Technology vs. Leadership in the quest for digital transformation

Originally published at Alumni Perspectives

Discussions of digitalization today tends to be somewhere along the lines of: How can we use technology X or Y to disrupt our business? How will the outer, external factors and developments affect our inner core business & operations?

However, wouldn’t the more productive conversation to have be how does your company look like when the biggest transformations are done? The direct continuation of that chain of thought is to look from the inside: is your organisation equipped with the right type of leadership to paint the vision and optimise your digital potential?


Before we can start thinking about external, disruptive digitalization, let’s talk about the initial, internal, incremental digitalization. Instead of talking about technology, let’s talk about the culture required to make use of that technology.

“Instead of talking about technology, let’s talk about the culture required to make use of that technology.

Based on a Harvey Nash CIO survey 2018, 70% of Nordic companies’ management teams (compared to a global average of 62%) urge their organization to prioritize delivering consistent and stable IT performance to their businesses.

Rather than placing so much focus on traditional and stable IT performance, should this not be a hygiene factor for management teams in 2018? One could argue that a more suitable priority for the business is one of customer experience, improving time to market, and improving decision-making quality. In fact, according to a recent study by MIT – companies that place greater emphasis on topics such as those perform much better.

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There is a shift required for the next generation of leaders and board members. We see this shift in three main areas:

1) Data-based Decision Making

Focus here should be on smart decision-making based on refined information rather than incomplete data, or even worse, spontaneous intuitions in the room. Organisations should encourage a data-driven culture – one where a test & learn approach is rewarded and mistakes are celebrated – vs. a long-winded central planning process.

The implications this brings forth include a greater need to understand technological advancements within the areas of automatised data processing and big data – with a focus on measurability. The actual information should be readily available, processed via advanced analytics and presented with real time dashboards. Technological advancements are key to this shift, however it should be highlighted that people are the ones implementing and developing technology and ensuring that organisations harness the optimal benefits of the technology itself.

2) Openness and Transparency

The second key shift for the next generation of leaders is that of openness and transparency. Leaders play a tremendous role in enabling a culture of collaboration, setting and implementing values based on transparency and interaction, over rewarding silos and individual efforts.

“You should be able to admit that ‘I don’t know everything’, but our team can do a lot of things if we start collaboration for real.

From a more technical standpoint, this places greater emphasis on the need for adoption of better communication tools and a more open collaborative way of working – such as internal crowdsourcing within the organisation. Here one can turn to numerous communication tools such as social networking services, collaboration tools, video conferencing (even halo rooms and VR), etc. in order to make use of technology to simulate otherwise very physical collaborative moments.

3) Reallocation of Labor

Technological advancements occur at a more rapid speed than most human beings could ever imagine. These advancements will continue, whether one likes it or not. However, the focus should lie on people understanding, learning and utilising the technology. How can we use technology to optimise our work so that our staff can spend time on where their biggest (unique) value-adds are? There is massive value in the importance of communicating how technology enhances and compliments the work force rather than replaces it.

“Staff should feel valued and not replaced.

As an organisation this implies placing a greater focus on training and educating staff around digital developments and its potential – and raising the digital competency overall within your workforce. It also requires the easing of workloads and moving around responsibilities – whilst implementing new technology to automate previously mundane tasks and considering possibilities for outsourcing to increase internal efficiencies.

Take for example Susan and her three colleagues. Each week, they spend two hours each on an excel report, mostly inputting data from other sources. If this data sourcing could be automated, it could save them each an hour of work, every week. In total this would add to over 200 hours yearly – over a month’s worth of labour!


Instead of thinking how technology will threaten or revolutionise the existing business, majority of business leaders should instead start with their current business and how it can be improved. With time and with increased focus on (new) culture, the disruptive ideas will come as well. The key is to balance fast action & rapid change in order to proactively act on signals of change and uncertainty in nimble ways. Identify your problems and score them. Prioritise them. Then start looking for solutions, technical or not, that will help your organisation solve them.

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