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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Using Data to Remove Friction in the Digital Employee

Using Data to Remove Friction in the Digital Employee

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Mike Schumacher about the impact of poor digital employee experience and using data to remove friction in the employee experience

Key Takeaways

  • Organizations measure and manage many different aspects of their technology systems, and often neglect the most important part which is the employee experience
  • Research found that only one in 100 problems with technology tools gets reported to be resolved - most are simply accepted and worked around, which causes lost productivity and degraded employee experience
  • There is a need to take a privacy-by-design and security-by-design approach when looking at experience information 
  • Hybrid work is here to stay and supporting it requires paying attention to the design of the overall employee experience and ensuring 
  • Organisations need to design the experience to serve the people, rather than expecting their people to accommodate to their needs 


Shane Hastie: Good day, folks. This is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture Podcast. Today I'm sitting down across the miles with Mike Schumacher.

Introductions [00:29]

Mike, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Mike Schumacher: Thanks. It's great to be here, Shane. Great to talk the only way anybody does anymore across web conferencing. Wish it was in person. I'll have to owe you that cup of coffee for today.

Shane Hastie: One day we'll be able to get together at a conference or an event. Probably a good place to start is who's Mike and your organization, Lakeside Software? Who are they?

Mike Schumacher: I'm Mike Schumacher. I am the founder of Lakeside Software. We are a world leader in digital experience monitoring for employees, and I'm sure we'll get a chance to chat about that a little bit.

For me, personally, I'm a software engineer by trade. I still get involved in a lot of the big picture forward-thinking, some of the product architecture. They don't let me build any software anymore, but that's actually where my heart is and where my love is. It's sort of that innovation and changing the world in a little tiny way is what really drives Mike and really gets me excited.

For Lakeside, we are in the business of helping our customers who are typically medium and large enterprise customers to improve the digital experience that their employees have. We know that probably the most important tool that a knowledge worker has is their computer, and so we are in the business of really helping them understand what kind of experience they have.

Amazingly, a lot of our customers, if you think about what they manage, they manage data centers and security, networking and storage, they manage everything, except for that endpoint employee experience. The crazy thing is that all of the rest of that stuff exists to make that employee experience great in the end so the only thing that they're not managing is the most important thing.

What Lakeside does is we help them really understand how people use their computer equipment, what they're trying to do, how well it's working for them, or how well it's not working, and then drive a lot of advantages, both for the employee and for the company from that experience.

Shane Hastie: Let's delve into that. What is the digital employee experience today? One of the things we talk about a fair amount, and we've had some articles on in InfoQ is removing the friction in particularly the developer experience. What are the sources of that friction, and what is that digital employee experience about?

The impact of workarounds instead of fixing problems [02:45]

Mike Schumacher: I think it's a great question, and it's really at the heart of what we do.

If you think about the way you use your computer, whether that's a Mac or a Windows computer, or a Linux box, Chromebook, or an iOS or Android device, whatever it is, if you think about the way you use that, my guess is that when something goes wrong, you tend to just sort of ignore it and see if it goes away. I think we did some research and found something like one in a hundred problems gets reported back to IT. They get used to it, they work around it, and that impacts their productivity from a business sense. My people are just getting less done.

Maybe even more importantly, it impacts their happiness. It's frustrating to be in that kind of a day-to-day experience. I mean, you would never accept that kind of problems from your car or from an appliance or from anything else, and really you shouldn't have to from a computer, either.

But if you now flip it to my side of the world, the engineering side of the world, from the perspective of IT people, if no one tells you, if you don't know that there's a problem because people aren't reporting it, it's really hard to get out there and do anything about it. So you end up in the stalemate, where the lack of visibility precludes the repair of the fundamental problems.

So the whole idea with digitally employee experience is to try to understand what people are trying to do with their computer, what apps they're running, what they're connecting to, how well they're performing and what's not right, and then be able to help them make it right, a lot of times with automation or with design changes or engineering changes, whatever it takes so that those problems don't occur anymore.

So there's a lot of things you can do both from a proactive sense, from a reactive sense, from even just general HR and improving what it's like for an employee to work at your company, all those things roll into that digital experience monitoring case.

Shane Hastie: So work at your company. Where's the at?

Work can happen anywhere [04:43]

Mike Schumacher: At your company is very interesting these days. If you think back, certainly the world is a lot different than you and I imagined two years ago. I would never have believed that this is how I would live my life. COVID came very fast, and it fundamentally changed the way people work.

If you think back to pre-COVID days, most knowledge workers worked in an office and then overnight, they shifted to working remotely. A lot of our customers had that, "How are we going to take our employees and turn them into remote employees overnight?" A lot of our customers use the data that we provide out of the use case in order to transition that.

As an engineer, it's still that change-the-world thing that gets me excited, and I got a really fun email from a great friend at a big investment bank. Right after COVID started, he said, "Hey, I just want to tell you that we moved 105,000 people from working in offices to working at home in two weeks successfully, and I just want to thank you for the content that you provided that enabled that." It just felt great.

In the remote working environment, IT teams are responsible for devices they have no control over [05:41]

Mike Schumacher:  I think that that change, though, back to your question, that change has changed the way people work, where now people are working remotely. And if you're the IT person, if you're the engineer, if you're the architect, you're not really in control of all those home offices, but you're kind of responsible for them because that's where people are working.

One customer told me he went from eight offices to 50,008 offices, and now it was hard for that audience to change from supporting offices to supporting remote offices. Now we're in kind of a hybrid world where some of the time we can go to the office and collaborate, which is great, and we still are working remotely independently. But those of us that are engineers and in IT now you've got both environments to deal with. So really having ways to understand that employee experience and quantify it and do something about it, no matter where people are working, I think has really become a really key element for our typical customer.

Shane Hastie: What does it mean to quantify that experience?

Quantifying the employee experience [06:40]

Mike Schumacher: If you think about how you're using your computer, obviously, you log in, you're running applications. Those applications are consuming resources, they're using CPU and memory and IO and using the network. They're connecting to things, there are a lot of hardware and software components involved. It's a very complex system.

So if we want to really do something to help people, whether that's reactively, making that help desk experience faster or helping them solve their own problems, or whether it's proactively, finding things that plague the most people and fixing them, it begins with really keeping track of what do you do with that computer.

A typical customer will have hundreds of apps, but there's probably only four or five or six that are really key. That is your part of your persona. It's those critical applications. So you first need to understand what are the critical applications? Where do I spend my time? What does it depend on? What do the networking conditions look like, both Wi-Fi and connectivity across the internet? It's do I have enough resources involved as I'm running these things? Do I have problems that are causing crashes or other kinds of things? It's really understanding and recording all of this information in what we call a black box recorder.

I'd say it's very much parallel to the way the airline industry works, where every device has a little black box recorder on it. It keeps track of an incredible amount of detail, so down to the level of if I wanted to know on Wednesday at 11:08 AM, what application were you working in, what had the focus and how much memory was it consuming at that instant, I've got that data.

But we do it in a way it's very lightweight, it's edge plus cloud-based solution. So we don't need to burn up a lot of resource, we don't need a lot of network support, but we keep this system of record that we can then later mine to do interesting things with.

Here's a really simple one. Let's say that you have an app, and it crashes on your system. We got the crash signature for it. The first thing I want to know, is it your system? Is it my company? Is it the whole world? So by using and comparing analytics and system of record data from lots of systems, we can automatically tell you, "Hey, this is something that happens to lots of customers out of the field. It's not you. It's a manufacturer problem. Don't spend your time rebooting this system or trying to see what's wrong with this one system, because it's a systemic, or maybe it's a fundamental problem with the app."

It's one simple example, but if you think in terms of a larger world, there are over 1200 different problems that we can identify right out of the box directly and tell you who has it and how to go about fixing it.

Shane Hastie: How do we make sure that this is not used for nefarious purposes? There's a whole lot of, I'm going to say there's hype, but there's also a genuine concern about the level of employee monitoring that's happening as well. How do we keep this safe?

The balance of visibility and privacy [09:32]

Mike Schumacher: I think that's a question on a lot of people's minds these days, and there is a fine line.

The first tenet that we have is we never look at anyone's work product. By that, I mean, we're not looking at your emails. I'm not keeping track of who you're emailing, when we’re on Android and iOS. We're not keeping track of who you're texting. We're not keeping that level of content at all. When we're looking at how Word is behaving for you, we're not looking at what you're doing inside of Word. That, first of all, keeps you out of a lot of other people's business.

Second is we have a privacy model that's built in that the company can elect what they want to record, how long they want to keep it and what they don't want to record out of the box. It's not going to intrude into your privacy very much.

It is going to have a little bit of personal data. It's going to have people's names. That's, obviously, privacy data. It's probably going to have their email addresses, that's privacy data, but we don't really have hypersensitive data. We don't have credit card data. We don't have banking information. We don't have health information.

We also are careful in how we hold and transfer that data, and most of the data is actually retained at the edge on the device itself. This is a really big advantage when we look at some of the worldwide requirements, you think about GDPR and you think about Workers Council in Germany and places where we can really not move that data. Most of it never has to move all off the system itself, unless we're have a legitimate need, and there's an engineer diagnosing that problem. So that data, if it stays with the device, it's where everything else that that user had anyway, and so it's a relatively privacy-friendly model.

We also have capabilities that you could turn on. If you want to anonymize it, you can. I mean, the downside of anonymizing it is that it's anonymized. Sometimes you have this crash and would like to know which people it affects so that I could send them an email, and if you turn that off, then you lose that one ability. However, you can still fix a lot of things and make people's lives a lot better, even when you're in fully anonymized mode.

So it's kind of having a privacy-by-design and a security-by-design frame of mind when we built it. Then second it's giving people the controls that they need so that it matches their own enterprise needs. I would say generally, though, what we do is not terribly intrusive.

Shane Hastie: If we abstract that out, though, what's happening in the workplace? What are the trends? What are the things that you are seeing through your interaction with so many organizations and so many people's desktops, environments?

Trends that are emerging [12:03]

Mike Schumacher: Yes. We manage millions and millions of people's desktops, and I think one of the trends that we see from our customers is that this hybrid work model is probably here to stay. It seems that people are seeking a way to have collaboration live at offices, where they can and when it's needed, because there's something that happens, again, here's the engineer in me, there's something that happens in a room with a whiteboard and a design meeting that's just magic, and it's very hard to replicate all of that.

So we see a lot of customers trying to create a world where they can have collaboration days, they can have people meet. But at the same time, there's an awful lot of things that people do that really don't need that collaboration, and they want to let those employees work wherever it is that they are the most productive.

I think if you think about those of us that are engineers and IT people, I think the job is that it's not going to be the employees adjusting to the way we want things to be to make it simple on us. I think it's us going to be supporting the way that people want and need to work.

Our kind of product and digital experience model becomes even more important because you're going to be responsible and need to improve that experience for people, whether they're at an office, whether they're at a remote office, and that probably is going to be changing very rapidly, according to what people's needs are and where they get the most done. So I think that the hybrid work environment drives more demand around understanding digital experience for IT people.

Shane Hastie: Thinking of the audience who are technical influencers working inside often IT departments in large organizations, how do they leverage what we're talking about here, one for themselves and their teams, but also for the organizations they serve?

Advice for technical influencers [13:48]

Mike Schumacher: I think that you don't have to tell people and explain too much to people anymore that data is very powerful. I mean, I think the power of data, not just talking about digital experience, I'm talking about the much bigger world, the power of data is extraordinary. The ability to process huge amounts of data and draw some great conclusions, make some great decisions, that's happening everywhere, and I think that's certainly in digital employee experience is benefiting from enormously.

I think that if you look at our customers, people really understand shockingly little sometimes about what it is that they have, how well it works, what people do with it. They just don't have the ability to see that today. When they get that ability and when you're the engineer that can provide those answers becomes incredibly powerful.

We've had quite a few of our customers really build some great career stories for themselves by becoming the master, not just at using our product and the data, but answering those really tough questions for the business, from what do we have in terms of computers, how many people are working in this area? If someone said to you, how many people are going into the office and what days are they going in, that can be a hard question to answer sometimes. Being the person that can command that data and get answers can take you out of just the IT space and start to address the bigger business impact, which is I think where digital experience goes in the end. It's sort of the big decisions that you can answer from really looking and understanding how people use their computing equipment, what they do with it and how that translates into productivity for the business.

I guess that's a long way of saying that the people that are the best at the data science side at having the data available to them and knowing how to use that data and frame it to create business impact, those people are going to see their career soar because they're going to be the ones answering the really hard questions.

I think that if you're a engineer today, if you're an architect mastering those data science skill, I know just about everybody as I'm looking at it, but mastering those kinds of skills is a really marketable and a really good thing to do and, by the way, pretty interesting and a lot more efficient way to work than doing things the hard way.

Shane Hastie: Coming back a little bit, we've spoken digital employee experience and removing some of the friction there, but how does all this contribute to the overall employee experience that is so important to retention, happiness, productivity today?

The impact on employee happiness and productivity [16:22]

Mike Schumacher: I think that there's a whole component of employee happiness with the digital experience that really figures into do they like to work where they're working, are you going to retain them for the long term, much more so than you would think. People are accustomed to the consumer experience that they get every day when they're at home. I think if you go to a work environment and whether that's working from home or whether it's working in office, it's still that same work environment, if you go to that work environment and your experience doesn't have that consumer-like kind of appeal to it, people get very frustrated. I think people want to work somewhere where they're having business impact, they're not spending their time wrestling with IT challenges. I think that it does impact your likelihood of those people being happy and happy people are going to be more productive so it's good for the business.

But the flip side is people want to work at companies like that, where they have that great experience. I talked to a customer at a really, really, really large health system who was very unhappy with some of the software that they were using, and he said it's a significant factor in physician retention. I won't mention the name, but he said it's a really significant factor because he said, "I have doctors and they want to be doctors, they want to see patients. That's what they do, and the computer is a great tool for them. But when they get frustrated with that experience and they're spending their time monkeying around with a computer, instead of helping people, they don't have job satisfaction. That's not what they're there to do." So he said, "I'm looking to improve that experience." He said, "Yes, maybe we'll see some more patients, too. That's probably a plus side," but he said, "My motivation is I can't find enough doctors, and I can't afford to lose the ones that I have. So if I can provide tools to help me fix that problem proactively, that's a great deal."

I thought that was a really forward-looking kind of approach where you think about IT as a tool, and you think about how does this improve the overall business, which really is driven largely by employees.

I would encourage people to think about, especially for your audience, about the proactive side of the world, the way people used to work in the old days. We gave you a computer, we installed some apps, we wished you well and gave you the help desk number. That model, when you know that only one in a hundred problems is getting reported in the first place, and you know that people are unhappy, it's really an inefficient model all the way around. I think people then went and added to that saying, "Well, we'll send people around with a clipboard and we'll do surveys. Find out if they're happy." Eventually we automated the surveys. "We'll do that survey electronically and let's ask them if they're happy." It's just really hard to do that on an ongoing basis.

I think a fundamental idea with digital experience monitoring is to get great data like that, really great data that's probably better than you would've been able to get in a good survey and to be able to have that refreshed and current all the time. We have a large financial customer, it's a global bank, they took 10,000 of their users, they surveyed them for happiness, about how well is it working? When does it not work well? They built all this data. They stacked it up and compared it with the help scores that we were producing automatically out of software, found remarkable alignment, like crazy alignment. So much so that they said, "Now we don't need to ask people. We're very confident that we can just take this scoring data and just rely on this in terms of focusing our energy on what we can improve."

I guess I would say you have to have that system in place first. I would say second is I would really focus, not so much on help desk. I mean, that's a really important thing. It's not going away. You're always going to need a little bit of that reactive support. But if you can switch your thinking toward identifying proactively what kind of problems people have, what things cause the most grief for people, and if you can go out and fix some of those, your employees get happier, your productivity and business impact improve, your help desk calls go down, it's just a win all the way around.

So one way or another, I think you got to find a way to get out of the reactive world and get into the proactive world because I think the return on investment is incredibly good.

Shane Hastie: Mike, some great ideas in there. If people want to continue the conversation, how do they contact you?

Mike Schumacher: I think if you're looking for me, you'll find me on LinkedIn, Mike Schumacher, easy to find.

If you're looking for the company, it's It'd be a great place to follow up with a lot more information along the lines of what we've talked about here and probably the next level of depth for that conversation.

Shane Hastie: Wonderful. Thanks so much.

Mike Schumacher: Thanks. Great to be here today.


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