Workers need to survive digital business
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While the world seizes the opportunities presented by an increasingly digital ecosystem, what happens to the humans stuck at the center of this technological transformation? A shift to ubiquitous digital data is causing rapid change in business models and how work gets done. The data that suffices today to solve a problem will be replaced tomorrow by newer, better data that solves a slightly different need or offers a new opportunity. It’s hard to know how to trust and apply data in such constantly evolving circumstances. Today’s evolving digital business challenge us to understand and take advantage of information that was until recently unknown, beyond reach, or never existed in digital format before. It involves having the knowledge and creativity for mashing up data from disparate sources in ways that provide new business context and ways to compete.
Learning a new language
Havas Media, a global communications and marketing company, has been at the leading edge of the switch to digital business. Executive vice president of data platforms, Sylvain Le Borgne, describes the impact in this way, “We had to change our KPI’s because both our customers’ and our own business changed from offline to online. We had to look at more advanced KPI’s in this new world, like ‘who’s coming to the website and what are they doing there?’ This forced our employees to learn a new language – they needed to understand what engagement means in digital media.”
This need to understand engagement led to new, digital metrics for the business, but even more, it created a need to understand the relative importance of metrics, how often to check them, and when those metrics become relevant for decision making. With everything moving much faster in digital business, it raised questions about how Havas employees do their work. Those questions led to a new way of assessing strategy at the beginning of a media campaign, knowing that the campaign would need to adapt. Whereas once they would have created a plan very early and managed it to completion, in this new world, employees needed to learn to continuously evaluate the recommendations being made to the customer and learn not to see a need to make changes as a judgment of their initial choices.
From the data to the model
The challenge of digital business doesn’t stop with rank and file employees. Digital business presents a potential disruption to mid and senior level decision makers as well. At Havas, they implemented Alpine Data Labs Chorus to put analytics in front of every individual in the organization. Top management has become accustomed to looking at analytic models that drive underway customer campaigns, not just the data generated by systems through reports and dashboards. Managers are able to question elements of the model in real time so that adjustments can be decided, enacted, and new outputs created in a very short span of time.
Everyone in the organization has access to data flows and data transformation paths through a very transparent system. The data that creates value for the customer is no longer inside a black box and this brings confidence to the output and allows employees to understand what they do and not simply do as they are told. This frees up creativity for the business to approach the creation of value in new ways , led by a workforce that understands context and can discover, test and launch new ways of creating value.
Blurring the digital and physical worlds
Loup, Inc., is a San Francisco start-up that would not have been possible in a pre-digital age. CEO and co-founder Abtin Rostamian describes the digital business transformation by saying, “It’s the whole digital/mobile revolution that made digital business possible. Everyone has a supercomputer in their pocket and finally the price point and technology experience level of the average person make sense for rapid technology adoption.” Loup’s goal is to give the average person access to high quality transportation by combining the public transportation model with the private car experience and efficiency. They believe that the predictability of having cars on specific routes provides a comfortable, affordable and reliable experience for everyone. Rostamian points out that through Loup’s optimization technology, desirable routes change based on where people want to live, work and play and also change on an hourly, daily or other frequency. Transportation needs are far more dynamic than fixed-route public transportation systems.
Loup’s work requires that everyone understands data analytics. Even the non-technical workers, like marketers and business analysts, need to understand how to find and examine data to spot patterns. This shift means that everyone needs to participate in the intellectual part of the business. That includes digital business managers, who aren’t traditional leaders with the primary responsibility of delegating work. A manager in a digital business needs to understand the data and the business model, make critical suggestions to improve services and revenue opportunities and lead the work much more than delegating it. “There has to be a humility adjustment when technical and business work is so intermingled. Just because one person is amazing with technology doesn’t’ mean they can solve a business problem and vice versa. Historically those lines were more distinct.” Rostamian believes that being technology savvy or clever about business is just one piece of solving a problem and is no longer found in specialized roles. Digital business workers are inefficient when working in silos based on specialization.
Le Borgne says the same thing in another way when he related that Havas hires younger people who are very digitally savvy but lack experience in how business operates. He says, “Sometimes they need to be reminded that a business model exists that works.”
Digital business caution
For managers and workers who are ready to embrace digital business, Le Borgne cautions that digital business isn’t moving as quickly as hype might make people believe. Many of his customers are still brick and mortar and need to move with caution and not destroy what they’ve built over the years. Gaining the benefit of new technologies without disruption is a matter of remembering the age-old truism that the customer needs to be front and center. No matter the industry, the move toward digital business carries forward the need to understand the customer and expertly manage customer experience because customers ultimately validate how business is done. Putting focus on the data, tools and processes that meet customer needs is the safest bet possible in an otherwise unsafe landscape of change and disruption. This presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for individual workers and their managers to find smart ways to change how the work of serving the customer is done and to carve out value in a changing landscape at the same time.
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