Archives For Digital Revolution

Definitions:

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Per the WEF: A Digital Revolution which fuses technologies to blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

Transformation: Per the OED: A complete change in character , nature , etc.

Body: We are early into 2016 and the latest hype-storm has erupted with a fury across the conference circuit (beginning w/Davos), in Government chambers, and across media outlets. It’s the notion of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Everyone seems to be latching onto it with full force (could this be due either to El Nino or the fact that it is a Leap Year?) and yet few seem to be able to clearly articulate what it is. As if we had not heard already everything noble or noteworthy about the virtues of Digital Transformation, we are now being subjected to its big brother. As evidenced by recent Ministerial rhetoric in the UK, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has become central to their own notion of a “Digital Revolution” for the country. And yet, I can’t help thinking that beyond the headlines & platitudes that nobody really knows what they are talking about.

The term Fourth Industrial Revolution has been used for more than 75 years now and is an attempt to capture to state of flux being experienced across many sectors of life (technology, government, economics, education, etc.) as we move into a new paradigm which fuses the Physical, Digital & Biological into a force to be reckoned with in the coming decades. It envisions AI, drones & other cyber-physical systems as part of normal life with technology dominating our world at every turn. At its core is the wave of innovation and experimentation that we have been riding for some time now, only now taken to new extremes. It is what we used to refer to as a Futurist Perspective, but what many now want to embrace as the logical next step forward (Revolutionary, not Evolutionary).

So what’s missing from this equation? Hint: It’s competent Leadership.

Regardless of the numerous advances in Technology on all fronts, we are still challenged by the shortcomings of the current (and perhaps the next as well) generation of Leaders. Whether in the Public or Private Sectors, we rely on people who are not only illiterate in most aspects of advanced & emerging technologies, but do not have a background in innovation or development that would allow them to be visionary (or strategic) in how to apply the constructs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (nor Digital as far as I can tell) to create competitive advantage or disruptive benefits for consumers or citizens. This is why I bristle every time I hear one of these “Leaders” cheerlead the next great thing in tech or transformation.

We entered a world sometime ago that requires true literacy and competence in digital, data, analytics, AI, etc. by our Leaders in order to be effective in their roles. This extends to our oversight bodies as well (Boards & Regulators) who are just (if not more) ill-equipped to provide effective Governance and oversee Risks. The vast majority of Leaders today do not have the skills or acumen to Lead in the 21st Century and our next generation of Leadership candidates is woefully unprepared as well. The tradition of rising through the ranks based on success in finance, marketing, legal or in respect to ministerial appointments has produced Leaders who are hollow in terms of all things Digital, Data & Analytics, much less anything so futuristic as The Fourth Industrial Revolution. We have to stop focusing on the Feel Good aspects of all of this and hone in on creating competent & visionary Leaders who don’t have to rely on IT, Contractors or Consultants to do their jobs for them.

While the world focuses on Hack-a-thons, teaching children to Code and creating new (false) gods (Data Scientists, CDO’s, etc.), we are ignoring the need for educating & finely honing the next generation of Private & Public Sector Leaders. (Observation: They won’t be app start-up guys). We need to build into all aspects of Primary & Secondary education the rigors of technology exploitation and analytical competencies (e.g. Decision Science). Until we do so, all aspects of The Fourth Industrial Revolution will just be more talk coming from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

 

Note: An edited version of this posting appeared in the March 2016 issue of Information Age (UK) (www.information-age.com)

A precursor to my discussion*:

  1. Digital has become such an amorphous term that few can describe what it actually means anymore
  2.  An effective Digital Strategy needs to be based on the Organization’s Core Strategic Objectives

Discussion:

Just prior to the New Year the UK Government quietly posted a notification that it was “seeking ideas for the next phase of the Digital Revolution”. From what I have seen in terms of those responses, they might have been better served by standing on a soapbox at Speakers Corner in Hype Park and asking passers by for their opinions, as their call to action has unleashed a torrent of “thought pieces”, Opinions & rants from virtually every corner of the UK.

Over the past several years, I have followed with great interest all of the Digital Transformation Programs that central governments across the world have embraced in their efforts to bring “Digital to the Masses”, while improving Government services, efficiencies, etc. Most of these have now evolved into “cults” with every agenda seeker and crackpot out there opining the virtues of their “flavor of digital” on social media and at every conference imaginable. During this same time, we have seen ever-increasing budgets allocated to these programs, high levels of management attrition and dubious ROI results being promoted as “savings realized”, but the single most glaring aspect that troubles me in virtually all of them is;  “What is the long-term Strategy”? It certainly can’t be just making better web sites or training the entire population to “hack code”? It is in this vain that I offer my opinion on “What is needed & what is not in the UK’s next Digital Strategy.”

As “digital” has now become a word without a stable definition, I will endeavor to ground my discussion in the basic notion that; “Digital as a term encompasses all disciplines in respect to embracing all that the Web, Data & Analytics have to offer”.  I refer to these as core competencies and believe that they must be leveraged in an Organization’s strategy in order to be an enabler of the desired outcomes from it. The UK (whether in or out of the EU in the future) must create a competitive strategy that makes its relevant on the world stage in order to capture inordinate levels of external investment, to develop the greatest talent pool in all sectors, etc., all at the expense of its peers. This notion of differentiation is a much more business-like view of the needs of a country, but most have been evolving their thinking in this direction for quite some time now. If the UK wants to “punch above its weight” in the world then it needs to make its core competencies the strongest & most sustainable anywhere, which cannot be easily duplicated or commoditized by countries motivated to do so.

What’s Needed? (to achieve this outcome):

  • Use “Digital” as a focal point to create sustainable sources of competitive advantage for the UK by baking it into every aspect of the long-term strategy for the country (independent of whatever party is in power) and the goals which it must be achieved i.e. Not a fashion statement or feel good program.
  • Develop Digital Leaders (Civil Service, Cabinet Office, MP’s, Charities, etc.) who are more than cheerleaders and partisan politicians. Educate everyone from the earliest age, throughout their entire academic & trade school careers to be literate in Digital, regardless of class or age. Promote Digital Leaders based upon competency and acumen (merit), not beauty, charm or politics. Develop Digital Leaders who “walk to talk” every day.
  • Create a National Culture that embraces “Digital at every turn”, not just one that consumes interesting content over broadband. Make Digital know-how essential to daily life in all Sectors of Government, Commercial & Non-Profit.
  • Invest inordinately in Education, Leadership Development, Infrastructure & Culture to create sustainable sources of competitive advantage in “All things Digital”.

What’s not Needed?

  • Superlatives & Exemplars: Digital is an evolutionary transition from the Analog world we have known for centuries. It is not disruptive, but can be transformational if executed with speed and precision. Hype is not of value in any strategy.
  • Grandiose predictions as to the impact of Outcomes or capabilities. At best, Digital is incremental in terms of benefits and sources of competitive advantage. It is the execution that is critical, not the idea itself. Benefits will manifest over the long term i.e. Transformational
  • Exclusion of any Sector from participation or realization of the full benefits of the Strategy and its outcomes. All boats must rise accordingly in this strategic journey.

A long-term Competitive Strategy for the UK should fully leverage all of its investments & know-how in Digital to date (Capabilities, Infrastructure & People) in order to create clear lines of differentiation in respect to other Countries who are pursuing similar paths, as well as to build sustainability for this momentum far into the future. The realization of  these outcomes will insure maximum benefits to the entire country and all of its citizens for decades to come.

Further Reading:

“What is Digital Transformation and Why do I need to embrace it?” (https://infomgmtexec.me/2015/10/29/what-is-digital-transformation-why-do-i-need-to-embrace-it/)

“Changes in Digital Transformation Leadership: Anarchy or Opportunity?” (https://infomgmtexec.me/2015/10/16/changes-in-digital-transformation-leadership-anarchy-or-opportunity/)

 

 

*- An edited version of this posting appeared in the February 2016 issue of Information Age (UK) (www.information-age.com)