Recorded history of mankind is filled with umpteen technological innovations which changed the course in human lives. So when a close friend of mine refused to accept that today’s concept of “new generation emerging technologies” is one off phenomenon, I couldn’t argue much except to reflect back on the subject. According to him, every generation has seen this paradigm, just that it may carry a different brand name every time.
Today’s digital onslaught is similar to the way the advent of automobiles eliminated the horse carriage from the city of New York OR the way electric powered controllers transformed the manufacturing floors OR how concrete changed the way skyscrapers helped increase the density of inhabitation thereby creating mega cities, all in the 20th century.
It can be therefore argued that the “Digital Technologies” cannot be spoken of in terms of the “next gen innovation” alone. It has to be something more and beyond, if it’s akin to a tsunami of sorts.
Way back in 2003 during an automotive engineering design workshop, I first time heard a phrase called “Digital Mock Up” which was about explaining a product lifecycle in 3D visualization mode. In a meeting which had participants beaming with pride of the fast growing Indian IT Industry, the word digital was yet to cut a bread with. Naturally the “digital” word was forgotten post meeting, meagre budgets allocated to the proposal and it actually got relegated to a few handful folks who continued to work on 3D rendering of product designs.
I also remember that during my final year of graduation at IITR in 1993, when I expressed my desire with some close friends that I would like to go to the USA and do MS in Artificial Intelligence, the conversation was well received by them. No one jumped to say “what nonsense are you talking”.
Terms like Digital / AI / ML /Robotics were occasionally used in conversation back then. Though they were often independently talked about as part of a different umbrella of terms like Information Technology, Automation, Computer Science or fundamentals of Physics. While I do agree that they were not commonly used terms, we never ever had ONE unified umbrella term for all of them.
If it was today, they would be cynosure of the conversations. What changed between then and now?
Firstly what we call a “Digital” today is not a technology in itself. It is a powerful brand term used for
a) A herd of many breathtaking technologies which are consistently evolving and presenting dramatic but pleasant outcomes;
b) An anatomy of the mass social appeal and inclusion it brings under the umbrella;
c) An economic opportunity it brings to industry to change gears and beat competition OR even bring in new business models;
d) Sheer velocity of the all of the above, especially given that global talent ecosystem disregards the typical socio-political boundaries and talks / works in unison.
Secondly, mass communication capabilities have been catapulted to the next orbit due to three basic tenets:
a) the incredible computing power in handheld devices can run feature-rich applications
b) the commoditization & affordability of the data services by telecom companies for example online streaming of movies is fast and cheaper – thus making reach affordable between companies and consumers.
c) the power of UI/UX technologies on these devices to catch the imagination of the end consumer and thus engagement quality.
Thirdly the IT services industry, which has been the darling of the global bourses due to fat margins it drew on capitals deployed, has been struggling on margins for a while given the maturity of the demand curve. They needed fresh oxygen to thrive. This beleaguered industry has pushed its weight behind the digital brand to re-energize itself. The consulting & marketing services industry too finds it as butter on the bread.
Digital helps push for better margins in their proposals as recipients of their services struggle to make sense out of this guerrilla in the box called “digital”. Suddenly the word IT has gone silent across the industries and digital is the new faith for tech enabled services industry. The only catch here is that they are being challenged by nimble footed startups who seem to be handling this pace of evolution better – just like a speed boat that navigates better than large ships in shallow waters – though the later assures a longer distance in deep waters.
Finally, while the three aspects as above are fundamentally driving the new age paradigm “Digital” the difference between success and failure is far from them. The execution excellence frameworks which have helped industries to success is no more a differentiator.
“Being digital” is all about having a sense of “Democratization” of ideas and involvement. This is because these technologies have reached the last point of a value chain and subtly the power has been handed over for decision making / choices – thus resembling the parallels of a democracy.
The billions of vastly informed end consumers with powerful handheld devices, engaged in UI/UX and paying zilch for longer hours of usage – makes him/her a discerning customer who wants to make a choice and actually ends up making it.
This has created a market of ONE. It has also shifted the balance of market dynamics towards the customer. The consequence is that the value chain has reversed in terms of significance of the power game. No wonder, customers are being heard of in unprecedented ways and the new mantra is to feed the latent needs / wants of the customer.
The backwater ripples created by this quake has sensitized the organization’s internal functions to also realign themselves towards this evolution.
Digitalization is a transformation of the organization to cater to this new generation democratic customer base, which refuses to present a stagnant pattern of behavior and therefore making it unpredictable consistently.
The organizations have to be aligned to this by allowing a democratization of thinking across internal talent in their transformation journey. The best Idea can come from any one. Watch out. It is a state of mind, an integral part of organization culture and reflection of personality traits. The mechanized hierarchical models of working won’t work as effectively as a democratized model would work.
It involves a collaborative and collective thinking of human chain right up to the end consumer, who is more or less now part of your organization, albeit indirectly. That’s the marked change.
The Author is President and Group CIO at Welspun group. He is also a research scholar at NIIT University and his areas of academic interest include digital persona and its influence on individual behaviors. The UCCCEE framework and DQME-Type-Indicator is a copyright work of his and for details may be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. The details mentioned here are his person opinion on the subject matter.