The digital misdirection

So digital huh? The problem is that digital, like most other buzzes these days it seems, get overused and misused so that it clouds the issue (excusing the pun). It reminds me of the birth of e-learning (which then became elearning, then learning technologies and sometimes even learning). Technically the e stands for electronic so anything distributed in an electronic format that can be considered learning material is suddenly elearning. The problem isn’t actually in the e it’s in the learning side, but we’ll leave that one for another blog another time.

Digital is the same in many regards. Technically a digital system refers to the discrete states in which data is stored — this is normally thought of as the 1s and 0s that binary systems employ and that are the backbone of computing systems. So the issue here is that digital is interpreted by many as being simply computing — and technically they’re right. A digital system is one that contains some form of CPU (central processing unit — man, that’s an old term) or computer chip. When you start talking about modern phenomenon like the internet of things (IoT) that’s pretty much everything it seems. So when an organisation talks about having a digital strategy, they mean a strategy that brings into account anything that has any type of microelectronics in it — which basically means almost everything but people these days (although check back in a few years and even that may not be wholly true).

There’s the misdirection. It means that because digital has such a wide sweeping definition we can have a digital strategy without going anywhere near the type of advantages that may be offered by things like disruptive technologies and artificial intelligence or keeping up with the ever increasing rate of growth of innovation in the digital space. In fact many a big company has a digital strategy that talks about how they set up their network, rather than how they will leverage technology to deliver on their core strategies.

What’s astounding is the number of organisations that work using shared drives on local infrastructure. Organisations where the communications tool of choice is still email (email me some times when you’re free, can you put that in an email for me, ‘are you available for a quick chat?’ etc etc) or a locked down system that only allows internal communications or limits who you can talk to, file sharing that only work when you’re locally there, video tools that require you to have a dedicated system at both ends, systems where mobile and BYOD access is unavailable, over-active firewalls that prevent communications. The list goes on and on, yet all of the poor alternatives are in themselves digital. It’s digital to force someone through a one-way local system using a computer and you can write your strategy to match and even justify that.

Fortunately there is hope too. The world of disruptive technologies has been great because it’s allowed lots of organisations to work in spite of their poor digital strategies. I’ve worked in several places where the ‘default’ tools were largely ignored and replaced by cloud-based tools that could be used for free — essentially bypassing the over-zealous IT departments and their gates. The great thing about these cloud-based technologies is that many just use your browser to be able to deliver experiences that once upon an IT strategy required programs to be downloaded onto your work machine (and no, you still can’t have the rights to do that in most organisations).

The lesson is simple in all this; remember that all things digital are not created equal and that a true digital strategy is one that realises that we should leverage technology to improve what we do and help us reach our strategic goals, not one that keeps us in the digital yesterday.

Need help with disruptive technologies? Drop me a line: Nigel@kanukaconsulting.co.nz. Always happy to help.