— My reflections from the Gartner Digital Workplace Symposium 2018 in London
“Something was not right. After the symposium’s final keynote speech, while leaving Waterloo — facing Big Ben and the setting sun — I was crossing Westminster Bridge on the north side and came face to face with crowds of kids. In order to avoid having to plough through them, I crossed the street (looking left, of course, and nearly killing myself in the process). Once on the south side of the bridge, I found myself facing the entire refurnished Parliament building and the glamorous Big Ben under restoration. THE Big Ben! Oh, how magical it was to see Big Ben IRL for the first time! Tick that off my premature teenage Bucket List. I snapped a ridiculous selfie with the famous landmark halfway across the bridge behind me — a selfie I deleted moments later and have replaced with the free Pixabay one below since my daughter hates my selfies anyway…
…On the tarpaulin in front of me I read that Big Ben has 239 steps. 239! That many? Wow! I crossed Westminster Bridge again, looked left again, and almost killed myself in the process again when I heard an ambitious two- or three-foot tall kid running up from the Metro station with his entourage screaming: “There it is! THERE! See it?? “The Eye! T-H-E EYYYE!! C’mon! RUUUUNNN!!!”
…Running…Shirt & tie flapping out of sync…
I turned around, facing the big wheel I had left only minutes before, puzzled, bags-in-hand posture like Michael Douglas in “Falling Down,” realizing…behind me, Big Ben, 239 steps, policemen…where history was created. The Old HR as we know it. In front of me, the next generation: cafés, experience, excitement, entertainers, wedding pictures, the Eye, the future, where magic will happen.
Behind me? Gartner and all their “CIO clients” at the symposium, frantically running across the bridge. In front of me? HR & cloud HR, still not taking the lead on stage, showing the way…Why?
…Now, hold that thought for a moment! I promised to share my takeaways from this event in “Three Reasons Why Zalaris Will Join the Gartner Digital Workplace Symposium in London.”
So that’s where this brings me. The symposium was great from a content perspective. Gartner rocks there. However, it was a big eye-opener for me on how it was delivered — by whom and for whom.
1. We Must Build Digital Dexterity
“Digital dexterity is the ambition and ability to apply technology to improve business outcomes in order to drive digital transformation.” — Gartner
I don’t think “dexterity” will survive outside UK, if at all. Replace it with “savviness.” That’s crisper and hipper — what you expect from a digital nomad that does not work in the office but from where he or she is, collaborating globally. Dexterity is a tough and stiff word (like dyslexia is a humiliating word for people who use it, if you ask me…which you didn’t, but I told you anyway).
Let Big Ben represent compliance and process-centric, as-is, rigid HR, which, as we know, is being restored. As a matter of fact, cloud HR has reached the tipping point from a license perspective. Great news. HR is currently settling on the Waterloo side, pondering over the next thousands of agile releases in their ever-turning wheels of reinvention, whereas CFOs and the CIOs are still battling by the foot of Big Ben’s 239 steps. Hard stop.
Let the London Eye represent an organisation that’s increasingly focused on employee experience, engagement and contribution capabilities, one that leverages the benefits of a role-based networked organisation.
If so, the Gartner Digital Workplace would typically represent the bridge between these two realities, a connecting bridge we all must cross to close any increasing productivity gap between what is possible and what we currently leverage from the digital version of ourselves, working side by side with peers, externals and a growing digital workforce. The survival of the fittest companies.
HR is getting there but still does need to transform many organisations — not only their processes — and capture data that was not captured before. Crossing the bridge was just the start. Hearing Gartner and their CIO entourage communicate that we need to “build a digital workplace” feels like kicking in open doors. It’s not about technology. It’s about people, emotions, innovation, collective learning.
So…who should take the lead for digital “savviness”?
Gartner claims “digital dexterity” is the ambition and ability to to build a digital business while also working digitally. Like my hipster friend. Like me. One should, and I quote from one of Gartner’s excellent reports…
- Use a digital workplace initiative to drive long-term cultural change in the workplace.
- Focus on key moments in the employee experience where cultural values are paramount, such as employee onboarding.
- Exploit short- and long-term planning to maximize the impact of cultural change in the digital
- Make the connection between the physical workplace and cultural change.
…How should we build that bridge? How do we make our staff cross it and love it?
You’d think HR would own and set the scene for such an organisational change and its design criteria for an agile digital workplace. Not really. I hardly came across any HR or genuine HR perspective. CIOs overshadowed HR here with their toolboxes, how to use embedded analytics, and so on.
I am not critical. The axe is sharp. It can be deadly and useful. But why spend so much time talking about the axe itself rather than focusing on what to use it for and why?
The Gartner overall business model is 70 percent about technology selection and 30 percent about its implementation, I learned in the VIP session. The two-day digital workplace symposium reflected this revenue stream in words, titles and sponsors, with a general heritage CIOs mindset of technology selection, its implementation and featuring (thank you) good elaborations on the mastery of aspired behaviour-related critical success factors around digital savviness from Gartner’s Claire Moncrieff (ex-CEB). Some of the things she covered:
- We need networked leaders (yes, to survive in a de-centralised, role-based network)
- We need a connecting manager (yes, to enable collaboration and collective innovation)
- We need staff who embrace new technology (yes, not just because, but because it is possible)
Our learning consumption will also change as smarter automation replaces adequate tasks:
- 37% of the skills employees use today were learned in the last year!
- 66% of employees expect to learn and develop just in time!
Just these five insights are compelling enough to call for an assessment of your organisational fit within current challenges. It’s about people and change. For any classic, cost-oriented HR practitioner who is cognitive by design, this is not news. This is what HR wants to do and should do, but many times does not dare to do, lacking support and investments, stuck with restoring their Big Ben stuff.
Technology is not providing something new, per se. HR can finally get what they have been missing for years. CRM, SCM, ERP and finance has been transformed radically over the last three decades, but HR is still stuck with compliance reporting.
Now it’s HRs turn, and HR is actually leading the race to the cloud! It’s as if the CIOs of the world are finally catching up with the realities of cloud-based HR. Cloud HR licensing has reached the tipping point and now exceeds on-premise HR.
I believe we can expect both the CIOs and CFOs to do even more in future HR transformation projects, reinventing what HR already knows. It does not change the fact that CHROs should own this, from process to employee experience.
My view: HR is already there in the cloud. We have crossed the bridge of no return. CFOs and CIOs are stuck with their on-premise system and obviously need to catch up or defend their historical power. But I hope HR’s focus will change the digital workplace in terms of ambition and capability. They hire for attitude and train for skills. That is not a technology or CIO discussion, even though the CIO has major challenges amidst the transformation of their own organisation when we cross the bridge.
HR is the one facing these changes fastest. Or should, at least. However, we all need to become more digitally “savvy.”
2. Embrace Everyday AI
Yup. If you can’t beat it, join it. The future is clearly on the Eye side and not the Big Ben side.
Will the productivity gap reflect the polarisation gap in the world? Gartner showed the “Match of the Century” when Lee Sedol was almost fully beaten by Alpha Go in Go. Beware of God’s move 78. The end of humanity as we know it is close.
Go is the most complex game in history. Winning is about creativity and intuition. It’s true reflection of life. If AI can beat humans in Go, we may be nearing our expiration date. Scary? Suck it up! It’s time to embrace everyday AI. Denial is not the way forward — acceptance and adapting is.
“Through 2022, few jobs are fully replaceable, but most occupations will have at least some activities augmented by AI; most AI technologies will be embedded in broader products rather than assembled or created from scratch.” — Gartner
With a relaxed and smiling Matt Damon-like performance, Adam Preset walked us from prediction of horror to acceptance of everyday AI. Great pitch. We can’t stop it. It will come. So why wait? You can and should do something, learn something and discover something on a daily basis with what you already have.
AI will not come as an evil robot with fierce eyes and useless teeth, representing the worst version of ourselves. AI will come as an algorithm and (hopefully) be something you can reason with. Remember, it can beat you in Go, so it probably knows better what food is better for you.
I liked Adam’s approach, too, because you need to become someone that is able to co-work with a digital workforce — like Siri, Alexa, or your personal Watson/Henry. Try out voice recognition, digital assistants and embedded bots. Everyone should have one. The capacity is there already.
His message was plain, though. Don’t fret. Start small. Augment over time. Learn from your kids.
Scenario planning is a useful exercise for outlining general direction as well as indicators of necessary immediate actions for an uncertain future. This approach must be relevant for any company to lay out their own AI roadmap pragmatically and start embracing benefits and mitigating risks from AI. At least have a structured discussion about any unknowns in order to make informed decisions.
Since this is about employees — the total workforce, external and internal — one would think HR again should own this future clarity on digital savviness working side by side with toothless algorithms. After all, 50 percent of HRs baseline workforce will be external in a couple of years and 20 percent of the manual tasks will be automated. That leaves 40 percent of the current baseline workforce that you will retain.
“Who are the 40 percent? What are you doing to retain them? What are you doing with the CPO, with the other 40 percent, and the CIO with the rest? Will you let the external workforce accumulate all strategic skills?” — Here I actually quote myself, Sven Hultin, just because I can (great fun)
The scenario planning from Gartner follows the two dimensions for demand & supply outlined by BP in the 70s, which is the normal and useful approach. Here, they considered the impact of AI, the gig economy, emerging business models, evolving skills needs, and the level of inclusiveness. The factors are:
- Demand: Will people reject or accept Machines?
- Supply: Will technology have strong/broad or weak/narrow capabilities?
It leaves the reader with four scenarios, good, semi-good, bad and really bad, including the scary-teeth versions of ourselves. Gartner names this scenario the “Minibot Proliferation”: I’d rather have a bot do it/Bots can’t drive/Bots have gone bad.
I recommended any Gartner client go read and do the exercise.
3. Buying CEB was the best thing Gartner has done recently
Gartner research is comprehensive and succinct, but it is still not aligned with the emerging buying process of services and compelling experiences. At Zalaris, we have been HR pioneers in the cloud, with steady growth since our founding in 2000. We sell a service.
I still hear uninformed, smaller advisors saying it’s not possible to do what we do. Gartner doesn’t really target our clients since they’re looking for a service provider, and not a system, even though that is where the emerging market is.
Having said that, Gartner and CIOs around the world — their historical key targets — need to speed up their own value proposition with a growing revenue contribution from cloud-based service providers and related implementation increases. Gartner’s acquisition of CEB 2017 makes a lot of sense because of this. I realise now I should have gone to the ReimagineHR event instead, hosted by CEB, as it is more aligned to HR and the other LoB that must cross the bridge with CIOs in the coming years. Bummer.
The Bottom Line?
I do value Gartner’s insights and contribution to Zalaris’ overall direction and success. As an old advisor, taking selfies with Big Ben in the background that my daughter would hate, I must ask, though: Who is advising Gartner on their own value proposition and customer experience?
My reflection is, like any reflection, in the eye of the beholder. Like the kid in Westminster, I came running for the Eye but ended around Big Ben.
Please reach out to me to continue the dialogue on HR’s continued transformation. I don’t care if you’re inside Big Ben, hesitating, or running across Westminster Bridge, or sitting still in one of the cabins on London Eye wondering, “Now what?” — Call me!
At minimum, we can tell you what not to do as a trusted advisor. We started 18 years ago. We’ve been on your journey.
Sven’s responsibilities at Zalaris focus on value creation and go-to-market strategy for the company’s cloud HR/talent management business. He joined the company in 2014 and also manages Zalaris’ global advisory relationships. Reach him on LinkedIn, @klingerii, or by phone at +46-72 544 42 61. E-mail at email@example.com.