Scott Hitchins, CSO of Interact quote: "You can't simply flick on the switch and expect staff to begin collaborating."

Scott Hitchins knows the importance of making a clear case to customers for digital workplace technology both in terms of functional capabilities and regarding the benefits to an organization and its employees.

“It’s vital to empower those who may not come from the same technical background with an understanding of both what the technology does and the value it brings,” he said. “Too much can easily be lost in translation.”    

Hitchins is currently chief strategy officer at intranet and digital workplace vendor Interact. He joined Interact in 2006 in a project management role when the company was still in the early stages of growth. As CSO, he’s responsible for driving strategic growth and direction for Interact.

Working With Technology and Interacting With Customers

Prior to 2006, Hitchins had worked first in technical roles building firewalls and development environments before eventually moving into project and service delivery management.

“When working with both customers and colleagues, I often draw on skills from my earlier career when it comes to explaining reasonably complex technical situations in as simple a manner as possible,” he said.

Hitchins graduated from Leeds Beckett University with a degree in business information technology.

“I just enjoyed working with technology, but always knew I didn’t want to be the technical guy who didn’t interact with customers,” he said. “Portal technology was growing in popularity in the 2000s and I was fortunate to be with an organization at the time that was pushing the boundaries.”

Hitchins is a speaker at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 17 to 19 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will be giving a session at the conference titled, “How Intranet Data and Machine Learning Can Reveal What’s Really Happening in Your Enterprise,” on June 19. Interact is also a sponsor of the event.

We spoke with Hitchins about his take on the current and future benefits of adding artificial intelligence and machine learning to digital workplace tools; his best practices advice for organizations adopting a new intranet; and his thoughts on measuring employee experience and engagement.

‘Be Clear About What Success Looks Like For You’ 

CMSWire: What impact is the addition of machine learning already having in today’s digital workplace? How is the ability to combine intranet data and analysis directly benefiting organizations and their staff? 

Hitchins: Our digital workplaces produce more data now than ever before: every time an employee performs a task or an action, it tells us something.  

Thanks to the ever-advancing capabilities of AI, analytics and visualization tools, we’re also in our strongest position yet to actually do something with all that information. And, it’s time we started listening. 

Right now, we are in the early stages of exploring what these technologies can mean for businesses. It’s not a problem generating the data, but extracting meaning and tangible ROI is the real challenge.  

We’re already beginning to see how data-driven decision making can impact on strategic business KPIs including productivity, retention, cost or resource savings, and more. As our ability to interpret available data improves, the direct impact of intranets on organizations and their staff will only become more evident.

CMSWire: What do you expect to become possible in the next five to 10 years through the maturation of machine learning and AI within the digital workplace? How will such developments help organizations and employees? 

Hitchins: Machine learning (ML), as a subset of narrow AI, will have a profound impact on organizations in the next 5 to 10 years.  

There’s no silver bullet here. Yes, technology exists to help work with big data and spot patterns, but it requires significant effort and time. It’s laborious work. 

The technology and effort are advancing faster in some areas than in others. DeepMind (owned by Google) is one such example where their machine learning technology, AlphaZero, helped beat leading programs in complex games such as Chess and Go. They are one of relatively few at the forefront of this technology. 

As with all technologies on the hype curve, machine learning and AI will continue to progress at an expeditious rate, making it easier to gather and analyze data and reducing the time to ROI.  

Data standardization (currently a major challenge) will become less problematic and organizations will have faster access to the meaning in the data gathered to propel their businesses forward.  

CMSWire: Where do you currently see organizations struggle in terms of enabling employees to collaborate effectively with each other?

Hitchins: We often comment that technology is the easy part. People are always the challenge. When it comes to collaboration, the old adage of ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ rings true. 

Intranets and their role in the wider digital workplace can be fantastic enablers for organizations and have amazing impacts, but these are ‘business change’ projects. They’re a fundamental shift in internal communication designed for the long-term. 

For this reason, you can’t simply flick the on switch and expect staff to begin collaborating. Without the correct implementation, intranets and collaboration technology will fail: for the simple reason that employees won’t understand its value for their role. 

The majority of the organizations we work with recognize this fact. Those who don’t, often end up indecisive and unprepared in their approach. 

CMSWire: What can companies do to encourage employees to re-engage with intranet tools when their prior experiences have been less than optimal? 

Hitchins: Any organization planning a new intranet should have the following in place: 

  1. Senior leadership support. An intranet is a wider business project and a process of change; to ensure it is successfully embedded and adopted, it requires buy-in and support from those at senior level. With senior leadership support, you can remove cultural blockers to adoption, reduce risk of common project threats such as over-spend or delays, obtain support for intranet managers and content writers, and continue to enhance and develop the intranet in line with strategic objectives to ensure it delivers value. 
  2. Linking intranet objectives with strategic aims. While intranets are traditionally aligned with ‘softer’ business measures such as improved communication, we find the greatest success is seen when the intranet is aligned with strategic business aims that are measurable and tangible. We’ve seen from experience how an intranet can contribute to business performance indicators including lower staff turnover, attraction of talent, increased productivity, improved efficiency and reduced costs, enhanced levels of innovation, improved customer service and brand, and much more.
  3. A partnership mindset. An intranet is not a one-off event, or a short-term project: it has the capacity to deliver significant long-term change. Our most successful customers select us as a strategic partner to deliver on their vision and approach their intranet as a long-term solution. On average, an intranet is replaced every eight to 10 years. Finding the right vendor for that relationship is crucial. 

CMSWire: What advice do you have for organizations on how to measure positive employee experience and digital workplace success?

Hitchins: I’d say first and foremost, be clear about what success looks like for you. What’s important to your organization, why have you chosen to undertake this project or adopt this tool?

Define your objectives up front. Is it to improve productivity? To reduce high levels of staff turnover? Be clear about what metrics already exist within your business and rank as a priority for leadership.

It sounds obvious, but be sure to benchmark before you go live. If you don’t know where you were before, how can you expect to show any improvement or ROI? The key is often measuring and understanding the productivity failures of the previous solution for accurate benchmarking. 

Don’t neglect the basics, however. There are some metrics every intranet must provide that indicate success and employee experience at a foundational level.

Daily and monthly active users show adoption rate and help spot patterns on non-usage and low engagement, for example; content and search analytics help spot data gaps, provide insight into user behavior and show what users are consuming or looking for.

CMSWire: What are some of the key metrics companies should use to track employee engagement?

Hitchins: Measuring employee engagement has traditionally been a difficult metric to approach. At a simplistic level, does an increase in monthly active users really demonstrate higher levels of engagement?  

The answer is often far more complex than that. 

Pulse surveys and eNPS scoring have emerged as one of the leading indicators of measuring engagement. Human resources departments are beginning to see these solutions as a far more effective way of gaining insight into how employees feel about the business. 

Interact’s pulse survey tool has the added advantage of being incorporated within the intranet. This symbiotic relationship, rather than separate tool, presents higher response levels and greater insight into general engagement levels. 

CMSWire: On Twitter, you describe yourself as a ‘wine/gin enthusiast,’ do you see any parallels between the world of alcoholic beverages and the digital workplace?

Hitchins: In my over 20 years in IT I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to compare my favorite beverages to technological progress. But here goes … 

For both wine and gin, there’s a myriad of choices, so much so that it’s almost overwhelming when trying to choose one. 

When faced with a 10-page wine menu, does anyone really know what they’re doing or selecting? It’s usually a combination of price versus a wine type we’ve vaguely heard of chosen with a level of seriousness so as to convey to others we think we know what we’re doing. 

The same happens when the bartender starts to explain about the 20 fancy-looking gin bottles behind the bar. 

In other words: We fudge it. 

The same is often true when trying to convey to the C-suite the benefits of a new intranet and a ‘digital workplace.'  

No communications professional can state with confidence that a new intranet will see the business increase sales by x% or drop employee churn by x%. 

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience.