Fourth Industrial Revolution

The digital revolution is not about technology – it’s about people

People play the augmented reality mobile game "Pokemon Go" at Kennedy park in Lima, Peru, August 6, 2016.

Image: REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

Jorge Becerra
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Fourth Industrial Revolution

This article is part of: World Economic Forum on Latin America

Globalization has been the word for many years. We could even say it has been the watermark of this era. In its definition, the word invokes positive associations with access, inclusion, development, equality, growth and integration. But now technology is becoming the central axis, rapidly redefining globalization as we know it.

Not only countries, but companies, social organizations and families are enhancing their use of technology in unique ways, hoping it will help them stay competitive in the race to the future.

In the business world, for example, digital technologies often reshape the way work is done. Organizations know that if they are to stay relevant, they have to embrace digital. But the way they execute this transformation makes a big difference in whether they achieve what they’ve set out to.

BCG has studied how successful companies have changed their business and operating models when going digital. All of them share two distinctive characteristics: they create products and services that are embedded with digital technologies, and they use digital channels to interact with their target audiences and clients.

A people-centric digital transformation

However, as most digital transformation across industries and countries continues to unfold, the people dimension of these transformations has emerged as the key to unlocking value and ensuring the sustainability of the changes. Because areas such as leadership development and external talent acquisitions may require entirely different and innovative approaches in the new digital environments, organizations need to be prepared to move and evolve quickly, particularly to ensure each employee has the opportunity to participate in this new environment.

This new digital HR/people strategy needs a new operational model as well. Senior management and leadership should encourage every member of the organization to take responsibility by providing the necessary framework, tools and incentives.

Hiring new digital experts requires looking for different, specific skills, expertise and work styles internally and externally that may have not been considered or required in the past, such as evaluating freelance experience, gauging the potential to build up internal talents, forming multidisciplinary teams, developing cross company collaborative networks, creating new evaluation systems, or redefining leadership roles.

Principles that were part of this new IT environment are now extending beyond IT, often shared and implemented throughout the whole organization in successful digital transformations. These digital principles should and will deliver new agile ways of working.

Customer service

Another key element to consider is the customer experience. Digital technologies can enhance relationships between the company, their customers, their products, and other industry players. This requires capturing and leveraging information generated across their digital ecosystem. Networking becomes as vital as digital and human, to foster and develop new ecosystems in the industry.

Customer experience should be considered throughout digital transformation, integrated within both product and service development. Digital companies should leverage the customer experience data, incorporating insights gained about individuals’ evolving needs to deliver the products, services and experiences their customers demand.

Digitalization also necessitates new ways of working, as organizations become more collaborative and disregard hierarchy, employees must to adapt to new team structures, responsibilities and deliverables. This can be done, but only if management and leadership are genuinely convinced of the value of adapting the organizational structure and invest in this new way of working.

Again, any company can digitally transform, in their own way. However, they should remember one thing: if they make every other change but employees are not empowered, the digital transformation will not be successful. Empowering people is the key to achieving profound and lasting digital transformation that provides sustainable growth and inclusion.

The view from Latin America

Latin American companies are demonstrating that they have anticipated these changes and are vigorously embracing new agile and digital models. For example, banks, retailers and airlines are developing new platforms to engage with millennials, new HR models to empower employees, and new systems to enable their organizations to create, innovate, fail and learn faster than ever before. Disruptive innovation hubs are spreading from Mexico City, to Bogota, Lima and Santiago. Argentina continues to be recognized as a distinctive centre for digital entrepreneurship, hosting the majority of unicorns developed in the region. A people-centric approach may provide the best opportunity to make the most of the coming digital revolution.

Organizational leaders must be ready and willing to listen to their employees, customers and peers. Though it may seem an easy ask, it requires a broad and enduring commitment. A commitment that not only involves empathy, but also adaptive communication skills and, more importantly, a vision to make it happen, as all organizations, whether digital or analogical, are made up by people.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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