Digital Transformation is NOT the answer to Improved Productivity

Published on: 23/11/2017

Over the last two weeks "productivity" - or the lack thereof - has been headline news in the UK, with emphasis on better use of (software) technology! But what does this mean?

As I trundle out of London Waterloo Station, peering through the eye-level office windows, full of young people staring at screens I wonder exactly how much more technology could we use to become "productive"? It's already everywhere and being used all the time!! So what’s going on with Productivity?

Well, the problem is, let’s be honest, the software itself. If I had a pound for every hour I had to wait for a slow program, a reboot, an update, technical support(!), learn a new interface, upgrade, re-connect, re-install … I’d be a rich man, with fewer grey hairs and less of a foul mouth!

And how many times have we seen corporate systems rolled out with “teething problems”, training requirements, service level agreements, support forums … all of which tail-off, leaving us with a system we have to use but would rather not! Systems that just seem to be there for their own purpose. (I even have personal experience of two ERP systems that broke companies).

So much time and money spent changing working practices to suit software services. So much for people to learn and adapt to, just to stand still.

We all know this diminishes, NOT improves our productivity.

I’m no Luddite - change is a good thing ... obviously! We all have to change, we want to innovate, we must react to competition, we need to adapt to regulation. We can’t get better if we don’t change. We can’t improve Productivity!

So the key question, therefore, is "will Digital Transformation necessarily improve Productivity?"

If you accept that change is essential to improve productivity, be aware that software systems intrinsically deter change. Here are a few of the barriers they present;

  1. The capability of the software system to be changed
  2. The ability of the software guys to deliver change
  3. The cost of changing the software
  4. The ability of users to comprehend that change is even possible!
  5. The “do as your told” culture that grows up around a software system

... never mind the pragmatic aspects of making software changes or the natural human reluctance to change in the first place.

Digital Transformation should improve an organisations productivity in the short term - surely that was why it was commissioned in the first place? But soon, in the relatively near future, productivity will be diminished as further change is virtually impossible.

Organisations must recognise that it is the creativity and innovation of employees that transforms existing products, services and businesses. Bolting employees to the framework of a Digital Transformation system is most likely to stifle that creativity – the initiator of change and getting better.
So the biggest Risk you face with Digital Transformation is strangling the organisations ability to change!

Whilst (still!) trundling out of Waterloo station I pondered a paper by 451 Research that provides an overview of the risks perceived by a sampled 1,400 enterprises around the globe. It offers an insight into risks that organisations perceive must be addressed when considering a Digital Transformation project;

  • Secure customer data
  • Meet privacy requirements
  • Adherence to regulatory obligations
  • Ensure business continuity and systems availability (e.g. minimize downtime)
  • Secure internal data
  • Avoid denial of service and other forms of online attack
  • More proactive risk mitigation (e.g. ensure necessary resources and skills)
  • Prevent reputational damage / corporate liability

So the Risk of “Stifling Change” is not even on the organisations horizon when considering Digital Transformation! No wonder the outcome is diminishing Productivity!

Maybe my analysis is wrong? However, as my train arrives back in Portsmouth, I’m drawn to the comparison of Digital Systems and railway tracks - great for going from London to Portsmouth quickly and efficiently - productively. But can’t be changed! It’s my good fortune that I work in Portsmouth (the UKs best city!) because if I worked elsewhere I’d be less Productive!