One CIOs vision of the future of the modern workplace

Dan Kieny, CIO of Black & Veatch, looks to the generations beyond millennials to envision a more user-centric workplace -- one where collaboration and communication happen in real time.

Workplace of the future
Credit: Thinkstock

I was chatting recently with Dan Kieny, CIO of Black & Veatch. We started talking about our children, who represent the generation after the millennials. What began as a fun conversation about parenting soon turned into a discussion of the workplace of the future and how Black & Veatch is creating a user-centric ecosystem that will drive a new way of working.

kieny dan cio blakveatch Dan Kieny

CIO.com: What defines the worker of the future?

Kieny: The worker of the future will interact with and leverage today’s emerging technologies of today with little understanding of “how things used to be.” A few months ago at a CIO conference, the spouse of one of the CIOs in attendance was speaking about how excited she had been to receive new computers for her kindergarten classroom. But when her students showed up, none of them knew how to use a computer mouse. They had been so used to touchscreen tablets that the brand-new computers were difficult for them to use.  ?

Young children have a completely different UX paradigm and many do not know how to use peripheral devices, like keyboards and mice. In fact, they are rapidly moving beyond touch technology toward a direct dialogue with computers and are engaging in cognitive computing in a way that didn’t exist for our current workforce.  Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and even Watson-based technologies allow children to dictate everything from TV programming choices to asking questions. This will have an impact on the skills and approaches these young people will bring to the workforce.

Millennials have a saying, “Work equals the time during the day that I have to use old technology.” The generation after the millennials will be even more resistant to old ways of working. They will want to interact much more directly with the data. They will ask “what if” all the time.  Their imagination is different because of the technology they’ve grown up using. They don’t have the old tapes that run in their heads like older people do. For instance, our new workforce will not read the policy guides that sit on our intranet -- they will access content through social media-centric methods.

CIO.com: What does that mean for Black & Veatch?

Kieny: Let’s say you are a 23 year old who joins Black & Veatch as a junior CAD designer. In the old world, we would tell you, go to this SharePoint site and subscribe to a community of practice. We envision a new workplace where you will be assigned a persona based on your discipline: electrical, mechanical, or civil, for example. That persona will define the apps you will automatically have access to; and the people who are working on the most relevant work to you will be served up like an ad. Read this. Connect to this person. Here is what others in a similar role are working on.  And because all of this is in the cloud, it will continuously update, and can be accessed from any device.

In our next gen workplace, employees will be able to “like” each other’s work. We will be able to spin-up a new office anywhere in the world. Our vision is to move many of our professionals in the company to an asset-less organization scheme where IT doesn’t procure assets for new employees, we give them personas. Our employees will no longer be attached to a particular office with a workforce; they will be attached directly to people and information. On their very first day on the job, we will have them working -- from any device, connected to peers, expertise, tools and applications.

CIO.com: What is the business benefit of building a next generation workforce?

Kieny: At Black & Veatch, we have a global workforce of experts who need to connect with each other all the time. In the workplace of the future, the general cost of doing business will decrease because our real estate and travel expenses will go down. But even more significantly, if we can demonstrate to customers how connected our global team of experts is, our chance of winning new work increases.

Teams will work better and more seamlessly; our professionals will have better ways of sharing learning and ideas to turn improvements into repeatable patterns. Collectively, this will make Black & Veatch an employer of choice to attract and retain the best talent.

CIO.com: How close is Black & Veatch to having this kind of workplace?

Kieny: We’ve mapped out the environment and we are currently doing pilots of virtual design in the cloud. We know what the new user-centric ecosystem will look like going forward. Now, we are having our security teams review the plans. The toughest part is how to feed the legacy ecosystem while building the new way of working. 

CIO.com: What does all of this mean for IT? 

Kieny: In the past, when IT has delivered workplace technologies, we’ve focused on managing devices. We’ve taken a “one-size-fits-all” model, where the hardware, operating system, applications and profiles are hard-coupled and inflexible. In the workplace of the future, the user, not the device, becomes the focus.

This requires a new level of user support, which will involve multiple applications, devices, and personas. IT will need to step up its work in enabling employees to be mobile, to work with colleagues remotely and across time zones, and to allow them to work in a variety of settings, inside and outside of the traditional office setting. Although many of our new services are ‘cloud-based’, the environment will be a hybrid mix of both traditional and new style services with a bias for cloud-based computing.

CIO.com: What advice do you have for CIOs securing the investment for the new workplace?

Kieny: When you present your proposal to the executive committee and the board, you should lead with driving value, not reducing costs. “This investment will accelerate our company’s growth strategy.” Not “Here’s how we can reduce costs.” Mention cost reduction as a benefit, but don’t lead with it, because you’ll get stuck in the cost conversation. Align workplace technology investments with talent acquisition, innovation and growth.

About Dan Kieny

Dan Kieny has been senior vice President and CIO with Black & Veatch since January 2014. Prior to that, he was vice president and global director of consulting and knowledge with MWH for several years. Kieny received a BS from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a MBA from Creighton University.

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