Digital Technology and People in Digital Transformation

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: May 26, 2021

The whole man versus machine debate is alive and well. There's good news and bad news for those that are looking for opportunities to bridge the gap between that human and technology divide. This is a common debate that's been around for a long time.

As a child of the 80s, I grew up watching movies about robots taking over and computers taking over the world. Today, it seems as though that may be happening or being close to happening here in the 2020s.

The technology shift has given us so much opportunity to improve the world and the way we do business. Our lives are most certainly being affected by it. There's a benefit to technology, it has changed so rapidly, and it continues to change that it's actually creating an increase in the divide between humans and machines.

Now, when you think about business technologies and the rapid changes that have happened with robotic process automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, all these different technologies that are out there, it's created this state of utopia, or a perceived state of utopia the way things could be. In a perfect world, if we deployed all these technologies, what would the world look like? It's pretty exciting if you think about the use of all these different technologies.

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Questions to Consider:

  • What if we could fully bake all these technologies into the way, we operate day to day?
  • What would it mean to our business and accomplishing our missions as organizations?
  • What would it mean to us as individuals contributing to those organizations?

Machine Takeover

All of this is very exciting to think about, but there is bad news that comes with this as well.

  • Humans inevitably cannot change as quickly as technology and so the technology is changing a lot faster than humans can.
  • It's hard to navigate how we get to that state of utopia. To oftentimes technology providers sell you on a state of utopia but fail to tell you that you're not going to get there overnight.

The technology isn't just going to happen quickly, you need to create a long-term roadmap to help get there and to really help bridge that gap between where you are today, where your organization is and where the individuals within your organization are today, and how we're going to get there. For many, that could be a multiyear journey, it might take you longer than expected. In the meantime, while you're striving to get to that state as it exists today, technology continues to change.

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Technology Implementation

Let's be realistic, we're constantly going to be playing catch up and we're oftentimes fooled into thinking that we can just implement technology quickly but that simply is not the case. One of the biggest lessons or takeaways is to recognize that that divide has become very vast in recent years, and it’s going to continue.

As you think about your future state and what you ultimately want to be when you grow up, think about it not just from a long-term perspective and what that future state could be. But think about incrementally how we are going to get there and recognize that we need to take baby steps to get to where we want to be in the long run.

The Human Side of Change

I mentioned that this whole divide between man versus machine and humans versus technologies is growing, and it continues to grow over time. The rapid pace of change and that divide gap is accelerating. This creating even more urgency to address the human side of change.

As technology speeds up and changes faster, and humans fail to keep up, the most important thing to focus on is change management and to treat humans and treat the investments in the human side of the equation, just as we've been investing in technologies for decades now.

The question we should ask ourselves is how we can start to treat humans and hold them accountable to make the changes so that we do not fall behind in the man vs machine debate.

When you think about a digital transformation or a business transformation, oftentimes we spend an inordinate amount of time on the technology or on the business processes, but we don't spend enough time on the human piece. It's great if we move the needle on the technology and the operational business process side of things. It's not so great if the humans aren't keeping up.

Managing Change

Now it’s time to shift our focus away from the technology and maybe even the business process side of things over to the organizational change management side so that the people rate of change can accelerate to at least try to keep up with the technological change. I've always thought that change management is the most important part of any transformation, and that belief is becoming even more true as the rapid pace of change continues into the 2020s.

If this gap is getting so large and we know we need to invest more in the human side of change, how do we bridge that gap? What do we do?

Well, the first thing is to understand what is that future state and to be realistic about how big of a jump that is. A lot of times organizations don't realize that technology change is significant. If you look at something like machine learning, or artificial intelligence, and enterprise technologies, these can be real game-changers for the way that an organization operates.

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That's exciting and all, but that can be a huge massive disruption and change to the organization that might entail the loss of jobs. It might be important to completely rescale the employees to do totally different things because now we've automated their jobs.

There is a big picture that we need to start to be realistic about. We know that we're not just going to change that this year, or next year, when we implement the new technology, we're going to have to move the people along, and that's going to take quite a bit longer.

The Defense of Man

It is important to really assess the organization and understand the current state of your business. What are those pockets of resistance that you might face during a transformation or a technology implementation? These are all things we need to be thinking about.

We need to have a very clear understanding of where we are today, in addition to where we're headed in the future, so that we can fully understand what that gap is, and ultimately how we're going to fill that gap and how we're going to migrate from point A to point B.

Like I mentioned before, it is important to adjust our technology roadmap accordingly. It may be that if there's a technological change, that's too great for us to absorb anytime soon, we don't try to bite that off right away. Maybe we push that technology out to the future and focus our sights more on the phase two, three, and four down the road and really start to build some momentum and start to take on those more advanced technologies.

In the end, we want to make sure that we have a realistic technology roadmap that ensures that we keep a long-term aggressive vision but understand that these changes and these technological advancements are going to need to be rolled out more incrementally. This is not only in terms of how you implement the technology but also in terms of how you communicate and when you procure the technology.

There's no point in acquiring technology that you plan to roll out five years from now, focus on the technologies you need now, and certainly have a roadmap and vision for how you might add new technologies along the way. Make sure that you have that clear vision early on and a realistic plan to begin with.

Finally, and probably most importantly, make sure that you have a very effective organizational change plan as part of your overall transformation. That's the best way to help ensure that we can bridge that gap and help close that divide between humans and technology.

I hope this has provided some good information for you to think about as you define your digital strategies. For more information along these lines, I encourage you to download our guide to organizational change management report. If you would like to dive further into the world of man vs. machine, please feel free to contact me. I’m here to act as an informal sounding board for your organization as you navigate the realities of today and the transformation technologies of tomorrow.

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Author:
Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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