On the 24th of March I came back to the Island from a business trip just in the nick of time before the borders closed and went into quarantine at home. PDMS had already abandoned the office and we were starting to see how well we would cope with a very different working and business environment. Four months on, I am very glad I made it back to the Island and it is great to be somewhere that feels so safe and normal but we are in the minority and our economic recovery cannot happen in isolation. In line with the rhetoric from progressive governments around the world we are hoping to “build back better” with a focus on Green, Digital and Safe.
This article is perhaps an early reflection on what we have learned from being forced to change the way businesses operate and how this might allow us to thrive and not just survive.
‘Digital’ was already a theme prior to lockdown but now in our ‘new normal’ it has enjoyed an incredible acceleration in the practical application of the tools we already had. Necessity was indeed the mother of invention (or at least adaptation) but in life post the crisis phase, the key to thriving is to cash in on the productivity benefits of a ‘digital by default’ approach.
The fall out of digital productivity is a short-term threat to those with jobs in administrative roles but failure to remain competitive is a threat to the whole economy. So how do you make digital transformation work for the people who feel most threatened by it?
Up until now, digital innovation has mostly been a story of disruptive start-ups trying to challenge the business models of established sectors. Typically, large established organisations work on the basis that they have been doing this for years and consequently they know best, yet they almost always underestimate the willingness of consumers to adopt new technology and consequently squander their advantages of scale. That is until COVID-19 hit and the whole world had to look at digital innovation as a matter of urgency.
Regardless of whether you are doing business face to face or online, trust is usually the single most important factor when it comes to closing a sale. Trust is won through compliance with regulations and through consistent application of a company’s values in every single interaction that a business has with its clients. The single most important technology for generating trust is HI (human intelligence – of course!), which unlike AI, excels in empathetic communication. Digital solutions designed without HI are unlikely to increase trust in anything but the most mechanical interaction.
Optimisation of HI of course should be the core principle for digital transformation. If businesses want to thrive rather than just survive in the digital economy, systems must be designed to generate trust. Trust must particularly come from the two stakeholder groups that success depends on most - staff and their customers.
Staff need to see how digital transformation and therefore greater productivity will benefit them rather than threaten their jobs. Customers need to see that they are getting better value for money and an enhanced customer experience whichever way they choose to interact.
It may seem blindingly obvious but there are a couple of golden rules for generating a good customer experience which makes the best use of technology and people:
These rules are more honoured in the breach than in the observance, particularly in larger organisations, and, from my own personal experience, the banking sector.
Just as trust is vital to individual businesses, the role of regulation in the creation of trust is one of the most important aspects of economic development at a jurisdictional level. Rather than being an imposition, good regulation is a constructive partnership between business and government. Good regulation creates trust in the products being regulated and should be technology agnostic.
For regulated sectors to thrive in a digital world, regulation and supervision needs to be in tune with a ‘digital by default’ approach to compliance. Rather than viewing digital systems as intrinsically riskier, the question should actually be ‘why is this process still paper based?’ This way, the onus is not just on the regulator but also on industry groups who need to collaborate to identify those ares of digital best practice which they can agree and adopt collectively.
Thriving for a business means doing more business at less cost and thriving for an employee means more remunerative, flexible and rewarding work. Thriving for customers means doing business with organisations we trust to provide products and services which meet our needs, represent good value, and are designed in our long-term best interest.
To thrive in a more digital, greener and safer business climate, we all need to understand and design our systems around the people we employ and the people they serve. Digital does not mean no human interaction - it should mean better, more enjoyable human interactions not based solely on completing administrative tasks such as KYC, which should be easy to do online. Similarly, business travel should be a lot less frequent and a lot more pleasant.
One of the most surprising things that we have experienced during the last few months is how much more we have been able to engage with our international colleagues and organisations because suddenly location is less important than bandwidth. Personally, I have been able to contribute far more to organisations like TechUK where I sit on the Central Government Council - this has been achieved at a fraction of the cost, with no air miles and with far less disruption to the day job. In fact, looking at PDMS as a business overall, we have found that while we have all worked from home, our productivity and activity levels have improved while costs and our carbon footprint have been significantly reduced.
Not all of the cost savings achieved will be sustainable or even desirable in the long term but we will certainly be expecting to travel a bit less, do more with our time and use our people and our places more flexibly and productively in future. My personal experience with TechUK was that prior to lockdown, committee membership was heavily skewed towards people who could easily attend meetings in London in person and, although lip service was paid to supporting remote attendance, it was a pretty poor experience. However, when lockdown happened, TechUK had to embrace the change and I have already seen a difference to the balance of geographical contributions to meetings. This trend, if sustained, can only be good for Isle of Man PLC!
To learn more, please contact Chris