C-level briefing: Part II – CEO Phil Smith urges companies to stop relying on millennials to do all digital work.
For years we have been told how important technology is for the future of business, but a survey by Cisco and the Institute of Cultural Capital (ICC) has found that the human side of the business is just as important as technology.
Indeed, Cisco UK&I CEO Phil Smith, believes that if UK companies fail to get the human side of the business up to scratch, we could be in not just for a Brexit but also a Techxit with other countries taking over the UK’s current leadership position.
Smith told CBR: "I think it is very easy to make technology feel not very human, or ‘de-humanise technology’ and say it is all about technology and that we have to implement it, to improve productivity and so on.
"The challenge we have got is that when you genuinely look at that, it actually turns out it has a lot more to do with human beings in terms of being successful when implementing technology.
"Companies need to think about clear digital leadership. They need to get digital to the board; they need to understand at the board level or senior level that digital is something that is happening now. It is not just something from the industry."
Smith also said that those companies that think they are in a better position to adopt technology because they have millennials working with them are living in a "big misconception".
The survey of 3,006 UK workers found that nearly one third (29%) of UK businesses are still not bringing any sort of digital technologies into their environment, with workers clueless about any digital technology roll-outs.
40% of those surveyed said that digital technology was not explained effectively to them by their employers when introduced, with 57% saying they would have liked more information on how to use it.
In addition, 64% of respondents revealed they were not consulted prior to the provision of new digital technologies.
The problem here is that humans are being left out in one of the most challenging shifts in modern history.
According to Smith, technological adoption is not just about the fact that there is a new technology. It has much more to do with the culture of the company and its willingness to embrace technological change.
"We have to look at companies and actually think around companies’ culture. Technology adoption is much less to do with just the technology itself and just to do with the way companies and people think about adopting technology.
"If we do not line up technology and culture, there is a real danger that we, in the UK, end up having a Techxit rather than a Brexit."
It is important to underline that the warning of a Techxit in this scenario has nothing to do with the UK leaving the technology sector, as Smith explained.
In this scenario, a Techxit would mean that if the UK does not get the culture in place to be able to adapt technology in a way some other countries can do, "then it is difficult to drive that digital leadership".
"Unless companies think about the culture aspect, the human aspect of technology, then actually technology will struggle to be implemented in the way you wanted it to be." Smith told CBR.
How serious is the disconnect between staff and bosses?
While many have been left in the dark about their company’s digital roadmap, workers themselves see the benefits of technology adoption, and some have – unsuccessfully – tried to suggest technologies to their bosses that could help improve productivity in the workplace.
More than two thirds (67%) said that digital technology has had a positive impact on the way they work, yet there is still work to do.
The disconnect between staff and senior entities was highlighted with as many as 26% of workers’ sugestions regarding digital technology not materialising in the workplace..
19% of respondents said they were in fact "actively concerned about their company’s digital future", with just 24% confident about their managers’ proposals and takes on digital.
Smith said: "The sort of things people can do with their iPhone and Android devices is often much more sophisticated than those devices being handled inside the office.
"Technology has changed things, but implementing it successfully is not straight-forward. The kind of digital by-default has a lot to do with the attitude of the company and the way they engage in digital."
How to do digital
Building on the results of the survey, both Cisco and the ICC put together a four bullet-point guide on how companies can get digital right.
Like Smith said before, first there is a need to have a clear digital leadership roadmap. Demonstrating a clear digital vision is important but so is taking the time to ensure workers are on board and equipped to undertake the same digital journey.
Secondly, the companies suggest that businesses need to foster more positive attitudes towards digital technology.
The more time organisations spend consulting staff, and building a culture that nurtures an acceptance of change, the more effective implementation of digital technology is in the workplace.
Furthermore, companies need to limit organisational barriers. Before rolling out new technologies, Cisco and the ICC say that organisations must assess their structure to highlight any potential barriers to success.
"This could include addressing out-of-date internal processes, removing restrictive legacy technology systems, or resolving a pre-existing negative digital culture."
Lastly, the two companies stress the importance of better internal communication within organisations, be it face-to-face interaction, dedicated training on the new tools, or a clear articulation of how the new digital technology will impact their role at work.
Smith said: "Just because people have good technology skills at home it does not mean that the technologies in the work place will be easy to understand."