Intelligent Digital Workspace: Critical for Today’s Workforce

Flexible work models are here to stay.  Despite ongoing media coverage of back-to-office mandates, we will not see a return to the way we were working in 2019. In recent global IDC research, senior decision makers noted that 20% of employees are primarily remote (i.e., they work from home three or more days a week), and 20% of employees are considered hybrid/flexible (i.e., they work from home, the office, or any other location, depending on business needs). The remaining 60% are in the office three or more days a week (source: Future Enterprise Resiliency & Spending Survey Wave 5, IDC, June 2023).  In other words, most of us will be shifting between locations at least some of the time for the foreseeable future – and that doesn’t include business travel.

What does this mean in terms of technology? We know that all workers require secure device- and location-agnostic access to company resources, including data, content, and collaborators. But the requirement is for more than secure access — to ensure productivity and employee engagement, access must include a comparable (and hopefully pleasing) experience, whether onsite or remote. Additionally, employee workspaces and solutions must maintain context across locations and time zones. However, respondents to IDC’s annual Future of Work survey tell us that secure, remote access to data, applications and content is one of the biggest challenges in supporting a flexible workforce. Another significant challenge is collaboration and enabling distributed teams to work effectively together (despite all the time we have been spending on video conference calls!) 

Defending against application sprawl 

No matter where we physically work, the number of applications that we use day-to-day is on the rise. On average, employees regularly use, or toggle between, 14 software applications, 21 online tools, and 13 back-office systems to accomplish day-to-day work activities (source: Intelligent Digital Workspace (IDW) Market Survey, IDC, May 2022). Context switching due to “application sprawl” is a significant problem for both worker productivity and experience. In fact, 43% of respondents told us that context switching is a top challenge that is preventing employees from working as efficiently as possible.  

A study published in Harvard Business Review found that workers toggled roughly 1,200 times each day, which adds up to just under four hours each week reorienting themselves after toggling — roughly 9% of their time at work (How Much Time and Energy Do We Waste Toggling Between Applications?  – 
August 29, 2022). 

What we need is a set of curated applications – or even fragments of applications called “microapps” – that we require to get our job done, and that are all available in one place, mitigating the continued need to find, open and reset.  

Struggling to find the information we need 

The information that we need to get our jobs done is often scattered throughout the organization. It resides in data and content repositories, email, messaging applications, and various enterprise and industry applications. It is located on desktops, external media, in various clouds, and often in the minds of the people that we work with. We need a way to obtain the information we need, when we need it, without spending hours searching.  

What is an intelligent digital workspace? 

What are organizations doing to improve employee productivity, experience, and engagement? When asked this question, 42% said that they are deploying intelligent digital workspace technology to provide employees with access to the people, tools, and data that they need to get work done. 

IDC defines an intelligent digital workspace (IDW) as an ecosystem of products coordinated into a unified end-user productivity experience by design, engineering, and/or artificial intelligence (AI). It provides a personalized and federated view of the resources that a worker requires to get their jobs done, and secure access to those resources, including subject matter experts and other collaborators as well as applications and data, from anywhere via any device.  The intelligent digital workspace is also fully observable by IT and security operations professionals. 

 The deployment of an intelligent digital workspace can address many common challenges including supporting a flexible workforce, reducing the impacts of application sprawl, and improving access to information. It is where a worker begins their day and ends their day.  

It is important to understand that an intelligent digital workspace may not be a single product but could be a group of integrated solutions. The most important feature is that the workspace puts the worker at the center. The workspace is, at the very least, customized for a specific role or persona, and at best, personalized for an individual. It is a learning environment, capturing user behaviors and further personalizing the workspace for that user.   

The critical capabilities of an intelligent digital workspace are: 

  • Entitlement and identity management to secure the environment 
  • Application federation, to enable applications or microapps to be exposed within a “single pane of glass” 
  • Endpoint management, enabling access from any device 
  • Content federation and viewing, allowing user to find and view content across multiple repositories. 
  • Microapp creation and management 
  • Integrated task and workflow automation 
  • Knowledge management (harvesting, curating, sharing knowledge) 
  • Integrated analytics to provide a holistic view of the environment 
  • A user interface that is easily configurable by the end user 
  • Integration and API management to allow the environment to integrate with other solutions and allowing other solutions to plug into it 

Though many vendors are architecting towards this ideal state, we don’t expect to see all these capabilities from a single vendor. Though there is certainly overlap, some solutions are more device-centric, focusing on the underlying infrastructure, while others are more experience-centric, focusing on the interactions between the workspace and the end user. 

The intelligent digital workspace and generative AI 

These days, no technology-related discussion ends without reference to generative AI (GenAI). We have never seen a technology emerge with this much executive support, high potential business outcomes, and rapid adoption.  IDC defines generative AI as a branch of computer science that involves algorithms that enable computers to create new content using previously created content, such as text, audio, video, images, and code. An example that most of us are familiar with is ChatGPT. In recent IDC global research, 24% of decision makers said that their organization was investing in GenAI technologies in 2023, and another 37% are doing some initial exploration of potential use cases (source: Future Enterprise Resiliency & Spending Survey Wave 2, IDC, March 2023). 

There are multiple ways that GenAI will disrupt intelligent digital workspace ecosystems. Perhaps the most obvious opportunity is in harvesting, curating, summarizing, and sharing knowledge and insights. As with all new technologies there are road bumps and problems to be solved, but there are numerous vendors, both startups and established, working to develop the required guardrails.  

Intelligent digital workspace is the new world of work 

Today’s enterprises must be digital enterprises. Digital transformation and digital disruption filter down to individuals and groups. It is time to rethink — and disrupt — individual workers’ “digital day to day.” 

There is an intelligent digital workspace for every worker. Think beyond “desked” employees to deskless and frontline workers. Intelligent digital workspaces can transform a team and individual workers across a multitude of vertical industries and use cases. 

AI and analytics are the game changer in workspace management, enabling personalized environments that improve productivity and user experience and advanced orchestration affecting business outcomes. Organizations should consider the intelligent digital workspace framework with any new end-user computing technology deployment or initiative.  

Holly Muscolino is the Group VP, Content and Process Strategies and the Future of Work at IDC.