Revolution is an overused word in the English language, but working people have witnessed a genuine technological revolution in the last 20 years that has eclipsed anything since Britain industrialised.
Two decades isn’t that long, yet in this time organisations have gone from sending slivers of dead trees to each other, to adopting technologies that facilitate the instant sharing of information and collaborative work.
Between 1995 and 2005, organisations went digital. They built websites and installed e-mail as their primary communication channel. Between 2005 and today they have experimented with increasingly powerful digital technologies, picking up all kinds of efficient, business-boosting applications.
These tools, from sophisticated video conferencing to cloud storage, big data and customer relationship management platforms, free up space, save money and emancipate the workforce to be where they need to be rather than where technological constraints mean they have to be.
There is no sign of this abating. The technological genie is out of the bottle and the signs are that innovation will speed up, not slow down. The implications for businesses are enormous and those who adopt smartly will push ahead of the others.
“Digital makes the process of change faster, because of the connectivity it creates,” explains Peter Veash, chief executive of The BIO Agency. “Businesses are better connected to their employees and their customers, and their customers are connected to a global marketplace through the internet. So whether it’s fear of obsolescence or the excitement of opportunity, digital is transforming the workplace fast.”
Despite technological convergence, digital transformation is not one thing, but lots of micro-changes that, combined, make a big difference. Broadly speaking these components fit into brackets such as communications, information-gathering, insight and collaboration.
Big data, for example, is helping businesses to learn about customers and trends in minute detail, allowing them to transform into the businesses they should be, based on insights from who they want to sell to.
Andy Baker, director at Hitachi Consulting, says: “Digital technology can drive workplace transformation by allowing vast amounts of data to be analysed into easily digestible insights which can be seen at a glance, in real time, and on the move.
“Following the rise of social, mobile and cloud technologies, which enable the collection of big data, sophisticated analytics tools are now emerging to deliver unprecedented levels of insight. Employers can keep a close eye on operational efficiency, employee engagement and consumer engagement, allowing them to make informed decisions about business processes like never before.
History is littered with examples of companies that invested in the wrong technology
“Social technology is also having a huge influence on employee behaviour. The growth of corporate social networks and apps now allows employees to collaborate with colleagues locally, nationally and internationally. The ubiquity of mobile devices enables flexible and new ways of working to maximise productivity.”
For the leaders of businesses undergoing transformations, it’s important not to get starry-eyed. History is littered with examples of companies that invested in the wrong technology, overspent and paid the price (literally). Bosses must look at their specific needs and find the right mix to push things forward.
“It’s about getting all functions of your business fit for purpose in a digital world, from finance to customer service to HR,” says James Hilton, global chief executive of M&C Saatchi Mobile.
“It should be very clear that an effective digital workplace transformation cannot be driven by one area of the business alone. To get individuals and functions across the business to change the way they work and communicate, you’ll need to engage them in the change.
“This means identifying the key stakeholder groups, who need to be involved in shaping and driving the change, and bringing them together.”
But for digital transformations to succeed there needs to be a corresponding step-change in working practices, according to Ursula Morgenstern, chief executive of Atos UK and Ireland.
“The workplace is changing at an unprecedented rate. Employees have embraced the latest mobile devices and digital technologies in the home. They now expect and demand the same in the office. And as the latest tribe of digital natives join the workforce, having these kinds of tools and applications in place is more important than ever.
“It’s a transformation that has to be backed by a corresponding change in working practices and culture. If employees embrace the move to mobile and social technologies, organisations can achieve enhanced productivity.
“And if businesses can reduce the use of internal e-mail to embrace more collaborative models, they can deliver further efficiencies that help unlock the potential of the future digital workplace.”
There are other dos and don’ts of digital transformation, including of course installing a fit-for-purpose digital communication channel that allows everyone to share their views about what’s going on.
According to Adam Hale, chief executive at Fairsail, businesses must plan for change, analyse all the data that comes back and never be too reliant on technology alone. Successful transformations happen when bosses provide “great workplace experiences”, says Mr Hale.
“To achieve workplace transformation, staff at all levels need to have a means of communicating and feeding back their thoughts to the top. Digital technology facilitates this and as such bosses should encourage employees to use it as a medium to voice their opinions and concerns,” he says.