the future, AI-based personas will be almost like human colleagues. You’ll be able to ask for a revenue analysis for the last quarter, for example, and the AI will retrieve and package the data into the format you specify, much faster than a human can today. And, of course, the agent will be fully integrated into the security architecture, so it will know your credentials and what data you’re permitted to access.

Powered by the right mix of hybrid cloud

The familiar questions around how best to structure and balance on-premises/hosted and off-premises infrastructure for hybrid IT are just as relevant, or even more so, when it comes to the digital workplace.

On the one hand, the public cloud has many attractions, especially on the usability side, because it can provide employees with much easier access to data through their mobile devices. By introducing cloud components into the digital workplace ecosystem, IT shops can bring modern technologies into their services catalog and support the business’s demand for higher user efficiency.

On the other hand, important considerations continue to pull companies towards on-prem. Compliance with data regulations is a big factor, especially for multinational organizations. If data confidentiality rules require you to keep some critical data in Europe, for example, you may have no choice except to maintain some infrastructure there.

Technical and financial factors also weigh into the right mix calculation. The complexity of legacy line-of-business applications at on-prem sites often means that you can’t easily move them into the cloud. Integration can be challenging, too, in the cloud. Achieving the same level of connection across business applications that you’re used to (or better) may be difficult, or even impossible, because the right interfaces don’t exist. However, keeping some workloads on-prem means having the right resources available to do routine maintenance, keep patches up-to-date, and manage backup, which impacts the ROI numbers for your digital workplace initiative.

The right mix is a complex calculation, but it’s an indispensable part of any design for a future-ready digital workplace. The good news is, workplace platform vendors are developing increasingly sophisticated solutions that combine on-premises and cloud components. And, of course, HPE, as a leader in hybrid IT, has long experience and deep expertise in helping companies determine their right mix of hybrid cloud (you can learn about our HPE Right Mix Advisor service here; it’s just one example of our offerings in this area.)

Responsive to workforce up-skilling

Artificial intelligence is already reshaping the workplace, with technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), chatbots and smart personal assistants. AI will not, of course, become a “substitute” for humans; but it will take on many routine and repetitive tasks, enabling employees to focus on more creative and intuitive work. It will also accelerate the movement away from a linear, waterfall approach to communication and collaboration as workstreams evolve into a more multi-dimensional, mesh-like framework.

It will be very much in the interests of both organizations and individual workers to invest in digital dexterity – the ability and confidence to leverage a range of technologies, including emerging technologies, to deliver better business outcomes. Employees will look for opportunities to re-envision their roles and raise their skills to tackle more value-add tasks that resist automation. Businesses will promote HR programs encouraging employees to do just that, and to take opportunities in a variety of BUs so that they can build new skills.

As the demand for up-skilling grows, roles will become more fluid, and the digital workplace must be ready to change alongside them. It must be flexible enough to deliver the services required by today’s dynamic workforce, whether long-term FTE or temporary and project-based. As soon as a role changes in the HR system, IT provisioning should change with it, so that employees always have the tools they need at their fingertips.

Ready to empower business-led IT integration

 We don’t hear so much these days about the threat of “shadow IT,” but in many ways, the dynamics of business-led IT initiatives haven’t changed. For years, commentators pointed out that one of the main drivers was the gap between the sophisticated capabilities that people experienced in their consumer lives and the clunky, restricted systems they had to use at work. That gap is still very much a reality. Employees still experience challenges, for example, in sharing big video files, so they turn to external providers. It’s not because they want to “cheat” IT, of course; it’s because they urgently need these capabilities to do their work.

In the cloud era, it’s next to impossible to block individual users or business units from subscribing to an external service. And even if you wanted to, how would that help your business to be more successful? It just hinders people from doing their work. In any case, the majority of IT investments these days come from the business units; the IT budget is no longer the sole driver.

The digital workplace should support and empower business-led IT integration. There will always be a core set of services provided centrally. Email is a good example; it wouldn’t make sense for different business units to run their own messaging systems (especially since email addresses are often used for authentication companywide.) Similarly, telephony and conferencing, central data repositories and intranets, and enterprise-wide collaboration platforms will likely remain organization-led.

However, for a wide variety of platforms and applications, the individual business units are the experts on what exactly is required. They understand the functionality and the expected outcomes. IT’s job should be to integrate these services into the overall service catalog and ensure that they meet enterprise-wide operational mandates, such as data confidentiality, auditing, and security. It’s a matter of providing the policies and guidelines to the businesses, and then giving them the support they need to successfully implement whatever solution best fits their needs.

Your bridge to the future

HPE can guide you every step of the way to a more engaging, mobile-first employee experience through our HPE Digital Workplace and Mobility services. Keep an eye on this blog – my colleagues and I will be delving deeper into the key features and benefits of the next-gen digital workplace in an upcoming series of posts.

And here’s a great way to learn more: Join me and other HPE Digital Workplace experts at Microsoft Ignite, coming up November 4–8 in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. We’ll have a demo stand set up at HPE Booth #2549. You can sign up for a strategic consulting hour with our experts to learn how to accelerate your Digital Workplace transformation – see the Workshops section on the page at that last link.

Don’t miss these mini-theatre sessions at the booth:

Build a modern workplace with HPE Pointnext Services to improve your employees’ workplace experience. The speaker will be HPE’s Rob Homburg. Two sessions: Monday, Nov. 4, 3:30 pm – 4:00 pm; and Wednesday, Nov 6, 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm.

Securing information in the modern workplace with HPE and Microsoft. I’ll be the presenter for this one, in two sessions: Tuesday, Nov. 5, 11:00 am – 11:30 am; and Thursday, Nov. 7, 11:00 am – 11:30 am.

BYOD in the modern workplace: Facts from the fields by HPE’s Dan Davey. Tuesday, 1:00 PM – 1:30; Thursday 1:30 – 2:00.

We’ve listed these and all of the other HPE sessions on our Microsoft Ignite flyer.

I hope to see you there!          

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B_Chaloupka