These days, pretty much everywhere you turn, there's talk of digitalization--in how we travel, the products we buy, and how we pay for them. The trend is sweeping the world, many industries at a time. And with it, come a lot of fears.

Fears of security threats. Fears of machines replacing humans in the workforce. Fears of a loss of jobs. Some people are cynical, wondering if machines will really be reliable as workforce partners to get the job done.

I spoke with Otto Schell, founder of The Diplomatic Council Otto Schell Institute for Digital Transformation, and he feels strongly, "We must remain open to digitalization as it is rapidly enveloping us. Humans need not fear exclusion by Artificial Intelligence (AI), but understand we need to harness it and engage proactively by setting and maintaining the economic and social governance for our co-existence."

A Diversity colleague of mine, Annika von Redwitz, and I are very interested in understanding what digitalization will do to the way the workforce builds relationships and interacts with each other--particularly in a diverse, globalized, and multicultural world. We spoke about whether or not digitization will make human connectivity obsolete.

For her, the answer is no. It may be even more important.

Below are the highlights of our conversation.

ML: Annika, what is digitalization exactly?

AR: Today, many businesses are looking at transforming their organizations to stay competitive in a fast-changing market. They may be moving from a product-oriented to a service-oriented business model, or adding new online services to their existing products.

ML: So, it sounds like digitalization is a significant evolution from humans using technology as a tool to, now, programming machines to run the business autonomously. Is that what makes the concept unique today in your mind?

AR: In the nineties, the concept of reengineering came up and described how companies re-invented their business processes with help of the Information Technology available at that time. A lot of manual work was automated, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems became the standard.

Today, we call this "digital transformation"--for example, the Internet of Things, connecting machines with each other, or Artificial Intelligence doing things humans would have otherwise done. But it is a more radical shift than in the last century.

ML: Annika, if our job is to help leaders and teams work with people more efficiently and effectively, will that even be needed in the future?

AR: It won't become obsolete. In fact, digitalization will offer new ways for human beings to interact with each other.

Ideally, thanks to modern technology, employees will have more time to focus on strategic and complex tasks. And, remember, robots are programmed by humans, so it is important that diverse teams (of humans) work well together to develop those algorithms.

ML: So, it sounds like we may be needed more than ever! If humans don't need to focus on machines and simple tasks they need to do using technology, all they'll need to focus on is human interaction.

AR: That's right.

ML: If an organization is looking at digital transformation what are the first steps?

AR: It depends on the size and age of the company. According to the book, "Radical Business Model Transformation," traditional companies need to analyze their status quo and enable established products and services to co-exist with new offerings.

Leaders need to establish "a corporate culture based on mutual trust, support and curiosity. „They need to be able to explain the vision and purpose of digitalization, and keep communicating those goals in a positive way.

In other words, never underestimate the power of good ol' fashioned communication.

Published on: Sep 5, 2017