Architecting the future of business tech

IT leaders weigh in on the top trends in workplace software—and how to get ahead of them

A Jenga tower with other geometric objects figuratively demonstrates the complexity of balancing and managing IT solutions at scale.

In a world where there’s an app for just about everything, companies are increasingly cherry-picking the optimal app for the task at hand. This best-of-breed approach, where the top software tools are selected to perform specific functions, can drive everything from productivity to employee satisfaction. 

In the early 2000s, companies were stuck with single providers that offered a full A-to-Z software suite, whether users needed (or wanted) everything or not. But thanks to plummeting switching costs, user choice and employee happiness have become North Star metrics for IT departments.

It’s not all smooth sailing, though: With new opportunities come new pressures, and the proliferation of tools can create issues if a company isn’t prepared to help workers navigate all the available options.

With this complicated new landscape in mind, IT leaders from Slack, Okta, Box and Zoom participated in a roundtable webinar on selecting IT solutions for today’s rapidly changing workplace. We’ve summed up their key takeaways for you here. 

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Forget free snacks and games, workers want best-of-breed tools

Today, a great user experience at work looks a lot like it does at home. This is especially true for millennials, who now comprise the largest generational share of the U.S. workforce. They are accustomed to selecting the best software, apps and devices for their needs—and they expect that same level of choice in the workplace. 

“This is a population of people who grew up in a digital world,” says Zoom CIO Harry Moseley. “They grew up in the world of the internet, they grew up in the world of mobile devices, and they have a different expectation than the generations that came before them, both from a personal perspective and a work perspective. And they want that freedom of being able to work wherever they choose on the device of their choice.”

How to adapt: Experts forecast that the proliferation of apps will speed up, not slow down. With more choices than ever before, workers expect multiple options and the freedom to pick and choose. To meet this demand, IT leaders should work with employees to determine which tools belong in the organizational toolbox. Internal app reviews and feedback sessions can serve as meaningful guideposts for employee sentiment toward existing and new software tools.

More open, collaborative workspaces require interoperability

Employees are no longer constrained by a physical office. “Work used to be a place you went to,” explains Box CIO Paul Chapman. “It’s much more of a state of mind now. The workplace is much more open, social and collaborative than it ever was before, and I think how you architect your IT landscape to support that is extremely important.” In other words, this new work-is-where-you-are world extends beyond offering hot-desking or remote work options. Employees expect a full suite of tools at their fingertips and new, improved ways to collaborate with colleagues around the world.

How to adapt: By selecting apps that work well together, companies give employees the opportunity to choose tools that complement their preferred work style, wherever they are. And by ensuring that workers can share information, data, ideas, contacts and more between different apps, those same companies encourage collaboration and improve productivity. 

Frictionless user experiences can boost engagement 

As companies worldwide brace for a global talent shortage, retaining top performers is of the utmost importance. Best-of-breed technologies can help improve employee satisfaction and engagement by removing unnecessary friction, according to Stephen Franchetti, Slack’s vice president of business technology.

“Users want choice and flexibility,” he says. “But in addition to that, they also want an integrated and seamless user experience. Those two things are tough to balance, ultimately. What we’ve found is that using that open reference architecture … really allows us to drive the satisfaction of the user.”

In other words, by stripping away unnecessary complexity through streamlined, integrated workflows, IT leaders can free up their teams and colleagues to do their best work. 

How to adapt: By selecting software that supports how people naturally work, IT leaders can help employees find flow and avoid costly context-switching. Integrations play a key role in enabling employees to smoothly switch between tasks and applications. Slack’s integrations, for example, allow workers to communicate in a central channel with teammates, collaborate on a document in Box and spin up a Zoom meeting for a quick face-to-face discussion—all from within a single platform. 

Single-stack software isn’t necessarily more secure

With more choice than ever before, it’s essential that companies protect themselves against security risks across multiple applications. “We’ve all seen the news with the number of threats and attacks going up,” says Diya Jolly, the CPO of Okta. “When there are so many applications and so many devices, how do you ensure that as people are using them, you’re able to provide security across all of those devices?” 

It’s tempting to assume that offerings from megavendors are more secure because they exist under one umbrella. But Moseley pokes holes in that logic. In fact, he suggests that large vendors may be more vulnerable. “Given all the integrations they’ve done as a consequence of all the acquisitions that they’ve done—different technology stacks, different coding practices, etc.,” he says, “I think that a security challenge for a megavendor is usually more difficult than any one of us sitting here.” Moreover, once a single identity is compromised, your entire suite becomes vulnerable. 

How to adapt: Software like Okta can help manage security across apps through single sign-on, multifactor authentication. IT leaders will also want to get out ahead of app adoption—if employees are deploying new apps without central oversight, it exposes the whole company to increased risk. And when you’re shopping for new software, the first item on your to-do list should be to evaluate whether the potential app meets your security requirements. 

The upshot 

When determining which software tools to introduce to your teams, it helps to assess each against a set of key characteristics:  

  • Is it user-driven? Giving people the tools they want to work with “drives revenue, it drives collaboration, it drives commitment, it drives loyalty,” Moseley says. 
  • Is it interoperable? Apps that play well with others can have an exponential impact. “Any one application working really well is good, but to get to one plus one equals three, you really need the applications to interoperate with each other,” Jolly says. 
  • Is it frictionless? The complexity of modern work demands a wide variety of tools. The more seamlessly workers can switch between tools, the more time they have to focus on  high-value tasks. 

By giving users more choices but less friction, best-of-breed tools can make workers happier and more productive, helping companies become more agile, secure and profitable in return.

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