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In last week’s post, I wrote about measuring success in workplace investments, and how “design” becomes a concept that’s not just relevant for the architects who draw up the plans for the physical space. “Architect” is, after all, a job title in the IT world as well. It started out referring primarily to network topologies—the structure of the system—but increasingly, the notion of “design” is extending to the approach that enterprises take to the systems and backend data that support their workers. This data may be generated by and/or reside within IT/communications systems, or HR systems, and it may interface with facilities systems. The key is to craft an approach—a design if you will—to using that data.

As I noted last week, we got a really compelling vision of this approach to workplace data at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2019, in a keynote address delivered by Joe Park, Chief Digital Architect and VP of Associate Digital Experience at Walmart.

“If you look at HR data, that’s a really powerful thing,” Joe said. “If we know who you are, and the technology platforms know how you work, and you have a feedback loop, that’s where you can really make some magic.” (With appropriate governance in place, he hastened to add.)

That data may include information like an employee’s hire date via HR; WiFi traffic data via IT, which reveals traffic flow and usage patterns within a facility; or data about video conferencing usage from those systems, which increasingly are smart enough to know not just how much time the systems are in use, but by how many people in a given room.

“Design” is what’s required to make the magic Joe referred to. “Data is dumb; it’s raw; by itself it’s not really any good,” he said. “Data plus design—the two really go in tandem. You can’t separate the two.”

Joe acknowledged that this viewpoint requires a new way of thinking: “This requires a lot of shifting to the right brain,” is how he described it. But a simple way to understand it is by taking a step back and remembering what the whole process is about—the user. “We have meeting rooms and offices because of users,” he said. “We don’t have users because we have some technology installed.” On one level that’s an obvious point, but it rings true because enterprise decision-makers know how easy it can be to fall into a kind of tunnel vision where you focus just on the technology.

So how do you reconnect with the end user—especially at scale, in a company the size of Walmart? Joe said the key is developing user personas, for example finance vs. marketing vs. legal, and understanding how those personas work. You can learn a lot of that from data: Who does a particular position report to? What collaboration tools tend to be preferred? What does calendar data tell us about the rhythms of their work week?

This can produce tactical wins. Joe described a pilot that Walmart has underway in which they’re attempting to understand usage of particular software tools. The goal is to see if it can release unused, and potentially even little-used, licenses, by suggesting, in those cases, that the employees switch to a tool that their peers prefer.

And these tactical steps can produce wins that reverberate beyond cost savings (important as cost savings are). For example, by integrating with HR data, the system can generate a note to a manager who has a new hire starting, with a brief message reminding the manager of five things to do to make that person feel welcome. The system can draw on the backend data to determine what device the manager is most likely to be working on at the key moment, so that it provides not just a general reminder but “a timely nudge,” as Joe called it. An integration could even use the new employee’s badge data to trigger a link with digital signage in the office space, where the sign could greet the new employee—not only making that person feel included, but also reminding co-workers to welcome their new colleague.

All of these innovations can help strengthen the employee engagement that I started this two-part newsletter by discussing. But from Joe’s perspective, the enterprise has to take employee engagement as seriously as they now realize they must take customer engagement.

“For us this is the next big thing,” Joe said. “You’re going to see a shift from consumer data to enterprise data.”

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair WorkSpace Connect &  Enterprise Connect
Publisher, No Jitter

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