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How a digital mindset will help you shape the future of work

Feb 19, 2020

BY KEVIN EMPEY

“Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company.” Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft.

Satya Nadella’s quote talks directly to how we see business change today.

The opportunity

The possibilities and potential being presented by technology are increasing at an exponential rate. It’s not just about what the internet or increased mobile connectivity can do to improve a business’s commercial relationship with its customers. It’s also about what multiple, converging technologies – from drones and 3D printing to robotics and blockchain – can do to change the future of the business itself, and the workplace. Whether your objective is revenue growth, cost reduction, worker efficiency or industry disruption, innovation and digital change are impacting on every sector.

And Ireland is boxing above its weight. Take Ireland-based success stories such as Ryanair’s international leadership in online and ticketless travel in the 1990s and more recent examples such as Stripe and Cartrawler competing on the global stage. Or global technology companies choosing Ireland as a location due to the availability of talent and a supportive business environment. For our size, we have an impressive story to tell and a technology ecosystem that can help other Irish companies stay ahead into the future.

The problem

However, a challenge we often see in traditional organisations that are adapting to the digital world is one of mindset – and the knock-on, limiting consequences this can lead to. For those who have grown up in a managerial context where IT was seen as a separate service function to the ‘business’ and a necessary but inconvenient cost, this can result in some mental baggage being brought into the very different digital world we have today. Employees and executives often treated large IT projects as episodic or ‘one-off’ changes where they needed to install the new system, get trained up and then get on with their jobs.

These traditional "analog" ways of thinking about technology-based change may be valid from time-to-time, but they are working against the more open digital approach and mindset needed if we are to avail of the opportunities (and deal with the risks) that a more technology-enabled world will inevitably provide.

The solution

The organisations we see winning with a digital mindset tend to have the following habits:

  • IT/technology is a core and integral part of the business and not perceived as a separate entity or service partner – a model that reinforces traditional thinking, attitudes and decision-making around technology, financial decision-making and change. Does your technology function report directly into the CEO? Does IT influence business strategy?
  • Collaborative experimentation and innovation are woven into the business and operating model (maybe utilising a separate budget and governance model to encourage product/customer innovation). Do your business teams work with IT to jointly deliver technical innovation? Do you have a product function to streamline this process?
  • There is a clarity of purpose in the business mission, and technology is seen as a vital enabler of that mission. Are technology and digital innovation embedded in the business strategy?
  • Technology is an investment for the future of the business and the workplace, not just a cost to be managed with water-tight business cases required for every spend. Some failures may lead to longer-term successes so long as lessons are learned, and skills increased. How much of your technology budget supports existing business as opposed to new, innovative ways of working?
  • Employees and leaders are fully engaged and invested with the digital journey; they get involved in projects that affect their jobs and futures and embrace more adaptive, agile ways of working. Leaders don’t need to have all the answers, just an openness to allow others to find them. Does your culture encourage full engagement in the digital journey?

These early adopters are finding that rather than obsessing about the technology itself, which will inevitably change regardless, developing a digital culture and mindset – as suggested by Satya Nadella – is ultimately the bigger prize in creating the future of business and work.

Kevin Empey is Managing Director at WorkMatters Consulting.