Digital seems to have taken the world by storm. Exploring some reality check
Today’s newspaper article states it in bold “Now, Digital Driving CEO Compensation”. It goes on and on how Corporate heavyweights are heavily incentivising their CEOs to adopt and imbibe digital; improve digital footprint within their own organisations. It states further that all the CXOs are quite positive about “Digital” and their variable pay is getting positively linked to the digital adoption within their Organisations.
I have been reading, following and trying to understand the digital euphoria. It’s understandable that it’s a new term and obviously the boundary walls have vanished between digital and ‘just being more online’. From early hay days of software companies trying to help companies by writing code, now we have whole eco-system of start-ups, corporates, evangelists, ventures, LLCs, Digital guru’s and Transformation leader helping companies “transform”, “adopt digital” and “be savvy”. Earlier Software-as-a-service became the in-thing and people made it sound lot more fancy as “SaaS” along with terms like “cloud”, “cloud computing” etc.
As a realist, one always wants to decode the jargon and see what’s happening underneath. From downloading software from a floppy, CD or pen-drive, we now download it from a remotely connected server. From going to our web browser and typing the full address to access a service, we now have apps with some pre-installed code & better access.
Let’s see what’s happening in reality and also use simple measuring principles of “value-addition”. Marketing seems to be playing at the forefront and basic ethos of ROI i.e. Measuring number of new customers added, revenue increase per customer, decline in cost to serve per customer, enterprise value addition seems to have taken a back seat momentarily. When millions of dollars are getting invested into transforming an Organization into “digital” and many have created “digital” versions of their company, why shouldn’t they answer the above measures. How about “we invested $xxxMn to setup a digital enterprise and now we have Xxx Mn additional customers, with balance of XX or profitability of XX per customer”. I am sure investors may want answers to above questions and isn’t it prudent for organisations to track, discuss and publish these metrics.
Typically, we see that every new evangelist (that’s what most of the LinkedIn profile says now), investor and early adopter wants the other to buy, adopt and also become a promoter of the “digital” transformation jargon.
Let’s play a basic “Ctrl F + R” game. In this game we shall replace “digital” with “software”, “Artificial Intelligence” with “software program” and “Cloud” with “online” and re-read any such news article. Believe me, moment you replace these words with basics, the jazz, fanfare, marketing and oomph appeal goes out of the window.
“Companies link CEOs pay to implement new software”
How does this headline sound to you. Quite status quo and we have't even reached the end of full paragraph. Let’s go back in the memory lane and think when CEOs had KPI or responsibility for “Learning and Development of staff” or “maintaining the gender diversity in the Organization” or “providing safety to female employees leaving after 7 pm” or “improving Organization culture”. These are all important KPI measures and digital remains one of them. It’s unlike that people will now build their careers by only being digital or by putting in place ‘like’, ‘share’, ‘connect’ or ‘discuss’ buttons next to someone or article. Someone needs to put on their jacket, go on the road and still meet with their customers. Right! Is it old fashioned or is it the way business is conducted (even in developed markets).
Trust me, I am not trying to say that everything is just basic or there is no innovation happening in the industry. All I am saying that these are good, standardised and not-so-fancy technologies that help us in running day to day operations and are not transformative and game changer.
“Being Digital” helps a company to put in more processes / softwares that help its clients to self help and reduce human touch points. They have been doing this for quite some while now and they shall continue to do so in the future. Online banking channel was developed long back and now there is iphone/android/windows app. This new app based access had to be delivered to the customers as more and more people use mobile for accessing array of services. What’s so super fancy and cutting edge about it!!
Now we get our boarding pass on email. We flash our screen to the security person or airline ground staff. The newspaper headline would ideally read “Airlines go Digital. Massive Disruption in the check-in with digital boarding pass innovation”
Pause for perspective and think again what happens and how it gets reported.
Similarly “Artificial Intelligence” means series of inter-connected software code that can help me say “if it’s raining today, please remind me to carry umbrella”. Also, it may mean that once i pick up my phone at 8 am in the morning, the program knows that “if it’s Monday and the time range is 7.50–8.10 am, ask the user if he wants to book an uber”. “Yes or No”. Purely binary decision is to be made based on some facts. Will this help me — “Definitely”. Will I fire my domestic helper today because of my digital euphoria — “probably no”. Massive disruption using AI — “Definitely not”
I am just trying to simplify what AI is and it may be a game changer for some, but hard and fast of it means that it’s bundled, inter-linked software code that can help us manage our time or reduce some manual processes and make us more efficient. There is a parallel marketing machinery that works quite in tandem with “software” industry. There are not many “Elon Musks” level of truly transformative disruption and hence there is a heavy paparazzi around “software”.
I am a staunch believer of technology and the benefits. I truly believe that repetitive and non-value added tasks should be digitized. However, till such time the software program cannot write news columns or help me write this article (on its own), I may continue to watch new reports about “digital disruption” from my fence and shall hold on to my views.
We should let the true innovation and disruption shine out. Let’s appreciate genuine stuff and clear the “clutter”. By the way, Microsoft’s outlook has a new head in “Outlook 365”, that moves all the spam to a folder called “clutter”. Quite an innovation to term “spam” as “clutter” but sarcasm aside this one actually works quite well.
Needless to add that I typed this article while on flight on my iphone. True disruption indeed!! Both the airplane and typing on the screen.
Just to add, these are my personal views and no-one has “paid” me to write this article. Also apologies if you found nothing “disruptive” in this article.