The Workstyles Iceberg: Or, Why You Are Almost Certainly Doing It Wrong

Workstyles Iceberg

Many organisations are interested in finding out what their employees’ specific ‘workstyles’ are (the latest term for the profile of the IT needs of individual team members). This is because it’s become increasingly clear that we need to be much more nuanced in how we approach IT provisioning. Basically; we (IT) have tended to offer a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of both kit (typically one desktop for everyone) and standard software (Office for everyone, usually the same apps, too).

But that’s never how the business really consumed IT. Some users (what we used to call ‘power’ users), demand a lot more functionality than others, who are very light-touch, if not actively technology-averse. In addition, we often separate executives out completely, giving them state of the art kit supported by different processes than the rest of the business, even though this is based more on status rather than functionality.

This has worked more or less well since the PC came into mainstream business use in the early ’90s. But by lumping everyone into a big, shapeless morass we ended up under-servicing some users and over-servicing others. This is inefficient as a way to procure information and communications technology, as it meant that not everyone had the right tools for the job they wanted to do. It’s not economically efficient as the IT budget wasn’t being spent to reflect the real needs of each IT user, but more what IT thought they wanted.

Analysing usage-based ‘workstyles’ to assess what the user actually needs; what software, how much bandwidth, what company applications (apps), and so forth is the new way to deliver IT for the end user. Understand behaviour and work backwards from that to give each individual the best package, in both terms of function (devices and apps) and cost to the business.

I’m a fan of the workstyles idea, as I hope you’ll be. It makes a lot more sense for the customer contact centre team to be served by, say, thin-clients with a core set of maybe three or four apps that they’ll use every day. While the contracts specialists staff, out on the road, have mobility-friendly devices served by local apps and secure access to corporate databases – and field engineers have specialised tablets and so on.

It’s much easier to work out what the business needs if you understand in great detail what everyone is using at the moment. You’re also going to do a better job by the business if you place the right tools in its hands. And, with clear metrics identifying what is used where, you’ll have a much more defensible budget too (desktop budget being both the most visible and often the most expensive part of IT’s allowance). It sounds easy in theory, but how do you get the information to work out what the users’ workstyles actually are?

From Too Simple To Too Complex?

In my experience, it’s often a real struggle to get any real accuracy in this process. The amazing variety of devices is just one aspect of this: in the ‘good old days,’ it was desktop PC for the knowledge worker, laptop for the road warrior. Now what it’s to be – a Surface Pro, phablet, tablet, why not a Chromebook? (and what do you say if they are convinced a Mac Airbook is the only thing that will work for them?) How do you know that the choice is the one with the right performance, security, apps and connectivity for this specific person’s job – or that they have the right apps and permissions on that device to work at optimal efficiency?

This takes us from an overly-simplistic model to an overly-complex one. We still need to find a way to operate this new model. Or of course, users will vote with their feet and just buy or use whatever they think will do, or whatever they want. As well as uncontrolled costs, it raises all kinds of security and support risks.

So – workstyles, they make sense. But you cannot hope to run IT as a proper mini-business, as your FD and CEO want you to, if you can’t build a proper business case with hard data on what an individual or line of business’ workstyle is. You need to be able to ask – and answer – questions like “where are these users located, what data do they access, how many concurrent sessions do they typically open etc.?” It’s only with that information that you can decide if Barry really ‘needs’ a £2,000 premium laptop!

Workspace management tools are one of the few convincing ways for you to gather this data and build the kind of knowledge base you need to. Yes, you may have asset management tools, but try to get information from them about the multiple aspects of IT use that you really need to manage users’ workstyles, and you’ll find that there isn’t enough depth. If you’d tried to get the what, when, where and how of user needs and behaviors from an asset management system or by user survey/interview, you’d have ended up making decisions based on point-in-time data, estimates and inaccurate reporting.

But I do still recommend you talk to your users to find out the why. You do need to do that last mile of work to ascertain from an individual how and why they use these apps and don’t like that system. This Q&A process is the culmination, in fact, of your workstyle research – but it can’t happen (or shouldn’t if you want proper results), until you have gathered, via smart tools, the vast bulk of the workstyle ‘iceberg’ – the data that the interviews sit on top of and complement. That, at least, is my experience of the optimal route to delivering true workstyle-based IT service.

Paul Burke, VP, Product Management at Centrix Software, has over 20 years of product management, marketing and customer support experience in software businesses of all sizes. Paul has led product teams to create commercially successful award winning products that saw strong customer acceptance by millions of users across customer segments from consumer to large enterprise. His experience spans all stages of the product lifecycle from start-up through mass market adoption to product retirement. Paul has had responsibility over 25 major commercial product releases that have driven many hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues.