The concept of digital transformation has been around for a couple of decades. Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated many plans, or lack of plans towards digital transformation.

If we’re honest, society and organisations have been dragging their feet on genuine digital transformation for as long as the idea has been around. Simple ideas like paper free offices are still a long way from reality - even though we’ve had the required technology for decades.

Today I want to talk about some common pitfalls around digital transformation and why the human factor is so much more important than the technology.


Digitisation vs Digital Transformation

There is a misconception that confuses digitisation with digital transformation. An example of digitisation is everyone’s favourite experience - filling in forms. 

Centuries of pens and paper has resulted in forms being front and centre for many processes. You know the drill - answer lots of questions by awkwardly writing your answers in tiny boxes. It’s hard to know how much information entered into forms is never used - but it’s fair to say forms represent a colossal waste of human time and energy. As a user experience they’re mostly unpleasant, as a tool for data capture they’re hopelessly inefficient.

With the advent of digital technology many forms have been digitised. Now we can type our answers into boxes and the end data is in a lot more usable format. But for many organisations that’s as far as it’s gone.

Rather than turning a paper form into an electronic form the question needs to be asked - what are we trying to achieve with this process? It may be that half the fields are unnecessary as the information can be easily gathered elsewhere, it may be you don’t need a form at all.

As an example if I’m going through the process of insuring my car why do I need to fill in a form with the details of my car when current technology can identify the vehicle via a smartphone camera and retrieve all the necessary information automatically. Almost everyone has a smartphone, so why not make it easier? Hat tip to Kent Fergusson who did a proof of concept on this approach - you can read his musings here.

Rather than just adding technology over the top of a manual process look at the process as a whole to identify where digital can offer a better user experience.


Putting Systems Before People

We have an unfortunate habit of treating our systems as sacrosanct. The system becomes the unassailable constant which everything needs to be built around.

From my experience this system first approach is often driven by certain people in an organisation. They are the gatekeepers of the system - they may have been involved in its development, they may have a level of ownership/control, or they may just believe in “the system”.

The result of this approach normally results in a suboptimal user experience as human beings have to jump through hoops to meet expectations set by a system that is supposed to be serving them. Putting the system first ends up with digital transformation that results in using technology to force people to appease a human unfriendly system, like some sort of eldritch religion.

I should stress that systems aren’t necessarily technology based. We have legal systems and bureaucratic systems that can be just as vexing. 

An example of this that I’ve come across was from my work in local government communications. A council staff member was adamant that communicating plan changes should be written as a legal notice: “Pursuant to the Rabbit Husbandry Act of 1909 members of the public should forthwith refrain from…” In the end we “fixed” this by summarising the notice in plain English and then attaching the full legal wording to accompany it.


Digital Transformation with Humanity

Any transformation needs to look at the big picture - what is the audience/ purpose/ goals of the process you are transforming? How much of the process can be stripped back? How can we improve the user experience?

Broadly there are two philosophies in play at the moment: using technology as an enabler or technology as control.

From my view technology should exist to make our lives easier. We can’t let ourselves be slaves to systems without challenging why the system works the way it does.

As the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates digital transformation we’ve got an excellent opportunity to put humanity first. Let’s not screw it up.


Banner Photo by                                                       Kelly Sikkema

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