Are you building a digital workplace or a digital business?

Many organizations focus on building a digital workplace. How many have considered building a digital business instead? Martin Srubar September 4, 2019
A watercolour painting of an ox cart full of documents, with documents up in the air.
 
 

A business is the overall structure of processes, systems, and people an organization has. A digital business uses as much technology as possible to achieve business goals.

There is a number of areas that an organization can choose to digitalize. The one that usually gets most attention is the digital workplace.

Hand-drawn illustration of interlocking puzzle pieces with captions: Customer Engagement, Sales and Marketing, Workplace, Operations.

Areas of business that are often associated with digitalization.

A digital workplace is the environment in which employees work. You might use a tablet to take notes, deliver your presentation using the latest software, and share files using an online platform like Dropbox. In terms of the digital workplace, these are more advanced alternatives to taking notes on paper, presenting using a whiteboard, and sending files for review and collaboration via email.

The digital workplace gets most attention because:

  • Change is immediate and obvious – you get a new gadget or a newer version of a software application. Instead of a laptop, you get a new tablet. Instead of Word and SharePoint, you get Slack or Teams.
  • Implementation effort is low – the replacement is typically quick and easy.
  • Employees get excited by having a new tool to get their job done.
  • All stakeholders can easily agree to the workplace improvement.

In the realm of document creation, workplace improvements could include replacing a pen with a mechanical typewriter. You could replace an electric typewriter with a computer-based text editor, or perhaps replace the ubiquitous desktop version of Microsoft Word with Google Docs or another content collaboration platform.

The realm of documents can involve lots of elements. Let’s illustrate the transformation with the example of transporting physical objects.

How could we improve a business that relies on ox carts to transport goods and people? Our oxen are slow but reliable, and they can feed on grass that grows along the dirt roads that go everywhere. However, we want to be able to transport more goods and people faster. What should we do?

Should we build a railway network and steam trains to deliver goods? And perhaps keep using oxen for the last mile?

Should we build trucks, a network of fuel stations, and tar-seal all the roads where we might want to go? Or perhaps we should build trucks that can still go on dirt roads?

Hand-drawn illustration of an ox cart, with arrows indicating its optimization into a steam engine and a truck.

How do you improve the ox cart? Build a train or a truck?

In the example above, building a train and building a truck are really the same – they are both ways of doing the same thing, using different tools. They are both examples of optimizing the workplace of the ox cart driver. The driver will very likely be happier and much more productive when driving trains or trucks instead of ox carts (especially on rainy days).

In the realm of documents, using a typewriter and the latest content collaboration tools are really the same – they are both ways of doing the same thing, using different tools. They are both examples of optimizing the workplace of the office worker. The office worker will very likely be happier and much more productive when using a typewriter or a content collaboration tool instead of handwriting.

Hand-drawn illustration depicting two colums, with transport and document creation evolving in parallel: transport tracks an ox cart turning into a steam train, then a first petrol/diesel vehicle, a truck, a bullet train. Document creation tracks: handwriting turns into a mechanical typewriter, then an electric typewriter, Microsoft Word, then Slack, Google Drive, and Microsoft Teams.

Comparison of optimization in two different industries.

These examples illustrate optimization. Could there be a better way? Let’s look at the core of the problems we’re trying to solve:

Problem

Transport Document creation
Move an object or a person from one location to another.

The definition of the problem doesn’t rely on oxen, trains or trucks. When you receive a package from Amazon, all you care about is that you get it on time and in good condition.
Create an accurate and personalized document.

The definition of the problem doesn’t rely on typewriters, Microsoft Word or content collaboration tools. When you receive your document, you care about its accuracy and relevance to you.

So what are the ideal solutions to these problems?

Solution

Transport Document creation
The ideal solution to the transportation problem is for the transport to be immediate, point to point, and not require any infrastructure between the two locations.

A solution that meets this criteria is teleportation. "Impossible!" you say. We may not have the technology today, but it is scientifically possible.
The ideal solution to the document creation problem is for the document to be created immediately, accurately, using the correct language.

A solution that meets this criteria is document automation.

Unlike teleportation, we already have this technology today.

Hand-drawn illustration of an ox cart with arrows indicating it either optimizing into a bullet train, or transforming into a teleporter.

The difference between optimization and transformation.

Teleportation may require resource intensive R&D and set up for different types of goods. However, once in place, it provides near unlimited capacity and transports goods and people almost immediately.

The setup of document automation may require resources to automate templates and to connect to data sources. However, once in place, it provides near unlimited capacity and generates documents almost immediately.

Just like teleportation, document automation changes the paradigm.

Hand-drawn illustration of a bullet train transforming into a teleporter, and of Slack, Google Drive, and Microsoft Teams transforming into ActiveDocs.

Transforming transportation and document creation.

All of the tailored content previously requiring meticulous user attention can be created nearly instantaneously and without user involvement. Of course, you need a sophisticated document engine to run it. Once you have it in place, the possibilities are near limitless.

How does all this tie back into building a digital business? Working on creating a digital business transcends the digital workplace. Rather than optimizing and providing better tools for the same job, organizations need to redefine what the job is.

If you need to produce documents, document automation will help you build a digital businesses.

Better word processors and content collaboration tools create a digital workplace. Document Automation tools build a digital business by transforming the work entirely.

As a document expert, would you rather copy and paste content in the latest content collaboration tool, or would you prefer to have time to focus on designing better documents and processes?

As a business owner or a CEO, would you rather spend resources on building a better ox cart, or implement a teleportation system?

 
 
About the Author

Martin Srubar

Senior Technology Evangelist

Martin’s engineering background and his passion for great products whether in physical or software form are complemented by his understanding of ActiveDocs applications and how they meet the requirements and fit the architecture of the company’s clients. Martin continues to engage with potential and existing customers, adding market intelligence and customer feedback into the company’s ongoing product development strategy.

 
 
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