The days when digital technology lived only on our desktops and in our data centers are gone. Now almost everything in our work environment is digital, from our vehicles to our air-conditioning systems. And we have powerful computers in our pockets at all times.

IT leaders must understand — and respond to — this new digital workplace. No longer is IT just the stand alone “brains” of an organization. As digital technology enables more pieces of the operational puzzle (including the Internet of Things) to sense, communicate and respond to events and conditions in real time, IT is also starting to sense and control the “body” of the organization.

IT leaders must recognize this new reality — and figure out how to drive innovation by better automating operations and more aggressively leveraging available intelligence.

Innovating to Drive Efficiency

Enterprises typically start leveraging pervasive digital technology by streamlining operations. You can, for example, program your building systems to cool and heat the workplace based on actual occupancy in real time. This enables building staff to make sure that employees who attend a weekend meeting in August stay cool, even though the air-conditioning is lowered while the rest of the office is empty. The savings are maintained when the system turns the thermostat back up after the meeting ends.

Similarly, retailers and manufacturers are using data from radio frequency identification tags and vehicles to streamline their supply chains. This streamlining reduces transportation costs and accelerates inventory turnover.

Organizations achieve these savings by having sensors and smart devices communicate with each other directly through applications that operationalize appropriate rules for actions based on specific cocustomernditions, trends or thresholds. The digital workplace delivers these operational efficiencies to innovative organizations of various sizes across multiple industries.

Competitive Advantage

The new digital workplace also creates opportunities for organizations to differentiate their customers’ experiences from those of their competitors.

Conceptually, this differentiation is nothing new. Many of us remember when Federal Express first enabled users to track packages on its website. This was a classic example of differentiation by information. Customers didn’t choose FedEx only for delivery speed and price; they chose the carrier because they liked knowing exactly where their package was at any given moment — and exactly when they could expect delivery.

Of course, this differentiation didn’t last forever. Nowadays, we expect deliveries to be trackable from door to door — whether it’s a package or a pizza. But just about any differentiation has a limited lifespan. What’s important is getting there first.

Organizations achieve these capabilities by linking operational intelligence to the customer experience, which is increasingly accomplished through mobile apps and mobile messaging.

Market Disruption

The most powerful way to leverage the pervasively digital workplace is to engage in truly disruptive innovation. We see this disruptive innovation in an electric car company that transforms vehicle ownership with ongoing software updates and its own network of charging stations; in senior living facilities that provide residents with higher quality of life by monitoring and responding to changes in their vital signs and behaviors; and in a retailer that ships customers low-cost razors on a subscription basis.

Organizations achieve this level of disruption by keenly understanding what customers need — and how operational intelligence can help meet that need. These disruptions often require willingness to cannibalize existing revenue streams. This is why they’re often launched by new market entrants, rather than established incumbents.

Whichever way you choose to leverage the new digital workplace, you have to move fast. Your competitors aren’t standing still, and there’s a lot of value in being first. You’ll also need an underlying infrastructure that can process operational data quickly and securely — and one that will scale as demands on your digital workplace intensify.

The world is changing rapidly around us. We must change accordingly. If we don’t, we face market irrelevance. If we do, we can innovate and improve in the coming years.

To learn more about how CDW can help your organization prepare for digital innovation and the Internet of Things, visit