Mike Vizard talks to the CTO of 1E, Ian van Reenen, about what factors IT teams need to master to drive modern digital employee experiences.
Mike Vizard: Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Ian van Reenen, who’s CTO for 1E, and we’re talking about how to manage the digital employee experience. Ian, welcome to the show.
Ian van Reenen: Thanks, Mike. Lovely to be here.
Mike Vizard: I think we’ve all been kind of walking around this issue for some time. I mean, we always have some sense of that the employees have an experience, and we want them to be more productive, but I don’t really feel like a lot of organizations have a strategy. So what’s your sense of what’s going on out there? It feels like there’s a lot of happenstance, and is there another way to think about this?
Ian van Reenen: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s true that the DEX market is still evolving. People are still defining exactly what DEX management platforms need to be doing within their organization. But the reality that is now well understood is that without IT being focused on assisting users in performing their jobs as opposed to ticking multiple check boxes for the business, it fails to relieve users from the friction that they typically would otherwise feel when trying to perform their job using the IT that they’ve been delivered. So the strategy that we’re seeing emerging in the market is for IT departments to pivot the focus, or at least the outcomes or their success outcomes, from being can we do everything that the business has asked us to do for our users to can we enable our users to be the most productive versions of themselves while doing their jobs?
Mike Vizard: Has that gotten a lot harder? I feel like, post-COVID, we have more SaaS applications than ever, and I go look at some of the way people work, and they’re quite literally, cutting and pasting things between SaaS apps. And they’re struggling with the number of options they have and how to manage that and collaborate with each other. So how do we need to think about all this?
Ian van Reenen: The first thing is that the DEX market is, or at least DEX tools, are largely the end user compute tools that we saw of five, 10 years ago really emerging in the market. So it has a lot to do with remote management of those devices, and especially in a post-COVID world where there’s a lot of hybrid working, it’s really important to provide users with an experience akin to working in the office. Now, as you’ve mentioned with SaaS apps, of course, we’re moving away from traditional apps and from traditional end user compute management, but we need to understand what’s happening for users. What is experience like when they’re working inside those SaaS applications? So for a DEX platform, it’s really important to instrument that user experience, looking both at the desktop itself or the laptop itself and those native applications installed on those devices all the way through to the experience inside the browser. And that’s been a key requirement as we’ve moved into a SaaS world and that we need to fully understand what’s actually happening for the user when they’re interacting with SaaS applications since that’s where they’re spending a lot of their time.
Mike Vizard: So what are the tools that an organization needs to have to effectively manage that experience? I feel like we’ve had monitoring tools forever and a day, but how is that all changing and evolving?
Ian van Reenen: DEX is an evolution of those monitoring tools. So typically, you’d have a tool that you can understand what the environment looks like and use and troubleshoot that environment looking for anomalies and to be able to fix that really quickly. You’d want some sort of tool where you can detect configuration drift in that environment and bring it back under control in order to reduce friction ultimately. So you need to be able to instrument that friction, and that has to do… That’s very much akin with traditional end user compute tools. What’s changed is the requirement to validate to what you’re doing through user sentiment. So it’s really important to understand if we make these changes, what impact on the user base will these have? Or, if we ask… if we try and understand how well we are doing, are users going to validate that through their sentiment? So the key additional tool that enters the framework when we’re talking about DEX is that user voice and the ability to survey users, and that’s probably been the biggest change with DEX tools.
Mike Vizard: Is that user experience likely to vary a lot? Because it used to be fairly consistent when everybody was in an office and a lot of folks are going back to the office, but a lot of people are also working from home and they’re kind of move… It’s, shall we say, a lot more fluid these days. So do I need to kind of think about monitoring that experience no matter where they are and make some adjustments accordingly?
Ian van Reenen: Yeah. When you’re working remotely, when someone’s working remotely and not necessarily used to working remotely or not necessarily equipped to do their own troubleshooting, it’s really important that the IT department uses very proactive tools. It’s necessary to not only instrument what’s on that device, but also how it’s actually being used by the individual users. So you’re looking at things that how long do devices take to boot, how long do applications take to load, what are the page refresh times. You’re looking for areas of friction in just the access times or screen refresh rates, et cetera. All of these can lead to user frustration, ultimately, and that’s what we’re focused on solving is eliminating that user frustration. So the big change in a post-COVID world really has been how can we provide that office experience out in the user’s home office?
Mike Vizard: Cannot walk down the street without somebody leaping out to tell you about their great new AI thing. Will AI get applied to the management of digital experiences and what might that look like?
Ian van Reenen: Sure. One of the big challenges, and you touched on it earlier, was understanding how users are really experiencing their IT. You’ll often get popups or surveys that will be pushed out to users asking for, yeah, how’s your IT department doing, but very often those are disconnected from the actual user experience. They either arrive on a Friday afternoon when the user’s about to leave or, perhaps, right during sort of a user [inaudible 00:06:36] DEX period. So the answers that you get can be very much out of context and disconnected from the actual user experience. Where I think AI can really play a role here is to be able to predict what the user experience is going to look like. In other words, instrument a device, correlate that with historical user sentiment, and to be able to predict exactly what that user’s going to experience without having to ask the users themselves. That’s an area that we’re doing a lot of work in. We feel that if an IT department can understand what the user sentiment can look like and benchmark themselves against that sentiment and also do scenario planning around what if I made these changes, how would it affect users, I think that’s going to be a game-changer in the market, and I think AI is going to underpin that work.
Mike Vizard: Do you think IT leaders are being held more accountable for that user experience? I mean, not too long ago, basically all we ever measured was availability of applications and systems, but is the metrics game changing for IT people?
Ian van Reenen: Absolutely, and it’s changing top down. So the traditional EUC tools are typically being measured at the IT department. Have we patched devices? Do the correct users have the correct applications, or do they have the correct versions? The introduction of DEX tools and the realization that really the primary objective of IT is to enable users has meant that suddenly the C-level’s far more interested in what those DEX scores look like. Are our users getting the IT experience that they need, one, to be the most productive versions of themselves, and two, because every time they hit friction, it causes cost typically through tickets. And thirdly, users now, end users have got used to bringing in another option into their IT plan is that… and that if it’s not working for them, if the IT is really frustrating, they’ll go and look for another job. So suddenly it’s become really important for an organization for all three of those reasons to get on top of the employee experience issues and ensure that that IT is not just supplying according to policy, but it’s supplying according to user needs.
Mike Vizard: One of the issues that we always encounter when it comes to employee experience is security. It seems like we have struggled over the years to implement security in a way that employees don’t find overly intrusive. Are we getting better at that?
Ian van Reenen: I think we are, but it remains a challenge because there’s always this security and convenience compromise. There’s also been the emergence of surveillance tools typically associated with security, but very often being tied to productivity, and that’s an area that we’re just, you know, we are dead set against. We certainly feel that’s an extremely unproductive way to approach these problems and, rather, that we need to remove obstacles to use a productivity rather than try and look over their shoulder to see what they’re doing. But yeah, security remains a key focus. It comes into one of the strategies of our platform or one of the sort of architectural strategies is to be real time, and that vulnerabilities nowadays attack out of the blue. So it’s really important that one, we have visibility of those, and two, we can act in real time in order to remediate.
Mike Vizard: You mentioned productivity, and one of the issues that always comes up, it’s at least the way we measure productivity today might be flawed, but those metrics haven’t really moved all that far. A lot of organizations are noting that their productivity gains, despite investments in IT, have not been substantial. So the question becomes is that really a reflection of our lack of focus on the employee experience in the first place, and maybe we can start moving those numbers.
Ian van Reenen: A lot of that comes down to ensuring that you have the right IT in front of the right people. Again, we see organizations who have made decisions; let’s supply, for example, all developers with a particular laptop spec or all road warriors with a newer, with a different spec. And IT needs to become personalized. We spoke about AI earlier, and what we’re doing is pushing that AI to the edge. So when IT supplies a device, it shouldn’t do it just on a sort of a broad, bulk basis, that this is the particular IT equipment that a department is going to get. Rather, we need to have this digital twin on the edge that’s able to understand the user needs and report back to IT whether or not the device is suitable for the job.
Look, there are a lot of things that play into productivity. IT is just one of them, but certainly the IT department can help by ensuring that whatever IT they supply is not adding friction to the user day.
Mike Vizard: I don’t think it’s also much of a secret that there’s not a lot of love lost between employees and the IT department sometimes. So what’s your best advice to IT leaders to change the way they’re perceived and maybe start something that feels like a digital experience initiative in a way that people will find credible?
Ian van Reenen: Sure, sure. I mean, I remember the days when if you were working in an office and IT came in, you figured there’s a problem somewhere, and that was always the perception of IT. IT turned up when there was a problem, and, really, what IT needs to do is turn that around and become the user friend. When the employees see IT, it should be, hey, great, there’s going to be good stuff happening here. IT needs to be the assistant to productivity and to employees rather than the policemen who are put in place by the business to ensure things are being done correctly. And part of changing that perception is to change how you instrument and measure success. If IT is constantly measured, for example, on providing … rolling out corporate policy to every employee, then they’re going to be seen as just potentially pushing the business needs over user requirements. If, however, IT is instrumented on ensuring that user needs are met and that user sentiment is as high as possible, users start to feel that, hey, IT’s on my side here, and that’s really where the DEX market is going.
Mike Vizard: All right, folks. Well, you heard it here. Digital experience, it’s really about empathy. And if IT folks get down there in the trenches with the employees and make their life better, the whole perception of IT will change dramatically. Hey, Ian, thanks for being on the show.
Ian van Reenen: Mike, thank you very much for the invite.
Mike Vizard: All right. Thank you all for watching the latest episode of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. You can find this episode and others on our website. We invite you to check them all out. Until then, we’ll see you next time.