Tag Archives: employees

Employees empowered to make data-driven decisions spur growth

When employees on the front lines, the ones actually meeting with customers rather than those in back offices and board rooms, are given the tools, training and authority to make data-driven decisions, it makes a huge difference in the success of a given organization.

That’s the finding of a new report from ThoughtSpot, an analytics vendor founded in 2012 and based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and the Harvard Business Review titled, “The New Decision Makers: Equipping Frontline Workers for Success.”

A total of 464 business executives across 16 industry sectors in North America, Europe and Asia were surveyed for the report.

The survey found that only 20% of organizations are giving their  front-line employees both the authority and the tools — self-service analytics platforms and training — to make decisions based on analytics. Those organizations, meanwhile, were most likely among the respondents to have seen more than 10% annual growth in revenue in recent years.

As a result of their objective success — their growth — those enterprises were dubbed Leaders.

Another 43%, however, were deemed Laggards. They were organizations that have so far failed to give their  front-line employees the ability to make decisions driven by data, either by not providing them the BI tools and training or simply not giving them the authority, and were seeing that reflected in their bottom line.

Scott Holden, ThoughtSpot's chief marketing officerScott Holden

Scott Holden, chief marketing officer at ThoughtSpot, recently discussed the report in detail.

In a Q&A, he delves into the hypothesis that led ThoughtSpot and the Harvard Business Review to conduct the research, as well as many of the key findings.

Among them were that, even among Leaders, a vast majority of organizations (86%) believe they’re not yet doing to enough to give  front-line employees everything they need in order to make data-driven decisions. Meanwhile, among those that have at least begun giving  front-line employees the necessary tools and training, 72% have seen an increase in productivity.

What was the motivation for the survey — what did you see in the market that led you and Harvard Business Review to team up and undertake the project?

Scott Holden: We sponsored this research because we had a hunch that companies that empowered their frontline employees with faster access to data would outperform their [competitors]. That was the primary premise, and we wanted to explore the idea and see what other dynamics surrounded that — what was holding them back, what were the Leaders pursuing and doing better than the Laggards — and that was the impetus for this.

What were the key findings, what did ThoughtSpot and HBR discover?

Holden: We all know that technology plays a huge role in productivity gains and empowering people, but there’s also a big cultural transformation required — a process change — and how do the things you do as leaders impact how people adopt technology, and so that was another big component of this. We wanted to explore both dimensions, with the goal of giving leaders that are trying to transform their companies a guide to how to do something.

When you look at the key findings, there are a few things that stand out. Not surprisingly, but it was good to confirm this, companies want to empower the front lines. Ninety percent of all respondents said, ‘Yes, we want to do this; our success is dependent on being able to give fast access to data to all people.’ That’s not surprising, but it’s good to see the number be so high. But then it gets a little bit more surprising because almost the same percentage, 86% of them, said that they need to do more. They’re basically saying they need to provide better technology and tools to empower those employees. They’re saying, ‘We’re not doing enough,’ and more specifically, only 7% of the people surveyed though they were actually doing enough. That was our hunch, but the data proved out really strongly to say that there’s certainly a movement afoot here and people want to be doing this and they need to be doing a better job of it.

How do organizations stand to benefit from empowering employees to make data-driven decisions — what can they accomplish that they couldn’t before?

Holden: There was the benefits that companies saw — if you do this we think this will happen — but there was a nice nuance if you dig into those performance improvements, which is the difference reported based on what the Leaders were doing versus what the Laggards were doing.

When you empower an employee with more and better access to data, they actually become a happier and more engaged employee, and … that translates into better service and better customer satisfaction.
Scott HoldenChief marketing officer, ThoughtSpot

The dimensions by which people saw improvements were around productivity, employee satisfaction, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and then an improvement in quality of products and services. Some specific stats were that if people said they were to give their employees better access to data and facts, 72% said they would increase their productivity, 69% said that they would increase customer employee engagement and satisfaction, and 67% said they would increase the quality of their products and services.

Basically, everybody thinks that across the business, if we do this we’re going to see big, big improvements in what would be the core levers for any business. If you look at higher employee engagement and higher customer satisfaction, when you empower an employee with more and better access to data, they actually become a happier and more engaged employee, and if they’re the one that’s on the front line talking to your customer, that translates into better service and better customer satisfaction. There’s a nice tie-in to how this actually plays to delivering better services and experiences to your customers in a really relevant way.

What are the obstacles?

Holden: This is where it gets into Leaders versus Laggards. I was really kind of blown away. One of the things that I saw was that — and this is a little counterintuitive — the laggards were 10 times more likely to say they don’t want to empower the front lines. There’s a good chunk of the Laggards out there — 42% of the Laggards – [that] said they actually don’t think they should empower the front lines. This really gets into what I think underlies this big thing that’s standing in the way of the analytics industry right now, which is that historically analytics and data-driven decision-making was done at the top, sort of ivory tower analytics. If you were a C-level executive you probably had a data analyst or someone who worked for you who gave you access to information, and you were able to use your management dashboard to help you make decisions. For practical reasons, it’s hard to give every employee on the front lines access to data analysts, and there may be some trust issues.

What we’re seeing in this report is that there’s a real lack of trust, and that’s why you’re seeing a lot of Laggards say they don’t think they need it. You see that the Laggards have a backward view of what’s driving success, and that empowering the front lines really is an important thing and they’re missing it.

If an organization wants to empower  front-line employees to make data-driven decisions but hasn’t begun the process, how does it get from Point A to Point B?

Holden: New technology can help. If you make it faster and easier, people are more likely to use it. But there are a couple of other key elements here. In the report, there are five key ways that folks are empowering the front lines: leadership; putting data in the hands of folks; governance, which is building the right process and security around the data that you do expose; training; and facilitation, which is a nuance that ties into training, having managers who are bought in because they’re the ones that facilitate the training and make it happen.

Technology companies across the board are so eager to talk about technology, but you can see that other than data, the other things are about leadership, governance, management, training, and it is a full cultural experience to transform your business to be more data-driven. Fifty percent of the Leaders said that culture was a key factor where only 20% of the Laggards did — and Leaders and Laggards were based on success metrics, objective measures that show whether they’re outperforming their industry or not. Building a culture around data-driven decisions is a key factor here that can’t be underestimated.

What is the danger for organizations that don’t give their  front-line employees the tools to make data-driven decisions?

Holden: There’s a huge danger, and this is why the Laggards versus Leaders thing was so stark. If you aren’t buying into being a data-driven company and putting the leadership, the culture, the training, the thinking in place, you are going to fall behind. This report statistically says that you are going to miss out on a big opportunity if you’re not thinking strategically about making this shift. I think it’s a pretty big wake-up call. Data has been a key asset for companies for a while now, but pushing data further out into the front lines, and the success that can have on your business, is a newer concept — it’s not just empowering leaders to make decisions but empowering the marketing manager, the retail associate, the local hospital administrator, the person on the factory floor. Those folks need fast access to data too, and that is an eye-opening discovery.

Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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Endpoint management in a COVID-19 world

Employees forced to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic are using a variety of internet-connected devices — including smartphones, tablets, smart speakers, and both corporate-owned and employee-owned computers — to get their jobs done. Yet the use of each additional device poses a threat to a company’s security strategy.

For IT administrators, the management of those devices, including such means as those provided by unified endpoint management products, is now a critical consideration for enterprises in a COVID-19 world. Endpoint management is used to secure devices before they are given access to a company’s network. Unified endpoint management is the concept of controlling multiple types of devices through a single console.

“With much of the global workforce moving to work remotely, endpoint security has never been more critical,” said Christopher Sherman, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “In many cases, enterprises are quickly provisioning new remote resources to their employees, further exposing an already increasing attack surface.”

With these additional devices potentially serving as new attack vectors, he said, opportunities for cybercriminals have grown.

“We’ve already seen opportunistic attackers taking advantage of the pandemic and increasing their campaigns against consumers, as well as employees,” he said. “This is likely to increase as the quarantines continue.”

Accelerating the mobility trend

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), said the trend toward mobility and remote work has existed since the launch of the iPhone and has already forced IT professionals to secure an “expanded perimeter” around a company’s data.

Mark Bowker, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy GroupMark Bowker

Citing an ESG survey of full-time employees — including those in sales, marketing, HR, finance, IT, engineering, software development and customer service — Bowker said 74% of respondents did at least some work in a non-office setting at least once a week, while 50% did so every day of the work week.

“Employees expect to be productive from anywhere, and most IT organizations have implemented capabilities to securely deliver applications and data to employees,” he said. “The current challenge is rapidly scaling existing deployment, while maintaining security policies for users that may have a higher risk profile associated with them — and [who are] no longer working on a known network or known device.”

Alex Willis, vice president of global sales engineering at BlackBerry, agreed, noting the predominance of the mobile workforce.

Alex Willis, vice president of global sales engineering, BlackBerryAlex Willis

“Now there’s a lockdown, and at most places, people are having to do their entire job on these devices,” he said. “I think the problem organizations are seeing is the urgency in expanding it beyond the typical road warrior or mobile worker. They’re talking people who have never worked from home before and they’re having to, very quickly, set them up in a home office.”

Jason Dettbarn, founder and CEO of cloud-based Apple device management firm Addigy, said there had been increased demand for device-management products since the early days of the outbreak.

“The clear consensus is that a lot of people didn’t feel they needed device management for Apple,” he said. “They’ve had a BYOD model, maybe, or have allowed [Apple devices] in the office … now, they have this forced need where they really have to make sure they’re managing [these devices].”

Employee devices provide flexibility and risk

Given the widespread nature of the pandemic, many firms are trying to roll out remote work devices at the same time — making provisioning a challenge. This, experts noted, could lead to enterprises allowing employees to use their own devices — a flexible option, but one that imperils data security.

“Most people have really powerful home computers these days, but getting remote access to be productive on a home computer introduces a lot of risk,” Willis said. “If you don’t control the machines, you can’t really control the security posture of that machine.”

Jason Dettbarn, founder and CEO, AddigyJason Dettbarn

The same holds true on the mobile side, Dettbarn said. As Apple depends on China for manufacturing, the company is facing a shortage of devices available to enterprises — meaning those businesses may have to rely on the devices employees have on hand for mobile productivity.

“A lot of [employees] will likely have an Apple device in their home that they can use for BYOD,” he said. “Now, an organization that might be a little more Windows-focused might have to adapt to Apple devices to get people up and running.”

Zero trust for remote work

As companies may be forced to rely on employee devices, they could turn to zero-trust security — in which a user’s actions and devices are continuously evaluated — to allay security worries.

Chris Sherman, senior analyst, Forrester ResearchChris Sherman

“When a company implements a zero-trust strategy extending to all their edge devices, they can afford to be less concerned with the health of the … employee’s home network, since protection is centered around what is most at risk — their corporate apps and company data,” Forrester’s Sherman said.

Willis said zero trust represented a departure from the castle-and-moat approach to security — a model in which everything outside the firewall was untrusted and everything inside was considered safe.

“Now, with zero trust, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the network or not. Everything is considered untrusted,” he said. “Even though the users don’t know it, they’re being authenticated with every step they take: How are they interacting with the application? What network are they on? What endpoint are they [using]?”

If something looks wrong, Willis said, the zero-trust management product will require reauthentication, but the hope is to keep employees from having to jump through hoops to accomplish their usual tasks.

Getting management in place

Like many other companies, both BlackBerry and Addigy are providing limited-time free access to some of their products during the coronavirus crisis. Dettbarn said the nature of the situation drove the decision.

“Everybody is so uncertain about what’s going on, that admins are handcuffed by financial constraints or a spending freeze,” he said. “If [IT administrators] had to go get those financial approvals [to buy new management products], that’s probably not going to happen.”

[Companies] think the end goal is connectivity, but the real end goal needs to be secured connectivity.
Alex WillisVice president of global sales engineering, BlackBerry

Sherman said proper patch and configuration management, as well as a robust endpoint security solution, are the best ways to protect the devices employees use for remote work.

“To this end, we’re seeing many endpoint management-focused products offering combined management and security,” he said.

Willis said organizations that are hoping to put work-from-home plans together quickly would do well to remember the importance of device management.

“[Companies] think the end goal is connectivity, but the real end goal needs to be secured connectivity,” he said.

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Workday salary bonus may pay workforce dividends

Workday Inc. is giving the majority of its employees a two-week pay bonus in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The HCM cloud vendor announced its plan this week.

The company’s action isn’t too different from the government’s idea of sending every American a check. It’s providing aid to help employees cover the costs associated with this crisis.

The Workday salary bonus, a one-time payment, will cost the company about $80 million. It’s to help employees with “any unforeseen costs and needs at their discretion,” the HR vendor said. It employs about 12,000.

It comes off as altruistic, but the Workday salary bonus is also a strategic business move, said Atta Tarki, founder and CEO of executive-search firm ECA in Santa Monica, Calif. He is also the author of the just released Evidence-Based Recruiting (McGraw Hill, Feb. 2020).

The Workday salary bonus “builds higher loyalty, which translates to longer retention, more productivity — all those metrics,” Tarki said.

“A lot of companies and leadership teams are going to show their true colors in this environment,” Tarki said. That is not to say that every company going through layoffs is a bad company, he said. It depends on their financial situation, he said.

Firms that can help employees are showing that statements such as “we put our employees first” have weight, Tarki said. “This is an opportunity to step up and show what they mean by that,” he said.

Workday retains employees

The bonus helps the company retain employees, it can save a substantial amount of money in the cost of replacing lost workers, Tarki said.

A lot of companies and leadership teams are going to show their true colors in this environment.
Atta TarkiCEO, ECA

If employees believe that they can count on their employers, “that is going to be reciprocated by the employees when things pick up again,” Tarki said.

Employees are going to think hard about making a move to a potentially higher-paying job, Tarki said. They’ll ask themselves: “Do I really want to leave this company that was there for me?”

Facebook is reportedly planning to give $1,000 to each of its 45,000 employees, according to The Information.

But the leading  impact of COVID-19 is unemployment.

As states order the closing of restaurants, theaters, gyms, casinos and set limits on public gatherings, unemployment claims are rising rapidly.

For instance, Pennsylvania reported more than 50,000 unemployment claims on Monday alone. The Colorado Department of Labor “has seen a surge in unemployment claims from 400 on March 7 to more than 6,800 on March 17,” the agency reported.

The amount of unemployment financial help varies greatly by state. For instance, Florida provides only 12 weeks of unemployment insurance and caps the benefit at $275 a week, according to U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who is seeking an increase. In contrast, the maximum weekly benefit in Texas is $465 a week, and in Massachusetts, it is $823 per week.

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The 10 most innovative workplace companies of 2020

Whether helping employees to communicate more seamlessly or helping underemployed mid-career women boost their incomes, these 10 companies are creating new ways to make working life fairer and more rewarding.

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For taking the slack out of messaging communications for first-line employees

It’s hard to argue with Microsoft’s dominance: Teams has more than 20 million daily users, with 91 of the Fortune 100 utilizing the platform. Last year’s improvements included greater AI integration, as well as additional tools for first-line workers (those working in people-facing positions, like doctors, or service industry employees).

Read more about why Microsoft is one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2020.

2. Mursion

For teaching EQ via VR for the likes of Coca-Cola, Nationwide, and T-Mobile

Mursion is a virtual reality training tool that combines AI and interactions with trained actors to help develop stronger soft skills among employees, such as the ability to recognize bias. Clients include companies like T-Mobile, Coca-Cola, Best Western, and Nationwide.

3. Pipeline Equity

For giving companies the tools to improve gender equality when they hire and promote

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Founded in 2017, Pipeline demonstrates the connection between gender parity and economic opportunity. The subscription-based platform analyzes company-specific data to make recommendations about moves that will both increase business outcomes and improve gender balance.

4. Dropbox

For thinking outside the file folder

The company introduced numerous enhancements in 2019, including integrations with various other platforms (like Google Docs/Sheets/Slides) and a cold-storage option. Dropbox also acquired e-signature company HelloSign, and used shingled magnetic recording (SMR) to reduce energy use and storage costs at data centers.

5. Docusign

For closing mortgages in the cloud

Document signing isn’t the sexiest topic, but it is a critical one. The company has expanded into a number of related areas, including DocuSign Rooms for Mortgage and DocuSign Identify, for verification of IDs.

6. Coda

For applying app-like functionality to document creation

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A flexible doc and management tool, Coda emphasizes the idea of democratization of software, enabling users to build app-like solutions without a coding background. Officially launched in February 2019, Coda is already used by a number of companies, including Spotify, Cheddar, and Uber.

7. The Second Shift

For creating flexible gigs for mid-career women

The Second Shift is a small company, but it’s tackling a critical workforce problem: lack of flexible opportunities for women, especially mid-career, when many are assuming primary caregiving responsibilities for children and/or parents. The company connects employers with experienced women to fill in for positions or tackle special projects.

8. Bluecrew

For matching workers with hourly jobs with health insurance, overtime, sick pay, and workers comp

At a time when many gig-economy employers don’t offer workers comprehensive protections, Bluecrew is helping secure benefits for hourly workers at companies like Blue Bottle and Levi’s Stadium.

9. Lattice

For making performance reviews a continual process via apps

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The HR software company is working with more than 1,400 companies to integrate management processes into tools employees are already using, such as Slack.

10. Samepage

For putting chat, email, files, and tasks on the same . . . you know

Samepage is emerging as a leading collaborative tool in the booming intranet market, offering such features as integrated videoconferencing and threaded chats.

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies:

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SwiftStack layoffs reflect change in focus to AI, analytics

Object storage specialist SwiftStack laid off employees in sales, marketing and partner relations this month, while shifting its focus to artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analytics use cases.

The San Francisco software vendor originally concentrated on backing up and archiving unstructured data on commodity servers with its commercially supported and enhanced version of open source OpenStack Swift. SwiftStack gradually expanded into new areas over the past eight years. The vendor claims its latest 7.0 product supports clusters that can scale linearly to petabytes of data and support throughput in excess of 100 GB per second.

Seeking to differentiate

Erik Pounds, SwiftStack’s vice president of marketing, said SwiftStack will steer away from use cases such as low-cost, long-term repositories for backup applications, replacements for tape archives, and on-premises alternatives to Amazon S3 or Glacier.

Pounds said “object storage is commoditizing” in those areas.

“These are examples of good uses for object storage, and even SwiftStack, but for us to distinguish ourselves in a crowded field, we need to compete in areas where we have strong product differentiation,” Pounds said. “Tier I technology vendors are aggressively going after these types of opportunities to preserve and grow footprint, and it quickly becomes a race to the bottom.”

Pounds said SwiftStick’s new focus is on “more modern” AI, machine learning and analytics use cases — where customers need to access data across edge, core and cloud environments. That shift in focus required the company to change “outward-facing parts of the organization” in order to stay within operating budgets.

SwiftStack did not disclose the number of employees it laid off. LinkedIn indicates the company has 63 employees, but Pounds confirmed the Dec. 18 layoffs left SwiftStack “shy of 50.” He said the company still has “a healthy sales team with complete regional coverage,” despite the loss of “valued members” of the sales, marketing and partner team.

Pounds stressed that the organizational change “did not negatively affect the product and engineering team”. He said that team received additional resources. He also denied that the cuts will change SwiftStack’s product development work and release schedules.

“We continuously release new versions of SwiftStack on a three-week cadence, so once new functionality is developed and tested, it gets in the hands of our customers quickly,” Pounds said.

Azure support

In mid-December, SwiftStack 1space added support for Microsoft Azure Blob Storage to complement the product’s support for Amazon S3 and Google Cloud Storage. Pounds said more advanced Azure support would come in January with a SwiftStack 7 update.

SwiftStack 1space creates a single namespace to enable users to access, migrate and search data spanning public and on-premises cloud object systems. A new 1space File Connector extension enables users to access data stored in file systems.

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IT’s technology experience problem gets HR tool

Bad technology experiences can leave employees unhappy, less productive and may even prompt some to quit. It’s a point backed up by studies and analysts. And it’s a problem Qualtrics sees as an opportunity.

This week, Qualtrics announced EmployeeXM for IT, an IT-specific employee engagement tool. It measures and monitors employee satisfaction with the IT stack on everything from hardware to applications.

Because technology experience has a direct relationship to employee engagement and productivity, IT managers who deploy the tool will likely have to work with HR, according to Qualtrics.

Qualtrics, which is based in Provo, Utah, was acquired by SAP for $8 billion in 2018. The firm’s platform measures brand, product, customer experience and employee experience. It has a dedicated employee experience platform, EmployeeXM.

EmployeeXM for IT assesses whether employees can do their jobs effectively and efficiently. It also measures the quality of help desk services. Its features include technology experience benchmarks against other IT departments.

Technology experience stakes

“How does the organization generally feel about the internal IT department?” said Jay Choi, executive vice president and general manager of EmployeeXM. CIOs don’t usually have a good understanding for how their employees feel about their services, he said.

The product will give satisfaction scores on a firm’s technology such as productivity and collaboration tools, marketing automation tools and ERP tools, Choi said. The EmployeeXM assessment tools will also look at specific functions in the applications. It can integrate with management platforms, such as ServiceNow, to generate a ticket in response to a service problem, he said.

“One of the big drivers of engagement are people who are feeling like they’re making daily progress,” Choi said. That’s a finding from a recent study Qualtrics did with Microsoft. To Qualtrics, that means making sure employees have “the tools and capabilities, the processes and the support they need to get their jobs done efficiently and effectively,” he said.

CIOs generally want more engagement data, according to David Johnson, a Forrester Research analyst who works with CIOs. IT managers want “to keep a better pulse on how well things are working for people.”

Tech is implicated when employees quit

“Technology is being implicated in departures by employees,” Johnson said, and CIOs are aware of it. “They want to be proactive and stay on top of this,” he said.

Technology is being implicated in departures by employees.
David JohnsonAnalyst, Forrester Research

If people are struggling at work, “sometimes there is a technology root cause — it may be impossible for them to search and find the information that they need to be successful,” Johnson said.

Bad technology experiences have a direct impact on employee satisfaction, according to a study this year by G2 Crowd Inc. In a survey of 1,600 workers, it found that more than half of survey takers are unhappy with their software tools, and nearly 25% said the poor technology experience made them consider leaving their jobs.

Interest by CIOs in getting a better understanding of tech’s impact on employee engagement is prompting IT managers to collaborate more with HR managers, said Josh Bersin, an independent HR analyst.

“The employee experience is a combination of things: the employee’s job and work, the IT environment, the management environment and the environment and culture of the whole organization,” Bersin said.

“It turns out that all employee experience [EX] programs need to involve HR, IT and often facilities and operations,” Bersin said.

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Failures must be expected in pursuit of digital innovation

Any CIO who expects employees to innovate must create a culture that accepts and even encourages failure along the way — something risk-averse executives understand but rarely put into practice.

“Culture is the software of the mind,” said Sandy Carter, vice president of Amazon Web Services, during a session at the Gartner IT Symposium in Orlando this week. “If an experiment failing comes with a price to pay, the culture of experimentation fails.”

That sentiment was reiterated time and again from prominent speakers during the Gartner conference, where IT leaders listened intently to advice on how to improve the pace of their organizations’ digital innovation efforts. In fact, lagging behind in digitization topped business leaders’ concerns in Gartner’s Emerging Risks Monitor Report released this week.

The research firm surveyed 144 senior executives across industries and found that “digitalization misconceptions” tops the list of concerns, while “lagging digitalization” ranks second. Last quarter’s top emerging risk, “pace of change,” continues to rank high, as it has in four previous emerging risk reports.

Sixty percent of the survey respondents said slow strategy execution and insufficient digital capabilities were top concerns for 2019, Gartner reports. Given the high stakes of digital innovation and the changes it brings, such projects certainly merit concern. Digitization projects lead to changes to business capabilities, profit models, value propositions and customer behavior, according to Gartner.

Think like a startup

In session after session at the IT Symposium, experts shared ways to hasten innovation — beginning with the top. It’s up to CIOs and other leaders to encourage innovative practices and to organize teams in ways that support digital innovation.

One example is team size. Big teams typically slow or completely stall the testing of new ideas, Carter said. She encourages keeping teams within companies small to maintain a startup feel, where interesting ideas are encouraged and actually implemented.

Gartner analyst Mark Raskino echoed that advice during his session on digital transformation mistakes to avoid. Executing on innovative ideas is a problem for big teams, which often spend too much time planning, he said.

Gartner analyst Mark Raskino shares digital transformation pitfalls to avoid.
Gartner analyst Mark Raskino tells IT Symposium attendees that digital innovation is often slowed by big teams who spend too much time planning and not enough time on execution.

“They’ll have one consulting firm come in, then they have a debate, set up a transformation program, they spend a couple of months on it, someone leaves the company, then another consultant comes in who redefines what digital is … you can see walls covered in plans that aren’t being executed by anybody,” Raskino told session attendees. “It’s a corporate disease, you’ve seen it before, and it has to stop.”

Lean startup thinking and taking action to create the minimum viable product gets you out of that trap, he added.

Large companies should also borrow from the startup mentality of growth mindsets — one of the “culture recoding” requirements for innovation, Raskino said.

“Unless upper and middle management is prepared to learn new stuff, and comfortable with doing that every day, it can’t expect anyone else in the organization to learn new things, and the organization becomes too stodgy,” Raskino said. “The more people we can get into that mindset, the more we can shift the cultural balance.”

Everyone must have ‘permission to disrupt’

Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO of Rent the Runway, a privately held startup now valued at $1 billion, said innovation must be everyone’s responsibility.

Innovation is the responsibility of every group within the company, and every team has to be given permission to disrupt itself.
Jennifer HymanCo-founder and CEO, Rent the Runway

“Do not start an innovation team at your organization, because that team is doomed for failure,” Hyman said in a keynote, where she was interviewed by Gartner analyst Helen Huntley. “Innovation is the responsibility of every group within the company, and every team has to be given permission to disrupt itself.”

If a CTO or CIO is not given permission to fail, they won’t come up with innovative technology, she said.

“Innovation inherently means risk-taking. It inherently means that a portion of your revenue, or your systems, are going to go down, while something else is going right,” she said. RTR experienced this type of disruption during a major software upgrade last month, which caused short-term shipping delays but led to a 35% improvement in inventory availability.

Talking upfront about what is likely to suffer through the innovation process, at least in the short term, and committing to that process over the long term is critical, according to Hyman.

Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO of Rent the Runway, at the Gartner IT Symposium
Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO of Rent the Runway, discusses the company’s Closet in the Cloud service during the Gartner IT Symposium 2019.

“Sometimes large companies give up too quickly on innovation because they expect that the growth rate of that innovation is going to take off as if they were regular divisions within the company, but true disruption takes a really long time within an organization,” Hyman said. “It has to come from the top, it has to be a part of people’s goals, and failure and risk taking has to be encouraged.”

Indeed, innovation is about reinvention, and that could require very long-range thinking, Gartner’s Raskino said. Misreading how deep the change is going to be in an industry in five to 10 years is often where executive boards make their first mistake, he told attendees.

“You have to look a long way out and bring it back to the question of, ‘What competencies are necessary now and what assets do we need now, to secure that future?'” he said.

And companies shouldn’t expect to obtain the assets their employees need to execute a deep transformation by pulling from their existing budgets, he said.

“[Executives] think they will be able to rob a bit from this budget and save some from the existing IT budget to do digital,” Raskino said. “You can do digital optimization, potentially, within existing budgets, but if you think you are going to do a transformation, without net new investment somewhere, you’re fooling yourself.”

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Employee activism challenges HR’s employee experience strategy

Employees are increasingly demanding a higher standard of conduct from their employers. They are going public to drive change, which could put pressure on HR departments to improve their employee experience strategy. 

Three recent high-profile protests illustrate this change in workplace attitude. Last month, employees at home goods retailer Wayfair protested a furniture order to a migrant detention center. In May, some 7,600 Amazon employees signed a letter pressing for action on climate change. Last fall, about 20,000 Google workers protested the company’s response to sexual harassment. Google employees didn’t stop there: In May, they staged office sit-ins to protest alleged retaliation against some employee protestors. 

The protests illustrate what experts see as a cultural shift in the workplace. The change is partly generational, said Martha Bird, lead anthropologist at HR software and services provider ADP LLC, based in Roseland, N.J. It comes from people who were raised to believe “that they had the capacity as individuals to actually affect change,” she said.

“Work and life are really becoming more blended,” Bird said.

But how the company manages such change may fall to HR leaders. Understanding and measuring employee attitudes is part of HR’s employee experience strategy. The risk for firms can be deeper than just a public protest. Experts see a direct link between employee hiring and retention

Values linked to retention

Forrester Research, in a forthcoming employee experience survey, linked corporate values to retention. It found 87% of employees who agree with their company values are likely to stay with their employer, said Anjali Lai, an analyst at Forrester. That’s compared with 76% for the average employee. The data comes from a global survey of more than 13,000 workers.

Wayfair employees protest sale of beds to migrant detention centers for children.
A participant of the Wayfair walkout holds a sign in Copley Square on June 26, 2019, in Boston. Wayfair sold more than $200,000 in bedroom furniture to a Texas detention facility for migrant children.

Alignment in values pays off in productivity, as well, Lai said. The survey found 85% of today’s employees who agree with company values say they’re very productive at work, compared with the benchmark average of 72%. 

“Consumers are increasingly demanding to do business with companies that stand for certain social, moral, political values that the customers agree with,” Lai said. These consumers demand the same standards of their employers. “Values-driven consumers are also employees,” she said.

Prospective employees are taking a similar tact. They are interested in a firm’s values, as well as the job itself, as they look for the “right fit for themselves,” Bird said.

“They’re really interviewing the potential employer as much as they’re being interviewed or maybe even perhaps more,” Bird said.

HR may be falling short

The employee experience strategy has become an increasing HR focus. But Deloitte, in its recent annual report on human capital trends, said employee experience often “falls short” in understanding what workers want. It argued that employees want “to connect work back to the impact it has on not only the organization, but society as a whole.”

Values-driven consumers are also employees.
Anjali LaiAnalyst, Forrester

HR’s employee experience strategy typically highlights improving processes, such as onboarding. Bad onboarding processes have been linked to retention problems. The strategy may also include more frequent surveys, sometimes as often as once a quarter, to track employee sentiment and engagement.

But the rise of employee activism might prompt employers to dig deeper.

“I think it’s important for employers to see what their employees are posting [on public social media] and not necessarily in a nefarious way,” said Michael Elkins, a labor and employment attorney at MLE Law, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “You should know who you’re working with, know what they like, what they don’t like.”

Elkins, who counsels employers on how to prevent employee claims, said a firm’s culture is important.

“Modern technology has given employees easy access to the behavior of companies,” Elkins said. “Whether one agrees or disagrees” with a particular protest action, “the fact is employees know they’re able to garner attention for causes,” he said. They’ll try to “effectuate change.”

Employees are also consumers

“You almost have to think of your employees like they’re consumers,” said Greg Barnett, senior vice president of science at Predictive Index, a behavioral and cognitive assessment firm in Westwood, Mass. If consumers perceive a misstep by a firm, it may generate a social media backlash. Something similar is happening with employees, and “this is the new normal,” he said.

Barnett said giving employees the voice to raise social issues may be a positive thing to do.

“Can we find a safe and productive way to let employees feel empowered, to voice their opinions on what the business is doing?” Barnett said. Allowing employees to organize “to show passion behind a topic” may help build a stronger workplace culture. 

But Barnett said it’s possible that some of these protests, such as the one at Wayfair, might have been prevented “had there been louder voices” at the “leadership level about some of the business practices and more transparency about where the business was doing business.”

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Microsoft 365 is the smartest place to store your content – Microsoft 365 Blog

In the modern workplace, rising expectations to innovate and improve productivity are putting pressure on employees to do more in less time. The world’s most successful organizations are addressing this by adopting new ways of working that leverage Microsoft 365 with OneDrive and SharePoint to manage and collaborate on content.

Today, we are announcing upcoming capabilities that, along with our recent investments, combine the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning with content stored in OneDrive and SharePoint to help you be more productive, make more informed decisions, and keep more secure.

Be more productive

A key to being productive is leveraging existing content so you’re not reinventing the wheel. Historically this has been challenging due to the exponential growth of digital content, particularly with image, video, and audio files. Until now, these rich file types have been cumbersome to manage and painful to sift through to find what you need, when you need it.

Video and audio transcription—Beginning later this year, automated transcription services will be natively available for video and audio files in OneDrive and SharePoint using the same AI technology available in Microsoft Stream. While viewing a video or listening to an audio file, a full transcript (improving both accessibility and search) will show directly in our industry-leading viewer, which supports over 320 different file types. This will help you utilize your personal video and audio assets, as well as collaborate with others to produce your best work.

A screenshot shows a video and a video transcript on the right sidebar.

Once you’re ready to make a video broadly available across the organization, you can upload and publish to Microsoft Stream. You’ll continue to get transcription services plus other AI driven capabilities, including in-video face detection and automatic captions. Importantly, your audio and video content never leaves the Microsoft Cloud; it is not passed through potentially costly and insecure third-party services.

Searching audio, video, and imagesAnnounced last September, we are unlocking the value of photos and images stored in OneDrive and SharePoint. Using native, secure AI, we determine where photos were taken, recognize objects, and extract text in photos. This recognition and text extraction allows you to search for images as easily as you search for documents. For example, you could search a folder of scanned receipts for the receipt that mentions “sushi.” Video and audio files also become fully searchable thanks to the transcription services described earlier.

A screenshot displays the search results of a search for a sushi receipt in Office 365.

Intelligent files recommendations—Later this year, we’ll introduce a new files view to OneDrive and the Office.com home page to recommend relevant files to you. Suggested files are based on the intelligence of the Microsoft Graph and its understanding of how you work, who you work with, and activity on content shared with you across Microsoft 365. This deep understanding of user behavior and relationships among coworkers is unique to Microsoft 365 and continues to be enriched as you collaborate on content in OneDrive and SharePoint.

A screenshot displays intelligent recommendations in search in Office 365.

AI also makes it easier to create new documents by reusing existing content. The Tap feature in Word 2016 and Outlook 2016 intelligently recommends content stored in OneDrive and SharePoint by understanding the context of what you are working on. This allows you to leverage and repurpose a paragraph, table, graphic, chart, or more from another file while working on a new document or email.

Make more informed decisions

OneDrive and SharePoint make your life easier thanks to innovative AI that helps you make more informed decisions while working with content.

File insights—Earlier this year, we rolled out an updated file card, providing access statistics for any file stored in OneDrive and SharePoint. This allows you to see who has looked at the file and what they have been doing, and it helps you decide your next action. Later this year, we’ll bring these valuable file statistics directly into the native Office application experience.

A screenshot shows Document Views in SharePoint.

Additionally, we’ll introduce additional insights to the file card with “Inside look,” giving you important information at a glance—including time to read and key points from the document, so you can choose to dive in deeper or save it for later.

A screenshot shows in Inside Look into a Word document, showing Key Points as well as time to read the document.

Intelligent sharing—Later this year, you’ll have the option to easily share relevant content with meeting attendees. For instance, if you just presented a PowerPoint presentation, you’ll be prompted to share it with the other attendees once the meeting is over. In the OneDrive mobile app, we’ll automatically prompt you to share photos taken during the same meeting, perhaps of a whiteboard where you brainstormed new ideas with your colleagues—all based on your Outlook calendar. This type of real-world intelligence allows you to quickly keep everyone informed and move on to your next task and is exclusively available when you store your content in OneDrive and SharePoint.

Side-by-side screenshots show how to intelligently share files in Outlook.

Data insights—Earlier this year at the SharePoint Virtual Summit, we showed you how you could immediately enrich your OneDrive and SharePoint content with intelligence by leveraging the flexibility of Microsoft Flow and the power of Azure Cognitive Services. Since these services are powered by Microsoft Azure, you can get sentiment analysis, key word extraction, and even custom image recognition—all while keeping your content secure in the Microsoft Cloud and away from potentially costly and insecure third-party services. Additionally, you can use information provided by these cognitive services to set up custom workflows to organize images, trigger notifications, or invoke more extensive business processes directly in OneDrive and SharePoint with deep integration to Microsoft Flow.

A screenshot shows Marketing analysis in Microsoft Flow.

Keep more secure

When your files are stored in OneDrive and SharePoint, AI also helps to protect your content, keep you compliant, and thwart malicious attacks.

OneDrive files restore—Earlier this year, we released OneDrive files restore including integration with Windows Defender Antivirus to protect you from ransomware attacks by identifying breaches and guiding you through remediation and file recovery. With a full 30 days of file history and sophisticated machine learning to help us spot potential attacks early, OneDrive gives you peace of mind for every file you store. Best of all, moving your files to OneDrive has never been easier thanks to Known Folder Move.

Intelligent compliance—In addition to being able to apply native data loss prevention (DLP) policies and conduct native eDiscovery searches on textual content stored in OneDrive and SharePoint, with the innovations discussed above, we’re making it even easier to use these key compliance capabilities with audio, video, and images later this year. Soon you’ll be able to leverage the text extracted from photos and audio/video transcriptions to automatically apply these policies and protect this content.

Get started

As you can see, by leveraging Microsoft’s industry-leading investments in AI we have made OneDrive and SharePoint in Microsoft 365 the smartest place to store your content. In fact, Microsoft is recognized as a leader by Gartner in both their Content Collaboration Platforms Magic Quadrant and Content Services Platforms Magic Quadrant reports, as well as Forrester in both their cloud and hybrid Forrester Wave™: Enterprise File Sync and Share Platforms Q4 2017 reports.

You can start realizing these benefits and more by moving your content to OneDrive and SharePoint today, just as Fortune 500 customers MGM Resorts International, Walmart, Johnson Controls International, and Textron are doing. You’ll automatically get more value as we continue to invest in these and other new AI capabilities to help you achieve more.

Microsoft has a bold vision to transform content collaboration for the modern workplace inclusive of files, dynamic web sites and portals, streaming video, AI, and mixed reality, while reducing costs and improving compliance and security. Be sure to join us at Microsoft Ignite from September 2428, 2018 in Orlando, Florida, or on-demand, where we’ll continue to unveil how AI will accelerate content collaboration in the modern workplace.