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Why you Should Put People Before Technology

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on March 11, 2019 by Karen Bader

Put people first.

If there’s one thing we learned over the course of our IEF dinner in Halifax, that would be it. As part of our ongoing series into the what’s new in IT, we invited IT professionals from Nova Scotia’s capital to discuss where they’re at, where they see things going, and what they should be focussing on in 2019. 

In a nutshell, what we heard was that it’s no longer good enough for the C-suite to dictate the terms of Digital Transformation, and expect everyone from customers to employees to follow suit. Instead, a people-centric approach is critical, especially when management is comprised of digital “non-natives”.  Here’s what we learned:

Disruption is coming

Sure, disruption is the buzzword on everyone’s lips, but for good reason. With paradigm shifts occurring throughout the business world, UBER or Netflix being some high profile examples, companies need to look at their own business models and ask how they can position themselves for the future. IT needs to build out business plans that put the customer first, not the other way around. Then, those plans need to be sold to the executive team in a way that can really drive change.

“Companies have business models structured on certain methodologies that are becoming obsolete,” one attendee said. “The question is, how do you bring a business position to an executive team to get them to understand the benefit of what you’re proposing? It requires a lot of lobbying, mentoring…all of it has to be put into a business case so they can transition with you.”

Civilians want to be part of the transformation process

Another aspect of Digital Transformation that seems to be making waves, is the idea that when end-user insight is baked in early, adoption and meaningful use of technology can be more easily accomplished. Over the evening, we heard a few great examples. These included:

  1. Municipal government: A great example of people-centric Digital Transformation was highlighted by an attendee who discussed the Canadian government’s Smart City challenge. For municipalities seeking to transform their city, to be something for everyone, what’s the approach? For Halifax, the answer was investing in understanding the day-to-day reality of a citizen with physical disabilities. The result was an app that could be used to design an app to open doors.
  1. Higher education: Another attendee, working in the education space, noted that traditionally, higher education institutions have taken a take-it-or-leave-it approach to their student offering. However, a younger generation of students accustomed to on-demand everything, are now expecting the same streamlined experience they’d expect from Netflix, from their universities and colleges. Again, selling change up the ladder isn’t always easy. As an attendee in the sector explained:

“The world is changing, and we have to communicate that. As IT leaders, people who understand that change the best, we have to interact with academics and administrators to communicate the message of change for the benefit of the institution. We have to ask, what if we didn’t constrain ourselves in thinking about education. What if students drove all things from an on-demand perspective, from schedules to content?”

It goes without saying (in our opinion), that customer-first approaches mentioned above, will have net positive effects for all sorts of companies making Digital Transformation, not just governments and higher institution.

The benefit of sharing the wins

Productivity also factored into our Halifax discussion – how to make people more productive, and get them to perform at the top of their game. One dinner attendee gave a great example of how to do this – we’ll call it, “sharing the wins“. His example, related to the airline sector involved tying all measures to business outcomes.

“We’ve made some productivity tools, where we’ve improved the engagement,” he said. “We have measurements by task, but individual, by day, by aircraft. We use it as a proxy for measuring activity. So, in the end, you get more throughput for the same resources.”

When teams achieve business outcomes, the whole team can share the win. The more wins shared, the more people feel motivated, the faster the business moves ahead.

Don’t sleep on Blockchain

Over the course of our discussion, we heard about potential blockchain applications for everything from “Smart Contracts” for leasing companies, to managing education credentials and transcripts to food security and traceability.

The same dinner attendee from the airline industry noted the massive potential of smart contracts, saying: “Smart contracts could be a huge benefit to us. For example, to lease an airplane, smart contracts would be phenomenal.  If we could find an entry point for smart contracts using a blockchain algorithm, we could change the game in the business around aircraft leasing.”

Another attendee from the seafood industry noted that blockchain showed great potential for his sector – a notable development on Canada’s east coast. The example he cited was IBM’s Food Trust. Again, a people-first approach can pave the way. i.e. What do people want? Safe food products. From the consumer’s POV, the actual technology used to deliver safe food products is less important than the end product.

Final Thoughts

Digital Transformation continues in all sectors, it’s becoming increasingly clear that people, not technology needs to be the driver of change, especially as a younger generation enters the workforce. As an attendee pointed out, young people need to understand “what’s the point?” when it comes to the companies they work for. By putting people first, the point becomes clearer – improving our world, one IT upgrade at a time.

In summation:

  • IT leaders need to take a people-first approach
  • Include end-users in the discovery phase
  • Give employees a reason to believe

Ready to join the discussion? Apply to become a member.

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