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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