Where are you?

Where are you?

I’m writing a major report on the future of digital transformation at the moment for a large software company. Digital transformation is the process that all organisations are going through right now to respond to the changing possibilities created by technology. It’s about more than just new software or hardware, it’s about a change of culture, process, and structure defined by a world of high frequency change, low friction interactions, exploding choice and rising customer expectations. I’ll share a link to the report when it’s out later this year.

My first observation when researching this topic was the gap between the conversation about digital transformation, and the reality. In part, this is because the conversation is driven by a combination of technology vendors, analysts, and media, all of whom want to be talking about the things that capture people’s attention. Things like AI and Blockchain. These technologies are considerations for many organisations, and elements of them – particularly AI, in the loosest sense – are creeping into operational use today. But the vast majority of the effort remains in changing the fundamentals. Most organisations that I encounter are incredibly frank behind closed doors that they are barely to the point of getting full value from the simplest software: communications, cloud storage, even Microsoft Office. They still have big projects to upgrade, replace, integrate or customise their large-scale software platforms on which the business runs. And they still have huge amounts of work to do on streamlining, automating, and sometimes outright eliminating, poor processes.

This is not to say there hasn’t been progress. I’ve seen massive steps in the last five years from many of the organisations I’ve worked with. But even those that are most advanced usually have some way to go. So, with the report I’m writing I’ve tried to be positive but honest, to be realistic about what the near future looks like. It’s not sci-fi whizziness, it’s a lot of challenging, but ultimately rewarding, work that is as much about people and process as it is about technology. I’ll talk about some of the more eye-catching technologies but be honest about where they sit on most people’s roadmap.

Perception and reality

I’ve stepped back from radio and TV quite a bit this year, making the conscious decision before Christmas that I wasn’t exposed enough to the gadget world anymore to keep offering good advice and insight. This was a lot of what I was called on to do on air, and now I’m largely restricting myself to conversations about the future. I’m still doing a few bits a week, including some debates and phone-ins. I make time for these because of what they give me: other people’s perspectives. They are absolutely enlightening.

Where I might think the state of a particular conversation is from my little bubble, is a world away from where it is elsewhere in the country, let alone the world. You get a sense of this from Twitter or other social media, but the radio shows expose me to people I would never normally encounter, and humanises them much more than a few lines of text on a screen. It’s hard to dismiss people when they’re passionately making their case for a particular perspective, however much I might disagree.

It’s a reminder that the journey to the future is not from where I think we are today, but from our real position as any particular community. That real position is usually a few degrees, and sometimes many miles, from where we think it is. Whether you are considering change in your organisation, or change at a much larger scale – political, societal, cultural –  you have to do a really frank examination of where you are today before you consider how to get to where you want to be. That means stripping away the filters and the usual influences and exposing yourself to the unvarnished reality.

Be honest: before you set off for tomorrow, look closely at where you are today.

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Tom Cheesewright