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The True Potential of Digitalisation
Pranjal Kothari, Chief Digital Officer, Vorstand, Sparkasse Bremen
“A machine makes work easier” - this is an informal and slightly aged definition of a machine. If we think a bit about it, this definition could be a good guideline for defining what we want to achieve through a technical and digital transformation process.
I would like to propose a guiding principle for defining how we judge the value of a single innovation or an entire digital transformation process: it should make the life of the user simpler and solve their problems.
We often overlook this aspect and get carried away by cutting-edge technical possibilities, by strategic imperatives, and by looking at what the competitors are doing or as a knee-jerk reaction to a quickly changing environment.
Whenever we are brooding over a new innovation, it could be much more effective — and predictive of success — asking the question:
Whose problem are we solving?
And probably as a side question: Do we actually create more adverse side effects (generally increased complexity) for the user than the problem we are trying to solve? But that is probably a completely different Pandora’s box — so I will stick to the main question for the rest of this article.
If the answer to this question is unclear, or anything other than “the user” — preferably the customers, but sometimes also suppliers, employees, etc. — then we are probably not going to achieve success.
Less useful answers in this context are, for example: “because the board wants it,” “because we need to do something,” “because we are losing ground to competitors,” or even “because we have this amazing new technology.”
Even in the larger context of a digital transformation process rather than a single innovation, the question to be asked, I firmly believe, is: “Whose life is simpler and better as a result of the transformation process?”
Also here, clarity of purpose and “the reason why” are strong drivers of future success.
“Good” answers - or answers with a higher probability of success - might be, for example:
“We will be more flexible responding to changing customer needs,” or “we can understand customer problems/needs much better,” or “we improve our time to market significantly,” or even “we will delight and positively surprise our users with innovative solutions for new problems.”
Not so good answers: the same as for individual innovations above. And probably the more dramatic “we’re §*#$%& unless we do something, anything, NOW!”
Especially in the world of financial services, digital transformation and digitisation have quickly become omnipresent buzzwords that every CXO spouts at every possible occasion, every IT team spends endless hours arguing about in the context of legacy systems and integration costs, every finance department talks about relentlessly in terms of budgets and KPIs, and every communication and investor relations department makes beautiful slides about.
What very often gets lost:
Why and for whom are we actually doing this?
I made a pledge to myself a while ago, and I invite you to think about it as well:
“Every day, every week, every month, I shall strive to make my small part of the world a little bit better. In the context of my work, this means: every decision, every new idea, every step in every business process, every technical or other change should be judged by the answer to the question:
How does this improve the daily life of my customers and solve their problems?”