Disrupting The Workplace, With Technology
The change that digitization has brought into our lives means that organizations must now deal with the challenge of a world of work that must operate in a context that has radically shifted. Workforce experience journeys, people structures, performance management and work analytics must all be actively redefined as enterprises race to transform their workplace into high-productivity, high-efficiency hubs for collaborating teams. It’s all about teams being formed quickly and disbanded just as rapidly to move on to new projects. High-performing companies are learning to nurture and leverage this network of teams.
In this episode of Infosys Podcast, Infosys anchor Alex speaks with Chidambaram Ganapathi, Assistant Vice President and head of Digital Workplace Services at Infosys, to demystify workplace transformation. Chidambaram explains how organizations can accelerate their transformation into a more productive workplace and systematically enable their network of teams to create more value.
Alex: Hello, folks! Welcome to Infosys Podcast. This is Alex speaking, your host. And we are honoured to have Chidambaram Ganapathy as our guest. He heads the Digital Workplace Services at Infosys. So, hello Chidu, if you don’t mind me calling you that.
Chidambaram: Thank you, Alex. Thanks for having me.
Alex: My pleasure. So let’s get started. You know what, I am going to talk about “Workplace Transformation” as a term, which is like … it’s not a generic one. It’s something which you have coined at the moment and you are implementing yourselves. Is that correct? Or is it something which is a universal thing?
Chidambaram: I think it’s not. Well, it’s what we want our focus to be on, right?
Chidambaram: It’s not a new term, but it’s just bringing together the essence of what we are trying to do. People call it ‘smart workplace’, ‘digital workplace’, Microsoft calls it ‘modern workplace’ but as an SI [system integrator] and as Infosys what we bring to the table is about how we leverage these technologies, these workplace technologies, in transforming the workplaces of our clients to their needs of the tomorrow - essentially, the reason we call this the workplace transformation is that’s what Infosys brings to our clients.
Alex: It’s not just a title, it’s something that everybody is talking about. Correct?
Chidambaram: Yes, absolutely.
Alex: Then under that umbrella … I mean, how would you elaborate on that?
Chidambaram: Think about workplace transformation. What does it mean? You know, at the end of the day it is about making the workplace of your enterprise clients a very smart and productive workplace. And what I mean by that is making sure you enhance the employee experience through contextual engagement. So that’s the first aspect of it..
The second [aspect] is how do you empower them to be more and do more? By building a network of teams that works with intelligence and efficiency to create more value. And what I mean by that is how you enable these collaborations, these seamless experiences for employees, so that they can focus on more creative things, and the mundane tasks are handled seamlessly, and the collaborations are made a little more intelligent. So that is the second aspect of what workplace transformation is.
And when we talk about employees we often tend to think about it purely from what we call as ‘knowledge workers’, you know, who are specialized, niche folks sitting in the back office of [with] great understanding of that industry and bring a lot of value. But there is another sector of people which we often oversee, which what we call as the ‘first line workers’. They are usually your mobile workforce on the field or your customer service reps or sales reps who are always on the ground. And in a lot of times we see that they are not usually kept up to date or fully engaged in what their enterprises are doing. In terms of policies and information or in terms of what the new products or services are, they usually are not being the first person to know that. How do you engage them more and make them more productive? I think we see we’ll help our enterprise clients digitally transform themselves much quicker. So I think these are the three key things which we are trying to address, and which our clients are trying to address through workplace transformation.
Alex: You are talking about a workforce as a team effort. What it sounds like as well is like you are not individualizing people, you are not isolating people. In fact, you are opening up to avenues in which they can work collaboratively. Is that correct? Am I correct in saying that?
Chidambaram: Absolutely. In fact, we believe perfect metaphor for that workplace of tomorrow is a place where we might all aspire to thrive not just as individuals, but as a purposeful network of teams. I think that is very important. And you see this in a lot of the organizations that are successful. Look at it - whether it is the Apples, the Microsoft, the Facebooks, and the Googles of the world - they have been able to achieve a lot of these things because they have that network of teams that is very focussed on a collective goal. And it’s not just about individuals working through their tasks and their activities. I think when you make them work purposefully towards that goal and vision, and make them feel part of that, that’s when you truly transform your workplaces.
Alex: I agree. So then, how is it connected to digital transformation? How would you connect it to that?
Chidambaram: You look at workplaces - one of the common trends that we are seeing is complete mobile workforce. All your employees, even your partners and the ecosystem partners, are very mobile and digital. So digital transformation often is looked outwardly, [in the] general sense about how you transform your products and services [for] your end customers. But it is also important for you to be that digital enterprise, that you also transform your workplace which is digital and mobile, to be more collaborative, to [allow your workforce to] have a seamless experience whether they are at their workplace, in front of their laptops and desktops, or they are out in the field. And also [you need] to be able to create a social network within that enterprise. So all these things come. It is about providing that seamless experience to your workforce so that they are digital and they can do more.
The other aspect of digital transformation, from a workplace standpoint, is about how to make that employee experience seamless across the various channels. Whether they are in the office or working from home or they are a mobile workforce at their customer’s site, to be able to have access to all the relevant information, contextual intelligence, [and] to be able to do their tasks and works more productively, more efficiently, that to me is digital transformation of your workforce.
Alex: So what trends are you seeing in opting for transforming workplaces?
Chidambaram: In today’s world if you look at workplace transformation and the industry trends, there are three [or] four things that come on top - the CIO’s top priority. One is about making collaborations more contextual and intelligent. And what we mean by that is being able to understand the persona of who the user is and what role he plays in an organization, and being able to get the relevant information, and being able to have him connected to the relevant group or teams, to be able to collectively do a task and in a very efficient manner. I think that is important. For example, what does a user need when he is on a factory floor, say he is a factory manager? Understanding that persona and understanding his work and needs in the factory floor to being able to understand what he needs when he is back in his office. Or similarly in financial services where you have folks who are managing your customers or your frontline workers to people who manage your wealth management and you’re banking stuff. [They all are] different needs but to be able to understand those personas and users, being able to retrieve relevant information across the enterprise, being able to give it to them with that context, and being able to collaborate with the relevant teams effectively with intelligence, I think, that is a very critical ask which is what enterprises are striving to do.
The second aspect is about the millennials and the Gen X, which is moving beyond employee engagement which in a lot of sense becomes a one-way communication or an information dissemination to making it more [of] an employee experience. In fact, we have felt organizations with strong online social networks within the enterprise have been more productive than those without because it just creates that experience - the way they collaborate or interact with family, friends. [It’s all about] how do you bring that same experience within your organization so that in a sense you make them feel being part of a network of teams working purposefully towards a collective goal. I think that is a very essential thing.
When we talk about teams, the other aspect is, today organizations are moving away from very static team structures to very dynamic teams. We see DevOps and agile mode of development where it is about bringing IT, bringing business, bringing your operations team all together dynamically to deliver new products or services, or to address certain challenges in the market. We saw some surveys where they believe by 2020 significant people/workforce will become freelance consultants and you [will] engage them for a particular need rather than having them full time. In such an environment where you have teams that are being brought together in a very dynamic manner for a period of time, how do you make them collaborate more effectively? That’s a very fundamental change because today you have very well-defined team structures within IT, within your sales, within your operations. How do you bring them all together and achieve a collective goal of what you are trying to achieve or build a new capability, new product, or new services? I think that is another key trend that we are seeing in the industry.
Alex: Okay, I can see that you have another point that you would like to make and that’s the issue of security. So how would you address that?
Chidambaram: Great that you brought about that. I think security has consistently been the top concern for a lot of our CIOs because the kind of digital disruption that you are seeing in the industry, security is very important to make sure they have the right controls and access managements in place.
What is also important from a workplace transformation perspective is that now security moves from a perimeter discussion to one [that is] role based, context aware and real time. What we mean by that is now you have a very mobile workforce, and the rise of BYOD (bring your own device), where employees bring their own smartphones but then we enable them to access employee e-mails and also a lot of other apps and information that they need, particularly if they are a mobile workforce or people working from home which is a common trend today, so that they continue to be more productive irrespective of whether they are in the office or not. But what this also means is that security is no longer confined to the boundaries of your enterprise and the perimeters that you manage, but also onto these BYOD devices.
As you move some of them to cloud, how do you ensure that all this information that is there that people are collaborating on are also protected and that we have the right access management, lot of threat analytics/threat intelligence done? Because, now that you are opening it up, you also need to have the right control and monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the right people are using this information.
Alex: Would you look at one channel security, as in a group of people as a network, because I think there would be reluctance to use your own device because of the information which would be personal. Is that correct?
Chidambaram: No, so typically in BYOD they are containerized. For example, Infosys would have a set of apps that are deployed within your mobile device and that doesn’t get access to information outside and vice versa you cannot take information from these devices or apps and then copy and paste it onto your personal space.
You know, it’s an interesting point that you bring - something we sometimes trivialize but it is a very pressing concern in a lot of our enterprise clients, particularly in the financial space because on one end you want your mobile workforce to be productive, enabled digitally with all the relevant information, but at the same time it is also your obligation, in a lot of industries [it] is also a regulatory compliance need, to ensure that you protect the information and it’s not something that he can copy it and move it to his personal space. We have various mechanisms on the enterprise security of workplaces which ensure that you have the right access management and controls in place.
Alex: This leads one to ask you the next question, which is, what are the challenges an enterprise has to face in opting for transforming a workplace experience for its employees?
Chidambaram: When we talk about transforming these workplaces, I think the first thing that comes, that needs to be addressed, is defining what these workplaces of tomorrow should look like. A lot of our clients, they want this collaboration to be seamless, immersive, contextual. But it’s important to take a step back and understand what are the different groups of people that you have - what are their different needs, understanding their work styles, their functional needs, understanding what are the challenges employees are facing to be more productive - and how are you going to address that in the workplace of tomorrow. Understanding that problem is very important.
The second thing is, we talked about how we make the engagement very contextual, very intelligent. But to really make that you need to do a lot of enablement, which is about digitizing your information so that it is accessible. It is also about ensuring that you have all the policies defined around a lot of these things whether who accesses what, how do they collaborate, what do they use. That is also an important aspect.
Once you have these things defined, the other challenge that we see is most of our Fortune 2000 clients have a legacy that they carry - they have technologies that they have invested in and information/data that is there in that which employees and their partners use day in, day out - how do you move all these users, this information, this content to this new workplace that you are transforming to. I think migrating that is a challenge in a lot of our organizations because they would have done a lot of customizations, so being able to understand that and implementing that in your future state workplace I think that is another challenge, but there are solutions for that.
The third thing, which I think is often overlooked, is around governance and change management. You have to constantly evolve. You need to have a mechanism to see and ensure that “Hey! There are these new features that are coming in, how do I ensure the right people get access to it? How do I ensure that I deliver a lot more value from these new features?” So it’s about training and enablement. It’s about putting in place policies around how you introduce new services into your workplace. Technologies that are breaking traditional styles of working together. You see augmented reality around Microsoft HoloLens. It fundamentally changes how you collaborate in real time. And these [technologies] are evolving in such rapid pace, it’s important to ensure you have a proper and a strong governance and change management in place that can quickly adapt to this rapidly evolving workplace around you.
Alex: Does this involve constant training?
Chidambaram: Yes, constant training and enablement. That’s an absolute essential today.
Alex: So there’s no level in which you basically stop learning. You are constantly evolving with that training. So how often are you training?
Chidambaram: One of the key things that we tell our enterprise clients is that training has to become intrinsic in this. We call it the “collaboration continuum”. We believe it’s a journey. It’s not about training in new technologies. In fact, we encourage piloting new ways to collaborate constantly with a select set of users, get their feedback, and roll it out to the larger organization.
Alex: It’s not necessarily collaborative training and learning, in the sense self-learning falls in that category as well. I assume so because I have seen a generation who are self-taught and are self-learners. I mean would you encourage self-learning as a company?
Chidambaram: Absolutely! If you see today’s millennials, they would like to learn new things. They want to learn new ways to collaborate. You will see how people are so excited when they have new things rolled out on Facebook. How many people go and train them on how to use that new feature in Facebook? I think in the millennials it’s not just about, “Hey! You have a training curriculum and a program”. It is about providing them those, say, training videos.
In fact, we believe it’s going to be less of typical classroom trainings to enabling training resources to them. It could be training videos, it could be pilot programs, where they actually come and try a new way to collaborate and learn from it. The other aspect of learning which I want to bring about is not just employees learning new ways to collaborate and new features that we roll out, it’s also about organizations learning to see what is being more effective, what is making my employees more productive.
Alex: So, we’ve discussed the challenges that are faced in the workplace experience, but how can we solve these challenges? What implementations do you have to resolve these?
Chidambaram: Yeah, when we talk about defining the workplace of tomorrow - defining that need, understanding the problems in your workplace today - we recommend adopting a Design Thinking based approach, which gets to the root of finding the problems of the workplace so that you define a workplace that not only solves these problems, but makes that experience much more purposeful.
When it comes to migrating it, or transforming, once you’ve defined where you want to go, it is about how you bring automation, how you manage the information architecture. We bring a lot of tools to that and we help organizations do that transformation much quicker. We encourage organizations to do rapid prototyping, pilot it with a select set of users, and then roll out to a larger organization. And it could be different in different regions.
There are a lot of regional aspects, not just culturally, as well as about the HR policies in those regions. It could also be regulatory aspects. So bring all those elements [and] make sure you capture that as you transform them. GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] is an important aspect in the European market - that is something people have to address in the next couple of years. We believe that is very important for a lot of our European clients to understand and make sure, [that] as they are transforming their workplace, they address this regulatory aspect that is rolling out in all the European countries.
Alex: So are you creating a culture of your own?
Chidambaram: Yes! It is about defining the culture. I think a lot of organizations have that culture. It is about … interesting that you brought that up … I think the workplace of tomorrow defines your culture as well or represents your culture as an organization.
Alex: That is an interesting way of leading into the next question, which is, how will transforming the workplace experience help businesses improve their effectiveness in that respect?
Chidambaram: I’ll answer this by talking through some of the experiences our clients have had. We’ve worked with a very large agri manufacturer. Their fundamental problem was first around their intranet portal, which was more about information dissemination. It wasn’t really getting their employee experience to a point where they felt it was being productive. And they are a very global organization, spread across multiple countries, multiple geos and continents. By just adopting a Design Thinking based approach with them - we did that over eight to 10 weeks process, understanding the different work styles, different employee needs in their organization - we piloted this new corporate intranet portal which was very dynamic, very contextual to the information these employees need in their different roles. And we were seeing tremendous uptake through their surveys and other things where they have measured their employee experiences grown from their service, which is tremendous. In one quarter, you’ve been able to see your employee experience increase. That was the experience we have seen there.
The other one which I would say is about, in a lot of manufacturing clients, or in a services sector, there is a need of paperless office. You will be amazed at the amount of time and the inefficiencies that are there in the processes today in organizations where they have to actually scan documents, digitally sign it, scan it, and store it in various management systems. And that makes that entire process of managing documents across your organizations very cumbersome.
Today with technologies you can make that virtually a paperless office, where you manage these documents on a cloud, digitally sign them, and archive them for auditing and other needs. That has been a tremendous improvement in organization efficiencies that a lot of our clients have seen.
The other thing is about the customer care functions, which is the first line. Often we have seen that this is the most disengaged workforce in an organization. They are the last ones who get information about what has changed in an organization, [the] last ones to know about new products and services that are being made. They are the ones who have to go across multiple information repositories in an organization because you have different businesses within your organization, managing different data, but they are [also] the single face of an enterprise to your customer who might be across all products and services that you offer. And we talk about his 360-degrees view of customer. And this is often talked about.
It is also important to understand [that] while a lot of emphasis on that first line worker has been about making sure he gets a 360-degrees view of his consumers, what is also important is for the first line worker to know about the latest products and services, the latest information. Also, [it is important to] make his employee experience more seamless by making sure he has one portal where he not only gets to see about all these new products and services, but also about his personal information that he needs to know on a day to day basis - be it latest policies on his finances and other things in a single integrated environment. It makes his experience more seamless, right?
When you make your first line workers more effective, you see your brand growing because they in many ways represent your brand to your external customers. They in many ways define the productivity of your organization because whether it’s in the factory or whether the sales, they help you grow the brand. They are your first point of connect with your customers. And we have seen [this] in a couple of manufacturing clients where we have been able to transform that first line worker space.
Alex: I would like to know, how your clients are transforming their workplaces?
Chidambaram: For almost 80% of our enterprise clients, Office 365 or Microsoft 365 has been their technology of choice. Microsoft 365 has the best of Office 365, Windows 10, and now [it] brings the enterprise mobility and security that we talked about, all in an integrated model. That makes it seamless, it makes it intelligent, and it also makes it an integrated experience for our customers. How we are helping enterprises is [to] move from Microsoft technologies, the various legacy technologies on EUC and UCC they were on, to this Microsoft 365 platform which we believe is one of the leading and predominant solutions in the market on workplace. We help them, understand their needs, envision that workplace of tomorrow, and then we help them enable this transformation by migrating users, groups, information, documents, their real time collaboration technologies, moving it to Office 365 and making that integration seamless. We help clients migrate in their end user computing space to Windows 10 – what it enables is a complete mobile application and device management capability in the end user computing space.
It’s as simple as you give your new employee, who is joining you, a laptop. He just goes and plugs it into his network and then we can remotely manage, understand who he is and what his role is and deploy applications in his laptop or in his mobile BYOD device and push those things. Today, that’s not the case there in a lot of our organizations. We also then put in place, as part of their operations, governance and change management mechanisms. With a lot of these collaboration technologies, moving on to cloud, and where you don’t have a level of control that you had before, it is also important to understand, “Hey! What is the level of licence usage, data usage, site usage?” Because you are going to pay for that.
We are seeing a lot of our clients moving to a complete user based pricing. And pricing is one element of it but it is about providing these services in a user based construct. In IT [it is more of a] service construct, which is a fully managed services construct, where an organization just leverages that in as-a-service model and pays for it based on the consumption. So we help them set up these workplace operations, providing dashboards, providing change managing capabilities. That’s how we are helping a lot of our clients. It’s an exciting journey.
Alex: Honestly, I think in this industry you have to be visionaries. I think you have to be very strong in predictability as well, which I would say leads me on to my final question, what would the future transformed workplace look like?
Chidambaram: Interesting! Future. Well, I’ll answer this in two parts. All of us have seen in our days, fictions turning into realities. Speed of that happening is increasing or its becoming more rapid. In the near future where I am seeing - with a lot of this AI and chatbots that have come in, just take examples of Cortana, Pixel, Alexa - all these AI technologies are both in your personal space as well as workplace. In the immediate future, what I would call them is “digital assistants”. In some sense, that is what it is called in your mobile phones and spaces.
Today, you will see executive assistants in an organization to your top executives. Think about a workplace where every employee of yours has a digital assistant who can take care of scheduling his tasks, scheduling his meetings, and doing a whole set of mundane things that we would love to hand over to somebody else. It is a powerful thing, right? And I think this will make them (employees) more productive, more creative, because now you are empowering them and enabling them with these technologies and digital assistants so that they can focus on tasks that can bring more value to the enterprise and better experiences for themselves in what they are doing. That I see as the immediate future.
What I see may be at a five or 10 year horizon is where collaboration - we are talking about now how we make these collaborations between employees and humans more effective and seamless - is going to be about how you make man and machine collaborate more effectively. With all this artificial intelligence that is going to come into them, how do you leverage that more effectively? How do you collaborate with them to achieve certain tasks, because they are going to be there in the workplace perhaps as an employee itself? How do you make this man-machine collaboration more effective and intelligent? As long as it is we who manage them and not they managing us, I think [that] is going to be the biggest challenge in tomorrow’s future workplace.
Alex: Does this lead to perfection?
Chidambaram: Yes, perfection in certain tasks. But I believe, an organizational efficiency/productivity and other things is not just about the perfection in the tasks you do, it is also about what is your culture, what are the ethics of an organization. Bringing empathy into your workplace, bringing empathy to your customers, and understanding them and being able to deliver that value, I believe that is going to define organizations of the future.
Alex: I agree with you because what AI will do is take the clutter out of your lives, and that will alleviate a lot of stress because there is less to think about. Thank you so much Chidu, for spending your valuable time with us.
Chidambaram: Thank you, Alex for having me.
Alex: It was indeed a very informative session. And thank you all for listening. For more information, please visit Infosys.com. We look forward to you tuning in next time. Thank you!