Why an Operating System of Record is essential to the future of work

Meet OSR: three little letters that will make a world of difference for your organization.

Future of Work

When it comes to work these days, there are two kinds of teams. Team A spends half the day just figuring out what's going on. "Hey, who's taking care of that PR request from Steve?" "What PR request?" "It's in my email, let me find it. By the way, do you have a hi-res copy of our logo?" "Just grab it from AssetMonkey." "What is AssetMonkey?"

Team B, on the other hand, uses a single Operational System of Record (OSR) to keep their digital workflow running smoothly. All of their requests, communications, documents, and timelines are in one place. All the tools they use to get work done are integrated with the OSR. And routine, repeatable tasks are all templatized or automated. So their people spend less time on "work about work" and more doing what they're good at.

If you're thinking Team A sounds more like your team, don't take it personally: it's not just you. 

The mess we're in: too many tools, too little connection

The pandemic-driven shift to hybrid and remote work required companies to act fast in assembling their digital tools. Naturally, some chaos was to be expected. But that only accelerated a trend that was already brewing.

Let's call it "app sprawl". The average company in 2022 subscribes to a whopping 315 SaaS apps. Each team uses an average of 50-70 different services and platforms.

But hey, with all those different tools, employees must feel extremely well-equipped to do their jobs, right? Uh, not quite. Forbes found that 96% of U.S. employees are dissatisfied with their work management tools. The culprits include app-switching (cited by 26%), inability to access required information (25%), and lack of prioritization in task assignments (21%).

Any of this sounding familiar? Add up all those little points of friction, those misunderstandings, those redundancies, those blind spots, every day, month after month, year after year. Clearly, no organization can afford app sprawl.

Enter the OSR: taming the digital tangle

That's where the Operational System of Record comes in. The concept of an OSR was introduced by Adobe to describe their Adobe Workfront platform.

Why the new acronym in the already crowded bowl of tech alphabet soup? Because no other existing SaaS products have attempted to integrate the full spectrum of work, "to plan and execute work for the entire enterprise", as Adobe puts it.

Workfront remains the best-known and most widely used OSR. That's why WNDYR's consultants are Adobe-certified Expert Core Developers and/or Professional Fusion Developers for Workfront. But the concept itself is here to stay, too. It just makes too much sense in the age of app sprawl.

Not just project management

By now you might be thinking "isn't that just a project management system under a new name?" Maybe you've even heard Workfront referred to as a project and portfolio management (PPM) tool. And to be sure, managing projects is one key function of any OSR worth its salt.

But it's just one of those functions. The OSR provides enterprise-level visibility of resources, priorities, organizational structures, finances, and more. And unlike traditional PPM, it easily accommodates both planned and unplanned work, both static and ad hoc teams.

An OSR like Workfront does all this with both its native capabilities and through sophisticated integration with other tools. Identifying which SaaS services can be integrated into an OSR, and which can be replaced by it, is unique to each company. Skilled implementation consultants can guide this process to make sure your tools are working for you, not the other way around.

A single source of truth: no more "I have it in an email somewhere"

With all of the sophisticated digital work management tools and communication channels that have appeared in recent years, the most popular remains one that was invented 30 years ago: email. (Older tech like shared folders, shared documents, spreadsheets, and handwritten to-do lists aren't far behind.)

What's more, some 58% of us admit to using email as a means of storing information for future use. The problem is, email isn't built for that. As anyone knows who has tried to track down a crucial piece of information in their Inbox - in other words, all of us - it's clunky at best and unreliable at worst.

And that's before we even talk about collaboration. If someone gets left out of an email chain, or joins the team later, the only way to share information in an email thread is to manually forward it. If someone somewhere along the line hits "Reply" instead of "Reply all", whatever they say becomes irretrievable to anyone but the two remaining participants.

We could go on, but you're probably getting as annoyed as we are. Suffice to say that the problems with email also rear their heads when work happens through texts, Slacks, Teams, or documents that must be manually shared with one person at a time.

An OSR like Workfront brings all conversation and documents into one place: easy to find, easy to search, easy to consult later, even if the entire team turns over the meantime. You wouldn't rely on a computer or a phone from the 1990s to perform crucial business functions. It's time to stop relying on virtual communications tools that old (or older).


Send rework and redundancy to the Recycle Bin

Perhaps the most avoidable waste of time, effort, and stress is doing work that has already been done by someone else in the organization. Asana found that the average knowledge worker spends 4 hours and 38 minutes every week duplicating previously completed tasks. That's half a day a week, or 200 hours every year - not to mention the toll of all that stress and frustration.

Sometimes that waste takes the form of manually transferring - or even worse, re-entering - data from one SaaS tool to another. Sometimes that means recreating a repeatable project document with the same information as the last dozen similar projects. Sometimes, it just means doing a task that you don't know has already been completed by someone else, because there's no single source of truth on work progress.

Enough horror stories. The redundant data could be shared automatically between the various tools. The repeatable project doc could be templatized, even using AI to fill in the relevant info. The reworked task could be moved off of everyone's to-do list once one person has completed it. All of this and more is possible, with an OSR and some savvy integrations and automations.

The power of people data to break the blockers and beat burnout

When every inbound request is the most important thing to someone, every work assignment can feel like a fire drill. In a data vacuum, how do you know when to say "yes" and when to say "not right now"? 

A happy byproduct of managing work through an OSR is all the data it collects and connects along the way, from resource allocation and work patterns to revenue and finances. With your OSR as the single source of truth for all the work moving through the organization, you can finally get a true picture of the time and effort needed to complete various kinds of work. You can visualize the in-flight projects your team is already committed to. Then, when inbound demand spikes, you have more accurate and proactive ways to prioritize.

That means scheduling and distributing work so that the most important things stay that way. It means workloads are balanced appropriately across teams. And it means that agreed-upon delivery dates are realistic and achievable. 

A single OSR can point the way not just to maximum financial impact for every hours worked, but also to healthier processes, happier people, and ultimately a more sustainable work culture.

Sounds good, but will people really use it?

Adoption is where the rubber meets the road. And the key to successful adoption is change management. This includes everything from proper training, to understanding the emotions behind change. Without effective, empathetic change management, even the most dazzling digital tools will wind up in the junkyard of failed transformations.

That's why WNDYR specializes in both technical implementation and change management. We believe that systems enable process, and process enables people. So we start with people and build the processes and systems to fit them. It's an approach that has enabled us to bring digital transformation to hundreds of thousands of employees around the world, from healthcare to creative to manufacturing. Contact us to see the difference a work management OSR can make for your teams and all the work you do.

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