A common refrain we all hear nowadays is how technology is creating a generation incapable of human interaction. Your kids spend all their time with their noses stuck in a phone or laptop and you’re worried (or should be) that they aren’t building the skills to interact with real people in the real world. Books such as Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together” – (which I’ve tried to read), paint this view all too grimly.
This is a misplaced fear at best, and downright wrong at worst. This post will try and explain why.
But first, let me state that I do find it odd when I meet with young people and neither they nor their parents find it necessary to make any attempt at conversation. They slink into a corner with their phones and the inter-generational equilibrium (read: uneasy truce) is reached. I’m not defending the lack of real life social engagement skills. But is technology really to blame for this? In my book, this is a debate about parenting, which is best kept for another forum.
But social media has a bad rep in many circles. I occasionally hear people say with a lot of vehemence (or pride?) “I don’t have time for cr*p like Facebook”. Others will say “I don’t get the point of Twitter”. Without disrespecting opinions, let’s get a few simple assertions out of the way.
Social media is first, a marketplace. It’s a market for opinions, emotions and connections. As with any market, there are buyers and sellers. Thus it is that on any platform, including the ones above, there are people who have the need to express, and those who have the desire to listen.
Second, many of us live in a post-national world today. Our families, friends, colleagues and professional relationships all comfortably span countries and continents. On a given day we interact with people all over the world. Isn’t it amazing that we can do this? Have we forgotten already how magical this is? And how far we’ve come from the days of having to pre-book International Trunk-Calls and start conversations with “What time is it there?”.
Most importantly, in the world today’s children will grow up in, it will be natural to have as many conversations with people across the world as with the persons next to us. No, this is not sad, or a decline in human communication. It’s the death of distance. I want to have a coffee with my colleague at work, and dinner with my friends who live in my city, but I also want to share the private joke with my college friend who happens to be working in Africa currently, and debate the pros and cons of the changes in the Indian political climate with my friends in India. I want to hear from my friends caught in the Polar Vortex in America, that they are safe and warm and to continue the debate I started with my mother about whether or not the US Dollar is a artificially held up by oil-negotiations. I want to do all of this in a single day. And I can. Isn’t that great? And if it isn’t already for you, this will be the new normal. Inability to manage in this world will be a huge challenge.
Remember, the are entirely new skills being learnt here. Your average teenager is adept at holding multiple parallel conversations; is part of an ongoing language evolution, and is learning about an entirely new way of running trust relationships without physical interaction. All of these are life-skills for tomorrow.
So while not decrying the value of human interaction as we know it, lets not forget that these technology enabled means of human communication are as important. Knowing one should not mean losing the other. Just as gaining a friend shouldn’t mean losing another.
Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a panel discussion on Social Innovation, at the Cognizant Community for Women. On the panel with me were Pete Marsden from ASOS, Clara Bermingham from Rentokil and Clare Brown, from Coke. We didn’t plan it this way, but it turned out that each of these 3 businesses use Social technologies in a very different way. For one of them it’s a route to market, and a way to drive a global sales model. For another it’s a service delivery issue and a way to connect colleagues and frontline staff. For the third, it’s a brand engagement model. I’ll leave you to figure out which is which.
Some really interesting themes emerged from the discussion. Here are a few of them:
1. As highlighted by the introduction, the starting point is to be clear about what your objective is, on social media platforms. The three companies above were all essentially clear on what it meant to them and importantly, what it did not.
2. There are vastly different levels of control in Social media from traditional communication channels and this is something organisations need to get used to. However, many organisations are using social media as formal channels. This typically calls for putting the right processes in place for managing communications on social media. As it turns out 140 characters can be very long paragraphs in some languages!
3. The structure and staffing of social media platforms is a specific challenge where there are no precedents to follow. New skills may be required, and it may not be as simple as hiring a ‘bunch of millenials’. You may need to collocate communications and development teams so that they can create faster. Hub and spoke networks are advised for localisation challenges, and needless to say, the multilingual nature of the internet is a given requirement.
4. One specific problem that you cannot avoid is that the internet is a 24×7 environment and the social sphere. Whether you have customers wanting to speak with you, or consumers talking about you, you have to be listening and responding. The ability to set up and run a 24/7 operation is a key aspect of running a social operation. This may not sound like a big deal, but typically, service teams are set up for 24×7 operations, where as sales and marketing teams are not. So if the social play in your organisation is the domain of sales and marketing, this might be a challenge.
5. What about governance, quality and errors? Well there are divergent streams of thought. Of course, you need to have the right level of governance in place, but because of the less formal nature of the medium, it’s all right to make the odd mistake. It actually presents a more human side of the company. Needless to say, this should not be taken to it’s extreme.
6. Talking about which, Social platforms offer a way to tap into the sea of external energy, but this does imply a journey to more porous organisational boundaries, where internal and external communications start to merge. This may require a re-learning and a change in the way organisations traditionally communicate. As somebody pointed out, you might state on your personal blog that this is just your opinion, but that may not prevent it influencing perception about your organisation.
7. In fact, there is a great opportunity here, to address some of the non-financial objectives that most businesses have. This is a great way to address the obligation that most businesses have, to become a socially valuable organisation, whether it’s by participating in causes that appeal to the organisation or by mobilising effort on a cause that you actually own and drive.
8. It’s not easy to make all these changes. All the attendant challenges of change management apply here. But within that there are opportunities social platforms themselves, as an agent of change. One of our panellists was a designated ‘Chatterazzi’ for the company’s change program. Critically, adoption of social platforms is a significant step towards the de-hierarchialisation of the enterprise. It’s a way in which the CEO can engage in active dialogue with employees, or with consumers. These are all agents of change.
9. The underlying technology landscape is vastly diverse, and in many organisations, a questionably high number of tech platforms and tools may already be in use. A rationalisation may well provide value. What is perhaps more significant, is that this is leading to a model of ‘loose coupling’ of technology, a different way again, from how traditional enterprise technology is configured.
10. Finally, of course, all of this makes sense only insofar as the underlying analytics are delivering the metrics which have been agreed upon. Only in this case, the metrics may be less obvious, and in some cases both the metrics and the meaning may be a part of an evolutionary process. Hence, this is not a design once and run forever kind of model, but rather one where even the analytics team needs to stay engaged in the evolving model and contribute to the universe of possibilities, and help uncover unfolding patterns.
I could go on, but I’ll stop at 10, hopefully these will have made sense to you.
Many thanks to the excellent panel for helping illuminate this challenging topic, and looking forward to more conversations, and new thinking.
Domino’s is not an internet company. It’s not web2.0, or social. The product serves one of the oldest needs in the book. The business model depends on humans for both creation and delivery. Yet, the company can claim to be a digitally transformed company. Some 60% of Domino’s UK revenues comes from digital platforms. Of which about 20% comes from mobile devices. This is not to say that everything about Domino’s digital experience is perfect. I personally find the mobile app difficult to order from. But the numbers don’t lie, Domino’s have clearly made giant strides here.
You might argue whether just changing the sales/ order process is good enough for being called a digital transformation. This is why the tired cliche of the blind men and elephant is still valid when one tries to define digital transformation. Recently, I was in a room with colleagues trying to create a single phrase for defining digital transformation and very quickly you could see how each of us was struggling with the limitations or connotations of each phrase. Should it include just customer engagement? Or supply chain as well? Does it matter if the transformation doesn’t explicitly lead to better financial performance, in the short term? What magnitude of change actually qualifies as “transformation”? And why does your business need to transform, anyway?
Rather than the semantics of the phrase itself, I find it more instructive to focus on the causes and effects of this transformation.
The world wide web has been around for about 20 years now, so it’s safe to say that the web itself is not the source of transformation, except for Rip Van Winkle companies who may have been asleep for a couple of decades. Domino’s is successful because it’s already made that transition. So what’s the new challenge? I think there are six actually six!
6 Forces of Digital Transformation
The device switch is a first and important one. The PC market declined over 10% year on year in 2013. The mobile phone market grew 6%, while the smart phone market grew over 50%. In Q2, 2013, 76 million PCs were shipped world wide, compared to 432m smart phones and almost double that number of mobile phones, worldwide. Clearly there is a massive shift in the devices people are using, to access information and services. Mobile devices require a different user experience, have a different set of use cases, form factors, operating systems and constraints. This itself requires a significant rethink of how you deliver your digital services.
Even as mobile devices take over from PC’s as the preferred environment, connectivity is changing too. We are now in a world where WiFi is ubiquitous, 3G is also on the verge of being usurped by 4G networks in many parts of the world. The number of internet connected devices surpassed the world’s population in 2010. Fibre to the home is available for millions of clients across the US and UK and Google threatens to reach 8 million households with fibre by 2022. Yet, arguably more important is the availability of the internet outside the house. The mobile internet. As this creates entirely new behaviour patterns.
One such behaviour for example is the “always addressable consumer” (Forrester), which refers to the way in which consumers are always connected and hence reachable, by service providers. But everywhere you look, there are new behaviours, which are becoming mainstream. Checking your bank account on your mobile phone before you shop, checking Facebook first thing in the morning, along with news, checking twitter as a reliable source of breaking news, or comparison shopping using your mobile phone from inside a retail store (otherwise known as showrooming). And it’s increasingly clear that companies have to start equipping themselves for these new behaviours, of customers, employees and all other stakeholders. TruZign tries to take advantage of this by enabling 3 factor authentication for e-commerce transactions using a mobile phone.
One of the biggest changes in the influences of behaviour over the past few years is the role played by social platforms. By providing a ready access to the opinion of crowds, or of our friends and families, we are now making choices in very different ways. I was recently warned off an airline by an overwhelming majority of about 25 responses to a question I posed on Facebook. We are increasingly hearing about how people turn their TV on in response to something they read on a social media platform. People are increasingly exploring platforms like “Kickstarter” rather than a bank loan, to start a business.
Lest we forget, it’s not just people connected to the internet, but machines connecting directly and sharing actionable data, which is happening all around us. Sensors and smart appliances are exponentially increasing the number of connected devices as well as the volume of data. The energy industry is set to be transformed over the next 5 years through a combination of smart grids, smart appliances and the use of sensors through out the supply and consumption chains. Healthcare, too, is likely to look very different over the next decade thanks to the emergence of digital healthcare, and the evolution of streams of medicine such as pharmacogenomics.
All this connectivity, behaviour change and new data is meaningless if it stays as anecdotes, as there are always counter-examples, and individual perceptions about what works or doesn’t. Yet, as our work on Code Halo’s shows, the reason why Blockbuster stumbled while Netflix grows, or why Amazon sprints while Borders stutters, is the ability to make sense of all this new data. Analytics is not new, but the ability to make sense of this deluge of data in a way that is bigger, faster and more meaningful than before is arguably the biggest trigger for digital transformation, as it seeks to reshape how decisions are actually made in your business.
In sum therefore, we have new devices, new connectivity, new behaviours, social influences, machine to machine and internet of things, and finally analytics, as some of the key drivers of digital transformation. They may collectively influence your business in different ways, depending on your industry, business model, legacy challenges, and your vision. There may well be other factors, such as regulatory change and step changes in computing itself, and the whole sale move of computing and data infrastructure to the cloud, which could be additional influences.
Next up: how to deal with digital transformation.
Yesterday, I came across this fascinating story in the Mashable website. Dom Deltorto, a London based Animator loses his laptop but has installed a piece of software which tracks the stolen laptop’s location and secretly takes pictures of whoever is trying to use it. The laptop duly surfaces… in Iran! The camera starts sending pictures of a family in Iran. Not much the original owner can do, so he decides to create a Tumblr called Dom’s Laptop is in Iran. And uploads the pictures coming out of his Macbook onto the Tumblr, which goes viral. You can guess what’s coming! The family in Iran was mortified. They had no idea the Laptop was stolen and worse, pictures of their home and family were all over the internet, the contacted Dom, to return the laptop. Dom, to his credit, was duly embarrassed. He apologised, took down the tumblr and asked the family to keep the laptop.
The comments under the story are as telling as the story itself. There are those who take the stance that Dom was in the wrong all along, by violating somebody’s privacy before establishing the facts. That he should have known that these were not the original culprits who stole the laptop. There are others who take a much more black and white stance that buying goods you know are stolen is a crime and the family should have known. Then there are the mitigators who point out that you can’t get original MacBooks in Iran.
The story also highlights the challenges we face as suddenly a whole new wave of information is made available and the rules around using that information are not yet clearly established. To be clear, this method has been used before for successfully tracking laptop thieves. Only this time, the consequences were far worse for all concerned. As we hurtle into the world of digital transformation, this is an important signpost reminding us to proceed with caution.
Personally speaking I love the impact of technology on our lives. Last week, while walking through Paddington, I saw a KFC sign that reminded me of a Stephen Fry anecdote about Kentucky, which got me thinking about the Kentucky Derby and the Rolling Stones reference in the Dead Flowers song. I found myself humming the song. Got into the train, opened Spotify on my phone and was listening to the song in the next 45 seconds as the train pulled out of the station. This world was unimaginable half a decade ago, and yet now, it’s the new normal.
In fact travelling is probably the most significantly improved experience, thanks to mobile technologies. The application is obvious, the benefits easy to actualise and the number of apps are ever increasing. Google Maps is the worlds most popular mobile API, and that’s for this reason. It’s also the most popular app. I was amazed when I looked for directions to the aquarium in Lisbon and the “bus” icon in google maps told me (quite accurately) that the bus stop was about 200 meters away and that the next bus was in 17 minutes and the journey would take about 30 minutes. I have also used Google Maps to check if I’m on the right bus or train, when I don’t speak the local language. That’s how i discovered I had taken the wrong train trying to get from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, when my blue dot started to move away from the clearly drawn train line connecting the cities!
In the past week I have used Bus TImes, the London bus application to good effect a couple of times, I use the Trainline app often, and Hailo needs no introduction. But also, the Hex (Heathrow Express) app is wonderful for letting me book tickets while I’m walking to the train. And even my local cab company, whom I have been calling regularly on the phone for a few years now, are constantly reminding me to use their app. (I have, it works like a dream). They get it, it’s better for their business as well. I just wish i could combine all of the data I spread across these app experiences and create my own digital trail, to show where I’ve been and what modes of travel i’ve used, say, over the past month.
But it’s not only travel, is it? Look closely at your corner shop. It’s almost a given that they already provide mobile phone top ups, sim cards for operators, and other digital services. There are as many computer and phone repair stores in my locality as there are shoe-repair and key-cutting stores. Digital is now a woven into our daily lives in ways we don’t even notice any more.
The implications of this digital influx are many. They include a trend towards instant gratification, the creation of a very powerful digital trail of data, a re-writing of privacy frameworks and a drastically improved level of personal efficiency. And a marked shift towards the cloud, in ways that we don’t necessarily plan or recognise. I use paid versions of Evernote, Dropbox and Linked In, apart from Spotify. And unpaid versions of Flickr, Youtube, Picasa and others. Effectively a significant part of my life is in the cloud. The most significant implication of this is a reduced dependence on device choices (I get them across all my devices). I do all of this consciously, but there is a generation growing up for whom this is normal and not particularly comment worthy.
Smart businesses are already tapping into this digital lifestyle phenomenon by launching services, many of which are adjacent to their core business, but related to the services they already provide to a consumer. Whether you’re a bank, a utility company or an airline, this is something worth thinking about, because it creates a new layer of engagement, new routes to customer value and in the best case, new revenues. British Gas’s investment into AlertMe, which among other things delivers smart data, is a very good example of this, or at least a step in the right direction. The New York Times’ innovation lab generates a spectrum of digital innovation ideas, not all of which are to do with traditional journalism. The disconcerting thing is actually, the number of businesses who are ignoring this.
Yesterday, I caught up with Anu, who is in her 20s. Earlier in the day she was having a meal with a couple of friends who she has previously only met digitally, but has collaborated on a paper with one of them. This was the first face to face meeting, as one of them hails from a scandinavian country, and Anu now lives in Mumbai. Their meeting was in central London. Later this month, Anu is travelling to Germany, to spend a week with a lady who is her mother’s pen-friend for over 30 years. Think about this inter-generational bookending of relationships. Have we really changed all that much? Or is it just that our tools of engagement have morphed?
Irrespective of whether we have changed as people, it’s abundantly clear that our behaviours and tools are changing. If you’re a business serving consumers today, you have a digital transformation challenge on your hands. A key to this is to get your digital transformation initiative out of the boardroom, into the streets and lives of the people you’re serving. And to watch out for those cultural signposts, the points of inflexion and the white spaces that open up along the way.