Everyday realities of digital transformation

Digital transformation may feel abstract and farfetched, but in many ways the change it brings is about how everyday life will be in the workplace and how employees will be able to work more efficiently.

16161210094_856b3ab11a_zDigital transformation is very hot right now. We mostly hear about it ,however, in connection with big changes and disruption on a grand scale. How whole industries will change and if the very business models companies are built on will have to change. To a large degree this is what digital transformation is about, but there is another side to it that is just as important. And that is how companies and organizations will handle questions about employees access to digital tools and how easy or complicated that access will be.

Recently two blog posts addressing this perspective have caught my eye – the everyday realities of digital transformation. And both of them paints a picture that is threatening for companies, not in the least because it is connected to their ability to recruit new employees already today and even more so in the future. Both of the posts are in Swedish, so I will summarise them (and link to them as well, if you understand Swedish).

The first point, by Joakim Jansson, is called (translated) No, you can’t hire digital competence. He paints a very vivid picture of the gap many employees experience in terms of technology use at home and in the workplace. In their private sphere they have access to the very latest in tech, be it smartphones, computers, console and so on, they interact with digital leaders like Netflix, Amazon etc, and they have a lot of freedom in terms of connectivity, how and when they do things and so on. At work, on the other side, they are supposed to deliver results with outmoded and sometimes obsolete tools, quite often limited as to where they can do and they often have to interact with complex and less than user friendly software and systems. The point Joakim is making is that when companies like this recruit people accustomed to a much more sophisticated digital environment there will be problems. Especially if those persons were hired to advance the company digitally in the first place. His broader point is that you can recruit knowledge and skills, but unless the environment you offer helps them work and grow you won’t get competence.

The second post is called AThes easy as it is at home? (my translation) and is written by Klas Fjärstedt. In it he relates how, after a lecture, an employee of a large company comes up to him and tells him about how a young, gifted colleague abruptly has left the company because the internal digital systems and processes were unnecessarily complex and complicated. The point he is making is that this scenario will only become more and more common, as millennials and digital natives enter the workplace in force. The access to digital tools and how easy it is to use different systems might be a deciding factor when they make the choice between our company and a competitor – especially if that competitor is ahead in its digital transformation.

The challenge facing many, mainly large, companies and organisations is in the end a question of control and freedom to make decisions. How much can we relax control and allow employees to decide for themselves in digital and other matters? This question has a bearing on several aspects of corporate life. One of them is use of social media during working hours – it’s not very realistic to limit access via the corporate network for reasons of efficiency when every employee owns a smartphone. Another issue is that of BYOD (Bring your own device), e.g the option to use your own equipment inside the corporate firewall. A lot of the rules and regulations on access to internal systems etc are from a time when this scenario did not even exist. A third is the freedom to download and trial software at your own discretion, something that often clashes with rules and policies issued by the IT department. In the past those rules were often very inflexible and that is not a realistic scenario in the coming years. Having said that I fully understand the counter-arguments from IT, but sweeping restrictions are not the solution.

In recent years surveys have shown that digital knowledge and competence among the members of the management team and the board of large companies often is very limited. One very specific consequence of this is an inability to understand that a digital environment governed by strict rules and limitations can be an obstacle for recruiting and a source of frustration for employees. And if you don’t understand something you have very little motivation to change it. The end result is that very little happens in the digital arena in many companies. But as employees grow younger this is no longer a realistic way of running things.

This post was previously posted on LinkedIn and Which 50 in April 2015

Image credit: Lester Kamstra Asian Fairy-Bluebird via Flickr

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