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How to choose the right solutions and software stack for your team

Building a modern work platform for your company is a mission-critical task that requires careful consideration and thoughtful planning. The impact of a poorly planned technology stack for knowledge workers has both an impact on productivity and overall job satisfaction.

According to a study by ServiceNow, 83% of office workers feel their employer isn’t providing them with the appropriate technology they need to perform their job. But simply going on a software shopping spree isn’t going to solve the problem. The process begins with an audit of your existing processes and workflows to get a deep understanding of where and how your team gets work done.

CIOs should consider a holistic approach to choosing the various components of the employee technology stack. This means selecting a toolset that offers seamless workflows from the hands and brains of employees to the final product delivered to your customer. Before we start with the software selection, let’s examine the various jobs to be done from idea to delivered product.

Map the journey

Creating a map of all of the tools required to deliver your company product – which goes all the way to the customer and including any ongoing product support – is no simple task. You’ll need to consider each of the teams involved, which might include DevOps (Engineering and IT), RevOps (Sales, Customer Support, Marketing), Ops (HR, Finance and all other operational functions). In constructing this map, you should list all of the needs and preferred workflows of each team, to help in building your plan.

Once you have created a map of all of the technology needs, you can choose the foundational Work Operating System that fits best with the holistic plan you have created.

The Work Operating System

The foundation upon which a work platform is built is the Work Operating System (WOS). It is where your team spends the bulk of their time. Most often this platform includes the tools for creating documents and communicating with internal and external parties. The most common workplace productivity platforms are:

  • Microsoft, with the Office 365 suite, which includes MS Teams for messaging
  • Google Workspace (formerly G-Suite) paired with Slack for messaging
  • Other solutions that have a minority share of the market, like Zoho Workspace

The core tools that these platforms contain are:

  • Email and internal messaging
  • Documents, spreadsheets and presentations
  • File storage

Even though it is the less mature product, the Google Workspace market share is nearly 60%. It has been paired with Slack for many teams since Google’s other messaging solutions did not satisfy the broad market. Worskpace has gained popularity due to the convenience of it’s cloud-first approach and the deep integrations that it has with other parts of the employee work stack, such as it’s WOS partner, Slack.

One could argue that the internal messaging platform has overtaken  document creation tools as the more important part of foundational WOS, as modern workplaces shift away from in-person communication. It is where all of the internal knowledge transfer of documents, spreadsheets and files occurs and is the engine for how companies ship products to customers.

Regardless of which choice is selected by the CIO, the Work Operating System lays the foundation for the rest of the choices made in the software stack. This first tier of software will, in many ways, dictate the second- and third-tier tools that you choose. For example, if your WOS is in the Microsoft suite and you need a CRM, you’ll likely choose Dynamics. Otherwise, you might choose Salesforce (or another option entirely). The point is, the CIO’s choices will be optimized by compatibility with the WOS. To take compatibility one step further, the CIO should plan to build the company work platform to be compatible with its customers, partners and vendors to ensure seamless transactional integration.

Communication and Collaboration

Teams could use in-person meetings, email and telephone to collaborate, but a more efficient approach would be to consider a platform that combines these three technologies into a single virtual channel. Solutions like Slack and MS Teams give you all the tools your team needs to achieve this objective with a virtual spin.

Can your team live without email?

Many modern teams are trying to abandon email for external communication. The argument for switching to a platform like Slack for external parties is compelling. According to Larkin Ryder,

Chief Security Officer at Slack, “Email is an open front door to security threats to an organization—$12 billion in losses are caused by business email scams, and 90% of data breaches are from phishing”. Essentially, the value proposition is that by abandoning email, an organization is choosing a more secure method for connecting to external organizations, stronger business relationships and faster workflows with partners and vendors.

Due to its maturity and lack of innovation over the years, email has been prone to a number of security holes which have been tolerated for lack of a better solution. Leaving email entirely isn’t yet a possibility, but securing some of the more glaring communication channels with partners, customers and vendors is something for a CIO to take under advisement.

Beware of silo bottlenecks

Silos are any repositories of data. Some examples of silos are shared drives (Google Drive or Dropbox), wikis (like Confluence) and even CRMs (Salesforce or Dynamics). The more silos that an employee uses, the more confusion there is when attempting to complete daily work. According to Blissfully, the average employee uses 8 SaaS apps, which means that there are 8 different places where an employee might have to look to access the knowledge, documents or files they need to get work done. This multi-silo search hurdle creates a significant bottleneck to an employees own productivity, as well as when they are trying to support others. Igloo found that 51% of employees avoid sharing documents because they can’t find them or it would take too long to do so. This staggering statistic shows silos can be such a source of frustration, that some employees would opt to do nothing over productive work.

While eliminating silos sounds like a plausible solution for CIOs, it’s not easy. For example, you might decide that you’re going to eliminate your Confluence wiki by storing knowledge in Google Drive. That sounds like a win from both a silo elimination as well as a cost-management perspective. But what you gain in silo reduction, you lose in fully functional knowledge management. There is no robust knowledge verification, versioning or even knowledge structuring available to files stored in Google Drive. So what you may gain in the elimination of a silo, you lose in functionality.

A better solution is to explore instead of silo-elimination is for solutions that provide multi-silo search functionality. Sometimes called federated search, they are tools that simultaneously search across silos for the requested information. This affords CIOs the ability to retain necessary silos, without adding bottlenecks. Federated search is particularly relevant for applications related to knowledge management where multiple knowledge silos exist.

Reduce friction with organic knowledge

According to a study by McKinsey, 20% of an employee’s week (a whole day!) is wasted looking for simple information required to do their job. Unfortunately, the solution for this loss in productivity is not as simple as just procuring an internal wiki or knowledge base. For the highest chance of success, the knowledge must be injected into the most common workflows where questions are asked and answers are given so that it is organically available when it is needed. More and more, the channel in which this occurs both for internal and external facing teams, is in messaging platforms like Slack. Therefore, it begs the question: does your knowledge base deeply integrate with the platforms where your team does work? If not, there is a strategic opportunity to recapture some of that productivity from that lost day of work per week.

Pay attention to the developer ecosystem

A final note for CIOs choosing solutions for the individual components of their team work platform: pay close attention to the depth of the developer ecosystem. Even with the best planning, there are going to be edge use cases that are not satisfiable by a particular software or, for that matter, any of its competitors. This is where you will likely need to explore integrations by third party developers. For example, a lot of companies love Confluence as a wiki, but they might complain about the search tools being lackluster. Instead of abandoning Confluence and migrating to a different solution, this is where the CIO should explore third-party tools that enhance the user’s search experience to achieve better results.

The depth of the developer ecosystem is a strong indicator of the flexibility of the tools for edge use-cases. For example, if your Customer Support team stores all of the support collateral in Zendesk Guide, but instead of visiting Guide just asks questions in Slack because it’s easier from a workflow perspective, then you’ve got workflow disconnect. If the tools you are choosing as the CIO have a deep ecosystem of third-party extensions or integrations, there is a good chance that someone has recognized the need in the market and offered a solution. In a way, this is the reason that both Slack and Salesforce have had so much success (and possibly why their merger made so much sense); their respective developer ecosystems are very strong and customers know they can trust third party tools to make good tools even better.

It’s time to build your company work platform

The true test of the success of the employee productivity tool tech stack is how satisfied your team members are with the tools they have to work with. When employees can work autonomously, self-serve support with organic access to knowledge and deliver results in accordance with expectations, you know you have the right tech stack. You can gauge sentiment with highly engaged champions that regularly solicit feedback from teams and spend time to understand faults in the employee workflows. Champions can explore the third-party ecosystems to round out the edge use-cases that arise. From there, you can iterate and improve the stack with periodic reviews of satisfaction and success.

Written by Chris Buttenham. Have you read?
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - How to choose the right solutions and software stack for your team
Chris Buttenham
Chris Buttenham is the chief executive officer and Co Founder of Obie, a workflow-centric knowledge management tool that is purpose-built to deliver fast, accurate support in Slack. Chris Buttenham is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.