Digital transformation, the trend and buzzword is more than meets the eye and its understanding is continuously evolving. Digital transformation is often thought about as innovative digital technologies and cutting-edge solutions with the potential of changing businesses, sectors, and even beyond, our very lives forever. In the past few years, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, robotics, and other technologies have revolutionized business models and significantly influenced markets in ways never remotely considered.

The Marie-Skłodowska Curie Action – ITN funded EINST4INE project aims at uncovering the potential of sustainable digital transformation for industrial advancement and has a particular focus on the human side of digital transformation, with emphasis on new skills, competencies, capabilities and novel ways of working arising from the increased human-machine interaction.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to accelerate the digital transformation, pushing companies to transform and adapt to the new normal. It was a case of “survival of the fittest”.

“Activities that were previously deemed to require face-to-face interactions have been delivered in an exclusively virtual mode for nearly two years now. Interestingly, that transition occurred with limited, if any, perceived productivity losses.”

Explained professor Anne-Laure Mention, Director of the Global Business Innovation Enabling Capability Platform (GBI-ECP) and a (full) Professor of Management at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, as well as a supervisor and the academic lead of the EINST4INE project.

Digital products and services that once seemed decades away or working-from-home arrangements that were only the privilege of a chosen few in the pre-pandemic age are now the new normal. Yet, as research shows, despite a few changes here and there in the way employees work and interact, transformation has only been achieved for merely 35 percent of firms, according to a recent study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG). This prompts the question, why does a colossal undertaking such as organizational digital transformation have such a high rate of failure?

“Digital technologies have become more pervasive than ever in our daily lives – whether they are supporting the development of cutting-edge healthcare innovations shaping our early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, empowering us to do our daily jobs, or dreaming of currently inaccessible journeys and discoveries. It also informs us on the wealth of opportunities that can be unlocked through these technologies, and to a lesser extent, on their impact on us, as human beings – and on the value(s) of diversity, inclusion, as well as on the experiences we draw and build from human-to-human interactions and their richness,” – Mention added.

Surprisingly, even though there is more and more focus on digital transformation research, not much has been said on how employees’ needs and expectations change with the digitalization of workplaces.

Once the technology part of the equation is removed, the answer might be found in the unpredictable element, the people and culture dimensions.

Successful digital transformation starts with humans — technology comes later

Digital transformation offers a great opportunity for organizations to start anew and fundamentally change business-as-usual. However, if that change is not met with an inclusive workplace and future-proof skills to manage the transformation enthusiasm, it might lead most organizations to fall into the 70% predicament.

Digital transformation

Transforming an organization only through technology would be fruitless if the transformation is not taking into consideration the needs and demands of employees and customers.

Vivian Marcelino is one of the 15 early-stage researchers of the EINST4INE program, focusing on the ‘Future skills and competencies of employees dealing with the management of digital transformation’ that aims at exploring new ways of working within and across organizational networks. Part of Marcelino’s research focus is exploring behavioral aspects of employees affected by digital transformation and the interplay between humans and enabling technologies.

“As a practitioner, I was often involved in initiatives to develop digital innovation and faced the very human challenges of digital transformation. Looking for support, while there was much around strategy, technology, leadership, I missed the actionable research-based insights at the operational, individual and team levels. I wanted to generate research that could be truly helpful for practitioners and could support organizations to be better prepared for digital transformation,”- ellaborated Marcelino.

Starting with people, their goals and pain points, and the context of their interactions within and across organisations means that solutions are targeting meaningful outcomes, not just new technology. Transformation programs are critical for an organisation’s present and future. But in order to gain the most value from these large, resource-intensive initiatives, companies must follow a user-centered process. Human-centric digital transformation strategies, after all, can break down internal silos, focus on and leverage the human capital, and ensure systems are aligned to strategic goals and widely used across the board.

“Research on the human side of digital transformation is at an exciting stage. In my research project, I am exploring more about how digital transformation leads employees to assume roles that were traditionally outside of their functions, how organizational members cope with the implementation of digital transformation and the way their responses shape digital transformation in return. Individual’s skills, competencies, as well as personal perspectives fundamentally shape how they approach digital transformation, and I am excited to explore that as I go more in-depth in my investigation.” -she adds.

Human-centric digital transformation challenging business as usual

EINST4INE’s research also explores the strategies, models, and practices that may facilitate the development of human-centric approaches to digital transformation. The behavioral changes which have been recently attributed to digital transformation have also been observed in recruitment processes such as candidate screening and selection, where automation and the introduction of AI in scanning CVs have been used to counter unconscious bias related to gender, nationality, ageism, and diversity. Digital transformation has made it possible to have entirely virtual job application processes, facilitated significantly by social media platforms such as LinkedIn or video communications apps such as Zoom. This has contributed to globalizing the job market and moved the job-hunting process from the office of the prospective employer to having psychometric testing, digital interviews, and gamified assessments completely online, in the comfort of one’s home or favorite coffee shop.

Social robots and mobile telepresence robots are being designed to work jointly and for humans. Credit: Tara Winstead for Pexels.

Dr. Sladjana Nørskov, Associate Professor at the Department of Business Development and Technology at Aarhus University, argues that AI and robotics provide for a complementary rather than a substitute approach to the applicant selection process.

“The increasingly digital nature of recruitment and selection is both due to the advancement and availability of technologies that support this trend, but also to the openness of the job market. In such a market, the volume of applications and the fast turnaround needed to meet the growing demand for skilled labor make it difficult to keep the recruitment and selection processes entirely human. Social robotics and AI have the potential to make these processes not only faster but also fairer. Despite the probable cost and time benefits related to automating recruitment and selection, research shows that the promise of such technologies relies heavily on the ability to design and develop human-centric technologies that are aligned with human values. For instance, our recent research on robot-mediation in job interviews showed that human resource professionals and jobseekers have diverging views of what they consider to be a fair procedure, and highlighted how new technologies may trigger ethical dilemmas as practitioners try to meet profit goals,” – she explained.

In addition, Nørskov is working with EINST4INE Ph.D. student Alejandra Rojas, in illuminating the dynamics of robotics and human-machine interface across various organizations and sectors. Rojas’s project explores the ‘Embodied presence of remote employees in collaborative teams: The use of mobile telepresence robots’, and aims at providing a human-centered approach in designing mobile telepresence robots to help decision making, provide a better team environment and effective team collaboration.

“New robotic technologies, such as mobile telepresence robots (MTRs), are changing organizational dynamics, work practices and processes, occupations, and challenging the psycho-social contingencies in the workplace. The skills and knowledge needed for implementing such technologies are also triggering a change in operational and value creation logic. People have new tools and artifacts to work with and this results in new ways of creating value in our daily life. New activities come with new responsibilities that naturally change the roles at work. Role reconfiguration brings challenges related to interconnected aspects such as work coordination, learning processes and occupational boundary relations that may impact the stakeholders’ physical, mental and social wellbeing. This is why we need a better understanding of social robots, such as MTRs, and their organizational, managerial as well as psycho-social and socio-cultural effects in different organizational contexts,” – concluded Rojas.

Related publications

  1. ‘The Era of Digital Enablement:  A Blessing or a Curse?’ by Anne-Laure Mention, Marko Torkkeli and João José Pinto Ferreira. Link to view publication:
  2. ‘Social Robots and Recognition’ by Marco Nørskov & Sladjana Nørskov. Link to view publication:
  3. ‘Unbundling the Human Element in Open Innovation: Views, Arguments and Perspectives’ by Dimitrios Salampasis & Anne-Laure Mention. Link to the full publication:
  4. ‘Employers’ and applicants’ fairness perceptions in job interviews: Using a teleoperated robot as a fair proxy’ by  Sladjana Nørskov, M. F. Damholdt, et al (currently in press).


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 956745.

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