Digital Disruption is (un)Common Sense

I got my inspiration for this post whilst helping my 21-year old son with a few of his mundane problems. First there was the matter of a garage door opener that did not work. The solution involved observing the LED in the door opener was not lighting up when you pressed the button, thinking it might be a battery issue and replacing the battery. The second problem involved a lawn line trimmer where he complained the plastic cutting cable was broken and I showed him how to pull the cable out of the cutting reel head. In both cases my son had diagnosed the problem but was not sure how to go about fixing it. When I thought about the problem from his perspective I realised that he was also apprehensive about doing anything without my approval and advice. I am sure that, given a licence to experiment, he could have solved these problems himself.

How is this relevant to the hot topic around boardrooms and executive management teams, the topic of Digital Disruption?

I may be completely missing the point here but I think the threat (and opportunity) that Digital offers is simply a matter of common sense.

When I read management journals, consulting websites and browse MBA programs I get inundated with advice on Digital Transformation (e.g. Nine questions to help you get your digital transformation right, The Nine Elements of Digital Transformation, Three Steps for Successful Digital Integration | INSEAD , Leading a Digical® transformation) and I am intrigued by what the “digital experts” say. It leads me to think that, if there is so much focus on providing advice in this area, then there must be a problem that I am not seeing. To me it feels like the garage door opener problem …. Just get a new battery, install it and make it work.

Let’s dissect the problem and the way forward.

Theme #1 web and mobile apps

The concept here seems to be about taking advantage  of new sales and delivery channels. To me it seems like the early days of the telephone … before we had telephones (think about it that was only about 100 years ago) you pretty well had to go to a store to buy something, go back to the store if it did not work or suit for any reason. There were no call centres, no interactive voice response systems to handle your queries. If you lived in a remote area it might be several days before you got to talk to someone to express a need, to complain, to fix a problem.

So it feels like we have been here before … we have a new channel and it is a transformative, interactive channel that has the capability to transform how we do business. I think most of us can understand the potential that this channel or medium offers us. Perhaps we can even extrapolate today’s technology towards holograms and virtual reality.

And just like call centers and IVR’s it takes time to adopt the new technology. If we apply a little common sense and think about it we can model the technology adoption curve (perhaps borrow a little from Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing The Chasm) and work out how to include this into our business model.

Theme #2 data analytics

I’ve been working for the last 2 years in the so-called Big Data space and I find it rather frustrating that there is so much focus on technology and so little focus on the real data.

Nevertheless, let me also reflect on previous technology changes and their effect …. back in the 1990’s I was involved with a number of data warehouse technologies and what I learnt from those projects was the importance of focussing on the business and the data and not get caught up in technology for technology’s sake. I fear that many of the data warehouses built in those days took a “build it and they will come” approach.

Hopefully today’s business leaders and their colleagues that lead technology adoption in the organisation will find a better way to collaborate. It seems like only common sense to take a data-driven approach …

Theme #3 social media

As a reader I think you can now see my approach clearly and the argument around Social Media is somewhat similar to my previous two themes.

I liken it to the communications revolution that came with TV and cable news. Suddenly there was the capability to communicate with a wider audience, faster and with richer content than ever before. Social Media is not rocket science … just a faster, richer, more pervasive communications medium than we have ever had before. Managing the impact of that change is akin to dealing with the effects of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week cable news reporting in the  1980’s.

Just to be clear I’m NOT saying it’s the same thing but there are some parallels.

Theme #4 connected things

It goes by many different names – Internet of Things, Industrial Internet, machine-to-machine, Networked Society – but the clear trend is the increase in connectivity that drives a capability to deliver Uber-like services across a myriad of industries and markets.

My model here for managing this disruption is the PC. When the PC entered the scene we were used to mainframe computing and the idea that specialists handled computing tasks … but we adapted and we learnt to manage word processors and spreadsheets on our desks. Companies and individuals had to change the way they worked, albeit that this was a relatively slow and gradual change. Which brings me to my final theme …

Theme #5 faster and more complicated

I think this is where consultants are making their money.

Each one of the previous themes is manageable on its own and given time to adapt. However what seems to be the difference between our current situation and those which we have faced in the past – whether it be adapting to the industrial revolution, adapting to the information age, adapting to the internet or adapting to the mobile era – is the speed at which change is being thrust upon us and the complicatedness of our lives and our organisations.

My conclusion is that, like my son, the answers to the problems we face that get labelled “digital disruption” are not hard to grasp. I think a moderately switched on and pro-active CxO will get them ( no need for a Chief Digital Officer here!) but the challenge is formulating a response that addresses multiple themes (web/mobile/analytics/cloud/social/IOT) with speed and simplicity.

In other words change the battery to the garage door opener with the left hand while fixing the line trimmer with the right hand – simple really! Oh, and please get dinner on the table now …

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