DIGITIZATION – Taking Stock of Our Brave New World

Digitization seems to be the flavor of the moment. While experts debate the virtues of bimodal IT, hyperscale data centers, and the emerging ubiquity of the Internet of Things, our guest poster considers digitization and its global impact from a totally different perspective: What needs to change as a company goes digital – its infrastructure or its people?

 Author: Mathias Traugott

IaaS, SaaS, BPaaS, and the cloud are just a few of the terms that everyone is now throwing around, often to describe very different things. Of course, we all need to bluff it sometimes, and I’m certainly no exception. For example, whenever someone asks me what I do, the best I can come up with is: “I work in IT.”

IT can mean a multitude of things, though: a printer, a notebook computer, a workflow, a business enabler, a database system, a software environment, a server, a network, a storage solution, a user terminal, an entire organization, and even the whole Internet of Things. In fact, almost everything these days can be described as IT. But there must be borders – so where do we draw them? And more importantly, how does IT affect us?

IT is steadily digitizing the world around us, introducing many new and disruptive technologies that are transforming the way we do things. Yes, I know – a lot has been written about digitization already, and IT is in there too! But it’s not going away any time soon.

Digitization: not a recent invention

Man first went digital almost five and a half thousand years ago. That was when people realized that by striking a hollow body in a particular way they could generate sound that traveled further than the human voice. The historically verified drums of Zorbau, Germany, date from the year 3400 BC. Together with the associated rules (coding, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics), they are among the earliest examples of digital technology. For the first time in human history, it was possible to transmit information over relatively long distances. This totally new form of communication gave a tactical edge in battle and, ultimately, power to kings. But by now we should be used to it, right? Well, no, actually. Today’s digitization presents us with a whole new bunch of challenges.

Current advances in digital technology are sweeping away what were once considered immutable laws.

Up to now, it was essential to actually own the infrastructure you used. Today, all you need is a winning idea and the ability to use the available technology to maximum effect. Uber, FlixBus, and Airbnb are just a few prominent examples. What unites these companies is a willingness to change. But wherever there’s change, there’s also resistance. Instead of moving forward and embracing the future, it seems too many businesses are still paralyzed with fear. Unfortunately for them, now is the time for genuinely forward-looking strategies. It’s about shaping the future – or being consigned to the past.

Set your people free

One of the biggest challenges for organizations today is finding real leaders rather than mere managers. It’s about giving effective direction that delivers the strategy while complying with company values. So what are the qualities of a successful leader in the modern digital economy?

Firstly, they have to understand that getting results is more important than sticking to a plan. This calls for people who value meaningful tasks more highly than simply setting targets. It also means being more excited about developing new roles than writing traditional job descriptions. And understanding that connecting skillsets achieves so much more than siloing people into narrow functions and tasks. Such individuals prefer to communicate expectations openly, rather than imposing a rigid set of rules. They promote self-organization as an aid to efficiency and avoid defining standards. In short, they are leaders who consistently value team achievement over individual performance and also understand that fostering commitment is more valuable than pursuing a consensus.

Rethink your way of thinking

As the above shows, leadership models need to be reimagined. Old methods and structures are of limited value when it comes to addressing new challenges in our emerging digital world. Traditional companies – built on rigid hierarchies, focused on financial results, and planned around a past reality – are generally risk-averse, have limited internal innovation, and typically own the infrastructure they use to deliver their products and services.

Moving on from that model is difficult, but essential for survival. What is required now is more front windshield and less rear-view mirror. We need more agile methodologies, more effective operations, and a new corporate culture. The first industrial revolution was noisy, smelly, and wreathed in smoke – an attack on all five senses.

The digital revolution, in contrast, is happening by stealth: it is silent, invisible, imperceptible. Those who can adapt quickly – and have the courage to make mistakes – will leave a positive imprint on the emerging digital landscape. They may even go down as the heroes of this revolution.

Now is the time to seize these opportunities and break with the old ways of doing things. After all, if change is the only constant, the only way to survive is to change. Let’s do it!

About Mathias Traugott

Mathias Traugott is CEO of Punctdavista AG and one of the few ITIL masters in the German-speaking area. He is actively involved in the development of IT Governance and Service Management as Head of the ITSM Division at SwissICT, itSMF Germany, and as an appreciated author.
Before changing his job focus to IT and service management, he worked for 17 years in various functions with the former Swiss airline Swissair.

Mr. Traugott was responsible for ITSM and automation activities at Swisscom Mobile since 2002, followed by four years as a consultant at Glenfis AG.