Spending one year in a PhD program gets you on that rollercoaster ride. What excited me about the PhD was the deep engagement with a topic I truly feel passionate about – digital transformation. A word so powerful, a phenomenon everyone seems to talk about these days. From success fairy tales to failure stories, I have come to wonder why is digital transformation still such a mammoth project? Technologies are ubiquitous, smartphones an extension of ourselves. Yet, the prospects seem brighter than the actual results.

In a Forbes article this year, Dr. Corrie Block asked a provocative question:

“If you were to go in for heart surgery, buy a new car or say your wedding vows to someone knowing that there was an 84% chance of failure… would you even bother?”

84% – that is the estimated risk of failure in digital transformation. And, according to the article, there are twelve reasons for it. Including e.g., lack of awareness within the organisation, micromanagement/mismanagement of agile teams, inability to translate into executive language, lack of training for internal users, loss of talent to competitors, resistance for fear of being replaced (full list here).

Two million years ago humans started to use stone tools just as we use technologies to enhance our daily lives today. While the tools change one factor remains: the human being at the other end of the tool. Today we not only use tools at home, but they have become embedded into organisational structures. However, most reasons why digital transformation fails has to do with our dealing with technology, may it be lack of skills or fear of replacement. Technology has undoubtedly become increasingly complex. And while a stone tool could help prepare food, an artificially intelligent chatbot erases another human on the other end.

Photo by Josh Calabrese: Unsplash

But humans are made of emotions; According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, human beings have, next to a physiological one, a need for self-actualisation, esteem, love and belonging, as well as safety. While technology can provide increased safety, connection to loved ones or a motivating quote notification per day, it is still just a tool. The study of human computer interaction goes back a few decades, trying to best design interactions of the two. But what do we still need in order to reduce risk of failure and design efficient workplaces where intelligent machines can support human capabilities? The 12 listed reasons provide a good indication of what to avoid and what to leverage in order to succeed. Further expanding on this – digital transformation efforts are human efforts. We have to fully understand the intersection of human and technology to work out the best solutions by respecting human individuality and technology potential while upscaling organisational efficiency.

Despite all the merging of business and technology roles, perhaps not everyone will be a good data analyst and not everyone will be a good communicator. People will shine at what they are good at, and, across disciplines, we should be able to develop and provide clear pathways that exploit technological accuracy ingeniously combined with human wit. Because otherwise… why even bother…?

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