Written by Dr Dionysios Demetis, Programme Director for the University of Hull’s Online MSc in Digital Transformation
Today’s managers are intoxicated by the potential of new technologies. How couldn’t they be? From blockchain to AI, from analytics to 3d and 4d-printing, everything looks appealing. But no technology is a plug-and-play solution. Organisational challenges, humans that need to be managed, human-machine interactions that are uncertain, unintended consequences that need to be handled, all get in the way of a seamless technological appropriation.
As the philosopher of technology Don Ihde argues, any given technology harbours ambiguity. The moment a technology is placed within a cultural context, it opens itself up to multiple uses. Also, there is an ambiguity of selection as any possible technological intention can be fulfilled by a range of possible technologies. Even though software vendors are selling ‘solutions’, managers know – deep down – that these so called ‘solutions’ will create a unique set of challenges for them. Without a wider appreciation of what technology does in organisational contexts, what some of the more complex (and subtle) consequences of technology are, what information management can involve and what the digital strategy elements that can help in the diffusion of innovations are, digital initiatives cannot have an impact and will fail.
What exactly is digital transformation and what career opportunities does it present? Find out more.
Because of the compounding factors that introduce these ambiguities, digital transformation in businesses feels like releasing the Kraken! In 2019, in a major survey of directors, CEOs, CIOs, etc., published at the Harvard Business Review, and interestingly enough, entitled “Digital Transformation is NOT about technology”, the authors found that digital transformation risk was the #1 concern. About 70% of all digital transformation initiatives do not reach their goals. Of the $1.3 trillion that was spent on digital transformation in 2019 for example, it was estimated that $900 billion went to waste. Why do some efforts succeed, and most fail? Fundamentally, it’s because most digital technologies provide possibilities for efficiency gains. But if people lack the right mindset to change and the current organisational practices are flawed, digital transformation will simply magnify those flaws.
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It is in these difficult conditions that management, and more explicitly, management of technology, needs to operate. The enormous stresses placed on today’s managers means that they too are pushed into speedy implementations of technology. Whenever the latest consultancy lingo is propelled into the social sphere, or the latest shiny technology comes along, technology management must be sober enough and reflective of the consequences of technological implementations. While we can never predict with accuracy the success or failure of an IT project, we must be willing to see that the most dangerous IT professionals are those that believe firmly in the benevolence of technology itself.
Naturally, companies cannot simply renounce technology in order to avoid unintended consequences as this is also a time of great opportunity! For those who can understand the nature of the beast, deal with it pragmatically, deal with it critically, and take advantage of technology to enable a really meaningful digital transformation for their companies, the landscape of opportunity will look different. The socio-cultural, socio-economic and political context within which technologies are implemented, changes the very course of action. Navigating it, requires critical thinking. The way in which new technologies interfere with business and society at large has changed radically. Like Facebook and Twitter have discovered recently with the tranches of misinformation, political interference, fake news, and organized unrests, technological solutions and uses have consequences that need proper management. Our reliance on digital assets has become truly prominent.
Data hungry algorithms work fine in the linear world of physics/engineering, but in the non-linear world of human society and organisations they do not. These challenges will require individuals with a new set of skills; individuals that can balance the benefits and the risks of technological implementations; individuals that can consider the multiple complex interactions that technology creates and reflect on that from different perspectives. Studying digital transformation from an information systems management orientation is enabling such a balanced approach. More importantly, it constitutes an exciting and intellectually fulfilling journey.
Gain the confidence to evaluate technological potential and choose the right technology to transform how your organisation operates with the University of Hull’s part-time, online MSc in Digital Transformation. Choose from three start dates a year – click here to find out more.