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MICHAEL DEVENNEY: The high cost of digital dawdling

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We may think of technological innovation as something for start-ups, but staying technologically relevant is the responsibility for all companies. - 123RF Stock Photo

By MICHAEL DEVENNEY

We are going to be judged poorly on this one and judged so based on our own words.

Although we want to be viewed as a hub of technological innovation, we are digital dawdlers.

In our current survey, business leaders in the region said the area they were least ready to grow in was their ability to implement and use new technologies. And this was true across all sizes and sectors of companies. In terms of revenues, leaders of organizations with annual sales exceeding $100 million ranked their technology competency at 60 per cent while small business owners selling less than $1 million each year felt they were 63 per cent effective.

And with incredible availability and access to government funding for research and development using technology, only 22 per cent of entrepreneurs accessed such programs.

Innovation everyone's job

We may think of technological innovation as the land of start-ups, but this is not the case. Implementation of game-changing technology is the responsibility for all companies, of every size.

The pandemic changed all that, right?

Globally, yes, the world was shaken technologically from the coronavirus impact. Productivity in the United States improved by 4.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2020, following a 10.6 per cent increase in the second quarter—the highest six-month bump in productivity realized since 1965. And it rested with the application of technology to operations, markets, and all aspects of how business is transacted. And e-commerce advanced more in the first six months of 2020 than in the prior 10 years.

Here in Atlantic Canada, we are not advancing at the same pace of other provinces and regions. It is critical that we reconfigure our business operations and face to consumers through technology or we will falter or stagnate. The means are here, it is the mindset we need to consider.

Employees ready for change

Our survey of employees showed a readiness to change—leaders are not moving at the same speed. Employees see innovation as essential for competitiveness and yet, rank their organizations low on their innovation competency. Workers surveyed gave the lowest scores in the areas of seeking the perspectives of others and paying attention to changing markets.

Being able to take online sales is not enough, as digitally enabled productivity is going to continue to accelerate. Beyond new product and service offerings, it is the operations and processes that require significant innovation through technology. Leaders see the need to assess new technologies to improve business competitiveness and to implement technology to advance and transform how work is done.

We get it, but are we doing it?

Not yet it seems. The highest technology-based skills desired by employers here are in social media management, digital marketing, and data analysis—competencies that support moving to market. All good, but what about how we advance our business? In other regions, the skills with the highest value for business leaders are applications of artificial intelligence, the use of the Internet of Things (think sensors as an example) to deepen customer experience and service opportunities, the use of cloud-based services, and, critically, cybersecurity. With most of the workforce being remote, the need for protection of data and systems access is paramount. But these skills do not even rank on our lists here.

We need to advance our digital economy simply to keep pace.

Where do leaders start? The transformation of a business to a new technology-enabled framework is daunting. There are so many areas for change and shifts in one area may upset the efficiency of others.

Start with strategy

The beginning is strategy. Systems-thinking, inclusive diversity, and customer-based value are the drivers of a transformative technology strategy.

Leaders need to fully map the entire operational system of the company, from marketing to production to delivery to service, and see the interaction of elements and where technologies may reduce friction and enhance productivity.

Like all strategies, the development of choices and directions need diverse perspectives and the inclusion of employees at all levels. Inclusive diversity is vital to innovation in general. Sadly, shaping a diverse and inclusive culture ranks as their second lowest factor of readiness by leaders in our survey. We need investment here to gain returns on enabling technology.

And we need to be clear on outcomes and the value created. Technology serves a purpose—creating new value for the customer—and decisions for implementing innovation be grounded in what we do for our customer.

In Atlantic Canada, we have the elements of technology leadership, the people and resources are here, but we need to up our game to mature as a digital economy. Or we risk stagnating and falling behind.

As Clayton Christensen (the former Harvard Business School professor and thought leader on disruptive innovation) said, “The job does not change, technology just enables new solutions”.

Michael DeVenney is president of WorkInsights, a Halifax-based research and strategy analytics company focused on measuring the working environment and how people work best together. You can contact him at [email protected].

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