Digital Technology
Aug 19, 2016

Two forces driving acceptance of digital transformation

August 19, 2016 - Winning acceptance for disruptive, technology-driven business transformation isn't easy. But that's changing for the better due to two motivating forces capable of overcoming hardened opposition. This was a key topic discussed during a panel session I moderated on digital disruption.

Many challenges, two key approaches
Though each company on the panel faced its own digital challenges, the group shared a common view on how to effectively gain acceptance of new technologies

For a leading income tax preparation firm confronting the competitive threat of do-it-yourself tools, moving to a more technology-led operating model was driven by a single question: what do customers want from us? It then focused on ridding itself of anything operationally that got in the way of satisfying those wants.

To the Global Finance VP from a global pharmaceutical company, worries centered on how 95% of sales for blockbuster drugs vanish the day their patent lapses. His company knew that it needed smarter tech-enhanced processes to move breakthrough medicines to market faster or risk being outflanked by more digitally savvy peers.

While the main challenges with digital transformation may seem to be technical, a recent Harvard Business Review Analytic Services study conducted in association with the Genpact Research Institute finds otherwise. The research reveals that companies at the head of the digital pack achieve superior transformation results by tackling issues of culture or organizational change better. This brings us back to the two motivating forces for driving acceptance under discussion.

Acceptance through positive association
A positive force for accepting change has many forms. Consider the cell phone, a cultural disruptor that has made its way into every corner of everyday life. From the outset, society instinctively embraced the growing power to connect. That instinct has been validated year after year to where 2 billion cell phones help people worldwide reach almost anyone who matters to them, anywhere, anytime.

Most of today's cell phones also provide access to email, text, video and social media. They can double as a bank, a jukebox or library, a map, and even play matchmaker. The point? Those who once reflexively resisted major technology change in the workplace have had their prejudice recolored by the emotional ties they've formed with their smartphones and other personal gadgets.

This semiconscious transference of goodwill – from life-enhancing technology, to digital workplace transformations – can be fleeting. For it to translate into steady and growing acceptance of new technologies, employees need some assurances. They need to see that the user-friendliness of their workplace digital experience is moving closer to emulating their personal one. More and more, they'll need functionality that can be intuitively managed, no manual required.

Taking away your strongest opponents' reason to resist
Powerful as it is to make a positive association with technology, it isn't enough to get your organization's most powerful digital resistors on board. For that, you need to remove their reason to resist.

The panel discussed the influence that many IT specialists had that hindered change. One panelist, the Global Shared Services Director of a highly diversified Fortune 100 firm, still remembers a day when digital transformation plans routinely lost out to supposedly safer, baby-step IT upgrades. On closer inspection, the half-measures implemented too often turned out to be more about stakeholder job security or turf protection than enhancing company competitiveness.

Bluntly put: If your role is to maintain a legacy system that few others could, and plans for digital transformation put your job at risk, you could be tempted to undermine that change. The power such resistors have to obstruct is now gone, however, as agile cloud-based systems of engagement can operate alongside legacy systems of record rather than needing to interoperate with, or work around them.

The moral I took from my panelists' stories is that whether by positive association or the ability to deny legacy-system managers the power or reason to obstruct, disruptive digital transformations are winning acceptance as never before.

Author: Riju Vashisht - Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Consumer Goods, Retail, Life Sciences and Healthcare