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Human-Centered Digital Transformation

Technology has transformed the way we do business today, and the changes are only accelerating. Companies have barely gotten a handle on their cloud strategy when they’re told artificial intelligence has even greater transformative impact.


By Peter Wright

Balancing innovation with humanity

I love the digital world as much as anyone. It enables us to do so many incredible things, while often saving money at the same time. But I also want to strike a cautionary note: It’s critical that, as we continue to adopt more powerful technologies, we always remember the people who will use that technology.

Every business comes down to a person at the other end. Typically, that person is your customer. Sometimes it’s your customer’s customer. You need to think about that human being and what they’re trying to accomplish—and how you can help solve their problems.

If you are thinking of ways to digitally transform your company—as so many companies are these days—do yourself a favor: Keep the human beings in mind.

Don’t just put your business in the cloud because you think it will save you money. It probably won't. Tech is an enabler, not a solution in its own right. What good digital transformation has taught us is that the primary considerations in any design have to include a clear forward vision and substantial elevation on the focus of the experience of the users in a solution.

Simply put, if you have a clear vision, and embrace human-centered digital transformation, your customers will reap the benefits and you will too.

Change is hard

We get it. Transformation isn’t easy. It requires you to break apart some of the things that may have led to some of your biggest successes to date. It requires risk.

The tech industry has done a great job of convincing people to buy the shiny new thing. Yet how much of that fancy new technology are companies actually using?

I compare it to a friend of mine, a wonderful guy, who bought a rugged SUV with four wheel drive. He drives it from his home in the suburbs to work. He drives his kids to their soccer games. Does he take advantage of all the capabilities that the vehicle has, like traction control, hill descent assist, and locking center differential? Never. We probably all know people like that.

A lot of organizations have a similar mindset. They buy this great enabling technology but they just don’t fulfill the promise of it. They use it the way they’ve always used it. Without truly exploring all the exceptional features and capabilities the technology provides.

I tell my friend: Take your kids camping. Go on a real adventure. Get dirty. Enjoy all the capabilities of that vehicle.

My message to companies is the same: Think about your customers the way my friend thinks about his kids. What will enrich their lives? What do they want to do? How can you help them thrive? That’s what your technological firepower is for.

Where change happens: The business units

Many organizations consolidated cloud costs in 2022 and 2023. When you think about it, it’s obvious why so many organizations over-spent on technology they didn’t really need. It’s because the IT department decided what to buy. And the people in IT loved the shiny new things. It's how things are always done.

Times are changing. Tech has become part of everyone’s lives. According to Gartner, business units now control 50 percent of the IT spend. Those decisions are made in the business units and closer to the end customer. Central IT’s role is to enable business unit innovation in an efficient manner, not simply manage costs.

And that’s a wonderful development, because the business units are home to the people who actually use the technology. They know what they need. Even more crucially, they know what the customers need.

The business units have another advantage. They can clearly articulate a business case. And they have leverage in re-wiring the way the organization works.

Larger organizations want to change, but it's difficult to move quickly enough to build momentum. It’s a huge task for large product-centric organizations to transform to customer centricity.

Take a large professional services firm that has thousands of billable consultants. Their objective is to manage the utilization of those consultants. They are disincentivized to augment improved project outcomes with AI or other technologies that enhance workflow and client outcomes. The same thing happened in the publishing industry when digital publishing became a thing. The same thing happened in the taxi industry when Uber became a thing. And so on.

Doing it right

Some companies are capable of consistently delighting their customers because they combine a very clear value proposition with technology, culture and processes that continually refine and enhance the customer experience.

For instance, I can watch a film on Netflix on my television, pause it, and pick it up again on my phone, tablet or laptop, right where I left off. On a recent trip, Netflix popped up on the hotel TV screen. I scanned a QR code with my phone and I was validated—there was my list, ready to play. Over time the customer experience with Netflix has improved as Netflix continually refines their understanding of the customer's need.

Compare the customer service you experience at a bank to Netflix’s customer service. The Netflix experience is better, because it was designed in a completely different way. For starters, you don’t need to interact with it very much. That’s a good thing. Netflix built that into its design experience.

I can change my password, add or remove shows from my list, get myself validated on a new device so much more simply with Netflix. I get a complete entertainment on demand experience. Comparatively, while I interact digitally with my back I am still left with vastly different product experiences depending on the financial services I consume. The bank still sees me as a series of products rather than me as a person with specific financial services requirements.

This is where the organizational business units come in. If you’re going to embark on using technology in a human-centered, customer-centered manner, making that leap from product centricity to customer centricity requires some intestinal fortitude. You might wonder: Is it all going to work? It can be scary.

But there's enough push and momentum in the market that organizations can’t ignore the need to make these changes. And they aren’t. They’re becoming much savvier.

They know: “I don't have to bet the farm on this. I'll start in this area and then I'll grow it from here.”

That attitude can launch an organization on the journey of constant improvement. Once you're into this routine of driving improvement in the organization in different ways, your human-centered transformation will create better alignment with your customers, and your customers' customers—giving you the competitive advantage.