There’s one thing that’s very clear from every headline and prediction about how work gets done — we’re moving rapidly to a digital business model. Digital business is far more than the latest round of applied technology. Digital business is also much more than Big Data, e-Commerce, Cloud, the Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Robotics or any other hyped trend. Digital business is all of these things wrapped into what Gartner calls, “…the creation of new business designs by blurring the digital and physical worlds.” Digital business is the conversion of an analogue world of paper, products and conversations into a world of increasing information density that connects physical resources like people, processes, teams, and locations in a constant back and forth of data.
Digital business isn’t about making existing business easier or faster, though that is certainly a side effect. Digital business is about transforming existing models and finding new sources of revenue through ubiquitous interconnectedness and fast growth in the digital descriptions of business resources. This is the next frontier for performance gains and competitive advantage. It is also the disruptor’s dream-come-true.
What about the people?
While the world comes to grips with the opportunities presented by a digital ecosystem, there’s a serious question to be asked about this transformation — What happens to the people throughout the process? How do analogue employees who perform very physical work transition into valuable resources in a digital business? Roles that were designed to support existing business models will lose value in a world defined more and more by data and automation. How can the rank and file employee make sure that their value doesn’t diminish as their world and business becomes more digital?
Knowledge and skills are everything…they always were…but they take on a new urgency in the digital business. Those who have the foresight to understand the enormity of digital transformation will also recognize the need for new skills. Those skills include seamless collaboration, strong data mining and data analysis capabilities, and a self-service approach to finding and using whatever technology or tool a particular piece of work requires. Those who are slow to adapt will be on the wrong side of “digital darwinism,” the term used by Brian Solis to describe how technology and society are evolving faster than businesses (and many humans) can naturally adapt. The digital revolution we’re undergoing is highly disruptive and greatly affects both customer and employee behavior. As Solis says, for many it will be, “Adapt or die.”
Where to put focus
No matter what the industry, the rapid move toward digital business has one very specific thing in common: the need to understand the customer and expertly manage customer experience. Expectations have never been higher, so this is no small feat. Because customers ultimately “own” how business gets done, putting focus on their needs is the safest bet possible in an otherwise unsafe landscape.
Will traditional executives lead the people out of analogue Egypt? Maybe, but maybe not. Too often, corporate incentive structures change slowly and many senior leaders are still compensated on very traditional, non-digital metrics. More likely, real change will often come from the employees, high or low, who see the opportunities that a digital world affords. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for individual workers to find smart ways to change how work is done, but more importantly, how the customer is served. Savvy execs will follow and some will see the need to make more sweeping changes to how work is done.
There’s never been more opportunity to seize than there is today.