How to pick a digital workplace vendor?

With the crowded vendor marketplace, combined with the often conflicting analysts advice and the perplexing (and often exaggerated) vendor marketing, just how should organisations pick a digital workplace vendor that is right for them and their employees?

In my experience it’s important to start with a solid set of requirements, these must be generated by groups of real people who are considered important within the organisation. Sorry, but a set of requirements gathered only from Internal Communications and IT are probably not complete and you will struggle to get support for your deployment.

Care must be taken to understand the real challenges these groups of people have in relation to collaboration and doing real work, i.e. the stuff they get paid for (there’s a good post here on this:  Doing work is harder than it should be – but what’s the problem?)

It is absolutely critical that these requirements are created not by simply documenting a list of functionality offered by your preferred tool, or by copy and pasting requirements from a blog like this. Yes often requirements are similar, but it’s only by really understanding what people want that you can get supporters who will stand side-by-side when you tell others about what you’re doing, or go for additional funding.  Your business stakeholders are your friend – experience says they will give you all the time you need and support you as long as  you keep focused on solving their problems.

Once you have a good understanding of a group’s problems you can create requirements that reflect these and solve these specific problems, and again its key to let your business users prioritise these without the interference of IT. It also helps at this stage to draw up an overall vision of your digital workplace so people can see how their problems will be solved and what you are trying to achieve – how will business be conducted in the future. What will life be like? If, once you have this, no-one is excited you’ve probably misread your audience and their challenges.

Now armed with your vision and requirements, the next task is to think about how you plan to deliver on these requirements, and how quickly you need to deliver something to your organisation. You may be lucky and already have technology that can power your digital workplace onsite, but the chances are you’re going to need evaluate the ability of the your current technology to meet demand and be ready to make the case for an additional investment.

There are a number of capability frameworks that will help you do this, if you have support from a system integrator or consulting firm ask them for theirs (if they don’t have one, chances are they haven’t had much experience with digital workplace). The layers that most of the frameworks I’ve seen are shown below – notice how platform usability and the provided user experience encompass all the other elements. 

Digital Workplace Capability Layers
Digital Workplace Capability Layers

Jumping ahead, you’ll probably find that the technology you currently have available to you doesn’t meet your expectations or your created vision and you will need to follow one of the options below. (If anyone in your organisation claims your current technology does, pay careful attention to the features you have in mind and the user journeys you’ve created to meet your business group’s problems).

1) The custom build option
Invest some serious development cash on an implementer that can enhance your currently deployed vendor’s offering by custom building user interfaces, digital workplace widgets and connecting current vendors’ products together through clever use of API’s.

2) The best in class option
Augment your currently deployed solution with a dedicated digital workplace vendor providing dashboard, community, advanced collaboration and mobile capabilities, adding other vendors to provide functionality such as gamification and big data search.

3) Deploy and push what you can
Accept that  your current technology may not be a perfect fit and carefully focus on a limited set of use cases  that you feel can be reasonably supported and welcomed by your use base.  Close down unnecessary technologies and those that provide duplicate capabilities and provide clear guidance to employees on when to use which technologies and publish details on your planned road-map for enhancements.

4) The roadmap will get there option
Do nothing and wait for your currently deployed vendor of choice to offer a fully integrated digital workplace solution.

Each option has merits and risks, but one thing is clear – companies cannot simply issue a mandate to staff and leadership to use this technology, it’s about the purpose, the suitability and understanding the demand. It may well be that an organisation demands you run a pilot or proof of concept first. Don’t worry, this is your opportunity to shine. I hope to write a further blog post on this in the near future.

Finally if you do find yourself reviewing new vendors, the framework above will also allow you build a mechanism for scoring each aspect of functionality – it is very important to pay close attention here as many of the vendors offer similar functionality (or will happily tick the box to say they can provide something). There are no short cuts here  – you need to touch and feel each capability and be certain that it helps meet your vision. Demand demonstration systems from all the vendors you are considering to help you complete this exercise. Those that are unable to provide these should be avoided, or at the very least treated with caution.

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