Think About the Digital Age as the Information Age

You may be familiar with the long waves paradigms for tracking human progress through the ages. What I find the most interesting is that the innovations are grouped under categories that describe their transformative feature: material, energy and information.

long waves paradigms
DigitalDev, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the digital revolution started in the mid-20th century, there is already an additional section representing computing information, a step beyond communication and storing information.

Why Is This Critical?

I would be the first to say digitization, modernization and automation are the watchwords of digital transformation, and for businesses that need to start their journey to transform, these words frame a concise story.

Digitization – To get data unlocked from paper so you can do something with it

Modernization – To update the inflexible legacy solution and allow for more agility

Automation – To stop the time-wasting manual processes

These are all actions for getting the business’s “house” in order – to boost communication and to look to digitally store a business’s data. But in the end, it’s all about the information.

• Improving access to information
• Removing multiple touchpoints to let it flow
• Putting in security measures
• Hiring data scientists to decipher the data for leadership
• Enabling better decision making
• Leveling up processes

Every smart business leader looks to data to help make the right decisions at all levels of an organization. A manager of programs wants to understand “how are we doing” based on program metrics, and see what can be improved, tested and changed for a better outcome.

Supervisors see how teams are doing with their everyday tasks. Do they have enough information readily available to do a better job? If not, why? Is there a better way?

Senior leadership wants to steer an organization’s strategic plan based on information. Are we responding to customers (constituents, patients, students) as the best in the business? Are we giving our teams the best tools to do their jobs efficiently? Are we leveraging information throughout the organization?

The Business of Business

Every business experiences the push-pull of work. Corporate strategy has short- and long-term goals, but how will the business make it happen? It’s the operational staff that makes the magic happen to achieve goals. Don’t get me wrong – there are more pieces to the puzzle. You need product/solution innovators and a solid infrastructure to support the work in the back office, front office, sales/order management and development. But operations keep a business going.

The addition of new tools to make operational improvements usually take buy-in from senior management, but adoption by the operational staff is critical for success. It can be a tough sell to some because people don’t want to disrupt their routines. But once they understand and see what process improvement can do to productivity – making their jobs easier – adoption is high.

It is with this disruption that how we work has changed. It is the earmark of the digital age: upgrade infrastructure, find more software solutions to reduce manual processes and paper-based work. So, if all we did is ramp up our automation and digitize our paper, we’d solve some inefficiency.

But, that’s not the whole story. It’s only the first step.

We’ve now stepped into the information arena, where it’s not just how we work, but how we think. Workers can see how much time they save with automation with specific data points mapping to the right systems. And while that makes the process faster by saving the worker time, it’s the information on the process that gives management the knowledge about their business. They can see disruptions in their process and plan for any reoccurring trends. Maybe they need to adjust workers based on different times of year. They not only have improved their process, but they have more intelligence about their operations.

The Gut Is Not a Decision Tool

The information age is the era for using data. We saw the introduction of data scientists into the workforce, and we have more savvy managers who want to make decisions based on metrics. I think of these data scientists as reincarnations of insurance actuaries, but for their own business metrics and trends, looking at data to help determine the next right step or how these companies should make changes.

With more data available from the technology we employ, businesses are smarter, and the businesses that don’t have the data are behind. Making data accessible is the real challenge. In their book, “The Day Before Digital Transformation,” Cheryl Smith and Phil Perkins suggest, “Digital transformation is about building digital technologies into or around your products and services and ways of doing business. It is not IT.”

In other words, while IT still needs to provide the right infrastructure to support the business needs, it is the business that has to find the software solutions and emerging technologies to bring their businesses into the information age.

Emerging Technologies

Beyond the data we can get today, the progress toward “transforming information” brings us to the new horizon of emerging technologies. Today’s emerging technologies revolve around software bots that can be programmed to execute tasks and machine learning where we can teach a machine. These technologies will continue to grow along with algorithms that enable this artificial intelligence to apply to more activities.

As we continue to evolve, before you know it, we will be talking about yet another emerging technology, and perhaps our progress chart will add a new section: transforming thought.

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Joanne Novak is a program manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. and is responsible for program development with the company’s Business Intelligence groups, including the Intelligent Information Management (IIM) practice. Her responsibilities are to build sales and customer-facing educational and thought leadership insights as well as strategic initiatives for IIM.