Data is not the new oil – experience is

[2019 Award-Winning Article] The accessibility of data and the use of data analytics set a new direction for our society and the wealth creation – just like oil did back in the days.

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By Peter Ankerstjerne
Edition 11 – Spring 2019 Pages 5 – 9
Tags: engagement • design • data


The Work&Place Editorial Advisory Board applauds this article as one of the eight best articles we published in 2019. We recommend it highly for its candor, its thoughtful critique of the focus on Big Data, and its call for more attention to the actual experiences of the people who “inhabit” workplaces.

The term “data is the new oil” was first coined in the mid-2000s;[i] it refers to the notion that data should be considered a “natural resource” just like crude oil. Like oil, data is valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used and therefore it must be broken down, analysed, and processed to have value.

As we do so, the access of data and the use of data analytics sets the new direction for our society and for wealth creation – just like oil did back in the days. Data, and especially digitalization, AI, and robotics have become the focal point for the latest industrial revolution (industry 4.0).[ii]

There is no doubt that data is important, and it does provide the foundation on which we make decisions and develop our society. But I would argue that it is the experiences that will keep the engines running today and into the future. It is experiences that provide the energy, passion, and engagement that will fuel the development of our businesses and then ultimately all of society.

‘The experience economy’ is a term that has been around since the late ‘90s,[iii] and as such it is much older than the aforementioned data-related topics. Nevertheless, it is still relevant, and we are still learning how we can manage experiences in our workplaces, through our products and services, and towards our customers and the communication that ties it all together. Actually, the experience economy has never been more relevant than it is today.

Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote their famous Harvard Business Review article (and book), Welcome to the Experience Economy, in 1998:

To realize the full benefit of the experience economy, businesses must deliberately design engaging experiences that command a fee. This transition from selling services to selling experiences will be no easier for established companies to undertake and weather than the last great economic shift, from the industrial to the service economy. Unless companies want to be in a commoditized business, however, they will be compelled to upgrade their offerings to the next stage of economic value.[iv]

The Experience Economy in FM (adapted from Pine & Gilmore, 1998)

Pine and Gilmore later refined their model to include the next phase in the economic value model as Transformation. To be successful, organisations must create memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself then becomes the product — the ‘experience’. The authors also believed that a more-advanced ‘experience business’ could begin charging for the value of the ‘transformation’ that the experience offers.

There is no doubt that working with experiences, which can even become transformational for a business, must be the holy grail for any organisation that aims to create value in the relationship with its customers.

There is no doubt that working with experiences, which can even become transformational for a business, must be the holy grail for any organisation that aims to create value in the relationship with its customers.[v] Naturally, the experiences will not only have to be relevant to customers (and probably even more so to the organisation’s employees) but help to transform and redefine the business, grow revenue, and drive innovation and change.

Staging experiences in a workplace context

Something interesting is happening in the Facility Management and Corporate Real Estate (FM/CRE) sector these days, with the new focus on staging experiences and driving transformation. Every big company is trying to get its hands (and heads) around the workplace experience and to make it an integral part of its value proposition.

Even when these concepts (workplace-, service-, human-, and employee experiences) are labelled differently, the outcomes are still relatively similar. Developing an ability to stage experiences within the workplace that will bring it to life and provide a better and more holistic experience for the employees who work there, and for visiting guests, is at the centre of corporate success today. The workplace experience should of course be aligned with, or even leverage, the strategy, the brand, and especially the culture of the organization.

This development in the FM/CRE market is providing an interesting “big shift”,[vi] of which we have only seen an early emergence. The focus is moving from cost optimisation (how cheaply can you manage your facilities?) to a return on investment in people (how can you increase the engagement and productivity of your workforce?).

Responsibility for this shift is moving away from the Finance department over to the Human Resources department, where the focus is centred around the ability to create attractive working environments, ones that employees will want to come to work in – not because they have to, but because they want to – because the workplace supports their ability to work effectively, socialize, and have a better work-life balance.

Requirements for a best-in-class workplace

Human Resource departments

Human Resource departments are re-defining the “new normal” in the workplace by creating memorable employee experiences for employees.[vii] These experiences range from designing the space employees work in to providing smart workplace technologies and crafting new emotional connections between employees and the organisation.

There is no doubt that this development spans a far greater breadth of engagement with employees and provides entirely new demands for HR professionals.[viii] In addition, it calls for a more conscious and sharper brand engagement as the workplace becomes both the visual and the emotional expression of the corporate brand.

The corporate brand should be seen as an external reflection of the internal culture.[ix] A well-branded, integrated workplace tells a story about who the company is, what it does, and why it matters. It provides the workforce with a reason to believe, and it enables them to feel valued as part of the business goals and mission. The people within the organization represent the living experience behind the brands and determine how the brand is perceived externally. When people’s experiences match their expectations loyalty increases.[x]

Since we spend most of our time as adults at work, it does makes sense to be more people-oriented around the workplace design and provide a more compelling workplace experience. It is not only a question of transferring the responsibility to the HR team and tweaking a few HR practices to include workplace design; rather it is one that is woven into the overall approach to the business of the employment of others where HR works closely with FM/CRE teams.

The Irish Management Institute (IMI) has come up with five key elements of work that ideally should be built into one seamless experience for employees. When this happens, a more compelling workplace experience can positively impact employee engagement and business outcomes:

  1. Build More Emotional Connection
  2. Improve the Intellectual Experience
  3. Enhance the Physical Experience
  4. Upgrade the Technological Experience
  5. Promote the Culture Experience[xi]

Better workplace experiences tap the engagement potential of any company’s workforce, whether it is a global corporation or a small growth-oriented business!

Coworking space – putting experience first!

We cannot discuss the workplace experience trend without also addressing the concept of coworking. The interesting thing about coworking spaces, is, that it is not only about the physical place, it is much more about establishing a sense of community first. The benefits of such concepts can already be found outside of the actual office space, and coworking is increasingly seen by many workplace strategists as a disruptor to the traditional corporate real estate market.

The coworking trend started out as membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals could work together in a shared, communal setting. However, especially over the last couple of years, this perspective has broadened as coworking now also includes many corporate spaces.

WeWork [xii] have been pioneers of coworking spaces for a decade, and they are now increasingly focusing on establishing corporate environments as coworking spaces.  They are in fact a proven illustration of how the shift from the experience economy to the transformation economy is working.  WeWork’s IBM case study is a great example of this process; WeWork helped IBM fuel collaboration and innovation with key clients through establishing an IBM-dedicated coworking space in the United States. [xiii]

But what is it that makes coworking spaces so seemingly effective?  To find out, Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevich, and Lyndon Garrett interviewed several coworking space founders and community managers, and surveyed several hundred workers from dozens of coworking spaces around the U.S.

The researchers reported in Harvard Business Review [xiv] that, in general, people who use coworking spaces see their work as meaningful. Aside from the type of work they’re doing the people surveyed reported finding meaning in the fact that they could bring their whole selves to work.

The researchers identified three main factors driving this finding:

  • First, unlike a traditional office, coworking spaces consist of members who work for a range of different companies, ventures, and projects. Because there is little direct competition or internal politics, they don’t feel they have to put on a work persona to fit in. Working amidst people doing different kinds of work can also make one’s own work identity stronger.
  • Second, meaning may also come from working in a culture where it is the norm to help each other out, and there are many opportunities to do so in a coworking environment.
  • Lastly, meaning may also be derived from a more concrete source: the social mission inherent in the Coworking Manifesto,[xv] an online document signed by members of more than 1,700 working spaces.

There is no doubt that this research proves that the combination of a well-designed work environment and a well-curated work experience is a big part of the reason people who cowork demonstrate higher levels of thriving than their counterparts in traditional workplaces.

Now the challenge is to make sure the we see coworking as part of an integrated work approach, one that also includes a corporate office, home-working, and working on the fly. Each mode has its own separate profile and purpose, and each has to be considered part of the “new normal” in terms of how and where we work.

Using Service Design to elevate the experience

How can organizations optimise the impact of their workplace experience?

You can spend a lot of money designing the most beautiful and effective reception area in the world, but if the behaviours and attitudes of the receptionists are not up to standard, neither employees nor visitors will have a positive lasting impression.

Thus, workplace designers need to work with Service Design professionals[xvi] to bring the workplace to life. Only by engaging the service staff will you be able to provide an integrated experience that leverages both the design and the aesthetics of a workplace with the behaviour and service quality of the people working there.

The Service Design discipline calls for capturing in a so-called “journey map” the emotions felt by the end-user at each touchpoint in the work journey. This focus is important because we know that end-users are most likely to remember how brands make them feel over the particulars of a series of service interactions. Design Thinking uses creative strategies to create compelling experiences that customers will remember—and be delighted by.

Service Design Thinking actively involves customers, employees, and stakeholders in the creative aspects of developing service to deal with consistent and seamless experience across channels around the intersection of people, environment, process, policy, procedures, practice and systems.[xvii]

The “front stage” view encompasses all the business does that customers can see, hear, feel, and touch. The backstage view includes things a business does that are invisible to the customer but still critical to enable the experience. When it comes to touchpoints, we need to consider the two-way digital, human, physical, and sensory interactions with the organization.

The key is to design the front stage and back stage from the outside in perspective, to reduce complexity, uncover opportunities, and simplify the organisation. Often this approach generates a case for a cultural change initiative and a change-in-thinking mindset to shape experiences for solid business outcomes.

The Components of Service Design Thinking
(User Experience vs. Customer Experience vs. Service Design)

Service Design Thinking drives results because it recognizes an important view of business success: that the end-user should be at the centre of everything we do. In some ways, Service Design Thinking isn’t simply a framework— it is a culture that nurtures agile decision-making and customer-centric ways of doing business. It is important to combine a strategic focus with a designer focus. Strategy ideally should provide the context while the design process should focus on creating breakthrough experiences going beyond digital.[xviii]

But, let us bring the focus back to the beginning of this article and to our discussion of data versus experiences.  Thanks to social and digital technologies and customer behaviour, attitudes and motivations continue to change.  As the dialogue evolves, design thinking will only grow in importance in the decades ahead.

Consequently, the need to build empathy for end-users and to understand work (and customer) journeys will become even more crucial. Everyone working with services, from the Chief Technology Officer to the user experience designers, will have to access and use customer intelligence at every step of the process.

Engaging directly with the people you are designing for is a necessary step in developing deep empathy and building better products and services for your customers using relevant data-points as the foundation for decision and change. W&P

About the Author

Peter Ankerstjerne is a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Fellow of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) where he also serves as second Vice Chair on the Board of Directors. He is a Certified Outsourcing Professional (COP) and serves on the Strategic Advisory Board of the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP).

Peter has spent most of his career with the ISS Group, where he led the development of the Integrated Facility Services concept from idea to implementation. From 2008 to 2018 he held the position as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

Update: As of April 2019, Peter is serving as Senior Vice President, Head of FM and Workplace Experience for Europe, Middle East, and Africa at PxWe WeWork.

email: [email protected]



[i]  Rotella, Perry, “Is data the new oil?” Forbes, 2 April 2018. ( – accessed on 16 November 2018).

[ii] Marr, Bernard, “What everyone must know about industry 4.0,” Forbes, 20 June 2016. ( – accessed on 16 November 2016).

[iii] See Pine, B. Joseph and Gilmore, James, “Welcome to the Experience Economy,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 1998. ( – accessed 16 November 2018).

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ankerstjerne, Peter, “The new era of workplace management,”, 6 February  2018

[vi] For more on this shift, see the video prepared by Kay Sargent of HOK Architects for the IFMA World Workplace Conference in October 2017: “The Big Shift: The Workplace of the Future ( – accessed 16 November 2018).

[vii] Meister, Jeanne, “The Workplace as an Experience: Three new HR roles emerge,” Forbes, 13 May 2016  ( – accessed on 16 November 2018).

[viii] See the “Workplace Matters” podcast for more detail on this insight: ( – accessed 16 November 2018).

[ix] Ennis, Kelly and Booth, Rebecca, “When Workplace Experiences Match Expectations, Loyalty Increases,” Work Design Magazine, 31 October 2014. ( – accessed 16 November 2018).

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Irish Management Institute, “Five Principles to Make the Workplace an Experience.” ( – accessed 16 November 2018).


[xiii] WeWork website, “How WeWork helped IBM fuel collaboration and innovation with key clients.” ( – accessed 16 November 2018).

[xiv] Spreitzer, Gretchen; Bacevich, Peter; and Garrett, Lyndon, “Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces,” Harvard Business Review, September 2015. ( – accessed 16 November 2018).


[xvi] Wikipedia, “Service Design,” ( – accessed 16 November 2018).

[xvii] Priya Rao, Vidya “Service Design Thinking: It’s About Customer Experience,” Customer Think online community, 12 January 2017 ( – accessed 16 November 2018)

[xviii] Pham, Chi, “Go Beyond Digital: Elevate Your User Experience with Service Design Thinking,” presented at UXPA Boston, 2018. ( – accessed 16 November 2018).

[xix] Tyler, Douglas, “What is customer intelligence? How a deeper customer understanding drives revenue and sales,” Vision Critical. ( – accessed 16 November 2018).

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