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I yam wot I yam - Popeye da Vinci
I yam wot I yam - Popeye da Vinci

The Contrarian Truth driving Digital Business


A core truth about "digital business": we will only really succeed by understanding how to connect with people.

Gartner is pushing the Digital Business idea, and I will readily admit that it sounds like the latest in buzzwords. And so does Gartner, to a point – although the presentations and general message at the 2014 Symposium had a few key elements that nicely pulled together some things I have been talking about with my IT teams and my counterparts in other areas of the company.

There is an interesting thread through most of these conversations – the counter-intuitive idea that, in the world of “digital business” and connected machines, we will only really succeed by understanding how to connect with people. Recent major trends like social media and connected customers, concerns over privacy and security, and the flowering of design thinking have changed application architectures and interfaces, driving usability and engagement to new levels. In this “new world”, industrial manufacturers have to take a page from their consumer-focused peers, and rethink how they connect and communicate with their corporate customers – by focusing on the people within those organizations, and the human interfaces that surround the electronic integrations.

This is not an intuitive, obvious progression of thought for most teams. Of course, we fully understand how to be on the receiving end – we demand the latest in apps and gadgets from our service providers, both outside the company (banks, telecom, supply stores) and inside (internal HR, Finance, IT). But what happens when our customers start asking it from us? Can we pause, observe, think a bit, and then change how we do what we’ve been doing for so many years?

The Unexpected Punchline

There are many interesting follow-on discussions here, but the one that Gartner called out, and (frankly) surprised and delighted me when I heard it, is the need to focus on people inside your organization. At the heart of it, our challenge is to build the digital and humanist skills of the folks on our teams …

  • Hands-on tech skills for working with new (for them) tools
  • Design and communication skills for creating products & services that are relevant and engaging
  • Analytical skills and a prodding curiousity, to drive fact-base decisions and create data-based insights

At the Gartner conference, one of the speakers talked about wellness and the work-life balance, and encouraged us all to turn off our smart phones and leave the email alone while we sleep. And then she mentioned the new fascination with health monitors that let us know how much sleep we’re getting – we can now measure and manage our way to better, well-rounded lives. ‘An interesting paradox’, she observed; ‘we are using technology to teach us how to use less technology’.

Actually, that’s what the ideas behind Digital Business are really driving us to; using information from ‘smart machines’ to improve our human relationships, and improving the ‘human side’ of our products and services to create meaningful value.

13 October, 2014

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. There is an irony in that the great point made by this piece is often overlooked. Just look at the way Google and Amazon hire and the intense focus on recruiting bright, innovative people. They certainly “get it”.

    1. Definitely – most “enlightened” companies are definitely recruiting these types of folks – it puts a new spin on the idea of a “war for Talent” – skills that are harder to find than data scientists, some might say!

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