Earlier this week, I attended Google Cloud’s Anthos Day in New York. After launching Anthos in the spring at Google Next, Google shared its progress, both on customers and partners’ acquisition as well as launched a new part of the platform that aims at making apps management in a hybrid cloud environment as simple as possible.
As I was sitting listening to speaker after speaker talk about the investment that either themselves or their customers are putting into transitioning current apps to the cloud or redesigning them for the cloud, I was struck by one thought. There is a stark contrast between the way that enterprises think about the part of their infrastructure that runs the business and connects to their customers versus the part that empowers their workforce. How is it that enterprises are prepared to redesign, or refit applications that are core to their business and they’ve been using in some cases for decades, all in the name of digital transformation, increased agility, improved security, and a future-proofed business, and yet we don’t often see the same treatment granted to hardware and applications that are core to their workforce?
I’m sure that even the broader Google must find it quite frustrating to see what enterprises are prepared to do when it comes to cloud and yet how long it took for G Suite to establish itself as a productivity suite in the enterprise that was cloud-first. Even more frustrating must be the discussion that some IT managers still have about whether or not Chromebooks or iPads can be a real alternative to PCs.
Workforce vs. Customers
Why such a difference in approach? It’s an interesting question and not one I have a straight answer for. But I started to think about what factors could play into this reality. This is particularly interesting to think about, at a time when we hear more and more enterprises say that they want to give their employees, the right hardware and applications because this has become critical to acquire as well as retain talent. Yet not many companies seem to go beyond “cosmetic” tweaks and truly drive a more impactful change that builds the foundation for a modern workplace.
When it comes to the way people work, I’m left to think that this increased focus on employees’ user experience is more a marketing campaign than a fundamental mindset shift that, better tools, drive not only engagement and satisfaction but also better business results. If an organization lacks that deep understanding of what drives such satisfaction and engagement, how can they think to understand what those attributes are in a customer or partner context? First-line workers and knowledge workers are, after all, internal customers of the IT department and partners of the business.
I have some ideas as to why such an investment is different.
First, I think you would agree with me that customers and partners are seen as core to the success of the business and an engaged and satisfied workforce is a nice to have, but the need just does not drive change in the same way.
I also feel that when it comes to IT infrastructure that is core to the business, there is usually a clear owner, both as far as driver and accountability. When it comes to the workforce, sponsors differ, and so does the burden of accountability. Sometimes it might be HR, some time is a direct manager, but more often than not the change is not driven by IT unless cost-cutting is behind it.
Possibly the strongest reason for such a disparity, however, can be found in how success is measured. When you invest in change, how do you measure success? Even more important: how do you measure return on investment? With partners and customers, the numbers are much more straightforward: cost savings, increased revenue, higher client satisfaction, and retention, and the list goes on. How do you measure the impact that a productivity suite change can have on your business, aside from any immediate savings?
To me it is interesting to consider how when it comes to cloud, organizations that see the most success are those that use the transition to cloud as a launchpad for assessing their business infrastructure, solutions, and processes. They use the transition to actually modernize their business. At a minimum, they look at what can be modernized, and what cannot and assess whether or not the applications that cannot be modernized are necessary to the business or if there are alternatives.
One would hope organizations learned from their move to mobile. In the beginning, the first businesses who embraced mobile were those who believed it could be a differentiator for their business, especially in a B2C environment. In other words, mobile was driven by the need to address customers’ needs and meet customers where they were. Only later companies started to embrace mobile as a way to provide a better environment to their workforce. Cloud, even more so than mobile, impacts both B2B and B2C from the very start and touches both the business and the way the business is run. If we are moving apps workloads into the cloud, why can we not move workflows that our employees face every day to a cloud-first and mobile-first environment? And if we are ready to evaluate the work environment why don’t we take the same approach that Anthos is applying to application modernization and provide the right tools that deliver on agility, manageability, and security with no compromise on simplicity. It might not be easy, but if as an organization, you are not prepared to make that your ultimate goal, it will never be achieved.