Human Centred IT and the end of the IT department as the Digital Dictator

The overarching message at this year's Gartner Digital Workplace Summit was that IT leaders need to stop focussing on technology and instead take a human-centred approach. This means taking the lead in delivering the tools that individuals need to do their jobs and helping them use these tools effectively.

In last week’s review of May’s ITAM events, I promised I’d let you have my thoughts from Gartner’s Digital Workplace Summit. This was the first time in years that I’ve been to a conference purely as an attendee rather than a presenter. While my involvement in conferences over the past year hasn’t been quite as intense as it was during my time as an analyst, the presentation, panel or workshop is always the priority.

This year’s Gartner Digital Workplace Summit in Orlando was my first chance to fully immerse myself in the conference experience. The fact that it was a Gartner event, so familiar from the other side provided some additional insights – and it was great to catch up with some ex-colleagues between sessions. One of the real benefits of Gartner events is that the slide decks and in some cases session recordings are available on demand after the event to all attendees. This means that although you can’t always go to all the sessions you want to (they may be scheduled at the same time, or you may just want to go to ALL of them!) you can at least catch up on the content later, something I intend to do over the next few days.

The overarching message (based on my original session attendance) was that IT leaders need to stop focussing on technology and instead take a human-centred approach. This means taking the lead in delivering the tools that individuals need to do their jobs and helping them use these tools effectively. We need to stop thinking about the technology and rather consider the relationship between people and technology.

The need for ‘digital dexterity’

This point was nicely illustrated in the opening keynote where Leigh McMullen and Helen Poitevin discussed how the digital workplace is the foundation for the future of work, starting with a look at the digitisation of footwear (for the record, I liked Helen’s green tennis shoes). This introduced the concept of digital dexterity and the need to develop a workforce that is flexible and adaptable to the increasing pace of technological change that we are facing. This also means we need to think about the people we recruit into technical roles within our organisation to ensure a diverse population that fosters innovation through difference.

Looking back at my agenda as I write, I realise that I had an average of three options listed for each slot – I have no idea how I made my final choices as to what to attend. I suspect that my selections evolved organically as the conference progressed.

There was some interesting content about how people perceive tech vs. how they actually use it, the need for digital dexterity in the workforce, and how to hack your organisational culture to ensure people adopt new tech and new ways of working. The day 2 keynote from Nick Thompson (editor of Wired) provided an interesting examination of both how we use tech, and how we perceive it.

There was a strong theme around integration of IT into the wider business organisation, changing the role from that of ‘Digital Dictator’ to one of enabler, and in particular working closely with HR and facilities management to provide an environment that is designed around the way people work today. As Stephen Kleynhans pointed out in his session on ‘The Evolution of Endpoint Strategies in Support of Digital Workplace Initiatives’, we need to stop thinking about workers sitting at desks, and in particular, stop talking about desktops, when most people no longer use them. Likewise, the focussing on managing PCs when they are no longer the primary device needs adjusting.

The importance of culture in the digital workplace

Leigh McMullen’s session on digital ethics was particularly thought provoking. Like the sessions on diversity and culture, it didn’t necessarily fit the mould of a traditional ‘tech’ conference – for example Carol Rozwell’s presentation of the data illustrating the business benefits of diversity and inclusion in IT took the discussion well beyond the usual ‘Women in IT’ conversation that we currently see at most tech conferences. Just as it is clear that the key to success in delivering an effective digital workplace is having a clear understanding of the changing relationship between people and technology. We need to understand that the future of digital technology lies not with the IT organisation, but with the collaboration between IT, HR, facilities and the employees who use the technology to generate business value.

It was refreshing to attend a technology event that was focussed on the people who use the technology rather than on the tech itself. This change of focus is exactly what IT professionals need if they are to provide their organisations with the tools, systems and services to survive in the world of digital business. I pointed out last week that ITAM professionals need to rethink the skills that they need to deliver effective services to their business stakeholders – the same clearly applies to the broader IT community.