Can Digitalization Be a Sustainable Process?
How could we make digitalization a sustainable process? It’s a valid question especially now that the already rapid pace of change in digitalization has gone into hyperspeed because of the pandemic.
A good definition of digitalization is that it’s the process of changing one’s business model to provide new opportunities in generating revenue and being more effective by the use of digital technologies and applications. Sustainability has no universally agreed definition, but for our deliberation here let’s say that being sustainable means not sacrificing the long term survivability and assets for short term gain.
The aim is to help people understand and control how, at what pace and to what extent the core processes are digitalized.
So what makes digitalization not sustainable then?
The speed of change by the sheer amount of possibilities for digitalization is exactly why short term efficiency often looks like the optimal choice at the expense of sustainability. New applications and ways to utilize existing technologies come to market suddenly and can provide substantial comparative advantage to organizations almost immediately.
Fast transformation leads into loss of information. Organisation and its employees lose their understanding of the digitalized parts of a process if they lack the visibility into the process and the required technical understanding. This is exactly what happens if a problem is outsourced to an IT vendor.
The examples of uncontrolled digitalization can be seen in practically every single organization. You have undocumented legacy systems that are multiple integrations. You have multitudes of small credit card payments to micro services that are too arduous to track. You have SaaS services that are used at suboptimal capacity and so on.
If you have people armed with the ability of systems thinking, they can apply that into their own field of specialty.
In time, sustainability will be lost to the benefit of fast digitalization for a few reasons. When the requirements to a clotted processes built like this change suddenly, it will be hard to adapt to the changing environment. Also any disturbances that affect the digitalized parts of the organization, are hard to react to.
There are things an organization can do to mitigate these issues. An organization should identify its core operation and make sure that it is secured. This is best done by investing in the ability to systems thinking for the human resource, which will increase the organization’s understanding of its core processes. The aim is to help people understand and control how, at what pace and to what extent the core processes are digitalized.
If you have people armed with the ability of systems thinking, they can apply that into their own field of specialty. Your personnel will shift from being consumers of applications and take a more proactive role in applying their newfound powers and developing their area of expertise in your organization.
Another way to increase sustainability is to invest in software, that provides transparent interface into the automated processes without the need to learn programming languages (ie. Without the need of your specialists to train to become programmers). With these tools your personnel can drive digitalization directly.
Organizations with the understanding (systems thinking) and the means (graphic interface) have the ability to react faster and directly to change.
At least at the time of writing this, graphic UI comes with a cost of some lost efficiency in the short term as professionally programmed (by a team of programmers) processes are quite often more efficient. However, in many occasions the benefits trump the cost. Securing core processes add general security and reduce dependency to external operators. Organizations with the understanding (systems thinking) and the means (graphic interface) have the ability to react faster and directly to change. Less links in the chain reduce the amount of information being lost due to communication (ie. Specialists do not have to explain their needs to the programming team). Graphic interface means that the processes are documented and it is faster and cheaper to spread their understanding to more people.
We believe systems thinking and graphic interfaces are a new and interesting combination in digitalization. Organizations that are utilizing this combination will ultimately be the winners.