How should employees access enterprise functions and data in their day-to-day work? The traditional model of moving from one application to the next to complete each task has fallen out of favor, due to the inconvenience and lost productivity from so much context-switching. Instead, organizations are looking to provide a more consistent, connected employee experience that brings together everything they need in a single workspace — but there's no consensus on how best to do this amidst a plethora of different approaches. At diginomica, we talk about creating a Collaborative Canvas that brings together messaging, content, workflow and apps. But did we leave out a crucial component? Chris Ciauri, CEO of Unily, believes that knowledge management is fundamental. He says:
Knowledge management, I think of as the pot of gold driving employee interactivity ... In my initial conversations with customers, they bought [Unily] because they believed in the vision that you shouldn't separate communication, collaboration and knowledge management.
In a lot of organizations, that technology is in different silos. That's not a combined, multi-channel experience for employees. It's a proliferation of communication channels that are trying to find knowledge, and a lot of productivity is getting lost, a lot of engagement is decreasing.
Ciauri has been getting to know customers after joining Unily as CEO in June. He was previously President at Google Cloud EMEA, and before that spent almost ten years as General Manager of Salesforce EMEA. This background leads him to draw parallels between the trend towards a unified customer experience over the past decade in the CRM space and the current move towards a more unified employee experience. He reflects:
What's become really clear is, employee experience is the next wave. If the customer experience got the majority of investment in the last decade, I think this is the decade ahead of us where companies are going to invest in employee experience.
Learning from early intranet experiences
Previous attempts to bring together a single source of truth for an organization's employees date back to the 1990s and the rise of the concept of the intranet — an internal version of the Internet that enterprises hoped would be equally transformational in connecting their people to hard-to-find information. This was a false dawn — it turned out that simply putting enterprise information onto a digital platform still didn't make it any easier to find. But Unily's founders were in a unique position to put these learnings to use. The company, previously known as BrightStarr, had become a leading Sharepoint consultancy, delivering the Microsoft intranet solution to global enterprises. This experience led the company to create Unily as a SaaS offering built natively on Microsoft Azure, and by 2018 it had become so successful that the company rebranded to the product name.
Unily now boasts an impressive customer base including the likes of American Express, British Airways, Ernst & Young, Estée Lauder, Johnson & Johnson, Shell, Wipro, and many others. It is majority owned by private equity fund CVC Partners, which added new growth funds when it invested in early 2022. Last week Unily launched the latest release of its core product.
Customers are using Unily as the front-end to bring together knowledge and applications, with integrations to mainstream vendors such as Workday, ServiceNow, SAP and Microsoft. Ciauri says:
We believe that what we're doing is unifying productivity apps ... and the knowledge that [employees] need, and want, and maybe they don't even know they need it, because it's hard to find those things. And ultimately, the company's culture. We're unifying all that in a digital employee experience platform.
The Unily platform is built with four pillars in mind, he goes on:
Everything turns around those four pillars. How do we better front-end? How do we better integrate so that we can serve up the right information when we need it? How do we make sure — and a lot of the stuff is happening on the edge — how do we really serve up the most relevant content, at the right time in the right way? And then, on the comms side, how do we enable an organization to push positive culture through a digital experience, so that we reach people, whether they're physically sitting in an office or not?
Personalization and the role of AI
Personalizing the content to each individual employee is particularly important. Ciauri gives an example:
If I'm a teller at American Express in one of their branches in New York, Unily knows that I've been with the company two years, I'm based in New York, here's my role, here's my profile. It can push content at me that other people like me are consuming, reading highly. At the same time, as a comms and an HR and management team, I'm using the platform to better communicate with my employees and allow them to collaborate ...
As the system learns more about that individual, it's going to be more intelligent about the way that it serves that person information, about suggesting groups where they might find information or content appears, that can make them smarter.
Increasingly, AI will help improve this experience for the employee. Like many vendors, Unily is harnessing generative AI to help with content creation. Last week it launched an AI publishing assistant to help comms professionals and subject matter experts draft and hone content. But AI will be even more impactful when applied to shaping the employee experience. Ciauri says:
It's not just using AI to curate the right content or look at trends. It's actually using it to change the experience.
He gives an example:
Maybe reorder things because we've noticed ... this individual tends to get there on a train, it's eight to 10 [o'clock], they look at articles. So let's serve up articles first. We've noticed that in the evenings, they tend to do more collaboration and chats and groups, giving kudos to other employees. So let's serve that up first.
I think that ability to actually now, in an application, dynamically orient the application based on time preferences of the individual, really gives you the opportunity to create a great experience for employees.
The increasing use of digital teamwork tools, spurred by the experience of remote working during the pandemic, has raised awareness among enterprise leaders that employees have to be given better tools to help them get things done. Ciauri believes this is becoming a fundamental part of being able to deliver the customer experience organizations strive to deliver. He explains:
I think there's going to be a realization in the boardroom, at the CEO level that, okay, this isn't just about our workplace strategy and hybrid how-many-days-a-week. Yes, we're going to need a modern platform, and how do we consolidate employee applications to create a better experience? But it's also if we don't do that, we're not going to be as good at customer. So we're going to get beat by our competitors on multiple fronts, in our core constituencies of employees and customers.
The rise of what diginomica calls Tierless Architecture is making it easier to stitch together different resources that have previously existed as separate applications, and deliver them within a convenient workspace. This technological capability meets a growing business need for more efficient processes and a more productive and satisfying employee experience.
Unily is one of a host of vendors emerging from many different directions to offer enterprises a ready-made platform that responds to these trends. Many of them have come from a collaborative messaging, file sharing, project or work management background. Some come from a business process management or workflow automation background. Others emphasize employee-centric capabilities such as measuring engagement or skills development. Unily is one of a set of vendors focused on employee communications and knowledge management, with a significant enterprise footprint thanks to its Sharepoint roots.
For enterprise IT leaders, it makes for a bewildering landscape where the right choice remains unclear — which is why diginomica talks about the need for the Collaborative Canvas as a conceptual framework to help these decisions. While we've talked about content as one of the core components, it's probably more useful to think of this in terms of knowledge, since that's the essential element that makes the content valuable. But the knotty question of how to knit all of these components together is one that the market is still not answering in full.