The Digital Transformation of Work: How Technology Is Enabling a More Productive and Dynamic Work Experience

April 23, 2020

Sponsored by Comcast

Written by Holly Muscolino, Research VP, Content and Process Strategies and the Future of Work, IDC

Executive Summary

As organizations accelerate and expand digital transformation (DX) initiatives, traditional work models are no longer agile enough to align with technology, market, and customer demands. A new work model is required that ultimately drives increased productivity and improved employee experience, engagement, and innovation, resulting in greater business value and competitive differentiation. We define this new work model as one that fosters human-machine collaboration, enables new skills and worker experiences, and supports an intelligent and dynamic environment unbounded by time or physical space. And to get to this new model requires the digital transformation of how we work.

Several forces are aligning to make work transformation a critical component of organizations' DX initiatives. A broad range of intelligent automation technologies are changing how we get work done. In addition, our consumer experiences are driving new expectations for the work environment, including personalization and frictionless access to resources, anytime and anywhere. This is exacerbated by our multigenerational workforces that bring differing needs to the workplace.

These changes are happening very rapidly, will impact organizations of all sizes across all industries, and will require ongoing adoption of new technology advancements and adaptation to changing market and customer requirements. Therefore, organizations must support an agile workforce with an agile and connected work environment. The digitally transformed work environment enables collaboration among all stakeholders and provides secure access to corporate resources from anywhere and via their preferred device. This requires integrated systems, seamless connectivity, and access to enterprise resources that do not hinder productivity or diminish user experience. Emerging software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and virtualization technologies enable direct access to cloud resources, which is key to providing a more efficient employee experience. Coupled with edge and cloud computing, employees can enjoy this dynamic work experience regardless of their location.

FIGURE 1 - A Digitally Transformed Workspace Is Essential

Q. Please rate your agreement with the following statement: Adopting a future workspace model that includes a flexible, intelligent, collaborative virtual/physical work environment will be important to improving employee productivity in the future.


n = 875
Source: IDC's Measuring DX Through CX and EX Survey, June 2019

In addition to driving productivity, work transformation initiatives drive improved employee experience and customer engagement. A better employee experience contributes to talent acquisition and retention. As noted previously, this leads to new value creation and competitive differentiation, impacting the top line as well as the bottom line (see Figure 2).

FIGURE 2 - Work Transformation Drivers

Q. What are the most important drivers for implementing workplace transformation initiatives in your organization?


n = 400
Source: IDC's Future of Work Survey, November 2018

The Digitally Transformed Workspace

The future workspace must enable collaboration among all stakeholders involved in driving a specific business outcome, including employees, contract or gig workers, partners, vendors, and suppliers. All stakeholders must have suitable, secure access to corporate resources in order to effectively communicate and contribute, anytime, from anywhere, and via their preferred device. The transformed workspace is no longer bounded by physical location or time of day.

This requires integrated systems, tools, and data that participate in new (and changing) workflows and that are governed by new policies. Seamless connectivity and access to enterprise resources that do not hinder productivity or diminish user experience are integral to the future workspace. This requires connected, agile, secure, always-on infrastructure.

To keep pace with the speed of change, organizations must enable and support an agile organizational structure and an agile work environment. High-performing organizations will adopt a "squad" cross-functional operating model. IDC predicts that by 2024, two-thirds of employees in high-performing G2000 enterprises will shift from static roles and processes to dynamic, multidisciplinary, outcome-focused reconfigurable teams. Organizations must support a dynamic, connected, secure, and agile workspace to support these teams. Because worker participation may be dynamic, the workspace itself must be agile enough to accommodate teams as they form and re-form.

Of course, security remains an imperative. Because the digitally transformed workspace is no longer bounded by a physical location and must enable anytime/anywhere access to corporate resources, the secure perimeter of the past is no longer sufficient. In addition to secure access, organizations must consider compliance with industry and government regulations, including data sovereignty and privacy laws. Today's security protocols hinder productivity and create suboptimal employee experiences. A new paradigm for authentication, security, and compliance is required.

Respondents to our survey agreed that access to data is most critical to productivity, with over 70% putting this capability at the top of the list, along with endpoint management and security and unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) (see Figure 3).

FIGURE 3 - Security and Productivity in the Transformed Workspace

Q. In which of the following connectivity technology areas is your company focusing its efforts to drive increased employee productivity?


n = 496
Base = respondents who indicated that their organization is focusing on connectivity technology

Source: IDC's Measuring DX Through CX and EX Survey, June 2019

IDC believes that in addition to new models for security and compliance, changes to the way we deliver applications and data to works and develop community among coworkers is also essential for the digitally transformed workspace. We are seeing an evolution toward a personalized, federated work environment that minimizes switching between applications by intelligently and proactively serving up the resources required for the next priority task. These work environments can be dynamically created and recreated and provide workflow parity for all workers, local or remote, employees, contractors, and partners (see Figure 4).

FIGURE 4 - Model for an Intelligent Workspace


Source: IDC, 2019

Network transformation is key to enabling a transformed workspace. Organizations that leverage a wide portfolio of SD-WAN services underpinned by a global broadband IP network are in a great position to enable the work transformation journey. With this network architecture, organizations can reimagine "what's possible" without retrofitting new opportunities onto legacy confines. A network architecture unencumbered by legacy technologies and built on intelligent, intent-based networking principles presents an opportunity for businesses to rethink traditional WAN technologies as they rearchitect for the future. From the simplicity of prioritizing interactive application traffic (e.g., voice and video calls) over other internet traffic to ensure high-quality communications from a home or remote office to application-aware network management for faster access to critical applications to the enhanced quality of service for small packet transmission of IoT and smart devices and the device-aware network protocols to enable simultaneous use of multiple devices for task completion, there are multiple demands on network architectures that can only be addressed with smart, agile networks.

This new agile network architecture fits well into the needs of a distributed global workforce that may span direct, indirect, and partner workers. For example, the latest developments in UC&C enable collaboration among these workers in a multitude of connectivity options including voice, email, chat, and videoconferencing, which can be secured with VPN and scale globally. IDC believes these innovative services will enable a more effective, efficient, and agile work environment.

The Future of Work is Today

Although we frequently talk about "the future of work," the reality is that work transformation is happening (and must happen) today. In recent IDC research, respondents indicated that they expect the contribution of automation technologies to increase by over 50% during the next two years. Almost half of the organizations provide their employees with flexibility in terms of work location and hours and over one-third even support flexible roles (see Figure 5).

FIGURE 5 - Flexible Working Arrangements in Progress

Q. Which of the following flexible working arrangements does your organization offer or plan to offer?


n = 400
Source: IDC's Future of Work Survey, November 2018

Flexibility not only improves productivity but also enhances the overall employee experience, leading to greater satisfaction and higher retention in a tight job market. Employee satisfaction is also tightly aligned with customer satisfaction.

Security, collaboration, and smart office work transformation initiatives are already in progress. Over 45% of respondents have introduced or plan to introduce security solutions and policies to support new workstyles (see Figure 6). Almost 39% have (or plan to have) tools to facilitate internal and external collaboration. And over a quarter noted that they have launched or are looking at smart office redesign.

FIGURE 6 - Workplace Transformation Initiatives in Progress

Q. Which of the following workplace transformation initiatives has your organization already introduced or does your organization plan to introduce?


n = 875
* Technology includes process automation, robotics, and AR/VR.
Source: IDC's Measuring DX Through CX and EX Survey, June 2019

Technology and Productivity

When we asked respondents about which technology initiatives are intended to drive productivity, no single area stood out. In all cases, over half of the respondents indicated that content and collaboration, connectivity, automation and augmentation, and smart facilities are important to their organization (see Figure 7).

FIGURE 7 - Key Technology Initiatives

Q. In which of the following technology areas is your company focusing its efforts to drive increased employee productivity?


n = 875
Source: IDC's Measuring DX Through CX and EX Survey, June 2019

As previously discussed, secure access to data is a primary focus. Much of this is driven by the need to support a distributed and diverse set of stakeholders with a balance between security and end-user experience so that security does not negatively impact productivity. The emerging network architecture, SD-WAN, and virtualized network services will offer improved connectivity and enable a richer set of services at the edge and secure interconnectivity to the cloud. This is essential to handle the continuous growth of internet traffic, estimated at 40% annually for the foreseeable future.

A broad variety of content and collaboration–related technologies are being explored and deployed to promote productivity, including team collaborative software, cloud-based office productivity solutions, knowledge management, web conferencing and videoconferencing, and content sharing and collaboration — all requiring fast and secure bandwidth (see Figure 8). Improved Wi-Fi capabilities — faster, more secure, more reliable, and capable of handling a higher volume of data — will enable better employee-to-employee collaboration, as well as interaction with smart facilities. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi better suited to dense environments such as a concert venue or stadium, a hospital, or a big-box retail store will improve employee-to-customer service.

FIGURE 8 - Broad Range of Content and Collaboration Solutions

Q. In which of the following content and collaboration technology areas is your company focusing its efforts to drive increased employee productivity?


n = 499
Base = respondents who indicated that their organization is focusing on content and collaboration technology
Source: IDC's Measuring DX Through CX and EX Survey, June 2019

Finally, multiple smart facilities solutions are also being adopted, including integrated workplace management software, digital assistants, smartboards, and sensor-based staff identification and location (see Figure 9).

FIGURE 9 - Smart Facilities Solutions

Q. In which of the following smart facilities technology areas is your company focusing its efforts to drive increased employee productivity?


n = 450
Base = respondents who indicated that their organization is focusing on smart facilities technology
Source: IDC's Measuring DX Through CX and EX Survey, June 2019

We asked respondents to consider the challenges faced when approaching digital transformation initiatives from the perspective of the network. Security, lack of budget, and legacy infrastructure were the top challenges when viewed from the network perspective (see Figure 10). Respondents also cited network latency issues as a top challenge. As workloads move to the cloud, latency for several time-sensitive applications becomes a real challenge. Online ecommerce, cloud gaming, real-time video streaming, medical applications, and many others depend in many cases on sub-10ms latencies. The move of compute and storage resources to the edge becomes paramount to enabling this low-latency performance. The WAN re-architecture with SD-WAN will enable high-bandwidth and low-latency applications to be hosted as close to the customer location as is needed.

FIGURE 10 - DX Challenges Related to the Network

Q. From a network perspective, what are the top 3 challenges your organization faces when thinking about the digital transformation required to support your business strategies and goals over the next three to five years?


n = 875
Source: IDC's Measuring DX Through CX and EX Survey, June 2019

Driving DX Initiatives

We asked survey respondents which department in their company is responsible for driving digital transformation initiatives that are focused on employee productivity. We acknowledged that IT is likely driving implementation but requested that they consider where these efforts are initiated. Over 61% of IT respondents and almost one-third of line-of-business respondents indicated that initiatives are driven by IT (see Figure 11). Nonetheless, almost one-quarter of LOB respondents and 17% of IT respondents attributed productivity-related DX initiatives to senior leadership. In IDC's opinion, seniors' participation is required as these initiatives scale to enterprise-wide deployments.

FIGURE 11 - IT Is Driving Productivity Initiatives

Q. What department in your company is responsible for driving digital transformation initiatives that are focused on employee productivity?


n = 875
Source: IDC's Measuring DX Through CX and EX Survey, June 2019

Essential Guidance

Secure, adaptable, reliable connectivity that addresses data volumes and bandwidth requirements is critical for the digitally transformed work environment. Organizations should deploy secure connectivity to:

  • Empower workers and other stakeholders with secure access to the resources that they require to collaborate, contribute, and get the job done, regardless of location, time, or device
  • Ensure application, data, equipment, and connectivity parity among all stakeholders, whether local or remote, full time or part time, employee or contract worker, supplier, or other partner
  • Leverage network prioritization and application-aware capabilities to prioritize traffic for interactive and critical applications
  • Ensure quality-of-service guarantees to avoid loss of data in small packet and machine-to-machine (M2M) and machine-to-human interactions

To achieve these goals, enterprises should consider the following:

  • Adopt a virtualized architecture with SD-WAN technology.
  • Incorporate edge computing, fixed and mobile, to handle low-latency applications, manage proliferation of content, and enable swift decisions at the edge.
  • Enable agile network management to easily handle multiple communication protocols, technologies, and devices
  • Use machine learning (ML) algorithms to proactively enhance worker experience and identify issues with network and application performance.

In addition, organizations must:

  • Extend the concept of "agile" beyond agile development. Prepare for "reconfigurable teams" and the agile workspace and agile infrastructures that support those teams.
  • Think humans and machines. Automation is not simply about replacement. Understand how technology can further augment human skills, enabling greater productivity, increased value, and improved employee and customer experiences.
  • Align workspace transformation with a broader future of work initiative and overall DX strategy.

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About IDC

International Data Corporation (IDC) is the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology markets. IDC helps IT professionals, business executives, and the investment community make fact-based decisions on technology purchases and business strategy. More than 1,100 IDC analysts provide global, regional, and local expertise on technology and industry opportunities and trends in over 110 countries worldwide. For 50 years, IDC has provided strategic insights to help our clients achieve their key business objectives. IDC is a subsidiary of IDG, the world's leading technology media, research, and events company.

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