The Personification of the Digital Workplace

Growing up, I loved Star Trek. When Jean-Luc Picard spoke to the computer, I fantasized about the day I’d enter my own office and be greeted by my computer with a “Good morning Kathrine! Your coffee is ready.” The idea of a hyper-intelligent, personified workplace enamored me.

In 1999, I read Business @ the Speed of Thought: Succeeding in the Digital Economy, by Bill Gates. I was enthralled with what he termed the “Natural User Interface” (NUI). Essentially, NUI is the use of technology in the most natural way—without keyboards, mice, or even touching a device at all—where it’s practically invisible to the user.

Early attempts at NUI fell short. WAY short.

Ironically, Gates’ book was released the exact same month that the Melissa Virus was released and began wreaking havoc on computers all over the world. I was the CIO for the Arizona Department of Education, and digital voice interaction was still in its infancy, when the Melissa Virus hit us full force and I was faced with a big problem.

I needed everyone on point immediately, but one of my network engineers, a wonderful woman with tremendous technical skills, was born deaf. I was told State policy required a week’s notice to source an interpreter. It was a poignant moment when I knew that we either needed to change the policy or have an alternative plan to deal with emergencies such as this.

After dealing with Melissa and being unable to find an interpreter in time, I spent weeks training with Dragon Speech so that my star employee could understand what I was saying. I decided to try it out during an all-hands team meeting.

The results were abysmal. Even with all the speech recognition training I had done, all that translated was an indecipherable mess of text. It was then I realized how far we still were from anything close to the Star Trek computer fantasy. And from 1999 to late 2016, Speech-to-Text (S2T) was still not functioning well.

Evolving toward “knowledge of intent”

Since Siri’s integration into the iPhone, I have been using S2T to respond to text messages while driving. Initially, any attempts to use punctuation caused Siri to literally spell out “comma”, “period,” or “exclamation mark” in the message. More than 17 years after S2T was introduced to the market, Apple finally began to “teach” Siri that a user meant to add punctuation and limited grammar. She still couldn’t interpret speech or grammar very accurately and had little knowledge of intent, but it was a huge improvement.

Knowledge of intent—insight into what the user wants to do next. That one phrase holds the key to accelerating the Digital Economy. Without knowledge of intent, or an assumption of intent, it won’t matter if we “move to the cloud” and digitize everything from documents to our laundry—because we still won’t dramatically move the needle on productivity in our personal or professional lives. In order for that to happen, there needs to be a greater understanding of the user’s persona, whether they are a customer, employee, or both.

A Personified Employee Experience


Personification in the digital age cannot take place without understanding your audience’s persona. And understanding the persona without knowing the person is the challenge. We do a relatively good job with the Customer Experience on the Internet, but it comes with a lofty price tag—an expense we can justify with rock solid ROI. However, when it comes to the employee experience, organizations are largely missing the mark and have a difficult time justifying the expense.

In the Employee Experience Advantage, Jacob Morgan’s description of the evolution of Employee Experience loosely defines a roadmap to a personified employee experience:

What do employees need to work?
· Bare-bones tools
· Desk, chair, phone & computer
· Employee is truly a cog
What do employees need to work better & faster?
· Slight improvements to get more out of people
· Employee optimization
· Repeatable processes
How can we make employees happy so they perform better?
· Annual survey
· Focus on culture
· Acts as adrenaline shot
· Company has a mission statement
How can we create a company where people want to show up vs. need to show up?
· Focus on culture, technology, and space
·  Purposeful design
· Long-term approach
· Company has a reason for being


Based on this evolution, we can safely say that most organizations are at least at the Productivity phase, with some in the Engagement phase. But are they focused on culture and technology or just technology? Are they delivering information to employees in the way employees want it? Are they doing it for everyone or a handful of select people?

Step One: Foundational Technology

Over the decades of focusing on employee productivity, we have learned that it can’t be a small, elite subset of the workers that have a great experience but an entire organizational shift. We’ve also learned that technology alone cannot get you there (but it is required). We must have a foundation to begin the integration of the systems that will deliver the same kind of targeted, personified information to the employee that we do to the customer on the Internet—and in a way that delights the employee.

Employee Hub Example


Akumina delivers the technology. We have a platform that provides the foundation for the integration, personalization, and content targeting. This platform, once in place, acts as the beginning of your Experience phase. Take our hub experience as an example. With this single pane of glass approach, an employee can see their tasks, documents, PTO, Payroll, and other pertinent or non-pertinent information at a glance. We can integrate with any REST enabled API so the content they see has near endless possibilities.



Is Star Trek in our Future?

While we’re still a way off from having coffee automagically appear as on Star Trek, we’re certainly closer. Once you’ve integrated your systems into this single pane of glass, you now have the framework you need to build intent-based skills. Combining these skills with artificial intelligence & cognitive services like chatbots, LUIS models, etc., your employees can then interact with these services using just their voice on any device in much the same way you do with Alexa in your home—and these skills will only get smarter over time.

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