Being Digital in 2018 : stop reheating old dishes

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As promised last week here’s my first post on the good digital approaches in 2018.

When people say “digital” they usually refer to what’s been happening since the early 2010s. Before we had the web, web 2.0 or social web then we started to use the word digital while we could have used it from the beginning.

But there was a need to justify the idea and say it was a real breaking (yes…people make business with that) so many reasons were found to use a new word. More or less relevant.

New word, old problems

-before it was about technology, now it’s about its usages. But wasn’t web 2.0 already about usages.

– because it’s both about the client and the employee.Web 2.à was for communicators, enterprise 2.0 was for te employee. Then one moved to social web and the other to social business. Quite relevant.

Of course technology and usages have evolved since the mid 90s and new matters have emerged that we have no idea of in 2000 like data, mobile, virtual reality or robots. Customer behaviors were not what they are today. In 2000, employees were just starting to realise that what their employer provided to them in termes of tools, services and processes was far from what they could get at home.

However I have the impression that many new matters are old ones that are rebranded to catch the client’s attention (for service providers) or the top management’s attention (for in-house professionals).

Let’s take big data. Businesses have always do big data. The point is that the idea of big is evolving over time. In 1995 it was about Mos, in 2000 GOs and today it’s about Tos. But they’ve always done as big as the technology was able to support. And when it comes to data processing and governance we see the emergence of old questions the BI pioneers faced years ago. What ha changed is the volume, the ability to process unstructured data and the fact it’s not owned by a department but is a business matter for everyone.

Let’s consider other promises like collaboration and collective intelligence. Enterprise social networks did not revolutionize collaboration and sharing that the old groupware and ECMs. Why ? The real challenge was not technological but managerial and cultural and most businesses did not do what was necessary, waiting for technology to solve it one day (what never happened of course).

Technology matters less than the context in which it’s used

Today, technology is here, powerful, often affordable, omnipresent. It’s not the matter anymore because it’s not the blocking factor. What matters it’s its use that makes more or less sense depending on the context.

The use of data for e-commerce or marketing raises once again the issues caused by silos and data ownership, what is the consequence of organizational silos against which organizations have been fighting for the last 30 years. People have waited for technology to break the silos because fixing it by changing the organization/the management was too complicated or sensitive. So nothing changed and this point is a recurrent problem.

No need to elaborate more on collaboration, I’ve said everything above.

What matters with robots and personal assistants is less AI than processes. AI (or a good rules engine) brings speed and scalability to a process, either we think of a service brought to employees or customers. If the process is irrelevant or dysfunctional, digitizing it will help to deliver sh…t at scale and faster than before. So one has to rethink and rebuilt the key processes. One more recurring problem that’s been around for a while and no one wants to hear of.

Generally speaking, digital is more a way of doing things, a vision of the organization and how a business should work based on a couple of key principles, one of them being simplification. In many cases, digital transformation is very similar to adopting a lean approach. And businesses that were reluctant to lean in the past struggle with their digital transformation because the same reasons prevent them from taking their transformation by the right end.

Progress requires decisions and execution

Becoming a more digital organization means making decision and have the courage to implement them because if some problems are recurrent that means they are important and that no one ever wanted to deal with them. Everyone has technology, what is different from one business to another is that some made de decisions to fix their real problems (or part of) while the others endlessly hide the dust under the carpet, waiting for technology to some human problems. What never happened and will never happen.

Conclusion : digital is about lines of business and organization, taking it as a technology issue prevent from creating the context needed for its success.

That’s what my next week’s post will be about.