The Virtuous Circle of Empowering Employees Through Digital Workplace

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A “chicken or egg” question

We are continuously told to put the customer first. However, are we not missing a crucial element? Should the employee not be considered as equally important to the customer? Remember what Richard Branson says: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.

Would it be incongruous to talk about happiness at the workplace? Happiness can indeed seem very personal and far from corporate responsibility. However, according to a study from the University of Warwick, happy professionals are up to 12% more productive than unhappy employees. Psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as the experience of positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is meaningful. She suggests that happy people make better decisions. What would that specifically mean at the workplace?

Empowering employees

Part of being happy is feeling “in control”, so empowerment is vital. When employees are emancipated in their jobs, they can deliver the extra mile. Social sciences have demonstrated that empowerment can be explored both at individual and organizational levels. Companies cannot escape their responsibility in that area. The Thomas and Velthouse model of employee motivation shows that empowerment incorporates four facets:

  • Meaningful tasks to accomplish
  • Feeling of competence
  • Work self-determination
  • Personal impact over results

HR and IT must therefore work together in order to create an environment that enables employees to feel as such. HR must promote values such as trust and the freedom to act. And IT must deploy an applicative framework that fosters employees’ autonomy and self-training.

Empowering employees means giving people both the spirit and the tools to solve problems and complete their tasks with minimal manager’s intervention. Organizations have a duty to provide access to knowledge and expertise for staff to make informed decisions and act in efficient ways. Accessing the right information at the right time is an essential component of the employee empowerment.

Digital Workplace is pivotal

One of the objectives is to support data access and break data silos. The more distributed the data, the more challenging it is to find relevant insights. According to McKinsey, employees spend close to two hours per day searching for information! An enterprise search application which connects people to corporate content is a key cog within Digital Workplace services. Such a tool has positive impacts on employees’ morale as people get meaningful information to make them successful in their responsibilities.

But accessing the right digital information is not enough as, from time to time, employees need to connect to peers or experts. Digital workplace is also about achieving a more human work environment contrary to the common belief that technology destroys relationships. For instance, many of our customers have implemented a “Find the People” application which treats people as entities and offers the ability to discover the most knowledgeable people on particular subjects based on project reports, white papers, training materials, internal publications etc. And when the employee has identified a colleague with the right skills, he or she can contact this person. A “working” Digital Workplace has been proven to greatly increase one-to-one interactions.

And without being cynical, is the implementation of a Digital Workplace still an optional pursuit? With the pandemic, companies’ ability to operate as a digital workplace has become essential. Covid-19 has triggered an involuntary trial for teleworking for most of us. Even people normally working in the same office have been separated during the lockdown. The Covid crisis has reshuffled digital transformation agendas for many organizations, and the post-Covid era will not reverse this trend!

What about the customers?

A study by the Work Institute states that the average cost of losing an employee is approximately at 33% of their annual wages. Training and retaining employees through an empowerment culture can save employers a lot of money. Securing a talented workforce plays a decisive role in the performance of any firm as the internal knowledge held by employees is a highly valuable asset.

No need to say that this is even more paramount for customer-facing staff. A single point of access to information through Digital Workplace gives the best chance to provide the right help to customers. In some context, data analytics can also anticipate what customers may require in the near future. Providing relevant information and the ability to solve problems are key success factors for a customer service. To be effective in their roles, customer-facing employees should therefore be well-versed on company’s products and services in order to successfully respond to clients’ questions. If an employee does not find the response on how to address a customer’s concern, he or she should find someone else who can assist – hence the “Find the People” capability mentioned before. And guess what? Employees able to satisfy customer requests can reduce their own stress levels and enhance their well-being. Happy employees make happy customers. And vice versa!

Employee engagement is now considered a top priority by business leaders

A recent survey related to Digital Workplace, sponsored by Sinequa and conducted by the independent organization Drive Innovation Insights (DII), shows the importance of empowering employees.

When assessing digital workplace needs, three metrics stand out as being particularly critical: Employee engagement, Efficiency of collaboration and Increase of intellectual capital. Digital workplace’s spectrum goes beyond efficiency at work. It is above all an essential driving force for the engagement and motivation of employees. Employee engagement is overall rated as the highest quality criteria by C-Level professionals involved in Digital Workplace programs.

It is now clear to executives that engaged employees take positive actions to exceed customers’ expectations. Happy employees definitely make happy customers and further improve a company’s performance!

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Les Misérables and the Digital Workplace

When Optimizing Data Access Shows Soft and Hard ROI

When Optimizing Data Access Shows Soft and Hard ROIs

Les Misérables? Ring a bell?

Of course! This is a famous book by Victor Hugo, and the story is amazing! But what does it have to do with the digital workplace? Let me focus on a specific quotation and comment on similarities with the digital workplace.  It occurs in the chapter where Jean Valjean and Cosette are residing in a house with a garden.  In that part, Victor Hugo explores the multiple dimensions of nature.  What caught my attention is the following question: “Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins.  Which of the two has a grander view?”  The quotation resonated in my mind as it evokes similarities with the digital workplace, particularly in reference to data access.  For large and diverse content, having relevant and timely information is critical to companies.  There are different methods to query the data and the kind of ROI that can be expected varies by orders of magnitude.

The telescope – see far into the universe

What does it mean for the digital workplace? This means breaking internal data silos and opening up global information to your entire organization (any information shared by all, such as policies, procedures, HR information, compliance, etc.).  Having a digital workplace that includes an enterprise search layer that connects people to corporate content is therefore critical.  Every employee can see beyond its reach and access data spread over a wide range of different repositories.  This data is made available to everyone and everyone stays informed.

Such use of enterprise search does not bring a high degree of business specificity.  This is typically a Google-like experience with a simplified interface that is used indifferently by marketing, sales, engineering, or accounting people – any employee.  Working across business units to address multiple audiences (a horizontal approach) – its value can be uncovered by helping a large number of employees to find information; the ROI (Return on Investment) is based on an overall improvement of the company’s productivity.  According to McKinsey, employees spend close to two hours per day search for information.  In addition to increased productivity, such employee empowerment also has positive impacts on a company’s culture and employees’ wellbeing.  This is what we call a soft ROI.  A soft ROI is not easy to measure and rely on in a business case.  Benefits are referred to as indirect.  Having said that, some dollars savings can be estimated through productivity gains.  The main assumptions include the number of employees,  the average salary, and the percentage of working time saved thanks to a simple information finder.  A summary of an ROI that was calculated for a company comprising of 30,000 employees can be seen below.

ROI of Search for Digital Workplace

Assumptions were made regarding user adoption ramp-up schedules, with a greater number of users and a higher efficiency over time.  The ROI in this example is close to 13 million dollars over 3 years.

The microscope – explore what is next to you

How would this translate for the digital workplace? This ability would indeed be very helpful to assist intensive-knowledge workers in their daily tasks.  The term “knowledge worker” was first coined by Peter Drucker who defined knowledge workers as high-level workers who use advanced data collection techniques, statistics, complex correlations, case studies, and a lot more.  Data is key in helping them to perform their jobs.  And guess what? Enterprise search technology can also help in such a context.

As opposed to the simple Google-like experience, the objective here is to design a “Search-based application” customized with business-specific knowledge.  The value resides in the ability to follow a targeted business function along the key phases of its work.  Only enterprise search can index and aggregate very diverse data coming from both structured and unstructured content in order to extract the nuggets of information and provide a unified view on a specific topic (product, customer, company…)  For example, for a bank advisor, it is critical to aggregate internal data such as payments, information from the CRM, transaction history as well as external data, such as market analysis and news, to recommend the most relevant products to a customer.  The ROI is no longer related to a high number of people but to clear business-process improvements.  To do so, we target a precise group of knowledge workers on a designated use case in a specific vertical, a tryptic of “industry, use case, persona.”

Let’s take the example of clinical trials with a large pharmaceutical company.  Clinical trials are research studies that are aimed at evaluating a new drug.  They are the vehicles for evaluating a new drug.  They are the primary way that researchers find out if a new treatment is safe and effective.  In that case, the tryptic mentioned previously would then be “pharmaceutical, clinical trials, researchers.”  A specific “Search-based application” has been designed to dive into clinical data dispersed across millions of files and multiple systems and applications, surfacing insights to support the evaluation of new drugs.  The enterprise search technology had increased speed to market for new drugs.  Knowing that in the pharma industry, the average cost of new drug development is $1.0 billion, any slight improvement in the global process immediately gives better margins leading to bottom-line improvement.  This is what we call a hard ROI.  This type of ROI refers to clear measures that can be quantified in hard dollars.  To give you a flavor of the way the above pharmaceutical company calculated the ROI, you’ll find below some of the assumptions that were made (for your information, clinical trials include 3 main phases):

  • 10% to 14% of all drugs that make it to phase 1 succeed
  • 31% of all drugs that make it to phase 2 succeed
  • 50% of all drugs that make it to phase 3 succeed
  • 32% of drugs make it to phase 3
  • Average trial costs- phase 1: $170m; phase 2: $400m; phase 3: $530m
  • The cost of a trial is between $800m and $1.8b
  • The cost of patient/site recruitment averages $40k per patient/site

Locating key data and deriving insights is a key success factor for researchers.  The “Search-based application” has increased efficiency, shaving months off drug development timeline.  According to this large pharmaceutical corporation, the ROI realized is 25 million dollars per drug.

So, which has the grander view- the telescope or the microscope?

Both reveal worlds that are normally hidden from view.  For the digital workplace and data access, you require them both.  Accessing the right information at the right time is becoming ever more complex, and there are many factors with the potential to make it even more complicated.  Either for corporate content or business-specific data, enterprise search can help with both dimensions.  The ability to retrieve a company’s data assets and provide actionable insights in order to make informed decisions is indeed vital for business efficiency.  By applying methods and technologies, you can be sure that “Even the darkest of night will end and the sun will rise.” Another quote from Les Misérables.

Digital Workplace telescope vs microscope

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