Technology has the potential to expand work possibilities, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of people’s experience and privacy.
So, how can organisations leverage it to envision a better future for individuals, businesses, and the larger society - within these parameters?
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Sanjay Menon, managing director, Publicis Sapient India talks about a human-centered approach to building a technology roadmap that works for everyone, and building digital resilience with a cyber-secure infrastructure.
Here are edited excerpts:
‘The easier way to understand transformation is to understand what it's not’
The word that really sticks out for me in digital transformation is ‘transformation’.
What makes it exciting is that it's a step change. For me, the easier way to understand transformation is to first understand what it's not. Because otherwise, everybody feels everything's transformation. When I look around, I see that a lot of businesses today are still investing in becoming more efficient. Now that’s more digitisation than digital transformation.
I really like this quote by Principal Research Scientist George Westerman of the MIT Sloan Initiative on Digital Economy. Loosely paraphrased, it holds that digital transformation is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly and digitisation is only a faster caterpillar.
One way companies approach digital transformation is by looking at their existing setup and then wanting to bring technology or digital processes into play to make it more efficient.
But I strongly feel that digital transformation is not a one and done exercise. Rather, it’s about looking at the business holistically, taking a step back, and then trying to reimagine its relevance in the future. In doing that, companies need to examine every aspect of their business, from business model to structure to systems process that they think is going to be future-fit and they should be ready to relook all of these.
Having said that, I also feel, as companies go through this entire process of transformation, they are going to need able partners who can actually help them make that journey, and not just help them dream a dream. The partner needs to be able to bring the synthesis of SPEED (Strategy, Product, Experience, Engineering and Data) perspective to help frame and enable the transformation.
To me, ambition is only 20% of the journey. 80% is the hard work you need to go through, to actually make your ambition real. What we see today is, there's no dearth of ambition, but a lot of people struggle with getting to that ambition and staying there.
In that context, transformation is more of a journey where people have to just build the muscle of continually looking at themselves. They need to keep asking themselves, how can I be different? How can I pivot? Where is the opportunity? Where is the friction with consumers, and then, how do I make a competitive differentiation out of that?
‘Transformation is as relevant for people as it is for businesses’
What also excites me about transformation is that it is as relevant for people – an aspect not talked about as much.
As part of their digital business transformation efforts, every business has the opportunity to reimagine itself. But at the same time, people will also have to reimagine themselves. The way I see it, professions that were earlier very linear careers of 25-30 years are now going to be short loops of three to five years. People will have to reinvent themselves every three to five years to be relevant.
In people, the transformation is more about learnability…how will I learn, apply and unlearn, and how will I go through those loops.
Balancing technology and human touch
I think technology is the greatest enabler that's ever existed for mankind. Of course, it makes our dreams real, but it’s never the end, it's only a means to the end.
The end is invariably related to human ambition. So the human element is always about how to leverage technology in the most meaningful way, and yearning for something more that technology could do. That’s what creates the whole impetus for change. Hence, I strongly believe that the human element can never go away.
Today’s workplace is primarily in the service of creating an ecosystem of human capabilities and digital capabilities as well, that can come together to create value. Tech will continue to make new possibilities happen. To draw an analogy, it’s a bit like salt. It's essential, there's no dish without it, but it's never the dish itself. That's the role technology plays.
As organisations, we must ensure that the human element isn’t relegated to the background. As long as human beings are in play, the human element of how people connect, and why they connect, is here to stay. Technology just makes it easier to connect. Take for example, all the collaboration tools that we have. They help people connect, to share their ideas and perspectives; but the tool by itself is of no value. It's what people do with the tool that makes it valuable.
I am super excited about Metaverse at work. Today, we operate in a very binary state, either in person or fully virtual. Those are the bookends. There's a huge possibility now to join this and truly make it a continuum. If you could digitally be in a physical workplace, it's creating this more immersive experience in between which opens up so many more possibilities.
But again, we are doing that so people can connect with each other in a more meaningful way.
‘Scaling up virtually is not the same as building an organisation virtually’
Let’s not confuse the two. It’s one thing to scale virtually and an entirely different thing to build an organisation virtually. The difference is, you can add more people, but how do you truly get a sense of an organisation virtually, which is your culture of belongingness? Again, technology can play a role there, but you cannot take away the human element. Today, I see this as one area most companies are struggling with.
How people associate with values has nothing to do with technology. But one can figure out different ways and mediums through which they can connect and understand what's the common set of values that binds them.
As people, we only build a sense of connection of belongingness to places that we resonate with, who we are and technology can enable that, but it will never go away. I feel, the minute we are more excited about technology, we're going to get into a trap. Because then it becomes technology just for technology's sake, rather than technology’s success criteria which are furthering the connection.
Checklist to keep in mind when shortlisting a new technology
As an organisation, when we look at any of our technology investments, the first thing we look at is the outcome – what it helps us achieve. For example, if there's a rewards and recognitions tool or a referral tool that helps people get a better sense and experience of using it, the organisation should go for it. But if it's just a cool tool, more of a gimmick, and doesn't achieve anything related to value, to me, it’s not worth it.
The key thing to look at when shortlisting a new technology is its flexibility, because there are some tools that may only work in the virtual world. People keep forgetting we are operating in a hybrid model and the complexity is in between. What do you do when some of the people are in the office and others join virtually? Hence, the tools that you have, or any tools you look at, must have the ability to work across platforms. Because there are a lot of tools that are very predicated on everybody being virtual. It's human propensity that the minute a few of us are together and the rest of us are virtual, the ones who are together, start to form their own context.
Secondly, we should look at how much asynchronous collaboration the tool allows. A bunch of platforms today offer the ability for you to record. That means not everybody can be in the same context together. How do you bring them into the center of the context? Everybody can be consuming the same content at a different point in time, and then coming up to speed together. How can the two tools enable asynchronous working? The flexibility most people are seeking today is to be able to work asynchronously. All of us don't have to work at the same time, on the same thing, or even operate in the same context.
Therefore, the most core thing is obviously the usability (how easy it is to use) and how secure it is. If we look at all of our tools today, people are logging into their homes as users, which increases the risk of your last mile security. How that technology works from a security standpoint, and how the organisations administer it in a more distributed manner should be looked at.
Another aspect is a tool’s ability to provide data on its effectiveness, and therefore, help evolve. Tools that do not have intelligence about its usage that can be leveraged, are tools that are very difficult for you to evolve. To me, technology, which is informing me and creating the intelligence is far more potent tech than the tech which is just in use. So there needs to be this whole loop of ‘I use it, I leverage it, and how do I learn from it so that it also helps me evolve.’
The era for servant leadership
I think the most real change is when you see it happen for yourself. As an organisation, we framed our entire move to hybrid really well. That’s when we said, we want the model to work for people, we don't want people to work for the model.
That meant truly putting people at the center of how they should work. We’ll get everything else to be almost a servant leadership to work in the context of that.
The era for servant leadership is even bigger than it ever was. Because at the end of the day, you’re truly enabling people who have belief, capability and their own choice of how they want to create.
Leaders must see themselves as architects of ecosystems that will help people thrive, and create maximum impact, rather than the ones who are actually telling people how to create impact. And I think that’s just a difference in orientation.