Managing change in the connected workplace
The move to the digital world has allowed us to create new value inside the workplace, but adopting the IoT on a wider scale poses a few challenges. Alexander Reay, Chief Digital Officer at Sodash and President of the Nordic IT Association, explores the role an organization’s structure and culture play in maximizing IoT’s potential for businesses. He also talks about the leadership issues that need to be addressed during this transformation.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is very transformative and is reshaping business models. This disruption entails a huge amount of internal change that needs to be addressed in an organization. Alexander Reay, Chief Digital Officer at Sodash and President of the Nordic IT Association, believes that the issue is connected to neither technology nor technology maturity. “It’s a leadership one. It’s about understanding the digital economy – or if you prefer, the platform economy – we’re moving into.”
This transformation through technology, he adds, is a cultural matter. “It’s the impact of how the business and the people in it work. When you’re moving systems into the cloud, the major issue is to actually lead or inspire people who are very much used to the traditional way of doing things to adopt this new method.”
Since digital transformation is something that effects every single part of a business, a leader can’t be expected to do this on his or her own and needs to invest into change agents.
Culture of change
“An organization needs to have a culture of proactive change and the individual spearheading it needs to have a completely systematic and holistic view,” continues Reay. “Leadership in larger enterprises, however, isn’t as agile and usually can’t cope with quick, radical change. By far, that is the biggest barrier in adopting new and better ways of doing things along with rigid old hat organizational structures and governance”
As companies are recast as digital enterprises, and organizations continue to adapt to the IoT and the new demands of managing the physical and the digital, this convergence mandates not only new skills but also different ways of working.
The role of chief digital officer (CDO) involves looking for business opportunities that have been enabled by the digital revolution. It also entails focusing on customers and how their needs might change because of technological developments. It is quite different to that of the chief information officer, whose job — though similarly complex — is more about following procedures and keeping a company’s IT systems running. By contrast, the digital role is to head the transformation.
“This is really a leadership understanding of the technology – how to use it, how to drive new value as result – not the technology itself. So forget thinking of IoT and digitalization as just new technologies.”
As Reay stresses, “This is really a leadership understanding of the technology – how to use it, how to drive new value as result – not the technology itself. So forget thinking of IoT and digitalization as just new technologies. For those companies that get it, digital represents an entirely new way of doing business, moving from using technology as a catalyst for efficiency or effectiveness into driving new value or even changes to entire business models, but most important, they are in the process of changing their corporate culture”.
Difference between network and community
To begin the work of digital delivery, the companies recruiting chief digital officers must break down the walls between the independent vertical structures in their organizations. Reay notes that since we’re used to really siloed innovation, “we’re just about starting to realize the potential of open innovation techniques. What we’re talking about is a completely seamless network.”
It’s one thing to have the infrastructure to create a network and fluidity – those are the technical aspects, according to Reay.
“The real value lies in using that network to create and foster a community or to look at it another way expedite a digital culture, and for that people need to be empowered. Being connected to somebody doesn’t mean that that individual is empowered to be able to add value or even inspired to do so, and that’s the difference between a network and a community, it’s about adoption rate – a network informs, where as a community acts. In a community, people are actively contributing and they’re empowered to do so. That’s why change right now is such a headache for large businesses: they are simply too siloed, lacking the ability to adopt new ways of working quickly enough.”
Security and privacy issues
Another barrier, not just in terms of operability or interoperability, involves security issues. Reay brings up privacy, which to him is an area that is very disruptive in itself. “We’ve got the EU coming out with changes and directives very frequently and cyber-attacks increasing in frequency. The move into IoT requires a completely new set of skills that are needed rather urgently, if you fulfill some of the data regulations,” he adds.
These directives, as well as the cyber security issues that result from having these systems over the internet, have yet to be fully understood because IoT is such a new area.
“Since the EU is putting in these directives, when these new things emerge, they do so within the context of a rigid government system that’s been used for eternity. The key in trying to find new ways of mitigating some of these risks is understanding what leadership roles are really needed.”
Reay observes that large organizations are now rolling out compliance managers across their business units. “This is simply not going to do,” he counters. “There needs to be a Chief Privacy Officer, someone who can run the show at a very single level inside the organization on a strategic level, we are not just talking about technology here. These individuals should be rising through the ranks from a legal perspective, and with heavy sanctions and penalties for privacy breaches, this role should under no circumstances be left to the CISO, CSO, CIO, or CDO’s responsibility”.
Collaboration between machine and human
With the usage or the ability to analyze such massive volumes of data, machine learning starts to play a role. Humans can’t analyze that amount of data, and to Reay, what’s interesting is the new value creation made possible by massive volumes of data collected from connected products and devices. This goes beyond efficiency, smart sensors or the ability to use the IoT to create more efficient productive manufacturing lines.
“For example, artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to process that data to provide insight, resulting in better informed rapid decision making. Doing so could organize a lot of these areas, from efficiency and uptime to the utilization of assets. The maintenance and management aspects are, right now, the areas where we’re going to see machine learning really utilized.”
Ultimately, Reay believes that everything comes down to a human-centric approach.
“What really stands out with the use of AI is that it makes us essentially more human. It’s the same as with digital transformations: it’s not the data we’re interested in. It’s how the data influences our decisions. The collaboration between machine and human is where the real innovations are going to start. The utilization of the interface between AI and humans is going to be where we will see how it is utilized to its full potential.”
Again, when we roll out the IoT, machine learning can be used to improve efficiency and uptime. But, as Reay concludes, “the real utilization is understanding how can we use machine learning to create a positive impact for humanity, the workplace and our customers.”
Alexander Reay works as a Chief Digital Officer at Sodash and is President of the Nordic IT Association
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