Digital transformation: ‘technology first’ vs ‘people first’

By Paddy Smith
It’s the new VHS vs Betamax. PC vs Mac. And a shift in how companies think about digital transformation is in the air...

Digital transformation is a leading phrase. The mind is drawn to digitalisation and data, and the technology that has made it possible to mine ever deeper into corporate models in the name of efficiency and profit. But change is coming to the mindset of CTOs.

What’s ‘technology first’ digital transformation?

It’s the shiny. You hold out the new technology, tell people what it can do and the CTO clamours to hold it aloft at the next board meeting promising everyone it will change the course of history. Then everyone desperately works to integrate the technology into the business. It’s digital interference, not digital transformation.

Why are attitudes changing?

Because everyone has had enough of bad implementations that don’t help the company. On paper, a feature may look nice to have, but without the employees being invested in the change, integration tends to be clunky and often much of the functionality of Technology X is ignored.

Hence ‘people first’ digital transformation

Correct. This is about getting people to sign up to a digital transformation. The technology, while important, is secondary. You work on the basis that whatever you want to do will be technologically possible, and concentrate on working out what you want to do, not what you could do with the available resources.

What’s caused the shift?

Capability. The luxury of assuming there will be technology capable of doing what you need it to is new. In fact, the technology may not exist even now. But a fulcrum point has been passed where most technologists think you’re better off planning with the assumption of ‘can do’ than ‘what’s available?’

Bring on Industry 4.0?

It’s been talked about for a long time, but this finally feels like a sustainable direction of travel.

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