How many people in your company have home assistants?

Google Home and Amazon Echo: two of the best-selling consumer electronics devices, are typically defined as meaning different things to different people: from spies that supposedly threaten our privacy, to the gateway to a tech-savvy life of ease and luxury.

Having filled my home with them, my experience is that they are neither. The interesting thing about using these kinds of devices every day is the way you find your brain adapting to situations that until very recently would have been science fiction, the way that we now understand our environment.

To get the most out of one of these devices requires undergoing a short learning process. Short, because these are relatively simple devices, but they should not be underestimated. The learning curve is interesting, because it starts with a low first step: plugging in the device and starting by asking simple questions or to remember certain things or to play music. Then comes a second level of complexity (not beyond anybody’s means, but relatively more laborious), and one that the rest of my family didn’t bother with, which involves configuring the device and integrating it with others to carry out more and more tasks: turn on lights, set timers, connect it to the thermostat, water the garden, connect the doorbell, the locks, plugs, and anything else you want to install. The companies that manufacture these types of device know that adoption depends fundamentally on being able to offer an extensive catalog of skills, as well as other devices capable of integrating with them, and have been working toward this for some time.

If we observe how people who are not used to our devices interact with them, we see any number of errors, deficiencies or problems. In general, domestic assistants are still somewhat blundering, make stupid mistakes and are unable to cope with many requests, mainly due to the way in which we try to teach these devices human language. That said, interacting with them can be fun: getting used to the things they do well, helping them avoid simple mistakes and discovering new possibilities. Undoubtedly, forcing us to interact with an artificial intelligence, however simple, changes our perception of our environment and its possibilities, a process that started on our smartphones when Siri appeared in our lives, and that now continues to develop through ​​domestic assistants.

What does all this have to do with the digital transformation of companies? Because as I, and others, have been saying for a long time, the digital transformation of a company depends less on the technology it is capable of acquiring and more on the attitudes and aptitudes that it is capable of developing in the workforce. Companies that manage to transform themselves digitally do not do so just by investing in technology, which obviously suppliers would like them to, but instead by training their workforce, by creating a digital vision, of eliminating certain fears and superstitions, and by overcoming widely held clichés and misconceptions. If a large number of employees in a company have negative attitudes toward technological progress and are not interested in new technology outside the workplace, the company will not be able to transform without altering that vital part of the equation. Transformation will only be possible by training the workforce and or by incorporating new people with different attitudes and aptitudes who understand that the company must evolve to keep up with a rapidly changing environment.

The way to carry out this transformation, therefore, is not by considering technology as the fundamental part of the equation and trying to impose it, but instead by making the people who work in the company understand it, accept it as necessary, and even ask for it. Companies are transformed when the workforce implements it. And a very important part of transforming people does not necessarily take place at work, but instead at home, via electronic consumer devices.

Home assistants are to a large extent, interaction hubs: they are anchored to all the other devices in our home we want to connect. We might think this is what routers do, but in general, we rarely interact with our router, while management of devices ends up being in most cases between your assistant and your smartphone . Setting up simple functions in a digital home today means developing some — a few — skills, but above all, it involves thinking in digital terms, understanding their possibilities, asking interesting questions and trying new things. Precisely the kind of things that change our attitude to technology and help us adapt to new contexts. As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, with the smartphone in the mass adoption phase in the developed world (although there are many that still use them just to make telephone calls), the next frontier, in indicator terms, is domestic assistants.

For managers, indicators can be very important. It may look simplistic, but if you are wondering about whether your company will be successful or not undergoing digital transformation, ask around how many people have Google Home or Amazon Echo in their homes. Don’t turn the issue into some kind of benchmark or test, but be aware, because it could certainly indicate how many people have at least a digital mindset and a proper attitude, and seriously condition the efforts of your company in terms of digital transformation.

(En español, aquí)