Digital first strategies: farewell technology, you’re like the air that we breath now.

Gareth Kershaw

Tuesday 9 October 2018

In Pixar’s classic movie The Incredibles, the self-styled evil genius Syndrome declares: “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” Tech is like that. When everyone’s digitally transformed, how will businesses make a profitable difference?

It’s time for some new digital transformation stats!

But bear with me, there are some genuinely thought-provoking insights here.

The figures come from IDG’s State of Digital Business Transformation report for 2018. There are few surprises, but they offer stark reminders of some timeless business realities:

 

  • Reality 1: Big business evolves slower than small business. IDG says that 55% of startups have already adopted a digital business strategy, compared to 38% of what they call traditional enterprises.
  • Reality 2: Money is a barrier to adoption. A third of IDG’s respondents say they don’t have the budget to commit to a digital first strategy.
  • Reality 3: Productivity pips customer experience as a priority. IDG says 52% of organisations want to use tools such as mobile, data access and artificial intelligence to boost productivity, where 46% prioritize meeting customer expectations. Not much of a difference. But a difference.

 

Those are the cold numbers. And there are plenty more in the report, talking about IoT, AI and other aspects of digital transformation, which all kind of confirm what you might expect.

With figures like these to contemplate, the journalist in me can’t resist old habits. The questions front and center just have to be, “Yeah? And? So? What?” It’s not cynicism, just a healthy scepticism that wants to get to the underlying truth.

Digging deeper, I am drawn to a piece by Larry Dignan on zdnet.com about Lenovo’s launch of smart office technology. We’re talking more than a year ago, but the thinking is still relevant.

Larry Dignan points out that many organisations focus on the warm, fuzzy stuff before grasping the nettle of true digitally-driven transformation. So we get cool open-plan offices and free sweets before we get devices and networks than can support the kind of data analytics and collaboration that really unlock value.

So here’s a question: once you have the agile, intelligent infrastructure and devices you need to support your business mission, what, actually, are you going to do with it all? Sure, you’ll save money, work more efficiently and even boost productivity (those perennial universal promises of digital transformation), but how will you stand out from competitors who have exactly the same digitally-enabled capabilities?

 

It comes back to your people. When you “digitally transform”, what you’re actually doing is equipping your people with the tools they need to be brilliant. Even artificial intelligence is no substitute for the random genius that is a human being let loose in an environment that lets them work, play, invent and collaborate with total freedom.

At the time that Larry Dignan published his piece about the Lenovo smart office initiative, we were preparing to celebrate 25 years of the ThinkPad. It’s the absolute embodiment of the kind of inventiveness I’m talking about: a Japanese bento box turned into a light, sleek and tough portable computer.

ThinkPad was a real leap of human imagination and it’s what digital transformation is all about. It’s not an end in its own right, it’s a way of finding capabilities within an organisation that are locked behind barriers of communication and accessibility. Startling innovation, ingenious efficiency, better ways of doing everything.

So as we Google information, Uber ourselves a trip to the theatre (booked online), and get the next Audrey Niffenegger delivered via drone to our doorsteps, let’s not worry about technology as a thing apart from ourselves. It’s like thinking about breathing – you’d go nuts if you focused on it for too long.

 

Instead, let’s think about the possibilities it creates for people and the value they can produce. After all, we put people on the Moon without the world wide web, email and digital social media. Now we can collaborate and share inspiration almost as quick as thought, the only limit to our brilliance is our own imaginations.

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