Digital Transformation: The Human Element

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It’s easy to get wrapped up in the latest technology integrating it into the business, but the without incorporating a human element into digital transformation, the process will fall short.


While it may sound like a new buzz word to some, industry leaders have been talking about digital transformation for years. We’re currently in a new wave of digital transformation with new technologies, processes, and opportunities popping up in the market faster than we can blink; however, one thing has remained constant throughout – people. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the latest technology integrating it into the business, but the without incorporating a human element into digital transformation, the process will fall short.

The Outliers                                                                      

In a recent article for The New York Times, Thomas Friedman made an interesting point. While Uber aspires to achieve its ultimate end goal of self-driving cars, Airbnb has a different goal than just renting out spare bedrooms among trusting individuals all around the world – Friedman’s notion is what he calls “enabling self-driving people.”

“Very quietly,” writes Friedman, “Airbnb has been expanding its trust platform beyond people to rent their spare rooms to allowing them to translate their passions into professions… I wouldn’t be surprised if in five years Airbnb is not only still the world’s biggest home rental service, but also the world’s biggest jobs platform.” Talk about keeping the end-user in mind.

“Sometimes you have to be an outlier to be a disruptor,” says Chris Greenfield, Head, New Business and Digital Development, Canadian Tire Financial Services. According to Greenfield, companies need to employ and foster an “open and impatient culture that celebrates innovations. Companies that do that can make waves and truly disrupt the marketplace. But it’s also important to remember the people – it’s easy to get caught up with new technologies and data, but we need to listen to our customers, our employees.”

In being an outlier, companies need to take risks in predicting what their customers will want and need. While listening to the customer is integral, thinking beyond that to the innate human patterns and potential will truly push a company towards disruption and transformation. “You reach a moment where you think ‘what we really want to do is start from a blank state,” says Steve Maich, Senior Vice President, Publishing and Digital Content. “The truth is that the transformation is a completely different kind of challenge. You have to make a more philosophical argument on where you believe the world will be going versus the trajectory it’s currently on.”

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Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Digital transformation is hard work. There’s no “on-switch” that automatically transforms a business or division overnight. The first step for any organization wishing to begin their digital transformation journey should be creating a strategy and the openness to iterate throughout the process. “Iteration is incredibly important,” says Monique Allen, Head, Student Loan Lending, Finastra.

At the heart of the lean startup movement are two key ideas: eliminate all expenses that don’t contribute to creating value for the customer; and fail fast, fail often, while eliminating waste. According to the World Economic Forum, a willingness to accept failure can bring benefits for businesses, by freeing up resources and people for other projects that could lead to future breakthroughs.

Build it and They Will Come?

“If new thinking stays in the same place, then we’re not really achieving anything other than wasting money,” says Sean Doran, SVP, Operations & Delivery, Wave Apps. Digital technologies can enhance relationships between the company, their customers, their products, and other industry players. This requires capturing and leveraging information generated across digital ecosystems… Companies should also remember that empowering people is the key to achieving profound and lasting digital transformation that will provide sustainable growth.

The Medium is the Message

Marshall McLuhan once said “it’s sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operation and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

His concept of the global village came true – especially when looking at the scale and reach of technology. Just as people are overloaded with information, companies are overloaded with new technologies – new data sources, platforms, capabilities – that make it easy for them to forget about the people on the other side of the product or service offering.

It’s important to keep in mind that the right technology can help an organization with its digital transformation, but without incorporating a human element into the strategy and tactical delivery, an organization’s digital transformation journey will fail.

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