Monday, 19th October 2020

Workers have the gift of mobility, so why aren’t they collaborating?

asks Indi Sall, Technical Director, NG Bailey’s IT Services division.

At the turn of the year, industry experts championed enterprise mobility as a key initiative that would improve employee collaboration and drive both innovation and growth in 2015. Since then, as welcome as these overtures were, many enterprises have remained caught in a ‘mobility mismatch’ that has been the cause of more collision than collaboration.
What’s the root of the problem?
Influencing factors vary, but the source of the trouble is at Board level, and a perception disconnect between chief executive officers (CEOs), chief information officers (CIOs) and chief marketing officers (CMOs). Invariably, each has their own idea of what collaboration should constitute and how it should serve the business. CEOs look to mobility platforms as vehicles through which to share best practice, foster new ideas and accelerate development. CMOs yearn for market engagement, using mobility as a magnet for data that can reveal honeypots of revenue opportunity, or can help them better understand (and leverage) their relationships with customers. CIOs think more pragmatically; how can they use mobility to maximise their people, processes and tools to raise operational efficiency?
As it has permeated through the ranks this level of inconsistency has bred confusion, incoherence and ultimately, inertia, as conflicting objectives and usage policies have slowed the rate of progress dramatically.
The dangers of bringing the outside in
Everyone with a job is both a consumer and a worker. Ironically, as the enterprise has been busy tying itself in knots, its workers have been happily getting on with their hyper-connected and richly collaborative lives outside of the office, via Skype, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the vast array of other consumer mobile apps and services. Indeed the rise of consumer mobility has felt almost casual; device users have fallen into ‘this collaboration thing’ and made it seem like child’s play. Then, inevitably, the killer question is posed: ‘If I can get my head around this stuff, why can’t the IT guys at work do the same?’
Maybe it is because they are frustrated with the inflexibility of their workplace. Or it could be a genuine intent to modernise their working practices. Perhaps it’s a more straight-forward desire to use the latest goodies in the office. Either way, workers have been ‘filling the gap’ by introducing consumer-oriented devices, apps and services into their workplaces at a rate of knots, wreaking havoc with corporate security and burying IT staff under a mountain of helpdesk tickets.
With these demands I should be at Cern, not here!
The opposing influences of BYOD (bring your own device) and Board level mobility initiatives have left the enterprise IT department spinning too many plates. The net result has been a fractured, siloed and uncoordinated collection of mobility and collaboration platforms. Seeing this as a commercial opportunity, IT vendors have responded with ‘everything for everyone’ systems which, for the most part, are so broad and feature-rich that they are either too costly or too complicated (or both), to be of real value. Meanwhile, employees are starting to drown in apps and tools that were cool and fun for a few months, but have since fallen out of favour, or have been surpassed.
Audit, analyse and integrate, don’t just roll it out
The first action CIOs need to take is to understand how employees need to collaborate at work, with the business’ systems, partners and customers, to achieve the goals of the company. This has next to nothing to do with technology; it is about identifying what underpins the operations of the business. Who needs to be connected to who, what, when and how often.
Then, they must focus on assembling a mobility and collaboration platform that focuses with laser-like attention on enabling and fostering those connections. Providing access to the right tools, however, isn’t enough. A great user experience is another pre-requisite and a tipping point for workforce engagement with the new systems. Once incentivised, users find it easy to engage with new ways of working.
With everyone on-board, it’s critical that the roll out of new technologies maintains momentum. In too many cases, poor roll out and implementation strategies have caused collaboration projects to fail. To avoid this trap, CIOs must assume the role of conductor, orchestrating internal departments and partners to integrate new tools at a time when they add the most value.
There’s room to manoeuvre in the cloud
This isn’t the first time that enterprise mobility and unified communications have been touted as the route to increased employee collaboration. What’s changed? Put simply, the cloud has arrived. The impact of this simple point cannot be overemphasised. The cloud has removed the vast majority of integration, licensing and software/hardware upgrade requirements needed to maintain and interoperate multiple platforms simultaneously.
By harnessing ‘Unified Communications-as-a-Service’ (UCaaS), delivered via the cloud, CIOs suddenly find they have the operational and fiscal flexibility they need to manoeuvre. They can spin-up and trial mobility and collaboration projects without committing to significant CAPEX on infrastructure. It also enables fast and effective integration and testing and allows upgrades to be made offsite, by the service provider, without tying up the in-house IT department.
All of which enables the CIO to focus on what he or she is supposed to be doing; making strategic technology decisions that will make a positive impact on the short and long-term future of a business.
Whether a CEO is looking to grow the business through acquisition or enter new markets, the CIO can now ensure that they are achieving real value from the collaboration tools and the employees using them. More importantly, the issues that arise from a ‘mobility mismatch’, which must also be addressed and resolved as part of a wider cultural evolution of the workplace, are no longer an immediate threat to the future of the organisation.
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