Beware the digital veneer

Now that digital is cool, hip, and happening, organisations are hustling to get their digital on.

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Unfortunately a deep, meaningful engagement with digital takes time, effort and resources.

It requires training to enable people,

breaking down silos of decision-making and responsibility,

and it requires a culture that encourages risk-taking and accepts (the right type of) failure.

So instead of doing something meaningful, some organisations find it’s just easier to invest in a digital veneer. A bit of social media marketing over here, a Facebook messenger chat-bot over there. Just enough to give a semblance of being digital but without…well, without anything meaningful.

The problem with a veneer is that as soon as you scratch the surface there is not much substance underneath. The same inefficiencies, mistakes and problems still fester away behind a well-presented facade (and like cheap, flat-packed furniture, it all come unstuck at the slightest hint of pressure).

Although it’s important to start somewhere, a digital veneer is more often than not just window dressing for organisations that haven’t committed to their digital future...

…rarely is it a promise of something better to come.

 

If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a hard time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can help you through the process.

 

It’s like trying to get a fat man to run a marathon

One of my favourite business analogies of all time is one used by IT expert and advisor to CIOs, Owen McCall. He likens most organisations IT efforts to ‘trying to get a fat man to run a marathon’. He suggests that IT teams often get ahead of themselves, they become so obsessed with the end goal, the marathon, or the transformation, that they stop focusing on the individual steps required to achieve it.

As Owen points out, the first step to running a marathon is just getting off the sofa, the next one might be to go for a walk, the next one might be to go for a longer walk, then perhaps a jog, then a longer jog, then a run, then a longer run, then a half marathon and finally after months (or perhaps years) the previously fat man might have done enough preparation to line up for his first marathon.

Maybe we like to focus on the end goal because when we break it down into steps it seems like so much more work. But the truth is, if we miss the intermediate steps then we are bound to fail anyway.

We also need to realise that the goal was only ever symbolic, the real objective was not to run a marathon but to get fit, and perhaps to lose weight. This is not achieved in the running of the marathon but in all the preparation that happens beforehand.

This is exactly the same when it comes to digital projects. We are obsessed with big game changing, future proofing projects but more often than not they fail because organisations lack the ‘digital fitness’ to complete them. Worse still, in the pursuit of what might be considered unobtainable outcomes, we are likely to discourage people from engaging in the next digital transformation project when it inevitably comes around.

If you want to pursue big digital projects, then the logical place to start is with much smaller ones. Smaller projects help develop digital skills and create a sense of achievement and confidence with technology. It is a longer path and involves more work to slowly build towards your big projects but this is the work that will make your organisation ‘digitally fit’. And just like with running a marathon, you will realise that in getting digitally fit you will have  increased agility, reduced costs and made the improvements to quality that really mattered anyway.

If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a hard time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can help you through the process.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Photo by Martins Zemlickis on Unsplash

You can’t find what you’re not looking for

One of the biggest challenges that small and medium sized businesses face when it comes to technology opportunities is that they don’t know where to look for them, and, without knowing where to look, the cost of finding things becomes time consuming and expensive.

In some ways, it’s a bit like playing hide and seek as a kid. The first time you play in a new house or yard you have to look everywhere because you don’t know where to look. But if you play the game long enough in the same space you eventually become better at finding people because you know where people tend to hide.

But the ability to find and execute against technology opportunities is not a game, it’s a value generating activity that can dramatically improve an organisation’s competitive advantage if done well. The real problem for many SMEs is that a lack of knowledge about what to look for and where to look means that it is often done badly, or sometimes not at all.

So what’s the number one thing that SMEs can do to improve their likelihood of success?

Research has shown on countless occasions that the intelligence of the collective is almost always greater than the individual’s. To use the hide and seek analogy above, we are more likely to find people if there are more of us looking…and we are also more likely to find people if we work with an expert who knows all the best hiding spots.

Within the Digital Champions Club we strongly believe in the value of collective intelligence. That’s why all the members openly share the details of the projects they are working on and have completed (since the program’s inception 18 months ago more than 80 projects have now been shared within the community). It is also why we bring in noted experts to educate members on the types of opportunities they need to be looking for.*

*This is not a unique model, it’s just unique in a digital space. In fact, the Digital Champions Club was based on the success of other programs I’ve been a part of such as Thought Leaders, The Executive Connection and The CEO Institute.

If you’re running a small to medium sized organisation, how are you using collective intelligence to improve the way you identify digital opportunities? If you’re not, then I’d suggest it’s both costing more and taking more time than it should. Either that or you’re missing out all together.

At our most recent Digital Champions Bootcamp in Sydney, our guest speaker was Dr Andrew Pratley, a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School who came and discussed how SMEs need to think about their data differently. He dispelled some of the myths about big data and got members thinking about their data in terms of the questions it could help their organisation answer (this follows on from previous talks by Chris Paynter on artificial intelligence and machine learning and Dermot Crowley presenting on how to use Microsoft Outlook to work smarter). Click on the video above for a short interview we did with Andrew.

If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a hard time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can help you through the process.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

There are only four approaches to take when it comes to digital technology

When you break it down, there are really just four approaches to take when it comes to dealing with digital, or in fact, any type of change.

And to determine which of the four approaches to take, you only need to answer two questions:

The first question is “do you currently offer a product or service that is a substitute for, or complementary to, technology?” 

When a new technology is introduced, its success is defined by its ability to do what it does faster, cheaper or better than what was available previously. If what you do is a substitute for new technology then your job will be worth less, but if what you do is complementary then it is generally worth more.

Take Uber for example (overused but at least we all know it). Uber has dramatically reduced the time and effort associated with finding, booking and paying for transportation. For some elements of the transportation/taxi industry, such as drivers, Uber is a complementary service. Research shows that drivers now have a higher utilisation (spend more of their shift actually driving passengers around rather than waiting for fares) and earn more money than before. And not just Uber drivers, taxi drivers are also using the Uber app to improve their earnings.

On the other hand, businesses such as Cabcharge which provide a payment service for taxi and hire car operators has seen their revenue plummet as Uber not only provides a booking service, it provides a payment service as well.

The second question is “Are you a proactive identifier of new technology or generally late to the party?”

Regardless of whether your offering is a substitute for, or complement to new technology, you have distinctly better options if you can identify emerging technology trends early.

If you’re an early identifier and offer a complementary service your best approach is to double down. Continuing with the Uber example there have been a number of individuals who have identified new opportunities that have emerged within the Uber eco-system and done incredibly well as a result. One of these is Joseph Ziyaee who realised he could make more money out of referring people to be Uber drivers than being a driver himself. By helping new drivers qualify and register as an Uber driver he now earns about four times as much as he did when he was driving.

If your an early identifier and offer a substitute product then your best approach is to divest. When Uber launched in NSW in 2012 the value of taxi plates were around $400,000. By the time it was legalised in 2015 they had dropped to $200,000 (with the most recent sales at around $150,000). The early identifiers of Uber, the ones who took the time to investigate it’s impact overseas and understand the implications, they divested early and saved themselves significant pain.

So regardless of whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side of technology driven change you have fairly good options as long as you are proactive. When you’re slow to identify opportunities or don’t act on them your options diminish rapidly.

Even if you have a complementary product or service, if you’re reactive to technology driven change then your best option is just to keep doing what you’ve done before.  By luck rather than good management, everything you do should be worth a little bit more than it was before, but the big opportunities are likely to be already gone.

On the other hand, if you have a substitute product or service and are slow to react to change the only real option you have is to defend. The problem with defending is that it diverts energy and resources away from both doing (incurring short term costs) and/or adapting (incurring long term costs). Once again this strategy has been clearly at play in the personal transportation arena. The taxi industry has applied significant resources to try and stop the legalisation of ride sharing services such as Uber. This may have slowed the transition and won some small concessions but the continuing slide in the value of taxi plates suggests the energy invested on defending has had much wasted.

So what’s the moral of this story? The only way to ensure you’re on the right side of digital driven change is to constantly seek it out and endeavour to understand it. If just one app, built with largely off the shelf components, can destroy billions of dollars of value in just a few years imagine what might happen in your industry/organisation/job next.

If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a rough time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can guide you through the process.

What comes before commitment?

Over the last few years social media has dramatically changed what it means to date (and I say this without a shred of personal experience).  Whereas the old approach to dating was

Not dating > Dating > Move in > Engaged > Married


The current landscape goes something like this

Not dating > Texting > Dating > No longer on Tinder > Move in > That talk > Deleting your dating apps > Officially in a relationship on Facebook > Should we get married…ever?*

* With reference to http://www.bolde.com/ridiculous-new-stages-relationships-happen-youre-fully-commit/

This is not a critique on modern relationships or the value of marriage, but rather an observation that greater choice has resulted in people delaying significant decisions. In a sense, what comes before commitment is a commitment to finding out.

But here in lies the rabbit hole.

Often we are unwilling to make the commitment before the commitment. Instead we end up with “F#$k it!” and don’t make a choice at all (even though technically this is itself a choice).

In many ways an overwhelm of opportunity is reinforcing the status quo. I would argue that this is a significant factor in why so many organisations are falling behind when it comes to digital technology. It’s not that they don’t know there are opportunities out there but rather the sheer number of opportunities and so many options result in, well, not doing very much at all.

This is one of the fundamental reasons for starting the Digital Champions Club. I wanted to give people a simple, easy to follow framework for prioritising opportunities and assessing options. But somewhat ironically, the biggest barrier to people joining the Digital Champions Club has been the decision to join.

So in the belief that incremental change is better than nothing at all, I have just launched the Digital Champions Club Resource membership. To follow through with the analogy above it’s like dating but still maintaining an active Tinder profile. You get a half hour one-on-one mentoring session with me (to help you determine which opportunities to focus on), 12 months access to the Digital Champions Club online resources and invitations to some digital champions only events (you can find more details here).

So if you’re looking to go digital, but not willing to settle down just yet, why not swipe right and get in touch.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

An Unstoppable Force and an Immovable Object

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Ultimately, a lot of energy gets consumed for very little result. Of course most objects are not truly immovable and if we apply enough force we can get our way. But much of this energy is wasted and, if we’d used it elsewhere, it is likely we could have achieved so much more.

In the Digital Champions Club we try and avoid projects that require people to be coerced rather than be convinced. There are so many improvement opportunities out there. You can generally cherry pick ones where each and every stakeholder is a winner. When you find these projects, people that might have otherwise seemed immovable are suddenly anxious for the project to start, thankful when it has been completed and interested in whatever you propose next.

The best way to deal with immovable objects is not to apply more force, it’s to show them it’s in their own best interest to get out of the way.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

All I want for Christmas…is some downtime

As the festive season fast approaches and we frantically try and poke a bit more work into the few remaining gaps in our already packed schedules…

…just stop for a moment

and ask yourself

When did it come to this?

We have access to extraordinary time saving technology and yet we’re all desperately craving more downtime.

[insert dramatic pause]

…and before you drop this thought from your mind as quickly as it came (because frankly who has time to explore such paradoxical questions…especially during work hours) let’s take a further moment to at least work out who’s to blame.*

* Most people are unlikely to do anything about this problem so identifying someone to blame will at least provide an outlet for their frustration.

I can immediately think of four areas where blame might be attributed
The technology
Us
Other people
The world

The technology
Technology never quite works as smoothly and easily as the marketing material suggests, but as much as we might like to blame the technology I doubt this is actually problem. After all, even with all the frustrations we voice about email no one is rushing to support Australia Post and sending snail mail in large quantities.

Us
So if it’s not the technology could it be us. To be honest we probably haven’t invested the time required to get the most we can out of our technology, but I also know some incredibly savvy technology users who are also struggling with this (including me at times). So if it was just about us, then the most tech savvy amongst us would have already knocked off for Christmas some time in early November.

Other people
So if it’s not the technology and it’s (thankfully) not us, could it be other people? When I mean other people I’m talking about the culture of businesses, organisations and other social groups. In so many of these groups there is a constant desire for ‘more’, busyness is seen as a badge of honour and in some cases downtime has become synonymous with laziness (and not the good laziness I talk about as part of the Digital Champions Club). I think there are definitely cultural issues that we face when it comes to technology. It is often seen as being OK for technology to take from our personal lives (such as taking our laptops home to work on the weekend) but not necessarily with an expectation that it also gives back.*

*Though before we absolve ourselves of all responsibility we need to acknowledge our role in shaping culture, either explicitly or by blind acceptance.

The world
As much as culture and the norms of others have a big part to play in this, I actually think it is at a global level where I think the true challenge lies. We are seeing structural shifts in how economies operate. Robotics and artificial intelligence are now becoming cheaper than cheap labour. Whether people deeply understand the significance of this I’m not sure, but it is certainly manifesting in concerns about job security (Trump anyone?) and in turn this creates a need for us to be seen to be productive every hour of every day.

Oh dear, so what now?

Is this out of our control? Are we doomed to work our asses off just waiting for the day when we’re replaced by a robot or an algorithm?

Perhaps working our asses off is not the best strategy. If we are trying to out-compete technology, productivity is not necessarily our strong suite. But thinking, questioning, daydream and pondering…

…well then the technology will never be as productive as us [insert subtle nod to Mykel Dixon from across the room].

*Just ask the truck drivers on Rio Tinto Iron Ore’s mine sites in the Pilbara who found the robotic trucks don’t take breaks, work 24 hour shifts and actually drive the trucks better than humans do.

When we get stuck in a rut of busyness and we don’t get the downtime we need we also stop reflecting, questioning and asking what’s next…so in our failing attempts to out-compete technology, we become most at risk of the technology we are trying to protect ourselves from (oh, another beautiful paradox).

So my Christmas wish for you is this: firstly, enjoy your downtime, you deserve it; and secondly, before you rush to clear your inbox before starting back sometime in January, take the time to stop, think, daydream and ponder how 2017 is going to serve you better.

Because unless we do something to make 2017 better it is likely to to be just a little busier than the one that’s just been.

Same methodology. Different delivery.

I’m not normally one for self promotion so please forgive me for the following email (or see the content as being of such significance that I was left with little choice). Following is the briefest of summaries, then feel free to read on, delete or (should the idea of self promotion be so unbearable to you) unsubscribe.

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There has been much success.

New programs now available.

Read on?

Much of my work over the last 12 months has been focused on working with organisations to develop digital champions. This started with the Digital Champions Club, a process improvement program for SMEs using digital technology as a catalyst. It resulted in me writing a book called The Digital Champion: Connecting the Dots Between People, Work and Technology and has also seen me running the Breakfast of Champions and speaking at events around the country.

During that time I’ve had heaps of feedback on the digital champions approach (in summary – two people giving two hours each per week to deliver a $100,000 in value in a year), both from members who have been a part of it, and from outsiders who might like to join. As a result I am now launching two new ways for organisations to engage in the digital champions approach.

DCC Elements the smaller of SMEs

Some SMEs really wanted to be a part of the Digital Champions Club but didn’t feel they had the resources (financial or human) to fully commit to it. DCC Elements is the same methodology and contains all the same elements that have made the Digital Champions Club a success, but delivered through different channels and at a lower price.

Applications for the December bootcamp are now open. If you want to find out more about the Digital Champions Club and the different membership types, check out digitalchampions.com/memberships-and-pricing.

Digital Champions for Government

The other area where I’ve been doing a lot of work over the last 12 months has been in local government (mainly helping senior leaders cope with growing information pressure by adopting a digital first approach).

At the Municipal Association of Victoria’s Technology Conference in August, I gave a keynote called Why the IT Department Needs to Die that outlined the need for a new approach to digital within local government. Given it was a conference for IT professionals the feedback was surprisingly good and I am now talking to a number of local councils about Digital Champions for Government.

If you work in government and are interested in a rigorous, targeted and supported approach to improving process and building digital capabilities, you might want to check out digitalchampions.com/gov

That is all.

Is IT meeting your needs?

There is a BIG challenge organisations are facing when it comes to digital business.

Some staff feel overwhelmed by technology-driven change (thought there is so much change to come)

Yet others feel frustrated that the digital tools they have at home are better than the ones they get at work.

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The BIG challenge for most organisations is that there are some for which digital is already too much and others for which it’s clearly not enough.

Meeting such diverse needs means IT resources are s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d yet in many cases expectations are still failing to be met (though there is so much change to come)

If we want to

better align technology with people’s needs

and simultaneously build capabilities to take advantage of digital opportunities

whilst also reducing the the stretch of IT resources

then we have to start diffusing some of the responsibility for identifying and implementing digital opportunities. Working out how to do this should be the #1 focus for organisations wanting to go digital.


Does your organisation need digital champions?

Over the last 12 months, the Digital Champions Club has been helping small and medium sized businesses identify and implement digital opportunities that solve business problems, engage users all whilst delivering bottom line value.

It’s now time to take this success to the enterprise.

The Digital Champions Club: Enterprise Edition is a year-long program that provides a rigorous, people-centric approach to identifying and implementing new digital opportunities. More than just ‘learn by doing’ this is a program is based on the principles of ‘learn by delivering meaningful value adding projects that improve productivity, reduce digital risk and improve strategic decision making’.

If your IT department is over stretched and you are looking for a way to better align technology with people’s needs and build digital capabilities you should press the big button below or get in touch via simon@simonwaller.com.au

Avoid the digital disconnect

There is an ongoing tension between the digital savvy of people and how an environment* enables or supports them. If one of these forces move too fast OR too slow we create

a digital             disconnect

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in organisations this is the combination of systems, devices, tools, norms and policies they operate in

There are two types of disconnect

The first is where the environment is more technology enabled than people are comfortable with.
This drives fear, creates cognitive overload and inevitably results in an underutilisation of the technology. All of this come with inherent cost to the organisation.

The second type is when people are more tech savvy than the environment they operate in.
This results in frustration, which subsequently drives people to operate in the shadow lands outside the defined IT environment. The additional IT expense, increased risk and missed opportunity also come with a cost to the organisation.

But,
if we can manage this tension just right

magic can happen!

By striving to meet the needs of increasingly digital savvy users, we can create a pull towards more enabling environments. In turn more enabling environments will push people to be more digital savvy.

The interplay of these two forces can shift an organisation from ‘adequate’ ways of working built in the past to truly effective ones created for the future.

If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a hard time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can help you through the process.


  1. The digital disconnect is already happening in schools
  2. When technology creates fear. The rise of neo-luddism.
  3. Shadow IT – how 83% of organisations clearly aren’t meeting their users needs
  4. Why lots of little changes are more effective than a few big ones