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Understanding the Digital Workplace


The digital workplace is defined as a “business strategy to boost employee engagement and agility through a more consumerized work environment”. But what exactly does this mean for life sciences organizations? Michael Woodbridge explains.

Gartner defines the digital workplace as a “business strategy to boost employee engagement and agility through a more consumerized work environment”. But what exactly does that mean, and what does it entail? Pharm Exec spoke to Gartner's Research Director, Michael Woodbridge, at AMPLEXOR’s recent “Be The Expert 2017” event for further explanation.

PharmExec: Can you give an overview of the new digital workplace? 


Michael Woodbridge: There are three underlying stands to this strategy.

Engaging employees. The strategy must ensure employees are engaged in the creation of a new workplace environment. This includes a blend of IT and business staff that act as co-owners of technology strategy and execution. Additionally programs must prioritize user experience, employees are more demanding of technology due to their personal technology experiences which are more streamlined than their work equivalents. In order to engage employees with their workplace environment, Organizations must provide or support similar consumerized experiences.

Michael Woodbridge

Re-imagining the workplace and its technology. Creating a vision, strategy and implementation plan that exploits emerging technology to make employees more effective. Ideally a digital workplace (DW) would include technology that is cohesive (in that it provides an integrated experience) and adaptive (in that it can adapt to change and support personalized ways of working). There isn’t one single piece of software that can be described as digital workplace, but typical catalysts for such a program include intranet refresh programs, cloud office migrations, and modernization of content services capabilities.

Changing nature of work. The strategy must be cognizant of the fact that work patterns are changing, influenced by many factors including globalization, workforce retirement, increased outsourcing, crowdsourcing,  and the establishment of the millennial generation in the workforce. A digital workplace program should look for ways to reimagine not just the tools and environment we work with but how the work is actually executed. Such a strategy can help digitally transform an organization.

How wide is the take-up?

As it’s not one single piece of software it’s not easy to define “take-up”. A digital workplace is a strategy and organizations are at many different level of the journey to execute their strategy. Gartner defines a digital workplace maturity model with 1 being “no intention to create a DW program” and 5 being the optimization of a well-established program. In a recent survey of selected business leaders, less that 5% indicated they were at level 1. The majority of respondees indicated they were somewhere between 2-3 on this scale.

Additionally, typical catalysts for a DW program are gaining considerable traction. Cloud office is probably the best example of this where,  it is estimated that by 2020, more than 90% of enterprises will have provisioned, in whole or in part, a cloud office platform. Again the digital workplace is more than just a single piece of technology, but this is a common entry point.

Which industries are pioneering DW programs; who is most advanced?

I don’t think any particular industry sector has stolen a  march on the competition here, as described above, average maturity across all industries and geographies is at a mid-level. However I think it’s safe to say that heavily regulated industries particularly financial services and life sciences are typically more slow to challenge existing principles that underpin compliance, privacy and security objectives. Safe to say, that within life science, there are different pockets of excellence. The innovation model has changed from external innovation (e.g. transactional with CROs) to a more collaborative and “distributed” innovation model, where many connections beyond the firewall are creating intellectual property, coming up with new ideas for drugs and therapies, etc.  There are nearly 4000 entities performing molecular R&D today, many of which are involved with large pharma partners. 

What metrics are typically used to show value/ROI?

Capturing, interpreting and learning from metrics is a key component of a digital workplace program. Only from measuring the effects of a holistic program can the measures introduced be understood and refined. The effects of a digital workplace program are not always easily equated with ROI, however it is important to continuously monitor the impact the digital workplace is having on business performance. This actual metrics here can vary hugely and are heavily related to the business problems being addressed. Common examples at a more generic level include metrics such as workforce effectiveness, employee agility, employee satisfaction, retention and other organization specific goals. We also see some workplace productivity contextualized. For instance within life science, several major pharma have digital workplace initiatives that are intimately tied to R&D success. Connecting people, content and complex information across very difficult and dynamic functional domains (e.g. scientific, clinical, and regulatory) is the name of the game.

Is it fair to say that life sciences firms have been slow to adapt to the new digital workplace?

For the most part, yes. As above, most regulated industries are more likely to have reluctance to adopt some of the underlying technologies that support the digital workplace. Many organizations are still living a bit in the dark ages when it comes to the digital future, but are forced to do so due to so much legacy “technical debt” holding them back.

Why do you think this is the case?

Mostly regulatory compliance, and in particular system validation. The validation processes typically leads to reluctance to implement any system changes on a regular basis (for example, cloud office suites).  Also such deep rooted principles tend to take root across an entire enterprise thereby restricting areas of the business that can move at a more agile pace. Life science companies also have an incredibly long life cycle. It can take up to 2 decades to research a drug and ultimately get it through clinical trials and onto the market. With long life cycles and somewhat restrictive regulatory and compliance challenges, making big change is difficult.

How can life sciences firms get around that?

A life sciences organization can still implement a digital workplace strategy. This strategy, as described above, focuses on many aspects of employee engagement, not just technology. By pulling together the right blend of people to work on the definition of digital workplace vision and strategy, initiatives and new ways of working will become apparent. A catalyst project such as the modernization of ECM capability (a common consideration currently) is often a great place to start . This team can then start to challenge the long held principles of the organization that may be incorrectly unilaterally applied.

What kind of benefits could life sciences firms gain from adopting some of this technology?

A more effective workforce with access to tools that support and augment their decision making whilst unburdening them from the routine are far more likely to drive change and innovation that can be truly transformative. The life sciences industry has always been incredibly innovative with how it uses technology to support standard work practices. eCTD, for example, was an early adopter of structured information exchange. However it has also become somewhat mired in very restrictive practices, often applied across the organization. A digital workplace strategy will help organizations challenge long standing principles and implement an agile, innovative workplace where people want to go whilst still maintain the levels of governance and compliance required. This is becoming more essential as organizations and partner eco systems become more diverse (particularly in research and new product development) and move beyond organizational boundaries. Gartner analysts are exposed to a lot of exciting initiatives in this industry-digital R&D, lab of the future, Pharma 360 Development, all of which have the potential to be truly transformative.  All of these need an effective, digitally dexterous, workforce and this is not possible without the execution of strong and cohesive digital workplace strategy.

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