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Digitalization and Beyond


There are a number of advantages of being the editor-in-chief. An important one is that I have influence on the theme and the form of the magazine. It now seems to be the right time for a special about the long-term impact of technological developments. Another privilege is that I have had access to all the contributions in this Compact special in advance. Enjoying the energy that my colleagues have exerted and their well-considered visions I realized that I should also do something with this privileged position. So I present my reflection on these 29 interviews in this contribution. Along with being stubborn am I also realistic enough to realize that this reflection is probably interspersed with my own vision. I am curious to see whether you share my observations.

Digitization is “the action or process of digitizing; the conversion of analogue data (esp. in later use images, video, and text) into digital form.” Digitalization, by contrast, refers to “the adoption or increase in use of digital or computer technology by an organization, industry, country, etc.”

(definitions: Oxford English Dictionary)

During the past decades there have been various breaking points that we now already designate as eras, the before PC era, the before Google era and the before smartphones era. Before too long we will also talk about a following era, perhaps the “before nano era”, the “before data analytics era” or the “before wearables era”. With the introduction of new technologies people, organizations, industries our global society change more and more. What will be the most important developments in the coming decades? And even more important: what will our lives and our society look like in 10, 20 or 30 years from now as a result of these technological developments?

What do you find most noticeable in the pronounced visions of the future expressed by the people that you have interviewed?

I have asked colleagues to express a vision from their specialism or their focus area about the current impact of technological developments and to give us an insight into the impact of these developments that can possibly be expected in the coming decades. This provides an anthology of different insights, the one more revolutionary than the other, but all of them give food for thought. A clear picture also emerges. It is obvious that we find ourselves on the eve of a rearrangement of the global society driven by technology, or more probably, we are already in the middle of it.

These are quite strong words. Could you once again point out the 10 developments which according to you are the most important?

I strongly advise to read the contributions in the Compact 2015 special, I would absolutely fail my colleagues by trying to summarize them in a few words. They have started me thinking again. I have presented the main thread of the articles in the following 10 developments.

  1. In the new world there is ultimately only room for one winner and the winner takes all. Naturally, the winner leaves room for specialists to connect to his solution. You therefore have a choice: you either become the biggest within your environment or you specialize. But the global market changes at a rapid speed, the winners also remain vulnerable and have to continue to develop.
  2. The technological developments do not pass by certain industries or countries. Whether you are active in energy, retail, professional services, the financial sector, the fishing industry or even government, in the Western world or outside of it, specific examples of technological developments that will have a major impact during the coming decades can be found everywhere.
  3. The manner in which we organize our work will undergo a major transformation. For a long time, the complaint in the business community was that technology particularly had an impact on a reduction of the number of blue collar workers, while the productivity of white collar workers did not improve. We have now arrived in an era where it is the turn of the white collar workers. Middle management is already being reduced. The position of higher management will also be threatened in the coming years, among other things by a tremendous shift towards fact-based, and real-time, decision making and the new working methods that technology makes possible. This is substantiated by the popular Scrum approach. This already teaches us that the manager will be replaced by the cooperating foreman, and soon the director himself will also take on the role of cooperating foreman.
  4. Robotization is already taking flight; in about 10 years social robotics will have an important place in society and therefore replace many jobs. This also has a major impact on Business Process Outsourcers, cloud providers and call centers. It is important to realize that in 20 years 50% of the current jobs will no longer exist. This will have an enormous impact on employment and will hit some regions very hard.
  5. The entire world is the playing field, differences between countries or regions will quickly become smaller. For example, in the energy industry, a fast changing sector, China was known as the party that installed many environmentally polluting coal-fired power stations. But even there the trend has turned around. China now annually invests more in sustainable energy than Europe and the US combined. Currently, 90% of all solar panels are produced in China. The world is changing and when it concerns speed of adoption, we can learn things from each other.
  6. Technological solutions standardize and will be increasingly available as components, partly within the own organization and partly outside. This will form the basis of implementations. Furthermore, a larger group of people will themselves compile and modify solutions, based on solutions that are already operational elsewhere.
  7. Technological developments bring many opportunities but also risks with regard to security, privacy, terrorism and improper use of surveillance. It is clear that much work must be done in this area and that in the coming decades there is a great need for legislation and regulators.
  8. The audit discipline, the IT audit profession and the consultancy profession will experience major developments. Much of the current work will disappear through the broad and transparent availability of knowledge, experience and standards. The work will partly be taken over by systems or even intelligent robots. But there will also be a need for other forms of security, the professional groups will have to quickly step forward to claim these spaces, otherwise new parties will fill them. In the coming decades, in the consulting profession customers will expect that their consultants are a part of the game. In addition, a high level of specialization is required.
  9. Technology will strongly influence our personal life, we are always striving to make our lives easier, simpler and better. Our mobile devices will increasingly support us in our daily decisions in the coming years. This will only increase in the coming decades and in 30 years’ time, we can well expect biological and technological evolution to advance hand-in-hand, thereby impacting human beings themselves.
  10. Success or failure, everything depends on the speed of adoption. In at most 20 years from now technology will no longer be a differentiator in operational management, technologically everything that is needed is already available. A distinction will be made in how you apply it and between organizations that can quickly adopt it and those that will be left behind. Gaming will be a part of this. It makes no sense to look to the CIO for this, if there still is one, the board will have to take the initiative and the responsibility for the execution.

In your opinion, with what should senior management concern itself?

Technological developments will continue and will also be an important driver of market and organizational change in the coming decades. Management will have to become acquainted with the technological possibilities and the manner in which these can be implemented. The success of the application of technology determines the success and the future of the organization. The obstructions to the successful implementation of new technology mainly lie in the adoption and acceptance. Although the engineer in me says that we should pump as much technology as possible into the organization, the social scientist in me says that we must also ask the people about the type of environment in which they want to live and work. It is noticeable that successful technology companies pay much attention to this aspect. From this vision, the adoption and acceptance will be much greater.

Changes within organizations are project based. Project success or failure, in particular failed IT projects, receives a great deal of attention in the press. The impression is thereby created that we do not know how to make a success of projects, but nothing is further from the truth. The instruments are available and are used in the field. It is time that management also realizes this for themselves and demonstrate this during the assignment definition and organization of projects. I am convinced that the success of large technology projects is a choice. If organizations are prepared to really go for success, then they are also successful. This is proved in practice. And this is what I am going to be working on.

Hans Donkers is active as an independent program manager, advisor and auditor. He does this with the experience of a 25 year career at KPMG where he has operated as lead partner for a number of customers and, among other things, was editor-in-chief of Compact. In addition, he has fulfilled various quality, management and director’s roles during his career. Currently, he is particularly active in the area of complex change projects and associated technology issues.