The dawn of the digital workplace: 3 questions for Michael Dickman

The impact of mobile and collaborative technologies will go a lot deeper than many of us have imagined. We may be looking at the end of the cubicle-intensive workplace, for one thing. I caught up with Michael Dickman, VP of Global Product Line Management for HPE Campus Networking, to get his take on the new digital workplace.


Q: How are mobile and workplace technologies changing the way companies engage with their workforce and customers?


A: At a couple of levels: All enterprises need to adjust what they’re doing to engage with a workforce that’s becoming more mobile. It goes beyond connecting wirelessly and is more about increasing productivity around
the environment, whether in a cubicle, conference room or cafeteria. Some sectors like retail, healthcare, hospitality and government use mobility to enrich the experience of the people they serve. For example, customers in a store may need access to coupons or information about an item they’re looking at on a shelf. Patients in a hospital may need directions to an exam room or to the pharmacy to pick up medicine. Fans in a stadium may want to get to the closest concession stand.


Some enterprises will find themselves forced to adjust to this new normal, including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), by enabling ubiquitous enterprise-class wireless. But other enterprises will build competitive advantage by using these technologies to change the way the workplace looks and feels. Some organizations will tear down the cubicles; instead, you’ll have quiet stations when you need a quiet space, collaborative spaces for small groups, and areas where you can interact with a specified set of resources. Businesses can start to think about creating a more open, flexible workspace. “Cut the cord” opens up the workplace, but it requires a world-class wired and wireless infrastructure to make it all work.


Q: Are cultural and generational changes in the workforce playing in to this too?


A: Yes, absolutely. New employees coming in, whether you want to call them millennials or not, are expecting a new kind of workplace experience. It doesn’t have to be the same as their home experience, but it does have to be flexible, mobile, and consistent with their lives outside of work. The idea of work/life balance – the idea that personal and work life are walled off from each other – that’s collapsing. People want to be plugged in and productive all the time.


For any organization that doesn’t offer that experience, the problem is not just that the workforce isn’t as productive as it could be. Prospective employees may perceive that organization as a dinosaur, not keeping pace with the times, not a place where they want to work. In the enterprise, social starts with mobile. Collaboration requires constant connectivity.


Q: Where are you seeing businesses having their biggest successes and challenges?


A: Many companies are seeing tactical success with BYOD to support a range of devices and apps in a secure and stable way. A smaller set of organizations are seeing good results from transforming their workplace for competitive advantage by building the mobile workplace and helping customers or citizens engage with facilities directly. To go back to the retail example I mentioned earlier, a store might want to direct special offers to customers based on what’s known about that customer’s online buying patterns; so you’re seeing the confluence of customer intelligence, big data, in-store location data and the wireless connectivity itself to create new ways of engaging customers.


One area where HPE has absolutely been a thought leader is helping businesses answer questions like: How do we tackle this experience end-to-end? Some enterprises are finding the hard way that equating mobility with wireless access will cause problems down the line. What if you set up your beautiful new workplace with access points every few feet in the ceiling, but when everybody tries to get on the network you have challenges with security, consistency of policy, unified approach for remaining wired devices, and even that the bandwidth and performance is not keeping up? It’s not just wireless access, but also how that traffic is aggregated, secured, optimized, and visualized in the back end that matters for IT to be successful in enabling these workplace transformations.