25.05.2021

Digitalisation - friend or foe in organisations?

image of artificial intelligence

Digitalisation has become ubiquitous in recent years and most organisations are affected by this development. Due to the pandemic many people were and are busy implementing digital changes or are confronted with their effects. But what are we actually talking about?

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What is it?

I have participated in several webinars and discussion groups on this topic in the recent past, one element is omnipresent: there is no common understanding of what digitalisation actually is and what it means. It starts at the point where paper is replaced by electronic versions and goes to the other extreme of fully automated fantasies, where AI largely replaces humans.

In the context of an organisation it is good to start by defining how digitisation is perceived internally (there are benchmarks and scales that help to define this and to understand where you actually stand).

 

Why bother?

The second and probably more relevant question is why it really makes sense to tackle it. For decades, cohorts of consultants have been selling new tools, giving nice presentations or use cases and offering to design the perfect digital solution. 

But that is not what digitisation is about - it is not an end in itself, but a means. Professional storytelling is easily distracting and has led many organisations to buy another nice toy (sorry - tool, of course), which then slowly sank into insignificance.

Reality likes to kick in at some stage showing that a supposed solution turns out to be unsuitable for the business model and the really relevant goals. Perhaps a new tool is also closely tied to a sponsor and is forgotten when the sponsor changes job.

Very central: Digital solutions must follow both the purpose and the process, not the other way around.

This means that clarity is needed - what are the tasks, what are the goals and what is the context? These questions should be answered clearly. Only then does the question arise as to the exact areas and extent to which digitisation makes sense.

This is a key pre-condition for digitisation to be a strong ally to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations.

 

Critical success factors

Ideally, digitisation contributes to transforming operational functions and processes to another level (= the one needed in the future). It can act as a catalyst for this significant change. However, I do not see it as a single solution or an isolated undertaking. Successful change is not limited to IT systems and tools, but requires a holistic approach.

I see the following elements as crucial for success:

  • Clarity about purpose and value drivers that speak for change
  • Viable processes in a holistic context - consistent and well networked
  • Adequate analogue skills in the organisation (i.e. employees) to take advantage from the digital solutions
  • New way of working together, supported by digital success stories

I do not want to generalise the degree of meaningful digitisation - while for one organisation a rudimentary approach may be sufficient, for another it may be best to digitise its activities completely.

Digitisation has many components and has a multi-layered effect - also on the people in an organisation, on their interaction and the way decisions are made: more about this another time.