Talktech: Science of disrupting the workplace

Participants to the TalkTech roundtable: Intelligent workplace: the missing link in the digital enterprise

A desk, a computer, and enterprise productivity apps are no longer enough. Today’s employees want more; tomorrow’s workforce may even leave if their needs for flexibility, convenience and engagement are not met.

These are the conclusions that analysts have made observing how workplace demands on IT have evolved.

Gartner predicts that extreme digital dexterity will be the new workplace normal by 2027. IDC warns that the new digital workplace will need management, human resources, IT and business units to work closer than before. Meanwhile, Forrester says employee engagement can directly impact customer experience and company bottom line.

So, how are Hong Kong enterprises address these soaring employee demands? What are they doing to get both their management and employees onboard for their various digital initiatives?

To answer these questions and more, Computerworld Hong Kong and Lenovo organized a Talktech roundtable on Intelligent workplace: the missing link in the digital enterprise. Senior IT practitioners from leading Hong Kong shared their thoughts, challenges, and ambitions to keep their employees engaged and productive.

Be a platform

Ronald Wong, General Manager, Lenovo Hong Kong and Macau began the discussion with key conclusions from IDC Future of Work study, noting that more than 50% of employees are now “digital natives”. These so-called millennials are choosing “device freedom, social media freedom, mobility over salary.”

At the same time, workspaces are getting smaller. “If you look into your offices, in the past seven years, the workspace for employees has shrunk by around 30%,” said Wong.

These trends are reshaping IT’s role in supporting employee productivity. Wong noted that in the past, IT was responsible for creating the right environment. “In the future, internal transformation is needed. IT needs to start providing the platform. It should be about freedom of choice and be self-service driven. Support will also become increasingly online,” he observed.

Wong noted that these are key goals of many digital transformation projects across the globe. The only difference in Hong Kong is that resources are becoming more scarce and limited, requiring enterprises to be more focused on a few “mission-critical initiatives.”

More and different

Participants noted that part of the need to drive employee engagement is driven by customer and business needs.

For example, in the broadcasting industry, incumbents like TVB are moving from analog broadcasting to OTT partly due to changing consumer behavior. “Today’s [TV] watchers, especially the young, do not follow the TV schedule. So, we need to do OTT to enable consumption [of content] from anywhere and at any time,” said Billy Yung, head of System and Content Operation, TVB New Media Group.

At Jebsen, Brian Chan, the company’s IT director is looking to get his employees to engage and connect closer to customers. “For example, we are working on projects to better engage our business with our customers.”

Manulife is already doing several proofs-of-concept on automation, better data management, chatbots, and robotic process automation. In fact, the company already counts internal bots as part of their human resources headcounts.

“The challenge lies is people experience. When people hear transformation, they feel that they are about to lose their jobs. At the same time, we see another challenge in skillsets -- where do we get the right people?” argued Karie Kwong, assistant vice president, Enterprise Solutions & Services, CIO COO Management Office, Manulife.

Many participants cited old mindsets and resistance to change as huge hurdles. Akina Ho, head of Digital Transformation & Innovation, The Great Eagle Company has the formula to address this challenge.

“I always believe that in any organization one third [of employees] want to change but do not have the outlet or funding; one third is on the fence; the other third will never change. So I focus my efforts on the first one-third, and once we have successful stories, we can influence those on the fence. Once we have the majority on board to change, we can lead the way and push onwards with the rest of the company,” she said.

Workspace on demand

For today’s employees, flexibility in the workplace goes beyond the choice of apps or desktops.

“The parameters have changed, especially in providing a flexible way of working. In introducing bring your own device (BYOD) a few years ago, we needed to make sure that our employees are happy with the digital workplace,” said Alex Fan, general manager, E-Services, Swire Properties.

However, flexibility also cost. “It requires more budget, especially around cybersecurity,” he added.

One way to address these concerns is by rewiring our thinking about workplace development. Lenovo’s Wong introduced the concept of device-as-a-service (DaaS), where a device can mean anything from smartphones to full-fledged workstations.

“In fact, I call it workspace-as-a-service. You basically plan your workspace requirements based on your business needs and use the same subscription model as that of a cloud service. When there is a business downturn, you will have the flexibility to reduce the devices,” he said.

Wong explained that this more than just another leasing model. DaaS rolls in support for different operating systems and even “parts of desktop support” -- a reason why prices are unique to geographies. It lowers the burden of IT support and introduces device flexibility.

While the concept is taking off in other parts of the world, he sees Hong Kong enterprises starting to get interested, Wong noted.

Ken Lee, vice president and head of iFWD, FWD Financial agreed with the concept. “I believe in this.” The Great Eagle Company’s Ho found the concept, especially if the costs are similar to purchasing the devices from the onset, “attractive.”

However, Roy Tong, FVP, head of Application Systems, Fubon Bank was worried about accounting issues. “For example, do we need to write off our legacy products prior to implementing DaaS?”

Wong noted that there are always “alternatives.” “If there is a residual value we can return it back to the company. For some companies, we can help to look at alternative solutions.”

Manulife’s Kwong agreed that DaaS could potentially improve her company’s approach to flexibility in the workspace. However, she noted that the danger that some will use this to downscale.

Kwong pointed out that in Hong Kong, where manpower and office space are at a premium, DaaS might be used to “downsize manpower and be very cost effective.” Then companies only need to scale their devices during peak periods or when there is stress testing.

Art of flexibility

A chief motivation for DaaS is employee engagement. By giving them the freedom to choose how they want to engage and work, you are motivating them to be more productive. 

Manulife’s Kwong liked the value proposition “We ourselves like to have high staff engagement, and are getting more millennials. We already offer Macbook as an option and our applications can work on both [PC and Mac] platforms. We are also supporting flexible hours, including working from home. We are about to offer hot desking and more video conferencing capabilities.”

She saw DaaS as an important option to further improve flexibility and give a new generation of employees what they want as their needs evolve.

Devices alone will not be enough, said TVB New Media Group’s Yung. It is more important to develop an agile mindset.

“We have a lot of engagement with customers and need to provide high-quality content on time. So, one of my key challenges is how to grow my people. I need to coach them on transferable skills so they can work anywhere,” he said. 

Industry regulators are also driving enterprises to become more agile. For example in FSI, regulators are introducing a host of new initiatives to drive faster payment system (FPS), Open API, etc. “It is a compliance requirement. So, we are driven by HKMA requirements,” said Fubon Bank’s Tong.

Another challenge is job promotions. Many resign or move once they feel that they are “stuck.” No amount of flexibility will solve this issue.

“So, retraining talents is now key. The younger generation is not motivated by pay alone. They want a good environment, connectivity, etc.,” said Swire Properties’ Fan.

“DaaS can help address some of these requirements and create the agile workplace that companies need. It allows companies to then focus on the fundamental questions of job security and cybersecurity,” said Lenovo’s Wong.

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