The High Cost of Digital Dawdling
Michael DeVenney
November 22, 2021
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We are going to be judged poorly on this one.

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

In our current survey of business leaders, the lowest-ranked area of readiness for growth was the ability to implement and use new technologies. And it was experienced 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% while small business owners selling less than $1,000,000 each year felt they were 63% effective.

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

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 of 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% in the third quarter of 2020, following a 10.6% 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.

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

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, with the lowest scores in 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.

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Not yet it seems. The highest technology-based skills desired by employers 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 to position companies to not just outperform, but 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.

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

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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 the 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”.

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