“Digital” is quickly becoming the equivalent of a dial tone in the expectations of customers, governments and enterprises around the world. In fact, even the dial tone is gone on most handheld communications devices.
Welcome to the post-digital world.
I can already hear the groans from my industry friends and colleagues saying, “We have to call it something, and until there’s a better name we’re still calling it digital. ” So until someone coins a new forward-thinking phrase, let’s keep the word digital and add a “rearview mirror” prefix.
As I’ve written in the past, if your enterprise has not already been digitally disrupted in some major way, you have a bigger problem than technology. Digital disruptors are no longer the visionaries; they’re the pragmatists.
As the term implies, the “post-digital disruptors” view the digital technologies that are rapidly becoming commodities as secondary to the deeper human relationship those technologies build.
A brief story from my past might help clarify: I worked in the Soviet Union during the Cold War period of the U.S. government’s extreme technology controls. I was constantly approached by Soviet programmers to take envelopes of PDP11 code back to the U.S. for Digital Equipment to study.
I eventually learned from my intelligence colleagues that the Soviet programmers were able to pack orders of magnitude of code into the same space as the spoiled American programmers. Because of the controls, they learned how to get two or three times more programming power out of the controlled chip than their “capitalist competition” could do. It is no surprise that many of these Soviet programmers are now the most coveted technology assets of companies around the world.
The post-digital world requires a customer or user obsession where the human is the processor. This obsession centers on getting user engagements to generate as much processing power and spew out as much data as humanly and technologically possible.
This shift from the technology processor to the human processor creates a challenge for the typical information technology organization. While many IT organizations are well equipped to enhance the usability and human factors of technology interfaces, it’s a different matter to embed those human factors as a powerful “non-binary” algorithm in and of itself.
For example, digital disruption has made it incredibly easy for anyone to have a website in a matter of minutes. Do-it-yourself site builders are digital commodities. Chat groups or community platforms like WordPress are about as commoditized as technology can get. Yes, they may be an element in digital disruption, but they surely aren’t a disruptor without creating conversational, unstructured data from the participants in the discussion or in the comments section. The same is occurring in many aspects of the AR and VR hype curve where there is no shortage of virtual eye candy to sample, but very little depth of meaningful applications and content.
The post-digital world increasingly relies on the user or customer as content and data creator, as opposed to digital content and data consumer. Most importantly, the post-digital leader understands that digital-centricity may in some cases actually limit the ability to build relationships with users and customers.
This disruptive disconnect is not at all new. A previous CSC piece on police technology, I discuss how the introduction of the patrol car 100 yeas ago actually reduced civic engagement that was previously there when all feet were on the street. That’s now coming full circle what with citizen driven engagement using low or in some cases no technology like ice cream!
Our compulsion to transform enterprise or government for the digital world, while absolutely critical in the 21st century, can come at the expense of meaningful engagement. The post-digital leader needs to think in terms of what the user can add to digital technology versus what digital technology can add to the user. This obsession with the user becomes even more critical in that the user becomes the source of data generated for enterprise or government insight.
The post-digital disruptor needs to focus on what I refer to as “weapons of mass discussion” in my consulting business. The “enriched uranium” of these post-digital weapons is based on the ability for public or private enterprises to leverage human processing power from their customers or constituents.