The Computer-ization of the Workplace

A photographer friend of mine recently reflected about his time in the 1970s and 1980s working for an industrial firm. He would take pictures of people doing the variety of jobs that were involved in manufacturing the company’s products, and the company would then run those pictures in its newsletters and annual reports. Every job had its own look: The tools, the workspaces and even the employees’ apparel were all distinctive, and the photos would capture those distinctions.

Then, something funny began to happen.

Computer terminals, monitors and PCs began cropping up. Pretty soon, you could find one in just about every workspace. As that change happened, the visual distinctions between different categories of work began to narrow. An accountant’s desk looked like an engineer’s desk. A plant operator’s control room looked a lot like a customer service workspace. Eventually — and usually the last to computerize — even the company’s C-suite offices took on a “techie” look, although their surroundings were more comfortable.

For my friend, the challenge of visually capturing the distinctive characteristics of each job became much more difficult; after all, when every occupation looks the same, how do you differentiate them on film?

The Digitization of the Workplace

Fast-forward to 2020. By now, the intrusion of digital technology into every aspect of the workspace is essentially complete. But unlike the early days of desktop computer proliferation, when communication among devices was limited, today’s workplace PCs are all connected to one another through servers, networks, transmitters and clouds, as well as to unmanned devices that share their internet bandwidth. What’s more, as computers grew smaller, cheaper, more powerful and far more mobile, they became as routine a part of our private lives as telephones were a generation ago. And this change is not just limited to one or two countries; private ownership of laptops and cell phones is a worldwide phenomenon.

That surge of connected digital devices has major repercussions for the workforce. Traditional job distinctions are disappearing. Advances in technology are reshaping the contours of work as well as the training that people need to be able to do it. It is a change that companies throughout the developed world are scrambling to keep on top of.

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that examined those changes and identified dozens of new or substantially changed categories of work that the emerging economy will demand in the foreseeable future. Among them: software and applications developers, data analysts, managing directors, chief executives, general and operations managers, sales and marketing professionals, and all sorts of specialized technicians focused on new technologies.

The Proliferation of Enterprise Software

Of course, there are important differences among those jobs, as well as in the formal training and work experience required of the people assigned to carry them out. But, as my photographer friend began to notice years ago, just about all of them are heavily involved with digital technology. Beyond that commonality, they also depend on highly sophisticated software packages from outside vendors that track, store and enable essentially every business function. ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), BI (business intelligence), HR (human resources) and finance applications are popular examples. Using real-time input, they help organizations capture critical data, analyze what it means, enable smarter decisions and line up the resources needed to carry them out.

In 2019, organizations worldwide spent $458 million on enterprise software, an 8.8% increase from 2018. This year, information technology (IT) spending on enterprise software is projected to be about $426 million — a projected decrease due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Gartner research.

The Need for Real-time Software Support

Even without a clear timeline, the promise of digital transformation for progress, prosperity and personal fulfillment is tremendous. While it comes at a cost and involves a lot of moving parts, one essential aspect of preparing for that change is already in hand: tools to promote skills in the use of enterprise software. Even for the youngest employees, members of a generation that’s native to digital devices, enterprise software is not intuitive. It’s complicated, and instruction from the software’s developer and by the user’s IT department will always be valuable. However, it tends to be concentrated at the front end of adoption. Once they have completed that initial training, employees are largely on their own.

For most enterprise software packages, which are highly complex and built on millions of lines of code, an employee’s ability to recall everything they need to make good use of the program is almost always inadequate. Particularly with frequent updates to the software, the user’s initial training soon becomes obsolete. This training need has become the focus of a new industry that Gartner recently named “digital adoption solutions,” or DASs. Its mission is to provide software that helps users cut through the complexity and constant customization of their employer’s enterprise systems. It accomplishes that mission by automatically integrating real-time, context-sensitive, on-screen prompts into the application — helping users learn to navigate their system more quickly, with greater confidence — and it remains with the user throughout the life of the software.

WhatFix recently commissioned a study to learn more about how companies are, or are not, succeeding with digital adoption. It found that while most enterprises, including all of the ones included in the survey, have already deployed a CRM system, fewer than half of their sales reps actually use it.

Respondents offered a variety of explanations, but the bottom line, at least in the view of those companies, is that 70% of the implementations now in place don’t achieve their desired outcomes. That number is a huge disappointment, because the survey also confirmed a widely held belief that enabling sales reps to adopt their CRMs could substantially increase their sales productivity and generate real cash savings for the company.

DASs are not designed to replace formal training on the use of the application. Instead, a DAS is a supplementary companion, deployed on top of cloud-based enterprise solutions without degrading the underlying software’s performance. It is a tool for quickly building proficiency and gaining more value from the company’s technology investment.

DASs can be a high-value companion to any company navigating a digital transformation, whether its employees work in matching cubicles or in their own homes. It can also overcome the non-adoption excuses offered by reluctant employees as alibis for never having learned how to use their software in the first place.