Fostering Employee Empowerment: 3 IT Leader Approaches

Read how three IT leaders took on this pressing digital transformation initiative.

IT plays a major part in employee empowerment, providing the tools and processes employees need to freely collaborate, independently make decisions and proactively solve problems. It’s a tall order to fulfill, though, in a world of tiny supercomputers and omnipresent artificial intelligence.

People feel increasingly comfortable with the latest apps and gadgets, spending their waking—and even non-waking—hours with mobile devices and digital assistants. When work technology is starkly different than those personal technologies, eight of those hours might feel like a miserable step back in time.

Employees not only expect better digital experiences but also feel entitled to it, typically without considering or understanding the potential impact on their organization’s security, budget or manpower.

“We recognize that the landscape has changed, from a technical perspective. The demand for consumer experiences is very real, and it’s immediate,” said Brian Link, senior director of user experience strategy and engineering for Capital One. “How do we meet these digital natives and get to this digital landscape in a way that’s meaningful for them and that doesn’t sacrifice our corporate posture—and still achieves our business goals?”

Link is one of many IT leaders actively solving this puzzle. Below, these leaders share their stories of driving employee empowerment with technology in their organizations.

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Empowering Knowledge Workers on Any Screen

“The tools that we provide our users tell them how much we value their work,” said Link. “I really believe that.”

His job is to shepherd the organization towards more efficient, satisfying digital experiences. “Really, we’re just trying to meet our customer, our employees, where they want to go,” he said.

It’s no surprise where Capital One’s employees are: on a smartphone. “Most primarily would love to work from their mobile devices if possible,” Link said. “That’s the touchstone to every facet of your life. If you’re at home or you’re at work, that’s a constant.”

And where do employees want to go? “Everybody’s looking to replace the thing they already have,” he said. “If you’re an iPhone user, that typically means, ‘I want the next version of whatever that is. I want whatever comes out, and I have an expectation that you’re going to be able to deliver those services to me at that time. If I’m a PC user, and I see that Mac is easier, then I want to convert, and I want that conversion to feel seamless.’”

To empower employees to work on their own terms, Link’s team needed to figure out how to help employees consistently and effortlessly access data and collaborate across any screen. “There’s an expectation that people will be able to use whatever device they want to, and from wherever they want to, and at any point in time that they want to,” he said. “How do I deliver something that feels ubiquitous and agnostic?”

His team set out to build a framework to enable it all, from bring your own device (BYOD) and choose your own device (CYOD) to adaptive identity management and native app delivery. To pivot to what’s next, that framework also needed to provide insights and analytics, while protecting employee privacy.

The result is a digital workspace, which serves as a foundation to support and integrate the plethora of technologies that Capital One’s employees use now and in the future. “None of these things can afford to be separate anymore because they’re not by design,” said Link.

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Empowering Doctors to Transform Healthcare

“If you look historically at the model of healthcare, it’s really a care model. It really only works when you’re sick,” said Brian Lancaster, vice president of IT at Nebraska Medicine. “We do not get paid if you’re healthy. So, it’s not a health model; it’s a care model.”

Technology changes that. With mobile apps, biometric sensors and virtual consultations, doctors can monitor patients’ health before they have to check in for treatment.

But according to Lancaster, these healthcare technologies of the future are only possible if the healthcare IT model changes, too. “Fundamentally, IT has to change to support anytime-anywhere-anyplace access of the whole stack, or we can’t change to deliver care in that way,” he said.

Doctors already demand this type of access to work from home, but like any healthcare system, Nebraska Medicine put security first to protect patient data. “The price of a medical record on that dark web is extremely high compared to a social security number or credit card,” Lancaster said.

However, rigid security policies made it nearly impossible for doctors to productively work outside the hospital or on their personal Mac or Windows devices. “If we have a physician who wants to work at home and finish up a chart, and he has to jump through ten different hoops to get connected to his electronic medical record, that’s really not negotiable,” said Lancaster.

“So how do we create these experiences that delight our users, remove friction from the experience, but then also meet that security need because we’re a huge target?” Lancaster recounted. “That’s what led us down the path of a digital workspace.”

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Empowering Students to Learn on Their Time & Budget

A university is like a small city, according to Patrick McGraw, virtual infrastructure and tier three engineer and senior systems engineer at Western Carolina University. “We have people that live there, and I provide them Netflix,” he said. “We have a police force. We have a health department, so I have lots of compliance things that I have to be aware of. I take credit cards. So how do we secure that data but also give the users access to what they need to do their jobs?”

Except at a university, the majority of users aren’t employees but students, who prefer to work in a variety of ways. Some prefer to access class resources from their smartphones. Some want to complete assignments in the campus computer lab at 3 a.m. Some need to virtually attend classes from off campus. It’s up to IT to make these variety of digital learning environments possible, secure and simple.

That started with giving students access to class resources on virtual desktops from any device, on or off campus, at any time. Easy to manage and secure for rotating users, virtual desktops enabled McGraw’s team to keep computer labs open all hours of the day. “Now, what we’re looking at doing is how do we make these resources that were only available in the classrooms available to everybody outside, so that students don’t have to come to campus (if they’re distance ed),” McGraw said.

His team eventually evolved that desktop virtualization initiative into a digital workspace platform. The digital workspace levels the playing field for on- and off-campus learners by providing consistent access to apps and data from anywhere. The platform also gives McGraw’s team visibility into how students and faculty use applications so they can pinpoint where the university can drive down costs, ultimately for the benefit of students.

“If I can drive down the costs of college, it’s so much better for the students,” said McGraw.

Laying the Groundwork for Employee Empowerment

The story is the same in every industry. People demand more from technology in the workplace.

It’s estimated over a third of the global population (and the majority of many developed countries) uses a smartphone. The moment someone thinks of an idea, a question or an answer, that individual can simply send an email, open a browser or complete a task with the touch of a thumb to the device. This is empowering.

Inconvenient log-in processes, cumbersome workflows and unfamiliar device interfaces are not. These frustrating experiences often come between employees and their desire to do their best work, as workplaces catch up to providing more speed and accessibility.

Other organizations struggle to keep up with employees’ evolving expectations. Work technology must be constantly reinvented and refined for the digitally savvy, mobile worker, who reads emails from a smartwatch and speaks to a connected car on the drive to a smart home.

Despite these struggles—despite targets on their backs from cybercriminals—IT leaders like Link, Lancaster and McGraw are working hard to consistently enhance end-user experiences. What’s the common thread? They each laid the groundwork and then deployed a digital workspace that enables employee empowerment immediately and for years to come.