Digital workplace and enterprise architecture -- two sides to same coin

  • 19-Mar-2012

You may have heard of the emerging concept of the "Digital Workplace:" where employees go to get work done digitally. Much of the current discussion has centered around what notions of a digital workplace mean for traditional intranets, emerging social collaboration spaces, and aging transactional systems.

Those are important topics, but I think an even bigger to-do for enterprises is to bring the right skill sets to bear. One key skill set to engage here is enterprise architecture.

If you examine the individual applications and platforms that employees access to complete work every day, you end up charting myriad of different systems in the typical enterprise. Some of these may be loosely aggregated within a portal, while others may not. The digital workplace concept, though, helpfully turns the table around by looking at it from the standpoint of the employee, rather than the enterprise. There's clearly an opportunity to apply well-known user experience methodologies -- such as User Centered Design (UCD) -- to improve your colleagues' effectiveness here.

But as you dig deeper into the employee digital experience, you'll discover more than just clunky, freestanding applications. You'll find:

  • Information and process flows that span multiple systems
  • Siloed data and content
  • COTS vendors pushing their own separate mobile apps
  • Diverse security and information access needs

Cataloging and understanding the business value of all these systems is the job of an enterprise architect. If you are trying to transform your digital workplace, then you'd do well to engage your enterprise architecture team -- you have one, right? -- in reconstructing the pieces into a greater whole.

Just remember that the point is not to re-arrange boxes and arrows to work your way forward from back-end systems to employees, but rather to re-arrange what happens on your colleagues' screens by working your way backwards. Is it too simple to say, UCD + EA = New Digital Workplace ?

If you're an enterprise architect tackling some of these issues, I'd love to hear from you.