Slow down to keep up with digital transformation
The rapid pace of technological evolution, sped up even more out of necessity to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, has meant businesses — and people — have had to keep up with an almost relentless bombardment of change. Ironically, the surest path to success is slowing down, regaining balance and then making informed decisions.
The old idiom of one man’s meat being another’s poison could not be more poignant in 2021. Everyone knows Covid-19 has sped up digital transformation so there is a clamour to keep up with, and base technology decisions on, what other businesses are doing. This could be an expensive mistake and is precisely where management consultants and business advisers can guide C-suites to calmer waters amid the storm.
The problem with urgency is that often a leadership team can get caught up in an idea and run down the wrong path, such as implementing new technology for technology’s sake to try to achieve a business goal. Even in the context of the fourth industrial revolution it all starts with people. Technology is going to be used and managed by people — even with the most seamless automation there are people at some point in the value chain. Solving problems effectively, without fail, involves a finely tuned triad of people, technology and processes.
The effect of investing in technology and redesigning processes depends on how the people in the business adapt. People are multidimensional and are influenced by all sorts of things — they have relationships, irritations, individual personalities and may become involved in office politics as frustrations boil over. On the other hand, people are creative, loyal when valued, and can bring out the best in a business.
Beyond this there’s little point in investing in platforms that require certain skills that are absent in a business, which needs to be addressed. Over the years, as we’ve partnered with businesses to find bottlenecks and develop solutions, we’ve found that people’s skills, aptitude, and attitude weave together to form the tapestry of an organisation’s status quo. It has become patently clear that paying lip service to the human resources of a business is a recipe to perpetuate the status quo.
Equally, if the leadership is not committed to enabling their people to operate differently, whichever new efficiencies are envisioned are not going to bear fruit. However, there has been a definite shift towards appreciating the importance of connecting with people in the business and understanding where they are, professionally, emotionally, and technically. Hopefully, this will be a long-lasting legacy of the pandemic’s disruption.
Many executives already have an idea of which technology they want to bring into their businesses, but it is often for technology’s sake, or because it has worked for other businesses. Technology is purchased and then there is a scramble to figure out where and how to use it. Our approach has always been to ask: “What is it that you need to solve, or what opportunity do you want to leverage, and which technology is best to enable that outcome in your unique circumstances?”
We know without any doubt that the right technology investment pays off exponentially, but we also appreciate that looking exclusively at technology provides a one-dimensional view of the business and the problems it needs to solve. In many ways technology is the easy bit, because so much of its success depends, as we’ve already seen, on the people.
The third element, which works like a golden thread, is a clear understanding of a company’s processes and how they need to change when technology is introduced. Certainly, process becomes a vital element in the triad, holding two extremes together: the designed, programmed certainty of technology with the dynamic, unpredictable nature of people. Often, when analysing processes the problem is not necessarily where the executive thinks it is, but could be the result of a lack of training or distrust in the technology, for example.
In the traditional office set-up these things are easier to observe, but they are exponentially more difficult to spot and manage in a remote and hybrid working environment where people cannot be observed in the classic sense. Ultimately, the most rewarding moment for a consultant and the C-suite is looking at a business and seeing the difference that has been made by balancing the triad of people, process and technology, as opposed to the disappointment that often follows a panicked and ad hoc adoption of systems and processes that are not fit for purpose.
This type of moment comes from appreciating that when everyone else is panicking, slowing down is the best tactical decision a business can make. This doesn’t mean putting things off for months or years, it means taking enough time to gain the clarity needed to build a precise business plan with measurable outcomes. The fact that we are well and truly into the fourth industrial revolution means we have exponentially more tools at our disposal to achieve that outcome.
• Banks is CEO of Analyze Consulting.
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