Digital transformation. Businesses can barely escape the phrase. And, in principle, it seems so simple. In a digital age, when you can find smart technology in almost every person’s pocket, it makes sense that they should want businesses and brands to upgrade how they do things. Businesses do so by investing in and developing technology.
Many brands like Amazon, Google and Uber are setting the standard, not only showing the world how it should be done but making it seem so easy. Listen to what people want and give it to them. Likewise, start-ups are providing all sorts of clever solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had.
But these businesses were born from the digital age. For those that existed pre-Internet or for which technology had little relevance until now, digital transformation is so much harder. It usually involves a major upheaval of business operations. It means retraining. It needs investment. Considering the pace at which technology evolves, it also requires foresight.
Some of the world’s most stalwart brands have had to install entirely new teams and leaders, like the increasingly common Chief Insight Officer, just to keep on top of things. For most businesses, digital transformation is far from simple.
However, what businesses might not realise is there is one basic hack that could help their journey become a lot easier. Digital transformation is a major issue – but often it is people that are holding businesses back from achieving it.
What do people think?
Put simply, technology is an enabler rather than a challenge to overcome. Technology helps businesses achieve brilliant things for their customers and employees. Despite the fact that so many of us use digital technology every single day, things change when it comes to how people think about technology at work.
When we look at the typical generational make-up of businesses today, it is split between generation X, baby boomers and millennials, with generation Z starting to enter the workforce too.
Older generations are typified as being more hesitant towards digital technology, while younger people, so-called digital natives, are allegedly more adept at using it.
Business leaders need to help their people rethink things, ultimately coming to a place where everyone is on the same page about the direction of the business.
These stereotypes often ring true, but they do not paint the full picture. For instance, it is wrong to assume that every millennial will be a dab hand at social media. It is not long before Generation Zers will be in every company; but business leaders shouldn’t wait for these youngsters to provide the answers. They might not have them.
Every employee will have their own unique understanding of technology and willingness to utilise it. Some are interested, some are not.
For the former, they can become frustrated at their company’s apparent slowness to embrace change or lack of innovative vision. For the latter, technology can seem a very complex and abstract concept to get their heads around. They might even ignore it completely.
Rewiring the approach
The thing is, digital transformation – or at the very least exploring different options – is unavoidable. Take virtual reality (VR), which used to be the stuff of sci-fi films. Many couldn’t have imagined the popularity it would be experiencing today – or its uptake by businesses in every sector.
According to a quick google search, AMC, Walmart and Italian football club Juventus are the latest to jump on a trend that has been in development since the 1950s. What does this tell us? Act now, or you will be left behind.
Businesses need to explore the options and ascertain not only what makes sense today, but what will ensure they are on the front foot for years to come.
Business leaders therefore need to help their people rethink things, ultimately coming to a place where everyone is on the same page about the direction of the business.
A lot of this comes down to education. First and foremost, business leaders need to understand the basics of technology, explore different options, decide where they want to be and agree on a feasible pipeline of activity that allows them to reach that ideal state.
It is far more important for employees to understand what technology can achieve for the company and why, than the science behind it.
Research is a requirement to understand exactly what customers want and expect, and what competitors are up to; but it should also be about finding interesting trends that could be exciting and unexpected if applied today or potentially useful in the future.
Once that pipeline is agreed, they must then figure out who is going to help them on that journey – whether hiring new skillsets or teaming up with a partner.
Only with this clarity will business leaders be able to communicate clearly with – and shed light for – their employees. It is far more important for them to understand what technology can achieve for the company and why, than the science behind it.
Businesses that present a clear business case and vision to their people will be talking in a language that they understand and will be far more likely to achieve buy-in. Better still, if they foster the right culture, they will likely achieve feedback, active involvement and advocacy.
At B60, we work with businesses to help them identify, plot out and complete their journey to digital transformation. Those that have the strategic foresight to want to create such a roadmap and then take the time to communicate it to their team with an open mind are much more likely to succeed.
With technology progressing and transforming at such a rate, there has never been a better time for businesses to get to know the people who work for them.
About Pete Gatenby
Pete Gatenby is Client Services Director at B60, a leading global digital emerging technology consultancy and development agency.