What do they call Chinese food in China? Food. This joke, which did the rounds in the early 2000s, takes its humour from the juxtaposition of the same information in different contexts. Change the context and the descriptor becomes pointless. For business, it serves as a useful reminder against making assumptions that information has the same value in different contexts.
What else is business if not the constant adjustment to changing contexts?
How we do business today is greatly different to the industrial age when “computers” were people hired to perform calculation tasks. With advancing technology, economies were able to derive greater value from knowledge and services than mass produced goods. We would soon call the machines “computers”.
In the new digital context, organisations needed a new way to manage. With the work of notables, such as Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Peter Senge and Gary Hamel, strategic planning, workforce and talent management, business process reengineering and system upgrades moved forward from their pre-digital approaches.
Image source: Patrick Hendry on Unsplash
Our attention has been mostly focused on the transition from industrial to digital age. The significance of the transition from digital to post-digital is often overlooked. An era enters a “post” phase when a defining phenomenon so transforms the period that its presence is a given. The post-COVID era, for example, is not one where there is no COVID but means the responses to COVID are part of the norm, COVID or not.
In that vein, the post-digital age is one where digital is no longer remarkable. The assumption of digital is often referred to as “digital first”. In the new economic context, is your organisation’s strategic planning, likewise, post-digital or still grappling with the transition to digital? Do you use the word “hybrid” with “workforce” or assume distribution of workers is just one of the many factors in workforce management? Are you reengineering business processes for digital first or are your business process plans still separate to your digital strategies?
Digital transformations are the pathway to post-digital. Those that moved early on digital transformations were handed with competitive advantages, enabling them to significantly out-earn their industry peers in the same or less time. With global uncertainties increasing — notably with pandemics, wars, environmental disasters and political conflicts — digital solutions cannot be anything but digital first.
Data indicates many organisations are under-prepared for the post-digital age. Research from 2022 shows barely half of (56%) of organisations globally have made digital transformation a priority.
Image sources: Andy Beales on Unsplash
As of 2021, spending on digital transformation totalled 1.5 trillion. That figure is set to jump to 6.8 trillion by 2023.
A 4.5 times increase in spending on digital transformation is both heartening and worrying. Worrying because the expenditure will not be even. The already advantaged will make up the bulk of spending creating greater unevenness in the playing field.
That’s the context problem. Strategic planning, workforce and talent management, business process reengineering and system upgrades may be happening but not only are many of them not sufficiently post-digital, many are barely post-industrial. Thus, the rate of digital transformation failures remains at 70%.
Digital transformations must be designed for post-digital to work. Organisations cannot rely on their knowledge of the past. Post-digital not only needs new approaches; it needs managers with the humility to accept things have changed.
Knowledge workers enabled the transition from the industrial to post-industrial age. Digital connectivity enabled the transition from the post-industrial to digital age. Digital transformations are enabling the transition from the digital to the post-digital age. Or should that be “transformations” — the “digital” is a given.
This article is written by Isabel Wu from Meta Management and covers all things digital. Meta Management is a consultancy specialising in helping its clients with the organisational assets that drive effective digital transformation and create value in a hyper-connected, constantly changing world.