advice

Three ways you can futureproof your workplace

By Guest Contributor, - Advice

This is a guest blog from Christian Reilly, VP and CTO at Citrix.

Most companies are a long way off being ready for the future workplace.

A provocative statement, you might argue. But hear me out…

I’m not trying to talk negatively about my fellow technologists or businesspeople here – ultimately we’re all subject to the same conundrum: how do you prepare for five years’ time when you can barely predict what will happen in one?

None of us can say exactly what the future will bring. What you can do, however, is change your approach to ensure you best placed to adapt to the huge number of changes that will inevitably come.

There are three ways you can do that:

  1. Make IT an enabler of innovation
  2. Focus on user experience and integration
  3. Seek strategic partners, not suppliers

Let’s go into each of those in a bit more detail…

1. Make IT an enabler of innovation

The IT department has historically (and somewhat jokingly) been referred to as ‘The Department of No’.

Now you may not agree with that moniker, or you may be smiling and nodding in agreement as you read it. Either way, IT can’t afford to have that title anymore. It has to be in the business of saying a firm and resounding ‘yes’ to the rest of the business.

Let me break that down some more…

IT was once a function within a business – a provider of technology. If the business wanted X number of laptops it would go through IT and chalk that up as a cost.

So IT’s role was to provide the required technology at the lowest possible cost.

Now, however, technology plays a much bigger role in business. It isn’t just a function of an organisation – it pretty much is the organisation. Everything you do as a company (or indeed as a person outside of work) involves or revolves around technology in some way.

With tech being so all-encompassing now, the IT department has to become much more than a technology provider. It needs to be a strategic arm of the business.

The companies I see that are significantly ahead of their competitors on digital transformation are the ones that make technology decisions not at an IT level but at a business one.

And that’s going to be the difference between success and failure in future: the ability to align every technology decision with a business driver. It sounds simple, but many organisations still haven’t got there.

2. Focus on user experience and integration

Nobody can be in any doubt at this stage that we’re facing a very real and increasingly large IT skills gap.

But those cautionary surveys don’t even take into account the most daunting challenge of all: we don’t even know what skills we’re going to need in a few years’ time, so how can we possibly acquire the right ones?

One way to get around that is to reduce the need for certain skills in the first place.

Take Amazon, for instance. My mum can go on there and order my son’s birthday present, and guess what? She doesn’t need to read a 20-page manual first.

That’s because the Amazon user experience is simple enough for anyone – no matter what their age or technical ability – to pick up.

This is the benchmark against which enterprises need to be measuring their own end-user experience.

And as we move to a time when there’s going to be five generations in the workplace, bringing in people who are skilled at user experience design is going to become increasingly important.

But where I think we’ll see the biggest gap is around integration.

As the number of applications in a business grows and the average lifecycle shrinks, there are going to be growing challenges around making all of them work together securely and effectively.

And it’s not just about having them operate in the right way. How do you collect and correlate all those disparate streams of information from all those different applications? Not just the data science element but one level higher than that: using numerical insight to make useful and strategic business decisions.

I don’t think many companies have cracked that yet.

3. Seek strategic partners, not suppliers

The final point is about the way you view technology vendors.

The phrase ‘as a service’ is becoming the norm. There is no getting away from the fact that most workplaces will rely on a huge breadth of third-party suppliers to keep things moving in future.

CIO’s 2016 Executive Partner Index Survey found that 71% of organisations already spend half their total budget on external providers. And that number is growing.

To survive in that world it surely goes without saying that your relationship with those suppliers needs to evolve. They’re not just providers of technology anymore – they’re an extension of your team.

Or at least they should be.

And you don’t need to take my word for it. That same CIO study found that if IT buyers and vendors fail to forge relationships of trust and collaboration in the next few years they’ll both be in danger.

The report highlight five key attributes and behaviours on which to build the kind of partnerships that are going to be required in future:

  1. Client and market knowledge – can your suppliers navigate your organisation and provide relevant, informed guidance?
  2. Collaboration – are your suppliers willing to blur the lines between buyer and seller and become a true extension of your team?
  3. Communication – honesty and integrity are key here, and so is the ability to communicate clearly through periods of significant change
  4. Flexible pricing and shared risk/reward – true co-innovation depends on a fluid approach to costs and a collaborative sharing of risk when it comes to new technology
  5. Responsiveness – the business world is moving faster than ever. Is your supplier agile enough not to hold you back when it matters?

The above is just a guideline, but you can start to see how the technology buyer/seller relationship needs to evolve to meet the needs of the workforce in the coming years. If you can start to master that now you’ll already be better prepared for the future than most companies.

***

This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course – more a framework that can help you start to move your workplace transformation in the right direction.

I’d love to hear your views on how else organisations can prepare themselves for what is (let’s face it) a largely unknown future.

Ultimately, though, I think it comes down to one key point: this isn’t just about technology as a supporting factor anymore – it’s about technology’s ability to make a business perform better and the skills and culture you need to put in place to facilitate that, particularly as things continue to change at a rapid pace.

Get your head around that idea and everything else should follow.

Watch our recent Google Hangout on Air for lots more insight on the future workplace.

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