Since the steam age set us on the path of forward motion, we’ve raced through three eras of massive change. Now, as we enter the fourth industrial revolution, businesses are preparing for tomorrow’s marketplace, where data will power a new phase of digital transformation.
While most leaders know this revolution will mean innovation and technological adaption, many haven’t yet considered the impact on their workforce, or how to ensure the transition runs smoothly across the office floor. Though digital transformation provides many opportunities to improve customer experience and outshine competitors, realizing them will be tough without a motivated workforce.
To avoid sinking in the latest industrial epoch, leaders must help their teams navigate the shifting tide.
Before we assess how to manage the fourth industrial revolution, it’s vital to define why it matters. The World Economic Forum describes this revolution as “a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries.” But what affect does this have on business practice?
In short, it means two things: Consumers are more connected than ever, and businesses have the technology to better serve them. Data, of course, plays a major role; connectivity has significantly increased availability, giving companies much greater consumer insight. Yet it’s the ability to utilize these tools effectively that will make the biggest difference.
Artificially intelligent (AI) technology, for instance, can be used to collate, blend, and analyze multiple data streams — identifying areas where services could be improved, or evaluating customer behavior and interests to make each experience relevant, seamless, and effective. And as data volumes keep rising, innovations such as quantum computing are set to ensure companies retain control, with systems offering 100 million times faster processing speeds and unrivalled problem-solving abilities.
As a result, there is limitless capacity for digital transformation to streamline services, save resources, and keep companies at the edge of market progression.
Why might change not always be welcomed?
The simple answer to this question is the human tendency to approach the unknown with caution. While leaders are well aware of the advantages that smart tech can bring and are keen to use them — 30% of businesses will harness AI to enhance at least one core sales process by 2020 — companywide comprehension isn’t necessarily assured.
It is too often assumed that a workforce soon to consist mostly of millennials – who have lived through the third industrial revolution (the dawn of digital) – will be comfortable with a hyper-high-tech future. But the digital era will see change moving at an unprecedented pace, and there is a risk this will cause confusion and panic. Companies must make sure teams understand what the latest revolution will do for them personally – as well as for the business.
A complex revolution requires a multi-faceted strategy. To succeed, companies must deploy full system flexibility to embrace the tech, while demonstrating strong leadership skills to motivate teams and encourage buy in.
Be prepared to adapt and adapt
When faced with an unpredictable future, flexibility is vital. Primarily, tech infrastructure needs to be designed to enable easy adaption. For example, companies might divide internal operations into modules that teams can modify by adding new tools or adjusting procedures. Tech infrastructure can vary between organizations – for example on-premise solutions vs full-cloud – but regardless of the systems in place, it’s imperative that teams feel they have control and are comfortable making alterations.
Furthermore, possible additions to systems should be evaluated based on their ability to integrate with current components, minimizing disruption to working processes and teams.
Take charge of change
Leaders need to be the driving force of change, which means they must fulfill several core functions: supporting global teams, instilling an agile culture, and communicating company innovations. The first duty will be familiar to the majority of leaders amid mass digitalization; as we become more connected, it’s inevitable more businesses will go global. Consequently, keeping multi-national teams working to the same vision, objectives, and standards is key.
But the other two functions are frequently overlooked. For instance, before teams can evolve they must see change as beneficial, which means leaders have a responsibility to create an agile company mindset. The aim of digital transformation should be to better align to your customer’s needs, a cause all employees should be able to understand. This should be the driver of all decisions. Data and technology act only as facilitators of this goal. By taking the time to clearly explain why change is necessary and equipping workers with the skills needed to master emerging tech, leaders can foster a positive attitude to digital transformation. By openly sharing the implications of each change, leaders can instill a perception of systems as evolving solutions that can be reconfigured or enhanced to improve results. Finally, leaders should communicate how these changes will ultimately move the company closer to its core values and mission.
A never-ending process
The answer to The Innovator’s Dilemma – a famous conundrum posed by Harvard's Clayton Christensen as to why new technologies cause great firms to fail – is constant innovation. Leaders must view digital transformation as an on-going project, always seeking new solutions and strategies to better appeal to their audiences. The leader of the future is a technical expert, a strategic mastermind, but most importantly, emotionally intelligent. This way, leaders can ensure their employees are with them every step of the journey.
These are exciting times for those determined to propel their business towards the next age of digitalization. Sophisticated tools and intelligent machines might offer an enticing opportunity to ensure companies work faster, smarter, and more effectively, but leaders ready to race up the stairs of innovation must pause and spare a thought for their workforce. Though it might make for slightly slower progress, taking the time to lead teams through change can be the difference between sinking or swimming, as the fourth industrial revolution gets underway.
Adam Corey leads Tealium’s marketing and is responsible for driving awareness around the power of Tealium and cultivating alliances with best-of-breed customer data solutions. He has over 13 years of experience in digital analytics, marketing and business development. Prior to joining Tealium, Adam led the solutions consulting groups at Upsight and CrowdFactory (now part of Marketo). He also previously led technical production efforts at ABCNEWS.com.