Focus on what’s important for success

Digital Transformation / February 2016

James Moffat

James Moffat

As founder of Organic James leads a digital agency that brings innovative thinking, creativity and agility to a range of leading global brands.

Focus on what’s important for success

What’s in a name? When it comes to digital transformation, quite a lot, and it’s not necessarily all good. Although digital transformation is necessary, the name trips people up and can even cause attempts at digital transformation to fail. Why? Because they get too caught up on the ‘digital’ aspect, which is just a part of the process. It’s perfectly possible to be digitally innovative and yet fail to see that innovation have any real impact, which can be a costly mistake.

Kodak and the myth of digital transformation

One of the biggest brands trotted out when people talk about digital transformation is Kodak. They just didn’t get digital, or so people say. They clung onto the old ways for too long and paid the price. So if you don’t want to suffer the same fate, adopt new technologies. It’s digital or die.

But as Al Ries outlines in this article on Kodak’s misfortunes Kodak were innovating in digital before anybody else:

  • 1976 the first digital camera
  • 1986 the world’s first megapixel sensor for a handheld camera
  • 1994 the first digital camera under $1000
  • Over one thousand patents in digital photography

So clearly it wasn’t failure to adopt digital and new technologies that caused the problem here. For Al the problem was brand association, Kodak meant film not digital. Other experts have said the problems lay in inept management. Whatever it was, it wasn’t being digital luddites.

Efail?

Email comes in for a lot of hate when people talk about digital transformation, and it’s easy to see why. We rely on it a lot for communications and it often replaces phone calls and face-to-face chats. So something that could perhaps be clarified in a minute or two ends up being snarled up in an email thread.

Here are just a few ways that email could be hobbling your organisation:

  • It sucks up time. A study from 2012 by the McKinsey Global Institute found that knowledge workers spent on average 28 hours a week reading and writing emails and searching for information buried as attachments in email threads or in various folders.
  • It gets messy fast. While most email clients allow you to organise messages, group items into folders, archive old messages and so on most people don’t stay on top of it. They begin to ‘lose’ threads and documents, things that don’t seem as important as the latest email to land get pushed back and back. It’s hard to keep things in order.
  • It leaves people out of the loop. It’s far too easy for someone to get left out of the loop on email. This then slows projects down further, especially if things roll on without important input from people. 

Of course a lot of email’s problems aren’t necessarily to do with the technology but how people use it. Email wasn’t really meant for group collaboration and project management, so we shouldn’t be surprised that it doesn’t perform well in that capacity. No point hating a screwdriver because it’s not good at sawing wood.

Technology to the rescue?

So you know that email is hindering productivity. What do you do? Pay a hefty licence fee for a nice shiny collaboration platform.

What happens? It gets rolled out, the announcement probably made by email and so immediately ignored or deleted by half the workforce. Then someone from the IT department rushes around setting up logins and giving people a quick rundown on how to use it. A few people begin to, but then they start to drift off and what should have been a bright new hive of creativity and collaboration becomes a ghost town.

And everyone’s back on email.

So what’s going on here? Technology isn’t the solution. It’s part of it, but really it’s changing how people work that is going to make things work. It doesn’t matter how good the tech is, if people can’t see the benefit they won’t use it.

At the root of it is a desire to not spend money on anything other than a tangible product (whether that’s hardware or software), and that’s a big mistake. Getting people to change ingrained working habits takes time, effort, persistence, and yes, money.

You can’t email people and give them a 30-minute training session and expect them to embrace it. Some will for sure, and these people are your best allies when it comes to getting everyone else on board, but managing the change is also important.

So before you dive headlong into digital transformation and spend a lot of money on technology make sure you’ve properly invested in the process and the people who will make or break the change.

We were exploring the balance between technology and people in digital transformation at our event in London – learn more here.

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