Making Digitization More Human


While technical in nature, the success of a digital transformation hinges on meeting human needs. 

Digitization and digital businesses are revolutionizing business-as-usual. We see ambitious and disruptive digital journeys playing out in new ways each day. As companies introduce digital customer service; as they transform logistics; as they commoditize what was previously specialized, they must do so with their key employees, leadership and customers at the heart of everything they do. Failure to do so will have a negative effect on productivity and profits for years to come.

Focusing on people, and in particular consideration for human nature, are the only way to both deliver a sustainable digital transformation and then to succeed as a digital business.

Being a digital business is not just an IT issue. Instead it is a very human one, requiring new ways of working, with solutions that have teams and organizations working across or tearing down traditional company hierarchies and silos, pushing and sharing data like never before. Focusing on people, and in particular consideration for human nature, are the only way to both deliver a sustainable digital transformation and then to succeed as a digital business.

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A digitally transformed business is more aligned with human nature:

  1. People: Digital transformation allows companies to enable their workforce and customer base. Everything from decision-making to product development is democratized, with more social involvement and interaction between employees and customers.
  2. Process: Digitization reduces governance and empowers people to do things in their own way.
  3. Technology: Digital tools fundamentally improve how humans work, freeing up capacity for creativity and purpose.

Similarly, a digital transformation – the approach a business takes to become a digital organization – should be delivered through a human-first viewpoint in order to streamline and simplify decision- making. As opposed to starting with technological capabilities or goals, companies that start with a clear customer- and employee-oriented vision are able to more effectively connect the technologies that will deliver on that vision.

As digitization begins to take form, organizations must keep certain absolutes of human nature at the forefront of planning and execution. Borrowing from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, digital leaders can design for a digital transformation that is more likely to be sustainable and successful in its ability to simultaneously enrich human lives.

  •  Safety from information overload. We can only absorb and manage so much information, and we’re already threatened by 24/7 access and an information onslaught outside the workplace. Digitization efforts should be designed to prevent information overload, providing the mechanisms for quickly processing, comparing and evaluating information sources. Those mechanisms should go on to associate information with related sets of information, and offer direct and simple ways to put that information into functional action.
  • Belongingness. Too often departments and functions operate like players in an elite chess tournament, with defense and counterattacks designed as central gambits. It is the very opposite of belonging when departments are in different buildings and under different budgets despite having similar needs for technology and solutions.

When an organization has been digitally transformed, a team centered on developing an application has all of the skills it needs within a single team – marketing, development, design and more – and all of the members are singularly focused on taking that application to market. Digital leaders must understand that this real belongingness is a substantive and valuable digitization end-goal. Leadership backing and confidence in this end-goal is absolutely required, as is a clear understanding of their new roles in a digitally transforming organization – that of facilitating, supporting and delegating responsibility. 
  • Esteem. Even as digital transformation is naturally totalizing, bringing the community together, the roles of individuals are up-leveled in a system that allows for greater autonomy and self-governing. In a digital environment, individuals are able to apply Agile methodologies to work when, where and how they are more effective.
Organizations big and small are adopting Agile ways of working that extend well beyond software development. In 2011, Ericsson moved the unit that manages more than 40 percent of the world’s mobile phone traffic into an Agile delivery model. The unit, made up of thousands of employees, is broken up into over 100 small teams working against direct customer needs in three-week cycles. As a result, Ericsson reports it is deploying solutions one to two years earlier than it was prior to adopting Agile. With similar ambitions, Barclays, the 326-year-old Transatlantic bank with around 130,000 employees, is now organized into more than 800 teams as part of an organization-wide Agile transformation aimed at delivering instant, frictionless customer value at scale.[1]
  • Self-Actualization. In a presentation filmed in 1980, a young Steve Jobs explains technology in the context of "building tools that amplify a human ability." Instead of replacing human functions, digitization efforts should first automate the non-human ones, creating space for empathy, creativity, judgement and critical thinking.
The concept of engaging with employees and customers at a human level is taking root at the bleeding edge of industry innovation today, with some of the world’s most influential Human Experience projects being pioneered by North Highland’s own design firm, Sparks Grove. And as digitization more firmly takes hold, companies must focus on what really makes humans human in order to create the environments that motivate them to work and engage.

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An increasingly automated, even robotized, workforce may be our future. But today, and as we look to the near future, humans, and consideration for human nature, are integral to successful business. An emergence of technology does not downplay our role as humans. It does, however, redefine it and forces companies to be more human: in their purview, their decision-making and their long-term forecasting.

An increasingly automated, even robotized, workforce may be our future. But today, and as we look to the near future, humans, and consideration for human nature, are integral to successful business.

Taking a human approach to digitization is the difference between doing digital and being digital. Ultimately, being digital is the only sustainable, successful option. And ultimately, being digital is more human than we ever expected.


[1] “Can Big Organizations Be Agile?”, Forbes, Nov. 26, 2016

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