Digital Economy Dispatch #009

8th November 2020

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A Harsh Reminder that Digital Transformation Has Little To Do With Technology

It’s been quite a week. Even against the backdrop of an extraordinary year, it is hard to look at the past few days without letting out a long sigh.  While many aspects could be highlighted, questioned, and debated, it is useful to focus for a moment on the insights we can draw for our digital economy. What does the last week tell us about the digital state-of-the-world?

Regardless of your political leanings, the US election has raised a key question for many of us involved in digital transformation: Shouldn’t much of this confusion be avoided in a digital economy that highlights technology’s role in enabling  high speed communication, radical transparency, and data-driven decision making? It is clear that digital social media platforms and digital communications channels have been instrumental in bringing out a record number of voters. Yet despite some small-scale digital voting trials, the manual processes in use have raised concerns about how to ensure voter identity and eligibility, and the inability to manage in-person and remote postal voting. In today’s digital world, it seems anachronistic to be consumed in endless discussions about who did or didn’t vote, the legality of mail-in ballots, and the need to defend the accuracy of manual counting of paper voting slips.

Yet this experience is part of a broader issue. For all the leadership shown by the US in developing new digital technologies, they often lag in their adoption and use in key areas of business, government, and society. For instance, despite a focus on digital government in recent years, progress to reform government agencies has been slow. Broad business transformation is also often at a reduced pace. While China drives toward digital currencies, the continued dominance in the US of paper checks for financial transactions is a good illustration of the challenges they face delivering change.

To unpick this paradox, we can view this week as shining a light on the fact that digital transformation is not primarily about technology. Rather, it is founded on a reinterpretation of business and society for a digital age. The digital revolution brings opportunities to connect communities, share resources, create open access to data, and enable evidence-based decisions. However, these require radical changes in how we view core elements of our society, business institutions, and culture. This includes our process of government, and how we elect our government officials. Technology feasibility must be aligned with the desirability of the stakeholders affected to accept the changes and be adapted to support processes sympathetic to the cultural and political constraints in which human society operates. So, while it is quite feasible for digital technology to address many of the issues we face, this represents only a small part of the equation to be solved.

It has been a momentous week for democracy. Undoubtedly there will now be greater focus on digitizing government and the democratic processes. Perhaps this week will also be seen as representing a key point in society’s digital journey.

Digital Economy Tidbits

Big Tech’s having a good crisis. Link.

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of financial results being reported from the Big Tech companies. Summary – With lots of people trapped at home the online platform companies all seem to be doing very well. You can find a good summary of the details here.

Also worth noting that Amazon has hired 400k people in 2020 so now employs 1.12M people.

How Companies Are Winning on Culture During COVID-19. Link.

A useful discussion about culture and its impact on dealing with covid. Very worthwhile comments and a reminder of the obligations of leaders to communicate and support employee welfare…and also to drive agility. I find this is the part that is often missing as the tendency is to turn inwards and shore up existing ways of working, not look to open up to new experiences, experimentation, and execution.

Using data and analytics to optimize your website. Link.

This may sound a little mundane, but website analytics and optimization is one of the primary ways we see data science being applied today. I really like this overview of practical ways that analytics are used to optimize website activities and behaviour. Gives some clear advice with lots of practical examples.

Zurich to reskill 3,000 staff for AI revolution. Link.

We have heard a lot about the impact of AI on shifting jobs. This announcement from Zurich Insurance reminds us that all employees need to be reskilled for the digital world.

For me the key sentence that jumps out is this one:

“[It] isn’t about us spending money or avoiding costs, it’s about telling our people: there’s a change going on that’s likely to affect your skills and employability, and this is a chance to change that.”

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