What’s happening with Digital Disruption and Transformation?

Digital disruption is all around us right now. Every day in the news, we hear about disruptive companies with innovations and new business models that are challenging the conventional way of doing things. This is happening across just about every sector, and in many cases, it’s the more agile small players and start-ups that are leading the charge. They discover completely new ways of creating value for customers that were previously unimagined and attract enthusiastic customers seeking a more appealing experience.

Meanwhile, well-established organisations have realised the need to digitally transform from end to end. They are reinventing all aspects of the customer lifecycle, optimising their operations and better serving their customers shifting needs. For many organisations, digital transformation is recognised as an essential factor for survival today, and those that can change the fastest can obtain significant competitive advantage against their competitors.

Why the big deal about Digital?

Digital has accelerated the rate of change and the level of disruption across industries. Digital makes organisations more agile and enables broader reach than ever before. Digital disruption can come from new technologies or in the application of more accepted ones. Mature technologies are being combined in completely novel ways, rapidly generating new value and disrupting unprepared players along the way.

Automation is currently a popular strategy for transformation.  Arrival of the API (Application Programming Interface) economy is an example of this. We’re seeing connectivity and sharing of data between software platforms on an immense scale, and this is causing disruption across many industries.

Big data and APIs are generating value by making data easily shared and consumed within organisations and between them. This is happening on an increasing scale and many organisations are well advanced in this regard. Organisations need to consider the true value of data and the value that can be derived by combining multiple sources of their own data and that from other sources.

What about the Workplace?

Digital is having a potent impact is in the workplace. Our interaction with digital technologies in the workplace is undoubtedly altering the way we work, as individuals and in teams. Digital technologies in the workplace continue to bring new working experiences, which we expect to align with those of our personal lives.

We demand technology that’s accessible, simple to use, responsive and always available. Anything else is a burden in the modern workplace, and this can be a catalyst for further disruption. Smart organisations are looking to harness the power of consumer technologies wherever they can be utilised in a productive and secure manner.

What’s driving this change?

Many mature technologies that have been in the workplace for some time are still having a growing impact in the workplace. The push for productivity improvement, flexible working, and better customer engagement continue to fuel their dominance.

By definition, digital natives are completely at home in the modern digital workplace, but unfortunately, others are not so comfortable with the new ways of working. This divide could expand as technology underpins more and more of what we do at work. This will be a challenge for organisations trying to realise the full productivity potential from digital strategies. Employers need to make sure that more experienced employees do not find digital systems a barrier (or complete disruption) in the workplace, and this may require more investment in training.

Digital Technologies that have redefined how we work

Our ability to work from anywhere at any time on any device is taken for granted. Cloud, mobile, virtual desktop and software-defined networking have led to wide spread adoption the ‘digital workspace’. They’ve made the virtual office possible. Consequently, it’s now available to just about any business seeking to extend the boundaries of the workplace beyond traditional physical limits.

Collaboration over networks has been possible for decades now. Digitally enabled technologies like video conferencing, instant messaging and tele conferencing are now freely obtainable and part of our daily lives. The smartphone and cloud have bought these digital experiences to everyone, consumerised them, and made them affordable. It’s hard to imagine a day in the office without them, and they form the basis for much of our communications.

As we become reliant on these platforms, we continue to move away from old behaviours like email and become increasingly dependent on these tools to do our jobs. However, email continues to be a burden on many people. This is one area, where collaboration can help improve productivity dramatically. However, in my opinion, the human habits continue to present a barrier to the effectiveness of the new platforms. Organisations need to be clear in their strategies, policies and standardisation of communications and adoption of these platforms, if they are to reap their benefits, and avoid their risks.

We use what we know

Because we now expect a similar digital experience in the workplace as we can access at home, this sets high expectations for technology in the workplace. Many of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications that we use outside of work have made their place into the workplace, largely driven by convenience.

People prefer to use what that are comfortable with and can rely on, whether it’s what their organisations approve or not. ‘Shadow IT” continues to thrive, presenting ever changing challenges for businesses when it comes enforcing security and protecting sensitive data. On a practical level, organisations should be open and specific in approval or disapproval of applications for use in the workplace.

The rise of consumer technology like digital assistants (e.g. Alexa, Siri, and Cortana) is relentless. These disruptive devices simplify the way we access and consume data, but they also raise concerns about the way that our personal data is managed by large corporations. These conversational agents are becoming much more intelligent and this is driving their application for business tasks. As in the home, concerns about data sharing will need to be addressed by organisations, as employees introduce these technologies to the workplace.

It’s easy to conceive the enormous impact these technologies will have on people in the future. They’ll become essential productivity tools in the workplace. We could see a Bring-Your-Own-Wearable-Assistant phenomenon, as individuals prefer to interact with their digital assistant of choice. This will obviously blur the lines between our work and private lives as we strive to cope with our busy daily schedules.

How will the nature of work change?

Looking further ahead, there’s a vast array of emerging disruptive technologies that will disrupt the workplace. We’ve already seen the profound impact of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning across many industries. Beyond this first wave, this will continue as smarter software continues to replace humans for low skill and even highly skilled jobs. For generations, machines have had a history of replacing humans, so this comes as no surprise. They are inherently better at doing repetitive jobs with more speed and accuracy than we are. However, it’s the rapid learning ability of smart machines, and their ability to perform more and more complex jobs, that will lead to wider disruption in the workplace.

So where will humans find themselves in the modern workplace? With digital technology influencing many of the tasks we do, some believe that workers will need a more diverse range of skills. It’s already apparent that many roles outside traditional IT will favour candidates with strong programming skills.

On the contrary, the emergence of no-code programming could make programming as easy as talking to a digital assistant. This will accelerate the speed of automation and integration of digital systems. Everyone will have the potential to be a programmer as machines enable them to be much more produce, and this will alter the playing field for coders and software developers.

So how will work change?

Unanticipated jobs and career paths will arise with further digital disruption in the workplace. A person could have many more careers in their lifetime than ever before, requiring occupational retraining as a means to maintaining long-term employment. Fortunately, training and education have become more accessible and flexible than ever before thanks to the Internet. Expert and specialist knowledge is also increasingly available and easily searched online. Evidently, as people take longer to train than machines, this will limit where we are most effective in the workplace.

Technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are already allowing specialists to work remotely, supporting physical workers on site. Robots now allow surgeons to operate on patients from a remote networked terminal, performing complex surgical procedures from just about anywhere. Specialist knowledge and skills can be accessed in many work situations, where previously they were inaccessible. Significantly, the ‘gig economy’ is creating a labour market where even workers of any skill level can be engaged according to demand, often as freelancers.

The labour market will become more competitive on a global scale as organisations source talent from anywhere across the globe. The establishment of virtual distributed teams will bring diverse talent from different geographical locations together. Technologies such as real-time translation will make communication effortless where it was previously a barrier. It’s imaginable that we will see erosion of the traditional working week as people work from anywhere and anytime.

Digital knowledge management will become pervasive as networks and data centres form the brains and nervous systems of modern organisations. We’ll be able to meet in virtual locations and environments through augmented reality or virtual reality. Why meet in a boardroom when you can meet on a tropical island beach? Remote working provides opportunities for a wider range of people, but as borders continue to expand, these new work platforms create opposing forces for management trying to build organisational culture.

As wearable technologies continue to advance, it’s likely that these’ll play an increasing role in workplace health and safety. The Internet of Things could become the Internet of Things that are attached to, or are embedded in humans. The networking of body sensors that monitor pulse, temperature, blood pressure and breathing will allow early warning of health issues, which could help avoid accidents or even fatalities in the workplace. It’s imaginable that employee digital well-being could become a key performance indicator for human resource managers.

What are the challenges for organisations?

All of this new technology in the workplace raises many unique challenges. Managing this unprecedented amount of change will require particular consideration of the human elements at play. The intangible factors will present tougher problems to solve than the technical ones. We can’t change at the same rate as technology. Machines need to be user friendly and make life easier for us in this journey.

People need to be educated and trained to interact with more and more machines. In the modern workplace, individuals that can adjust without restraint will succeed, while those that struggle will find work unpleasant and stressful. These issues are growing concerns for employers. Accordingly, the social aspects related to digital disruption need to be carefully considered by organisations.

Machines are here to stay, so we need to harmoniously interact and collaborate with them to realise their maximum potential. Employee experience in the workplace will become an increasing factor in choice of employer for future employees. It’ll define the ‘best’ employers from the rest.

It’s already apparent that the most attractive organisations will be the ones with the most stress-free physical environments that promote productive interaction and collaboration. Meanwhile, employees are seeking a great sense of purpose in their jobs and more balance between work and life. The values of the workforce are also changing as a new generation of workers arrive with a greater awareness of sustainability and social responsibility.

What about security?

It’s no surprise that security is a major concern with digital disruption in the workplace. There are clear responsibilities associated with protecting data and the privacy for organisations and individuals. Governing laws and policies will need to adjust and change to protect the interests of organisations, their employees, and customers.

To secure the modern workplace, identity and reputation will become more critical than ever. The increasing sophistication of threats continue to place organisations under immense pressure as they continue to fight a never-ending battle against cybercrime. This is the number one concern for most CIOs right now, and this is not likely to change any time soon. As people are often the weakest link, the human aspects of information security continue to pose the largest risk, and this has proven difficult to address.

Where does this leave us?

While there are many new challenges ahead, transformation and embracing disruptive technologies in the workplace has many benefits. Digital technology can help make the workplace more productive, improve competitiveness, provide better employee engagement, and enhance customer experience.

As digital disruption presents enormous opportunities, it can also separate winners from losers. There are countless examples over the last decades of businesses that have died at the hand of disruption. We’ve seen that the long-term survival of organisations, and even industries, can depend on their capability to adapt and thrive in an increasingly digital world.

It will definitely be interesting to see where all this change leads us to in the future. We can only imagine how our work and daily lives will change on this journey. One thing is for certain – the workplace of the future will be nothing like the one we know now. However, looking back over the ages, history has shown that we’ve been through this kind of workplace revolution before. I guess you could say that nothing’s really changed!


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