The Future of Work


by Patrick Bolger
August 3, 2015

Since the industrial revolution, significant advances in technology have occurred every few decades, from the invention of the steam engine in the mid-1700s, to the telephone and automobile in the 1800s, through to more impressive feats of engineering that enabled us to leave the earth and explore space in the mid-twentieth century.

Compared to other sectors, the IT industry is still in its infancy. However, in the last forty years, we’ve seen a tidal wave of change in the use of technology in the workplace, and technological innovation only continues to gain momentum. From replacing typewriters with word processors and then computers, to the introduction of mobile phones, laptops, tablets and, more recently, wearable devices, technology has changed where, when, and how we work by automating repetitive processes, and by enabling robots and algorithms to carry out work that once required human intervention.

As I move seamlessly from one device to another while writing this article, it’s hard to believe that the iPhone was released only eight years ago and the iPad has only been around for five years. Cloud computing, which we now take for granted, both at home and at work, only appeared in its current form during the last decade. And the Internet, the foundation of this technological evolution, didn’t exist just thirty years ago, at least not as we know it today.

I started working in IT in the 1980s, and almost a decade of my career passed before it became obvious to most companies that a web presence was no longer optional. The web has changed the face of business, revolutionized our communications, and now touches almost every aspect of our daily lives.

The Evolution of the Web

The first iteration of the web was about connecting information. It was little more than a store window, where corporations placed content to advertise their wares. As the web commercialized, it became more transactional, enabling companies to sell more products and services online; however, the transactional web allowed information to flow in only one direction.

The web has changed the face of business, revolutionized our communications, and now touches almost every aspect of our daily lives.

Innovative companies like Amazon recognized the importance of the online customer experience. From the beginning, Jeff Bezos talked about taking a long-term view and being focused on customers, rather than competitors. Amazon made it simple for customers to get what they wanted, and it gave them what they needed before they needed it. It was one of the first companies to make customer reviews central to the online shopping experience, and today, Amazon remains a trusted advisor for people making online purchases.

The emergence of the term "Web 2.0" spoke to the increase in user interaction and collaboration, along with more pervasive network connectivity and enhanced communication channels, that typified the mid-2000s. With the traditional web (retrospectively referred to as "Web 1.0"), data was posted on websites, and users simply viewed or downloaded content. Web 2.0 reflected the increased input from users, and in some cases, real-time control over Web content.

Another major difference from the original, static Web was the increasingly social nature of the web. Websites were enabling community-based interaction, content sharing, and collaboration through forums, blogs, wikis, and social networks.

Social Media and the Reputation Economy

To say that social media has had a fundamental impact on the way we communicate and interact is to state the obvious. It's also clear that social media has swayed the balance of power in favor of the consumer. Companies can no longer hide behind clever marketing campaigns and messaging because the voice of the consumer has become the standard by which products and services are judged.

Companies have come to realize that in order to connect with their customers, they too have to change their behavior and become more social. Instead of selling, successful companies are connecting with their markets. Companies that once limited contact through website forms and email addresses, are now interacting with customers via Facebook, Twitter, and in-app support. As companies have realized that their reputation is in the hands of their customers, they've started to become more transparent. More and more companies are accepting that the only way to survive in this reputation economy is to stand by the claims they make about their products and services, admit when they get it wrong, and focus on innovating to improve the customer experience.

New Management Imperatives

Previously, management was fully invested in the management of silos. Each part of the organization was tasked with the delivery of individual departmental goals, many of which were disconnected from customer value and improving the service experience. The new management imperative is to focus the entire organization on value to the customer, and executives recognize that this can only be achieved when every part of the organization is pointed in the same direction and working transparently to achieve the same goals.

With this comes a massive shift in corporate culture, from organization-centric to people-centric. Top-down hierarchies, based on command and control, are being replaced by networks, relationships, and trust. Truly progressive organizations, such as Zappos, have begun to embrace radical strategies such as holacracy, which is described as "a comprehensive practice for structuring, governing, and running an organization that replaces the top-down predict-and-control paradigm with a new way of achieving control by distributing power."

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, explains the approach:

“Research shows that every time the size of a city doubles, innovation or productivity per resident increases by 15 percent. But when companies get bigger, innovation or productivity per employee generally goes down. So we're trying to figure out how to structure Zappos more like a city, and less like a bureaucratic corporation. In a city, people and businesses are self-organizing. We're trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system called holacracy, which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”

Time will tell whether this approach is effective; most organizations today aren't ready to embrace such a radical shift. However, corporate culture is going through a significant period of change. Previously, the hoarding of knowledge was almost encouraged, but the new corporate culture values and rewards employees that share their experiences and insights to help their colleagues and teams achieve common organizational goals. Silos are artifacts of a time when data was scarce and connections were few. That time is coming to pass.

IT Must Evolve

Most of the technology we use today was designed to meet the needs of departmental silos. Even the technology we use across the broader enterprise has begun to show its limitations. Although email remains useful, it supports an inefficient way of working, where information and knowledge remains hidden in individuals’ inboxes or locked away in network folders. The old systems don’t support the modern way of working, where valuable corporate insights need to be accessible to anyone who needs the information.

Executives no longer want to bear the significant costs associated with implementing, configuring, and upgrading on-premises software and systems. PaaS and SaaS providers offer low-cost subscription licensing models, with software that can be deployed with a click, upgrades automatically, and works on mobile devices, allowing staff to work from anywhere, at any time, and on any device.

Silos are artifacts of a time when data was scarce and connections were few. That time is coming to pass.
Tweet: Silos are artifacts of a time when data was scarce and connections were few. That time is coming to pass. @ThinkHDI http://ubm.io/1Ijcm9b+

Technology Must Deliver New Value

For decades, IT organizations have invested in technology to maintain and support the infrastructure, simply to prevent existing IT value from being destroyed. The majority of practices and procedures we use today originated from the days of the mainframe and have evolved alongside client-server computing. Although these practices continue to evolve, the pace of evolution is not fast enough to meet the needs of modern business. As the barriers to technology acquisition and deployment continue to fall, our customers are increasingly choosing their own devices and applications. With the digitization of product and service delivery, and the convergence of consumer and corporate capabilities, IT groups must leverage technology to extend or provide new ways of delivering value to customers.

The Collaborator's Advantage

The most successful businesses of the modern age are distinguished by their ability to innovate. A good leader can establish a business with a revolutionary idea, but great leaders who inspire their people to create, combine, and evolve ideas create innovation that disrupts markets. The creative process of ideation requires good communication and the sharing of information and ideas through rich content and team feedback. Collaboration ensures that every team member has a voice and encourages less-confident or -vocal team members to express their ideas and contribute to value.

An increasing number of organizations are discovering that collaboration is a highly effective way to break down silos and enable disparate teams to work together to deliver better outcomes and achieve common goals. Staff benefit by working in cohesive teams, which are rewarded with higher productivity, fewer internal struggles, and a more enjoyable work experience.

When collaboration technology first started to appear in the workplace, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) claimed that it had the potential to raise the productivity of high-skill knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent. Research by the Aberdeen Group  in September 2013 compared results between organizations that didn't collaborate versus those that did. The research made a compelling case for collaboration, with collaborators realizing significant year-on-year improvements in customer retention, employee productivity and employee satisfaction, reduced sales cycles, and improved operational efficiency.

Collaboration technologies are proving to be highly effective at:

  • Providing timely access to business critical information
  • Identifying subject matter experts
  • Offering access from mobile devices
  • Fostering innovation
  • Delivering projects on time

While these efficiencies would deliver benefits to every part of the enterprise, deploying collaboration technology using a big-bang approach is a real challenge for most organizations. Although employees will be intrigued by the new ways they can communicate and interact through collaboration technology, adoption can quickly wane, as people revert to their comfort zones and old ways of working.

To promote adoption, and make it stick, it's essential that collaboration is not viewed as a technology, but instead, as a solution to specific business problems. Therefore, it's best to start with a small pilot group of users and key influencers. As guardians of enterprise technology, your IT group may be an ideal candidate. But before you start testing the technology, be sure to define the purpose of the collaboration (e.g., reducing your change backlog, more effective use of knowledge management, or promoting self-service and peer-to-peer support). Also, remember that although technology can be acquired and deployed in a matter of days, you will need some time to populate the solution with rich and useful content. You'll need to provide sufficient communication, training, and support, because collaboration is a new way of working.

By encouraging staff to share knowledge, documents, and ideas, you'll reinforce good behaviors and help people avoid slipping back into old habits.

Modernizing Service Management

Graduates entering the workforce have grown up in a socially enabled, technology-rich world. They expect, and will easily adopt, collaborative business applications that are as familiar and easy to use as the technologies they use in their personal lives. They want mobile access that enables them to take advantage of new communication methods and information sources that allow them to work any time, any place, and from any device.

Collaboration technologies embrace the behavior of modern-day consumers, who often prefer to get instant advice and help from their peers, instead of having to wait for hours or even days for a response from a busy service desk. Forward-thinking service desk leaders are now providing collaborative workspaces to promote online discussion, with tools to capture tribal knowledge for the benefit of the entire community. IT professionals can monitor discussions, endorse proposed resolutions, and bring unresolved issues into a more controlled service management domain. As the service desk posts progress information within workspaces, users quickly appreciate the benefit of making collaboration their first port of call.

Organizations are discovering that collaboration is a highly effective way to break down silos and enable disparate teams to work together to deliver better outcomes and achieve common goals.

Organizations that want to enhance the workplace climate are making collaboration the norm in the workplace. It breaks down traditional silos, clearing the way for innovation and progress towards a common cause. Collaborative ITSM is a fresh approach that blends the most effective principles from traditional best practices with collaboration technologies to empower people and support the agile working practices of modern business. It creates an inclusive culture of open, thoughtful conversation where everyone can contribute and where knowledge gets captured as work gets done.

Imagine how much more effective incident and problem management would be if first-, second-, and third-level support teams were actively contributing to issue resolution and building knowledge through open discussion. Think about the positive impact of transparency and visibility on change and release management functions. Now imagine how much more effectively IT could serve the needs of the business if it were actively collaborating with its customers.

If you're struggling to articulate IT's value, if valuable knowledge, great ideas, and expert opinions are limited by the walls of your silos, it's time to modernize your ITSM function and unleash the power of your people with collaboration. Be patient and persistent, but embrace it. Collaboration is the future of work, and it's one of the most powerful things you can do for your teams.


Patrick Bolger is Hornbill’s Chief Evangelist. As an industry veteran, Patrick has significant first-hand experience of the issues facing IT and is an influential and recognised authority in the service management arena. He's an active contributor to a number of strategic groups and partnerships that influence the service management industry, and he's a compelling and popular speaker at events worldwide.


Tag(s): future of support, support center, service desk, service desk technology, technical support, desktop support, supportworld

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