That the average employee today has better information technology at home than at work has become a standard refrain in discussions of IT modernization. The consumer world of bleeding-edge smart mobile devices, jam-packed app stores, wearables of every description, a constellation of game-changing sharing economy services ala Uber and Airbnb -- even the rise of 3D printing -- has decidedly made the typical enterprise look like a rather staid "slow follower" of technology trends.
Now, however, a confluence of trends is providing impetus for organizations to become much more digital than they have until recently. One key reason: The growing dominance of millennial workers as a share of the workforce means that by the end of this decade, nearly half of employees will come from this group of tech-savvy, mobile-centric, socially networked workers. They will be fully 75 percent of the workforce in a decade.
Another trend: The very relevance and effectiveness of an organization now requires 1) meeting a fast-rising and accelerating floor for minimum digital competency and 2) adapting the very business itself to the new digital-centric world. This second piece is perhaps the largest barrier: Digital is now imposing a shift -- and often a complete rethinking -- in the fundamental way we work in nearly every industry, including our core business models. Unfortunately, traditional organizations have been built around legacy 20th century models of business, in which the majority of their market momentum and inherent know-how lies.
Additional Reading: Business have digitized, but not transformed
The challenge is that for many -- even most -- organizations, swimming hard up the digital stream largely results in just standing in place. However, until we started facing genuine disruption from the digital world, the threshold below which organizations cannot viably sink hasn't been excessively high. Tech change is now so rapid it's given rise to important observations like Martec's Law, which ominously notes that "technology changes exponentially, but organizations change logarithmically."
Thus the so-called proof points for technology competency in the enterprise has moved well beyond rudiments like having a Web site or allowing iPhones and Android devices on the corporate network. Viability as a technology company -- and I'd suggest that virtually all organizations today must quickly become technology companies -- now means considerably closer parity with the consumer digital world.
While there are many new and interesting enterprise technologies and products today that organizations are moving towards, enterprise tech is not the yardstick that's typically used by employees or the wider world. Instead, below are the expectations that the average employee or customer -- drawing from their own daily experiences with the capabilities in today's digital world -- would expect from their IT at work today:
You might notice that this list of digital workplace expectations is surprisingly simple and fundamental. There's no big data here, Google Glass, or enterprise gamification. It's is a far cry from the cutting edge of what's possible in the consumer world or even the enterprise. Rather it's just the realistic minimum that enterprises need to support today in terms of treading water on digital competency, remaining competitive, attracting talent, and sustainably creating value for their customers and shareholders in recognizable and useful forms.
But staying just above the digital competency floor isn't enough. In fact, what organizations must also be doing is maintaining a clear large-scale and integrated business/technology vision towards the future, the details of which I'll explore here in the coming weeks. So, in addition to the basic 'table stakes' for digital in the list above, organizations must successfully cope with the critical macro changes taking place in a) new models of work, b) required evolution of enterprise applications, and 3) new types of devices which will truly reshape businesses in terms of their processes and structure. All while demanding considerable shifts in culture and mindset in our leadership and workforces in order to adapt to and align with successfully.
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A short list of these enterprise macro technology changes (also in diagram above) are: New modes of collaboration; changes in how we structure our organizations because of digital networks; new ways of developing and managing workforces and talent; the collaborative economy as a new core business model; upgrades to the digital workplace to reflect the complexity and ubiquity of tech; new devices including wearables; the explosion of the Internet of Things; 3D printing; and even a new generation of workplace robotics.
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To close the gap, we must not forget that a big part of the challenge is that the reason the enterprise and the consumer digital world often look so different, is because they are different. And while you can't replicate the Internet within the enterprise exactly, you can bring in and adapt what works about it best, such as an effective and pervasive deep link structure, simple APIs for everything, a relentless focus on user experience, new models for working together, cloud-based technology stacks, decentralized service delivery, and just-plain sufficient investment in technology.
But the hardest part of the whole challenge facing the enterprise is likely adopting a 'digital-first' mindset. As in, how do I rethink my business in terms of digital possibility in today's fast-changing and complex technology landscape.
For now, however, the lack of sufficient investment may perhaps be the root barrier: The vast majority of IT departments today are still considered overhead -- which is not the case for mature digital businesses, where it is critical to P&L. Consequently, I believe most organizations are significantly underinvesting in the types of digital transformation that must happen today. In other words, if you compare your IT spend to the R&D budgets of large, successful technology firms, you'll likely find that your resources are insufficient to close the gap, much less seize opportunity.