Gartner Digital Workplace Summit, London, 21-22 September
Gartner Summits and Symposia are a core element of the way in which the firm delivers advice to its clients. It is therefore not appropriate to judge the event as a ‘commercial’ conference even though (like me) there were some external delegates. The content of the presentations also includes research that is proprietary to clients and so I am not going to comment on specific presentations in this review. The Digital Workplace Summit is a re-branding and re-positioning of the long-standing Portals and Collaboration event which I attended a few years ago. The event attracted probably around 400 delegates from across Europe, mostly senior managers in IT departments who are the primary contact points for Gartner services.
Gartner is clearly making a significant research commitment to digital workplace development. Many of the presentations used data collected from a number of large scale surveys that Gartner undertakes, together with on-going discussions with its clients. This research does provide an important underpinning of the advice provided, something sadly lacking in this arena where there is a tendency to scale up to a generic position from a single case study. There were a number of external case studies and presentations from sponsors including one from Robert Leeson, Head of Service Design and Transition at Vodafone. Serving over 110,000 employees across the world what was immediately obvious from the presentation was that the rate of progress and success were because of the support from the CEO, the CTO and the global HR Director. This support extended to them blogging on a regular basis on Yammer. I was especially struck by the way in which Vodafone had given 250 Digital Ninja millennials the responsibility of mentoring 200 of the most senior managers in how to get the best of digital technologies. A quite brilliant idea that could be of immediate benefit in any organisation.
The Summit was also an opportunity for Gartner to introduce its assessment framework for digital workplace maturity. This is designed for self-assessment benchmarking and as the basis for on-going discussions with Gartner consultants. Although focusing on only a few aspects of the digital workplace I was impressed with the balance of IT, employee and organisational issues. I did get a sense that the focus needed on employee and organisational issues was somewhat novel to the presenters, who tended to have a somwhat one-dimensional view of organisational culture but I’m sure this will broaden out as the DWP programme develops.
There was some very good advice given on cloud-related issues. One of the presentations was about the benefits and challenges of moving search into the cloud as either a hosted service or SaaS. Another focused on the challenges of migration to either Office 365 or Google Cloud, and highlighted the problems of negotiating a contract with Microsoft. Little mention was made of the role of intranets, though there was a Roundtable Session on Redefining Your Intranet for the Digital Workplace. I thought it would not be appropriate for me to attend! I was however surprised that there was just that single presentation on search. Of the 400 delegates only perhaps 25 were in the search presentation and no more than 50 in the Sinequa presentation on the move the company is taking to enhance search with analytics and machine learning. As well as the consultant presentations and the case studies there were two superb external speakers. Sahar Hashemi talked about how she started up Coffee Republic as an example of innovation, and Stefan Hyttfors was equally inspiring on how the nature of work is changing.
Overall I gained a great deal from the event. It was very helpful to have a research-based view on how digital workplace adoption is proceeding. It is clear that good progress is being made when there is a clear commitment to changing working practices from the most senior levels of an organisation. Bottom-up attempts to improve ‘productivity’ by just implementing more technology may bring short term glory but no longer term impacts. One of the challenges is that few CIO/CTOs are on the main Board of an organisation and so are not in a position to sell the benefits across the Boardroom table, and have to leave it to others to do so. The 2017 Digital Workplace Summit takes place in London on 25/26 September.