Digital Transformation – An individual take on technology

Posted by Laura Mattin on January 29, 2015

I think most of us know and understand that the digital transformation of almost every aspect of our lives is generally a good thing.  I, for one, am happy that, on balance, my life is better, easier, enriched (although sometimes quite the opposite – memes are not my thing!) and smarter, as a result of all the technology that I have in it.  However, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that the people who interact with the technology are all individuals with their own preferences, biases and priorities, and who may see this technological revolution differently.

I got this reminder a few weeks back when some friends and I were trying to organise a social get-together via a popular instant messaging tool.  As the group is quite large and life is busy, finding a date that everyone can make is really difficult.  People were bouncing messages back and forth such as “I can do the 4th, 16th or 23rd, but only after 8pm on 16th” – multiply this by eight people and you have a scheduling nightmare!  As someone who struggles with inefficiency, I found this really hard to deal with – I was pulling my hair out at all the messages pinging through. So I came up with a solution – a really neat tool for co-ordinating diaries called Doodle ( – despite what comes next in this story, I highly recommend it!).  What it does is entirely simple, by plotting each person’s availability and finding the best date; I thought it was a no-brainer that everyone would think this was the answer to our problem.

But I was wrong.  A couple of people filled in their dates, but most then sent a message explaining why they could/couldn’t make the dates they’d entered.  Other people ignored the tool altogether and continued to send messages with their preferred dates.  I was pretty surprised as my phone continued to ping, but when I thought about it I think I understood what was happening.

Just because I, in my very own organise-everyone, get-it-done-quickly-and-efficiently, task-focused way had found the perfect technological solution to our problem, it didn’t mean that the people involved would see things the same way.  Some of my friends were actively enjoying the process that I was finding so painful – they wanted to write the messages, interact with each other (not a website!) and explain what was going on in their lives to mean they couldn’t make certain dates.  I had to face up to the fact that my ‘solution’ was only as good as my understanding of the people who I expected to work with it.

Putting the complexities of my social life to one side, I think this is a really important point about finding technological solutions to business problems.  We all know that technology can make processes simpler and more efficient; I think we probably all know that people are an essential part of the success of that technology implementation, but it goes deeper than that.  Even ‘people’ is a homogenous, generic term which fails to recognise the individuality that we all possess.  Business processes and systems will try to iron out most of these idiosyncrasies, but there’s still going to be a limit to the extent to which we can control individuals’ reactions to the things we ask them to do and the technology or tools we ask them to use.

It seems to me that there’s never going to be a perfect answer to this conundrum – to try and find one would be to negate the whole point about individuality.  However, there are things we can do to try and make the experience better for everyone:

  • Engage different groups and types of people, with different roles and perspectives early on in talking about any proposed changes to process or technology
  • Listen to what they say about what is important to them; if one person is saying that it’s not practical for them to work in a certain way, there’s a good chance that others will feel the same
  • Try to build some flexibility into what you are doing – often this is the antithesis to what business and technology change programmes are trying to achieve, but acknowledging the issues early on could reap rewards when it comes to actually expecting your people to work with the new system
  • Understand that very few people will be difficult for the sake of it; usually it’s because you are asking them to do something that just doesn’t sit comfortably with their personal style and way of working; this is where good change management can really help
  • Small changes to the way in which things are done can have a significant effect; making one in every four weekly meetings a face-to-face rather than a conference call is likely to have a really positive impact on people who enjoy the process of interacting with others, rather than simply getting the job done

I realise some might read this and think that, ultimately, people should adapt to the processes and technology the organisation puts in place for them.  And to a certain extent, that’s what they have to do – we all do it every day.  But still, I think there’s scope for the organisation to see its people as individuals and remember that we won’t all view new technology the same way; recognising this and acting on it should create a win-win situation.