Doing Digital Well: It Takes Great People

The Foundations of Disruption panel look at the challenges of disruption at CxO Disrupt, Wellington.

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Foundations for Digital Disruption panel. Source: CxO Disrupt, Wellington.

With society relying more heavily on technology, organisations are under pressure to move to the digital world. However, brands must also differentiate between what makes a good and a bad digital experience through trial and error.

After all, as explained by Akamai Technologies’ Head of Marketing, Steve Preston, disruption is all about keeping up with the needs of the customer.

“It’s not about disruption, it’s about meeting the needs of the customer.”

Preston was joined by three other panelists,  Alistair Vickers, Chief Technology Officer, New Zealand Parliament; Linda Smith, Chief Information Officer, Earthquake Commission; as well as Brian Bannister, (Former) Chief Technology Officer, Powershop NZ at CxO Disrupt, Wellington, as they looked to explore what digital disruption really means, and how organisations can create a culture that has impact.

Learn from the Past

The first take-way from the panel was simple: you must be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. This, in turn, will reveal what a great digital customer experience should look like.

Alistair Vickers, Chief Technology Officer at New Zealand Parliament, highlighted the fact that the digital landscape is always evolving, and businesses often fear investing too heavily into the wrong technology.

“One of the challenges is that the investments we’ve made have been the right ones for the particular moment, but as technology is changing so quickly and being disrupted, the requirements change.”

These changing requirements call for flexibility. When asked about who they looked to for best practice, the panellists highlighted examples of organisations building on past issues.

Vickers praised the UK Met Office for speeding up processes with the use of technology.

“In the UK Met Office, they are using natural language generation technology to write the forecast for cities around the UK. This used to take a team of meteorologists almost a day to do and it can now happen in half an hour.”

Preston also highlighted Deakin University for their cloud campus transformation. By recognising that students want to learn in different ways, they could ensure that they had access to a variety of different devices and learning mechanisms.

“They’re really trying to make sure their courses are tailored to the flexible learning arrangements of the students.”

The Challenges of Disruption

It is crucial to identify a problem in order to provide a solution; this is where disruption comes into play.

Brian Bannister, former Chief Technology Officer at Powershop NZ, drew on his own experiences to highlight the problems facing businesses when it comes to disruptive technologies.

Despite making the effort to connect with their customers, Powershop continue to struggle with understanding analytics. However, Bannister still highlighted analytics as the next big disruptor in his industry.

“When we combine machine learning and analytics this is going to fundamentally change our society,” he said.

Legacy systems are an obvious hurdle for larger organisations to overcome when progressing through their digital transformation journey as it is crucial to have the correct foundations. However, implementing technology into business strategies also provides further hurdles.

Vickers suggested that breaking free from the traditional mindset and processes was difficult.

“It’s very easy to be seduced by new technology but it’s not the be all and end all.

“It’s time for people in their 40s and 50s to take a bit more of the lead and look at how technology will impact them and their children.”

Up-skilling is the Future

Another crucial step towards achieving digital transformation is having the correct culture and team.

Preston suggested that by becoming more digital, organisations expose themselves to more risk which highlighted the issue of security. Drawing on the example of the Census website crashing in 2016, he controversially argued that “it was the best thing that could have happened for Australia.”

Steve Preston, Akamai.

Although it provided a poor digital experience for customers, it highlighted the need to educate people about cyber threats and security measures.

“It woke people up to the potential risk of security…and the fact that everyone is accountable,” Preston stated.

This problem was therefore viewed as a learning opportunity. Raising the topic of education, panellists discussed what skills were needed for the future of the digital economy.

Linda Smith, Chief Information Officer at the Earthquake Commission, argued, “undoubtedly we don’t have the right skills.”

Students are the future of the digital world, so it is crucial that they get a solid skill-set from a University degree and up-skill throughout their career. This will form the foundations for well-informed, flexible employees who understand the changing nature of the digital world.

Employing people with this mind-set is half the battle in keeping up with digital disruption.

Hence, digital disruption is a long road that requires constant evolution, the correct team, and a problem-solving attitude that learns from mistakes.

Smith argued IoT could be the next big technology to watch, with the justification that “the little things that happen every day cause disruption.”

Preston concluded that mistakes are not always a negative experience, and Vickers summarised the importance of having a modern, fresh approach to disruption.

“Stop looking to the past to guide the future.”