How IT will Support a New Way of Working

By Rick Pastore
June 10, 2020

Among business leaders, the consensus after two months of office shutdowns is that most knowledge workers can do their jobs as well at home as they did in the office. An informal poll of CIOs found that 20% had evidence that workers were actually more productive at home (although several expressed concern over burnout experienced by employees as the boundaries melted between work and home life). Based on the success of this forced experiment, 85% of CIOs polled by The Hackett Group predict an ongoing, fluid mix of employees working from multiple locations.

Futurist Thornton May agrees. “It’s going to be a blend, and you must be able to toggle between those by thinking about what’s the best mode for getting a certain task done,” says May, founder of The Digital Value Institute and director of the IT Leadership Academy. “You don’t need to be in the office all the time. But there are moments when you do need to be in the office.”

One emerging mode of work that will bring employees onsite is the hackathon, May says. “You come together as a diverse community of workers to solve a problem in a particular time period.” To support these creative exercises, the work environment should be retrofitted with the latest tools such as VR and digital walls, with data and research collected and accessible via high-bandwidth connectivity, including 5G, May says. Such infrastructure isn’t practically available or easily replicated at home, which gives workers a compelling reason to come together physically.

“Leaders will forecast these hackathons over a period of months so workers can plan their time,” May adds. As a result, he says, “We will become more disciplined and aware of where we’re spending our time, which actually gives workers the opportunity to improve their work-life balance.”

Many IT organizations have already designed and equipped such innovation spaces to experiment with emerging technologies. But it will be a more fundamental and vexing challenge to gather and share the voluminous and diverse data and information that cross-functional teams and  knowledge workers in general will need to be effective.

“Collaboration tools allow us to connect global teams that are cross-functional and cross-organizational. But what hasn’t kept pace with this capability is the dissemination of information,” says Allan Frank, president of Think New Visions LLC and a co-founder of The Hackett Group.

“There is no concept of an information network inside most companies,” Frank says. “The distribution of information tends to be along lines of reporting relationships and organizationally hierarchical silos. For example, if you bring together IT and supply chain to tackle a visibility or continuity problem, nobody is synchronized on the information and content. So, you spend the first half-hour of a meeting trying to agree that the sky is blue before you can move forward. We need to focus on a set of precepts around the delivery of information and content.”

CIOs realize that much of the problem is built into their enterprise architecture. “Most companies do not have a sufficient flow of information and integrated processes between functions,” says Ursula Soritsch-Renier, Group CIO of Nokia. “You have architecture layers, such as the foundation for ERP transactions, agile systems for interacting with customers, R&D tools, logistics. We need to build bridges between these layers and digitize all the information for these components to work together and create a true value chain for the company.”

The solution requires a new organizing principle for architecture. Traditional IT architecture is system-centric – it needs to become data-centric, says Allan Frank. “Everybody is struggling with control of data. They have ERP data in a warehouse here, they have a data lake of sensor data over there, they have external data coming in from multiple locations. Information contained within data marts and data warehouses is inherently partitioned. And with the accelerating use of AI, access to all types of data has become a key barrier to success.” So, the challenge IT faces to support the future of work is to architect a way to make all that data available securely for both human and machine consumption.

Key steps to planning a data-centric architecture include understanding the inventory of data that exists both within the enterprise and what is available outside; building a virtual enterprise model of available internal and external data sources; focusing on points of decisioning to identify the needed data and rules to drive action; and continuously capturing data to enhance data assets.