Digital Economy Dispatch #054 -- Taking Time to Reflect in the Turmoil of Digital Transformation

Digital Economy Dispatch #05419th September 2021

Taking Time to Reflect in the Turmoil of Digital Transformation

It has been a tough couple of years. The direct impact of the pandemic on people’s lives has been deep and long lasting. Tied to that, we’ve also had to find ways to adjust to a variety of indirect effects on everything from how we spend our time and what we value to how we collaborate and interact. Facing these challenges, it is essential to take time to reflect on what we can learn from this experience. Something I have been thinking about a lot lately.

For more than 30 years I have worked in a variety of high-tech industry roles in the UK, USA, and Spain. Initially trained as a software developer and systems architect, I quickly began to realize that the challenges of building software-intensive solutions formed only one half of the problem of delivering impact from new technology. Time and time again I saw that the energy and excitement from advances in the software-based technology quickly dissolved as the organization involved struggled to adopt this new capability or failed completely to adjust to take advantage of it in their everyday ways of working. In contrast to my technology focus, I realized that in many organizations, success was largely driven by its business practices and organizational structures. Faced with pressure to adopt emerging digital technologies, leaders in these organizations are overwhelmed by the struggle between the need for change and the forces that held it back, particularly in large established organizations.

As a result, eight years ago when I came back to the UK and took up a professorial role at a university, it was to join a business school. As a technologist, it fascinated me to find out what I could learn about the way organizations grow and evolve, and I was keen to see if I could contribute to the conversation with my broad experiences and insights as a technology-driven practitioner.

In effect, I returned with a key question that I felt the need to explore:

In the emerging digital economy, what approaches can organizations take to digital technology adoption to deliver greater value to their clients, stakeholders, and employees?

To dig deeper into this, in the past several years I have had the opportunity to spend time across industry and academia exploring the current state of the digital economy and advising on the most effective approaches to digital transformation. I have had a very privileged vantage point to observe key aspects of the digital economy and their impact on business and society. Yet, in early 2020 as the shockwaves of the pandemic began to hit, I was becoming increasingly concerned about how to capture and share some what I was seeing. A feeling that grew quickly as we began to understand the critical role of digital transformation in helping us to cope with many of the deepening global effects of the pandemic.

To make some progress I decided to begin an experiment. In September 2020, with the pandemic-fuelled lockdown in full flight, I started writing weekly opinion pieces and posting them for people to read. A set of observations on the digital world, these “Digital Economy Dispatches” allowed me to gather my thoughts and express views on why a different perspective on digital transformation of our society is emerging and how digital technologies are changing our understanding of the world around us. Most importantly, writing these dispatches has helped me to reflect on my own personal journey through the digital economy.

Like any good experiment, it was started with a hypothesis captured in 2 simple questions:

  1. (Internal) Can I sustain a weekly stream of critical reflections on the digital economy to develop a meaningful voice on contemporary digital economy topics by building on my previous experiences and current viewpoint?

  2. (External) What kind of audience will engage with these digital economy views and which conversations will arise as a result?

A year into the experiment, the answer to the first question is clear. I now have well over 50 weekly posts that provide a range of thoughts on a variety of aspects related to the digital economy. And undoubtedly, as the weeks go by, I feel that a consistent viewpoint and set of themes is emerging.

The response to the second question is more challenging. As anyone involved with digital media will tell you, building and engaging with an audience is a complex undertaking. With so many different requests on people’s time, gaining their attention is not easy. However, I have seen a shift in my own understanding of this. My initial concerns focused on the number of people subscribing and viewing my materials. Each week I would fret about how many people looked at the latest posting and whether that number was on the rise.

It is now over a year since I shared that first weekly commentary on the emerging digital economy and the pathways that organizations can take in digital transformation to survive and thrive in the digital world. Perhaps I now can see the initial phase to be complete. Time to look forward.

Nowadays I am much more interested in the quality of the interactions and the kinds of discussions that are initiated by what I write. Old friends and new connections have been made because of the materials I have published. Several people have commented on the way some of these reflections have helped them gain insight into the digital economy. They have responded to how my observations have supported or challenged their own personal views. These kinds of interactions are much more satisfying results from sharing my comments online.

Early in the process of writing the “Digital Economy Dispatches” I asked a good friend and experienced blogger what he thought of it. He had a slightly puzzled look on his face and responded with, “But what is it about?”. I think it has taken me a year to begin to answer this. Sure, it is a discussion on the digital world and its implications for business and society. It is a commentary on the challenges facing organizations as they undergo digital transformation. It is advice to leaders and managers seeking guidance on how they can be successful in today’s digital economy. But much more than that, it is a reflection on my own journey in understanding digital technology and its implications. And that has been essential for me as I learn how to survive and thrive in these difficult times.

As a result, based on my experiences over the past year, I would encourage you all to think about digital transformation in relation to your own personal journey over the past few years.

  • Take time to reflect on your experiences in light of the current challenges we face.

  • Find your own voice to capture your perspectives and insights.

  • Share your observations with those you care about.

  • Connect and engage with others to build relationships, broaden your horizons, and grow the conversations that matter to you.

Onward and upward!

Digital Economy Tidbits

Most Office Workers will Never Return Full-Time Survey Says. Link.

Lots of similar surveys appearing at the moment. Best that can be said is that there seems to be a polarization of views from those who say “good riddance” to commuting and those who can’t wait to get back in the office with their colleagues.

The main concern appears to be for younger, less experienced workers who often value interactions much more than more experienced employees.

More than 60% of those surveyed thought young people would struggle to progress without face-to-face contact or in-person mentoring.

As experts have pointed out, under-25s in particular were hit hard by job losses or reduced hours at the onset of the pandemic.

McKinsey and Digital Strategy.

Some of the recent McKinsey articles on digital strategy.