Transforming the Workplace: Microsoft CIO Roundtable

By Tim Hynes and Giri Tharmananthar

Turning up at the latest Microsoft CIO Roundtable event, surrounded by hotel guests in dinner jackets and ball gowns, was certainly an interesting way to start a discussion about workplace transformation. We sent Microsoft insiders, Tim Hynes and Giri Tharmananthar, on an intrepid mission to the Grosvenor Hotel to find out more.

It was the first time many of the CIO attendees had a chance to sit down with senior IT professionals from Microsoft, so it was good to see a diverse mix of people and hear a diverse set of opinions. There were CIOs from universities, private healthcare companies, local councils and multinational companies - a full spectrum.

Yet, everybody shared the same issues and worries. The future role of the CIO was one. Everyone agreed that the CIO of the future should be just another part (albeit a very important part) of the business rather hiding behind a technology barrier.

Let go of the technology to embrace it properly

We need to think differently; we can't be server-huggers. The job used to be about technology. Now it's about the user experience, be it your customers or your staff, and handling information intelligently. This came out clearly in the discussions.

The CIOs also identified a need for 'digital representations' of business processes and the customer experience. For example, if you're a bank and all your customers go online, how do you create and maintain a relationship with them? Do you merely replicate the in-branch experience or use technology to do something new. Similarly, how does a business digitally recreate the collaboration and communication possible in the office? For example, how do you replicate the experience of a water cooler conversation online?

Progress, confidence and business benefits

We were encouraged by the fact that all the industries represented at the event were making good progress along these lines, particularly those in the public sector and education.

There was a lot of openness and confidence in discussing flexible working, which wouldn't have been the case had we had this conversation five or ten years ago. Far from struggling to cut the ties between workers and their desk, most found that employee satisfaction went up with a smart, flexible working environment.

In addition, the attendees recognised the far-reaching social opportunities offered by remote working and the diversity it could promote. The shift towards mobile, flexible working can help new mothers get back into the workplace and further empowers employees with mobility difficulties.

The security reflex

However, whilst everyone had started the journey, there were stumbling blocks. Many organisations didn't understand the risks to information governance that come with a distributed workforce; you can't protect everything and have knowledge sharing, but you can mitigate and control the risks.

Most also lacked a joined-up strategy across technology, physical environment and people. Rather than approaching it in an integrated way, they separated these aspects into silos. As a result, there was a strong focus on technology-led improvement, such as opening networks and bring your own device (BYOD) strategies, but little awareness about how to tackle the cultural implications and change management issues.

Transform culture to transform technology

We need to start challenging how organisations are constructed and governed - breaking down silos, getting cross-functional teams to work together and giving employees more autonomy.

The problem, however, is that the people in businesses thinking about this tend to be Generation X so they're not digital natives and they're often sceptical of enterprise social.

At a conference in South Africa a few weeks ago, for instance, about half of the 60 to 70 CIOs there had a social media policy, but every one of them was about governing the use of social media by employees, rather than outlining how it could be used to engage customers. In other words, the policies were defensive rather than proactive.

Towards the transformed workplace

So that's the next step in the journey. There's been some excellent technology-led progress in transforming the workplace for employees across a broad range of industries, but there's now a definite need to concentrate on cultural transformation in the workplace and to create better digital representations of the business and its processes to enhance customer experiences.

Microsoft CIO Roundtable event in partnership with CIO Magazine.