IT are no longer ‘the fixers’ – they are the architects of the digital workplace - IMD Business School
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IT are no longer ‘the fixers’ – they are the architects of the digital workplace

The birth of ‘empathetic tech’ happened at a Swiss start-up where the Chief Strategy Officer didn’t know much about software but had a pioneering mindset conducive to creating a new market.
March 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that people of all ages were struggling with IT tools across the board, says Yassine Zaied, IMD MBA 2005 and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Nexthink, whose firm is helping create a new world of empathetic tech.

“COVID-19 intensified matters but we had already wanted to change the way in which companies delivered IT, by taking into consideration people’s preferences instead of laughing at them for not understanding,” explained Zaied. “The IT team used to be the fixers, but today they are the architects of the digital workplace.”

Nexthink’s mission is to “deliver IT that delights”. As pioneers in Digital Employee Experience (DEX) software, they seek to capitalize on the growing realization by employers that there is great scope for making staff happier if they anticipate the incidents that can occur while operating in today’s digital environment. Tailoring IT to individuals’ work styles, this unique and sophisticated technology uses AI to understand the individual. “It’s a software editor, not a consultancy,” explains the CSO. “It enables IT to anticipate problems as opposed to troubleshooting them.”

By his own self-admission, Zaied is not au fait with 90% of the tech the company uses. The attraction, he says, was working in a climate that asked: “Against all odds, how can we get people to see things differently?”

“I brought to Nexthink what was necessary to create a market by distancing ourselves from the product and taking a closer look at the customer problem. I brought the attitude of ‘so what, we don’t fit into a market? Why don’t we create our own?’” Zaied explains.

He was passionate about creating a new category, and knew what questions to ask: How big is the market? And why does the problem matter to business and to the world?

Keeping the talent happy

With 1,100 customers and 14 million employees benefitting, the 900-strong company, half of whom are developers, has experienced two record years.

The implications of a company caring about employee experience of IT tools are wider ranging than you might imagine. Nexthink’s tech reveals how satisfied and productive employees are; if companies don’t pay attention to these stats, they risk losing talent – and their competitive advantage.

“People want autonomy and flexibility,” says Zaied. “If they don’t have it, we see disengagement.”

Nexthink’s is a non-intrusive software; an empathetic companion that seeks to understand your context. Zaied likens it to the mechanisms driving top hotel experiences in the Middle East, and their understanding of how the individual feels without their context getting in the way. In this case, it is a central experience hub that delivers real-time, actionable insights into every employee and activity, at every moment, across devices, operating systems and any flexible workplace location.

“When people are not coming to the office, they are not using corporate networks, so you lose all your hands-on IT tools to monitor their IT use,” he explains. “The only way to understand if your people are protected is to sit with each employee.”

‘I love finding revolutionary ways to improve people’s lives’

Zaied first encountered Nexthink during his IMD MBA program as part of a start-up competition. Prior to this, his work had kept him in large multinational consultancies and the FMCG sector.

He said: “I was never happy working there but I was afraid to go to a smaller company. IMD gave me the confidence to make that move and try a new way of doing things against all odds; it is where I am happier. Leadership is about this kind of self-awareness.”

A mathematician at heart, Zaied finds satisfaction in solving complicated equations. “I’m passionate about the pirate mindset, innovation, new perspectives, and I love finding revolutionary ways to improve peoples’ lives. IMD was, for me, a revolutionary business school experience: small with a different way of teaching.”

In February this year, multi award-winning Nexthink secured $180 million in a financing round. It reached a $1.1 billion  valuation and became the second spin-off from science and technology institute EPFL, in Lausanne, to become a unicorn.  The plan now is to accelerate Nexthink’s innovation, rapid growth and expansion, particularly in the US.

DEX has now become part of the value proposition for leading tech vendors, with analysts such as Gartner using it with great success. They estimate only 5% of businesses are currently investing in DEX, a figure they say will rise to 50% by 2025.

“I am constantly thrilled to see a good digital experience completely democratized,” concludes Zaied. “The digital experience is becoming the gel that allows employers and employees to work together more effectively. With the development of the metaverse, more and more work will move to the digital space, and the digital experience will become the most important competitive advantage for companies. It will also be a major criterion used by talent in their job selections.”