By Gloria Lombardi


With the pace of technology development, it’s almost impossible to know the capabilities of all the tools available within the enterprise marketplace. Knowing when to ‘sweat the asset’ and when to replace legacy systems with modern software is a wicked problem. As companies develop their digital workplaces, CIOs and budget holders must feel confident about their software choices, and the whole organisation has to be ready for new ways of working.

Most people might believe that modern technology speeds up innovation and improves productivity, but there are pitfalls. It’s a challenge to ensure that new solutions deliver the expected benefits and directly meet business requirements. Further, it’s the employee experience that greatly influences the use and success of any part of the digital workplace.

Tony-ByrneThe Real Story Group (RSG) has published the EmpEx 200, which instantly provides a handy overview of the companies dominating the digital workplace.

MARGINALIA spoke with RSG’s founder, Tony Byrne, to explore the nature of the chart, its categories, and the underpinning research. In this interview, Byrne shares his advice on how to enable greater employee digital experiences while selecting the most appropriate tools for the business and staff.

Gloria Lombardi: What’s the EmpEx 200 all about?

Tony Byrne: At the Real Story Group, we define the digital workplace as “the sum total of the employee experience”. On that basis, we asked ourselves, ‘What are the key categories that make up the employee experiences within the digital workplace?’.

Many people think about their digital workplace as a stack of enterprise tools. We want to change that view. We want to challenge businesses to reimagine their digital workplace from a functional perspective rather than a platform perspective.

By talking to our subscribers and clients we discovered that there were three main categories of software where employees were spending most of their time: collaboration and communication; self-service; and human capital management and major business lines / line of business systems.

We decided to analyse those three major categories in detail, breaking them down into smaller sub-groups of technologies. Our research explains the major digital experiences trends, offers companies a guide to the vendors that are shaping modern ways of working, including their approach to UX [user experience].

GL Are these tools really built around employees’ needs?

TB: The issue of whether the technology is really employee-centric or not is still open.

For a long time, digital tools were bought by the enterprise for the enterprise. Historically, a company would make a long checklist of all features that were most important to the business. For example, features around retention, security, scalability, and so on. Those were and still are certainly important considerations.

MillennialsYet, an enterprise should take the same approach it uses towards consumer digital experience, to employee digital experience. It means understanding the employee’s journey and the tasks they need to complete. When an enterprise does that, it can come to many different conclusions on the technology it needs to deploy.

For example, it is common for a CIO to say, ‘OK, we only go with Microsoft, so that means Office 365 and SharePoint’. Yet, if the organisation looked at it from an employee’s perspective – the tasks they try to accomplish – they might realise that there are other, different capabilities that need enabling. They might realise that Office 365 alone is not sufficient to enable a productive day for staff. Supplemental software and systems may be needed to achieve desired results.

GL: How important is the employee digital journey?

TB: One of our subscribers, a major global company, was on a journey to convert their intranet team into a digital workplace user experience centre of excellence. They had some problems with their current enterprise technology and employees’ productivity levels; initially, they thought they needed to fix the intranet. But, they did some surveys and analysis on the major pain points for staff.

But surveys and ‘pain point’ analysis showed that employees were mostly frustrated with the organisation’s SAP enterprise resource planning system. Employees were wasting at least two hours a week on burdensome system admin.

So the digital workplace team partnered with the SAP team. Together they fixed a number of features to improve the user experience. They built a web UI [user interface] on top of SAP directly in the intranet, and staff satisfaction shot up – they even won some employee engagement awards.

This whole journey from looking solely at the intranet to considering the entire digital workplace experience meant having to be open to fixing whatever problems staff faced. This was only possible by partnering with different business units and IT to apply the correct user experience methodology to the pain points.

GL: What are the main trends across the technology ecosystem?

TB: One trend is the shrinking of the static, comms-focused intranet. Historically, it was the central place for static information, such as corporate news. That is becoming less important than the greater digital workplace, which provides employees with the services to be more effective at work. Many of those services are of course powered by information. But it is content in context rather than just mere publishing on an internal website.

Another trend, although a slow one, is the idea of social communication and collaboration not being so much a place but a service that employees use whenever they work on something. There is definitely a desire to embed social and collaboration services into other tools. Different vendors have taken different approaches, but many are not quite there yet.

A greater integration of social networking and collaboration services is in fact occurring. In the past, those two services have been artificially distinct. But that is not necessarily the way employees want to work. A good example is Yammer, which has been separate from the rest of Office 365 for a long time, with Microsoft struggling to create a cohesive experience.

Some trends also come from self-service and human capital management systems and line of business software. Many organisations still have difficulties around asset management and identity management; for example, getting single sign-on to work across apps and systems. This lack makes it hard to create a coherent digital workplace experience.

man-1718099_960_720Finally, many employees want and need a great mobile environment. Yet many tools are incapable of providing mobile functionality, or a decent employee experience. Often this is because the software has not been truly designed for mobile, but sometimes it’s because the enterprise does not provide appropriate devices. Sometimes employees just go out and procure their own devices, apps, or even cloud services, to provide a better mobile experience. This is an enterprise problem that needs fixing.

GL: So, what are the best digital workplace technologies doing to provide better mobile experiences?

TB: Generally speaking, the most successful tools are effective on both the mobile web and via native apps – there is a time and place for both. Also, instead of having six or seven different native mobile apps, the best tools offer just one app that works across all of their offerings depending of the license.

The best technology vendors ensure their apps are equally strong on iOS and Android, while the mobile web provides in-browser access for any device.

GL: Enterprise software must always fit the type of organisation and its goals of course, but what advice can share with MARGINALIA readers around software selection?

TB: My first piece of advice is: don’t go and overbuy. Don’t purchase a tool that is more complicated than what you really need. Otherwise you will end up wasting time on trying to customise the technology, when you should be thinking more about integrating it into the rest of your environment.

We know from surveys that workers spend about 60% of their time within collaboration and communication systems; that’s a lot of time. So businesses need to focus, somewhat, on these systems.

Avoid putting too many eggs in one basket. There’s pressure on IT to consolidate vendors and solutions. But organisations have to be flexible, while maintaining a strong underlying architecture with robust identity and access management. Plus, on the business side, you need strong discipline and operations around user-centred design and design thinking. When you get those elements in place you have a logical and a physical architecture for multiple tools.

There are two more mistakes that a business must avoid. One, selecting a vendor just because you already use them for something. Instead, take a more business need approach.

The second mistake is to use the traditional waterfall approach, spending lots of time on documenting business requirements and hardly any time on actually trying out the systems. You need a more agile and design-thinking oriented approach, where you iterate your requirements through hands-on testing.

In fact, go through a series of hand-on tests with any tool that you are thinking to adopt. It is the best way to select what is going to be the right technology for your digital workplace experience.


The Real Story Group updates the EmpEx 200 every six months; look out for the next update in autumn 2017. The digital enterprise world may have already changed a little bit by then!