Defining your Digital Workplace

By Nathan Wells

Konvergent Chief Digital Workplace Architect

As Architects, I am sure you have seen the joke that has been circulating for the past few months; what is driving your digital transformation strategy? A) Your CIO B) Your CEO C) Covid-19. So like most organisations now this has been pushed to the top of most companies agenda but from an Architecture perspective, what is the correct approach?

When it comes to architecting your Digital Workplace, it makes sense to consolidate as many capabilities as possible into one technology ecosystem. This brings architectural and strategic benefits, including reduced technical complexity, cost-savings, increased supportability, and more joined-up user experience. However, while these benefits are significant, it is often a constant battle to meet the specific needs of individual teams, departments or roles. For an Enterprise Architect striving to simplify and consolidate technology over a long term roadmap, this is a real challenge. How do you drive simplification across the estate when every point solution you procure or build detracts from this goal? And equally, how do you enable your users and give them the tools they need to do their jobs effectively without harming the overall strategy or costing the business more money in the long run?

“The winning organisations of tomorrow will be the ones who have a business model that allows to seamlessly traverse all the options and continually move work in a way that best meets their needs”

Platforms like Microsoft’s Office 365 are deliberately and understandably an 80:20 solution. They do an excellent job across an incredibly broad spectrum of capabilities, but in many instances do not provide the best solution on the market for a specific use case. For example, in a typical scenario, Microsoft Whiteboard is a perfectly adequate aid to mixed-attendance meetings where some users are dialling in, and others are in the room. But if everyone is remote and the conference is a big workshop (an increasingly common scenario thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown), its limitations begin to show, and tools like Miro, Mural and Stormboard become more tantalising.

Likewise, Teams is a fantastic tool for team/project-level productivity and collaboration for a good 95% of an enterprise’s populace. But software developers and engineers? It just doesn’t have the tight integration with systems like Gitlab and JIRA Core to allow them to do their jobs as effectively and efficiently as a rival product like Slack.

An architecture we have adopted for several of our clients that are on this journey is one of a Core supported by Satellites. In the case of a Digital Workplace, the Core will generally be Office 365 (or Google if you have an extraordinarily brave CIO!), while the Satellites are point solutions you procure to meet particular department/role-specific needs. The principle is clear: drive as much capability into the Core as you can so that you get the full benefits of an ecosystem like Office 365. But deciding exactly what ends up as a Satellite is slightly more nuanced. We adopt the following process to help with this decision-making:

  1. Demand – Understand the level of need across the organisation for a more mature capability in a particular space. This will ensure that you do not end up with multiple different Satellites in different parts of the business, delivering what is essentially the same capability.

  2. Business Use Case – Understand the requirements and use cases from a technology-agnostic point of view. Often, business users will come to you with suggested solutions and products rather than problems, so it is essential to unpackage this and understand exactly what they are looking to achieve and which business capabilities they are trying to support.

  3. Education – Work with the business to critically assess whether the Core has extra capabilities or extensions they were previously unaware of that will meet their requirements. This is important, as platforms like O365 are such big, complex, ever-changing beasts that your average user may not be fully aware of precisely what the product offers, and base their assumptions on your current implementation or their own experiences rather than what the tool provides.

  4. Gap Analysis of Core – Include Office 365 (or whatever your Core ecosystem is) in any vendor/solution comparisons and options assessments, so that you fully understand where the gaps are. Work with your TAM (Technical Account Manager) at Microsoft to see if/when their product roadmap will address these gaps. This will give you a likely timeframe for your Satellite, and determine how tactical or strategic it needs to be, as well as when you realise any return on investment.

  5. Integration – Ensure that any Satellite tool you procure integrates as tightly as possible with the Core. In the case of an Office 365-based Digital Workplace, this might be things like using Azure AD for Single Sign-On, app compatibility with Intune to enable MAM, integrations into MS Teams, etc. etc.

  6. De-coupling – Ensure that any Satellite you procure can be easily reversed out of, from both a technical and commercial/contractual point of view. Once you have a Satellite in place, its days should inherently be numbered. You need to assess on a regular basis whether you can remove a Satellite and drive that capability back into the Core, thanks to your core ecosystem maturing. You need to make sure you’re not committed to anything massively long-term with your Satellites and don’t have a vast, arduous migration project on your hands when you do decide to move the capability back into the Core.

“Digital workplace leaders must realise that their role as the orchestrator of change is fundamentally moving away from previously ingrained leadership practices that view employees as a group resistant to change rather than involving them in co-creating the path forward”

Naturally, there will be plenty of times where you have to play bad cop and say “no” to a particular Satellite solution. This might be because there is not a clear enough distinction between the capabilities of the Core versus anything new you might bring in, or it might be because no tool on the market provides adequate integration into the Core, or it might be that the Office 365 roadmap has new features incoming that will make the business problem irrelevant. But the most significant factor to consider is how many users there will be for the new Satellite: if there are too many, it will start to detract from the benefits of a consolidated Digital Workplace ecosystem, and increase the fragmentation in your technology estate and confuse end-users. What you absolutely must avoid is a situation where you have two competing Cores.


The most important word here is compromise; delivering every capability for every role in your Core is a pipedream. Microsoft will continue maturing existing features and provide new functionality, but even if O365 becomes a 95:5 solution rather than 80:20, there will still always be a need for Satellites – just fewer of them. The key is ensuring you make sensible, informed decisions about which Satellites you provide and for whom so that you get the benefit of a consolidated Digital Workplace ecosystem while still being able to meet the needs of individuals for specific use cases.

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