Digital transformation: people are the irreplaceable changemakers

In the era of digital transformation, technology is a forceful enabler. However, it is not the driving force. Those making decisions are human beings; people who understand technological trends, applying and developing them. People are the forefront of successful companies.
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This interview with Frank Rennings also appeared in Dutch in Management Scope

Organizations face many challenges in this day and age: new technologies, massive amounts of data, innovative co-operations and unexpected competition, to name a few. Moreover, digital consumers are the most demanding type, expecting optimum service instantly – sooner rather than later. Like consumers, employees expect to be waited on hand and foot. They expect the same technological equipment and flexible, open environment at work that they are used to at home.

Digitization is by no means a transitory phase; it is a continuously changing process that can feel overwhelming for companies at times. For some organizations, it’s a true “culture shock”. Yet, they too need to develop new products, business models and implement necessary processes. Hence: new skills need to be developed. Organizations, their culture and their people, need to be digitized.

No Need to Panic

But, despite the “culture shock”, there is no need to panic. There are several successful examples of technological companies and early adapters establishing their digital culture exist. Case in point: Virgin Atlantic airline. Acting as a disrupter co-operating closely with frequent flyers has proved to be a successful formula. In exchange for their support, Virgin Atlantic received shares. The result: a bigger profit margin and a very fruitful IPO. The company employed its network to be assigned an extra gate at Dallas Love Field Airport.

"By interweaving systems, data and people, solutions driving change present themselves"

More traditional companies are keeping up, too. For instance look at General Electric: their “FastWorks” method, which is based on the Lean Startup approach, is a strong accelerator for the company. The method focuses on short streaks, fast-learning and involves clients directly in the process. In doing so, it enables products to live up to clients’ expectations significantly better. Cooperation and the exchange of information within the ecosystem ensure faster and more efficient innovation. Additionally, it allows high-demanding clients to not only get what they want, but exceed their expectations. 

Drivers of Change 

The question is: what exactly defines digital culture? Accenture’s Technology Vision 2016 is a yearly report signposting trends based on research and interviews with captains of industry and market experts. It indicates the criteria organizations must meet in order to keep up with recent developments. Organizations must be equipped to adequately deal with change. Meaning: they must be capable to operate data-driven; embrace disruption and keep an eye on the risks of digitization, requiring new skills, processes, services and work methods. ‘A new IT-landscape’ (highly flexible, scalable and pay-per-use) is non-negotiable. Again, people are crucial in the equation. After all, they need to adapt to change, understand the impact of digitization and be given the opportunity to develop efficiently.

Disruptive DNA

There are ample skills and machinery that can facilitate digitalization. However, another type of leadership is needed to stimulate the process. Disruption seems to be in the DNA of digital leaders, encouraging the phenomenon in their organization. To disrupt is what they achieve to realize. Not merely to disrupt and cause chaos, but to bring about change, to look for new ways and means to seize opportunities. Digital leadership requires the ability to listen to people. People being not only ones employees, but clients and partners too.

connected smart fridge as an example of digital transformation

This will inevitably cause market borders and ecosystems to shift. A company like Samsung designs clever devices non-stop. For example, their fridges can do their own shopping and their vacuum cleaners can be operated by smartphones. Just think what could happen when all these smart devices are mutually connected – a huge platform for content distribution and the development of innovative services would arise. To further stimulate growth, management challenges employees to pitch ideas within the organization. Ideas that are considered viable are handed back to the employees further develop them.

New opportunities generally tend to lead to new risks. Security, privacy, transparent use of data and work ethics must be kept in mind – leaders and organizations need to be responsible in the digital world too. Assessing possible risks at all stages is vital; there’s no luxury of hindsight in damage control.

Digital Trends

The application of new digital technology forms is an integral part of digitization strategy. As mentioned earlier, people are at the core of technological developments. They remain the main drivers of change and innovation for evolving organizations.

The trends indicated in Accenture’s Technology Vision 2016 reinforce the importance of people. Experts and senior managers confirm the crucial role human beings play in the most important trends in technology: intelligent automation, liquid workforces, the platform economy, predictable disruption and digital trust.

Intelligent Automation

Market leaders recently embraced automation in order to fundamentally change operating processes. Means used are artificial intelligence, robotics and augmented reality to form the basis for growth and innovation. The current generation gathers unprecedented numbers of data from various systems. By interweaving systems, data and people, solutions driving change present themselves: it enhances a more productive relationship between people and machinery. Add to that the fact that organizations increasingly utilize technology to transform employees. Why do they do that? Simple: in order to generate a liquid workforce capable of creating highly flexible environments that meet all dynamic criteria surrounding digital technology. Within these environments, people are able to deal with technology in the most flexible, creative and innovative way possible.

"Don’t just apply technology; enable people to utilize it to the full"

Predictable Disruption

Market leaders assess the combination of people and technology, and build new business models based on platforms. Besides not having to personally be in charge of operations, they can involve employees, clients, relations and partners in the process too. For many organizations this has become the core of their growth strategy. Fast-growing digital ecosystems, in which several relevant entities co-operate, are busy taking shape. They influence a new wave of disruption by disorganizing markets and fading market borders. Prescient leaders are more equipped to predict future developments, allowing them to strengthen their competitive position by using scalable, flexible and closely connected ecosystems. 

We recently published an article on Predictable disruption and how financial organisations can stay ahead of the game. 

Digital Culture

The landscape in which organizations exist is in dynamic. Merely adopting technology is not enough to emerge from digital transformation successfully; organizations need to reinvent themselves and their culture. In other words, don’t just apply technology; enable people – consumers, employees and partners – to utilize it to the full. It will empower them to successfully develop and embrace new business models.

Is digital transformation a key subject within your organisation? And are your people the drivers of change? Get involved by leaving a comment. If you would like to know how we can help you, please get in touch. Would you like to discover your career opportunities? Contact our recruiter. 

Also have a look at the articles published in the series on Accenture's Technology Vision 2016.

Author: Inge Abraham