Is The ‘Digital’ Tag Superfluous?

Is having a Digital Strategy about as sensible as devising an Electricity Strategy?

In this day an age it might seem entirely ridiculous to treat digital as a subset of any business or organisation. The digital revolution has arrived and it inhabits every area of our lives. So much so that we probably don’t even consider the invisble magic that makes it possible to ask your phone for directions and have it plot a course for you.

If you’re reading this, It’s a fairly good bet you are comfortable with technology. You might be a digital native who grew with the technological wave or a digital immigrant who hopped on it. It might seem entirely redundant to prefix parts of your work with ‘digital’ any more than we prefix ‘TV’ with ‘colour’. It is the norm. The standard that we’ve become accustomed to.

For those trendy startups currently popping up everywhere, I’m sure it’s the same. They are of the Internet. Digital is in their DNA. They don’t have discrete digital strategies, they’re just business strategies.

For public sector organisations, it’s a different ball game. Most came into existence long before the digital revolution arrived. They don’t have the luxury of starting with a blank canvas. They’re dealing with layers of organisational decisions & red tape that stretch back through time. If you could zoom in on their DNA you would see filing cabinets stuffed full of paper. Whilst a computer does sit on every desktop, the way in which the technology is applied still follows the paradigm of paper. Email just a replacement for memos. Massive clunky computer systems that are designed to work using processes with paper forms in mind.

There’s an important point I’m accidentally stumbling across here in that digital isn’t just about the technology, but the mindset too. In order to really leverage its strengths we collectively have to be prepared to change the we approach work — sometimes radically so.

So, to the crux of Dave’s thought provoking post.. does labelling things as ‘digital’ actually drive people away from embracing that much needed change?

Part of me thinks that unless we keep banging on about digital, it’ll be really difficult to get people to understand why they are standing on a burning platform. Digital is a catch all tag that embodies.. “the world is changing around you, we need to change too”.

I also wonder whether the struggle is inevitable — whether the digital tag is used or not. Any sort of organisational change can be a bit of an arm wrestle. When the status quo gets challenged, antibodies deploy to set things back the way they were.

Can we take everyone with us? The pragmatist in me says no — and this no doubt is one of the biggest sources of inertia. If you’re really looking at embracing digital and getting away from the paper paradigm, then it’s hard to see how everyone’s job stays exactly the same. Perhaps not job losses, but certainly a change of roles or re-assignment elsewhere.

So is the Digital tag superfluous? Perhaps to you and I — but for some it’s a handy reminder that time does not stand still and neither should the way we work. We have to keep applying it until it really is the norm for everyone.

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