Why there's still a place for humans in the digital revolution

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Identify software development pain points CIO

It is already a clear and foregone conclusion that current tools of digital transformation such as global sourcing, IT consumerization, and cloud technologies are having and will continue to have a large impact in today’s enterprise. But some companies wonder and assume that some well-advertised components of the digital revolution – think Big Data, BYOD or social media – are greater than the whole.

At its core, a digital enterprise (large or small) must focus and concentrate on achieving a conjunction of technology and socioeconomics with its consumers. In order to achieve this, businesses and CIOs must take an outside-in approach to business process architecture design. Companies must rethink how to measure and plan existing KPIs in appropriate contexts of real time. The previous approach of one-to-five-year planning cycles with quarterly adjustments are no longer operational.

As digital-related technology progresses and matures, it becomes much more capable of handling complex tasks. The follow-up question I typically receive is quite natural: "Why do I need a middle operations management layer when everything is automated?" My advice has and it still is quite clear: "You need people now more than ever."

... as machine learning technologies grow in complexity and sophistication, human skills will need to be adapted to allow for growth in equal measure

This approach will need to blend operational stability with quickness and agility in responding to digital requirements and challenges. The rationale for this is straightforward. Digital technologies, although very powerful, are not quite sufficiently mature yet for full automation. This implies that human skills are quite necessary to continue to develop and strengthen the digital interfaces. After all, for most companies the final consumer is still human. This means that in order to obtain sustainable competitive advantage human interactions are still clearly needed.

Secondly, and just as critical, as machine learning technologies grow in complexity and sophistication, human skills will need to be adapted to allow for growth in equal measure. Acquiring new talent with built-in expertise is difficult enough, so existing talent needs to be trained for the digital landscape. In this respect, I always note (one of my BIG soap box concerns) that companies should stop competing on skills and learn to hire on individuals. This last point is meant to refer to individuals who can grow and help to grow an organization regardless of the percentage of bullet points in the job profile that match the individual's resume (CV).

Companies should be careful as well to avoid eliminating opportunities for productive human intervention just for the sake of process reduction or linear expense reductions. This can be especially powerful with service providers as they should look for the best optimization of process automation (digitalization) and customer interactions.

A final note. The digitalization revolution will require good leaders with multiple business skills to develop closer and more frequent interactions with their respective teams. Some leaders in this area have adopted different formats such as daily morning or afternoon team recap meetings. Traditional practices need to be digitally reinforced through tools such as online portals to measure daily targets to help maintain long-term team commitments in digital enterprise environments. 

Miguel Blanco is a CIO with a strong business innovation focus based on solid data analysis. He has generated new business development deals for retail companies focusing on B2B2C projects, including market analysis. In his role, he provides CIO level management consulting to customers with a specialization in SMEs in the retail segment.