As has been frequently quoted in recent months, companies have gone through a faster than expected digital transformation this year, and if not, they will likely be struggling to retain market share or maintain productivity.
How many of those companies would agree with the statement “digital transformation is less about technology and all about the people”? When any type of technology these days can be bought and installed, how often is that investment reviewed against its anticipated return? And how often do we blame the technology if the costs outstrip the benefits?
Maybe the biggest business gift of the current pandemic is that it’s provided us with the opportunity to rethink our programme of change projects and ensure that we are positioning ourselves toward the future.
To create the right focus in the business – to ensure beneficial technology adoption and value creation, organisations need the right mindset and culture, so is more about the people than the technology.
Where are the leaders?
Achieving business value is primarily a leadership issue, not a technology one. Senior leaders must point the direction and ensure any blockages are cleared out of the path to success.
Knowing the purpose behind the need for the particular piece of technology is also key. Technology purchased simply because it is there or because the next company along have it are not reasons that will lead to successful adoption or create value.
Successful change is about successful leadership
Of course, this is where the technology leadership comes into play by translating business strategy into technology need.
How many change programmes have there been with the concept of a “bottom-up” approach? Change is far more likely to happen if driven from the top, and successful change is about successful leadership.
Embracing digital transformation enables organisations to either disrupt or keep from being disrupted in the marketplace. Driving forward with “digitising” processes enables increased process automation and electronic data flows through the organisation.
With more electronic data comes the ability to monitor and measure, and therefore improve. Digital transformation creates a business driver and imperative within which technology projects then have context, purpose, and value.
Speaking the Lingo
There is a particular skill in being able to translate between business need and technology requirements. This requires the ability to translate technology into terms a business owner understands. It means they can identify the business pain points and areas where technology will make improvements. This is ultimately connecting the world and terminology of the business operator and the details of the technologist.
Keeping the lights on or shining a light on innovation?
Do you maintain the status quo or forge into new uncharted territory? From a business strategy perspective, if you are looking to grow a company you cannot do this through the perpetuation of legacy systems and processes.
There has to be an element of focus on innovation, which is not just about bringing in the new technology. Innovation in this context is more about culture and mindset than widgets. It is well-known there are few Fortune 500 companies from 1955 remaining. The ones that survived innovated and built upon the new possibilities brought in by technology developments.
The obvious answer is there needs to be a balanced focus between maintaining what is working and innovating. To do this requires sufficient capacity which can be increased through the use of managed service providers to maintain current systems, while the in-house team focuses on innovation – if geared up to do so.
People before tech
Innovation by itself can be quite destructive, as well disruptive. The creative aspect of innovation is entirely dependent on people. If we can leverage human adaptability to reskill and upskill our workforce, then we can simultaneously augment humans and technology. After Garry Kasparov’s famous chess matches with IBM Deep Blue in 1996 and 1997 he concluded the best outcome was a symbiosis between man and machine, rather than competing with each other. The best innovation will not be used if we are not skilled in how to use it, so it is vital to invest in the people who can make that technology useful.
Data analysts are in demand at the moment, alongside cybersecurity professionals, but what skills will be needed in the future? Higher education does not have the answer, since they are looking to industry to tell them, and industry does not know. So how do organisations look to having a digital workforce – by encouraging adaptability, questioning and flexibility. Deep technical knowledge is transitory, look at programming languages that have an average life of 10-15 years, but intellectual curiosity and other softer skills should be permanently encouraged.
Has this become a cliché in recent times? It is certainly a much-used phrase and is a goal sought by many, but the only way to adapt to the constantly changing business environment is to be able to operate at pace, so how to become good at it?
It’s okay to succeed slowly if failing fast does not resonate
Managing the demands of speed and maintaining quality requires the right mindset. If an organisation does not have the culture that accepts experimentation and feedback loops with lessons learned, then it will need to ensure the long-term slow-burn projects are working out. In other words, it’s okay to succeed slowly if failing fast does not resonate.
Measuring business value of technology
Business value may consist of several different factors, and may vary from organisation to organisation, but usually this can be distilled into three key measures that senior leaders and company boards understand –
- Does it increase revenue?
- Does it improve productivity?
- Does it decrease our costs?
Identifying the value of technology prompts the discovery of the right metrics showing technology’s effects on key business metrics which are real-time.
Translating technology to business value is primarily a leadership issue
Translating technology to business value is certainly not an easy task but keeping in mind that it’s primarily a leadership issue and not a technology issue may help find a suitable starting point. Closer links between the tech team and business units is a next step, as is weighing the balance between innovation and maintenance.
Analysing and factoring in maximum benefits, making a solid business case, and discovering a robust method of routinely measuring business benefit are the final steps to keep technology a driver behind business value, and not simply an annoying sideshow.
Ian Webb is a technology and business consultant, board advisor, and CTO at Onogo.com