Digital Transformation – It’s Really All About People

It's a rainy Thursday afternoon in November and I’ve just finished a client meeting in midtown. As I step out of the elevator, my watch vibrates faintly to let me know my car is out front. I jump into the warm car as the driver greets me by name and verbally confirms my location, telling me we’ll be there in about 12 mins. He drops me off at my hotel, and as I hop out of the car, he thanks me and wishes me “Happy holidays!” No fumbling for my wallet, no figuring out how much to tip him, and no waiting for the credit card machine to process my card while impatient passengers are waiting outside.

The Passenger Perspective

What everyone knows is that I've just endured the results of digital disruption. Where companies are creating new types of services by leveraging digital tools; in this case, mobile, GPS, and other real-time data processing systems to enable experiences and business models that were previously not possible.

The transaction happens completely in the background, so all you have is The Experience.

It’s true there were many powerful digital technologies that enabled this no-hassle car service, however from a “passenger” perspective, digital was not a big part of this encounter. For me, the encounter was about the convenience; the warm car, the friendly driver, and the simplicity of leaving the car at my destination. The transaction happened behind the scenes and so seamlessly hidden that all I was left with was the experience. If anyone has ever tried to get a cab on a rainy day in midtown, especially during the holidays, knows what an extremely pleasant occurrence it was to have a warm dry car waiting for me.

Tailoring the Engagement

As humans, we process everything. We’re often irrational and very quick to opt out, quit, or abandon anything that is a poor experience. Yet, when companies take the time to understand us, our motivations, our likes and dislikes, and then tailor the engagement around these elements, consequently we’re likely to participate, spend more time in the event, and willingly spend more money.

The real power behind digital is the ability to keep the transaction behind the scenes. Experiences should be designed for people, not machines.

Disney’s MagicBands and MyMagicPlus are examples of how a company leverages digital technology to remove friction. Keeping transactions in the background, Disney allows humans to experience with the pure joy and enchantment of Magic Kingdom Park. As Nick Franklin, former Executive Vice President of Disney, states, “The guest doesn’t need to know how it happened. It’s about the magic…”

People First, Technology Second

Companies going through digital transformation initiatives are often quick to start throwing technology at the solution. It's “digital transformation” after all so there should be some cutting innovative technology involved. While this is accurate, the technology’s primary role in the process should be to enable the interface. Unfortunately, we focus too much on the technology and not enough on the people to enable a desired emotion.

Valuable experiences allow humans to feel an emotion. The technology is not an experience; its sole purpose is to facilitate a seamless engagement.

What’s the takeaway? When designing an app, service, or new technology offering, be sure to invest the time to understand the human aspect first. Understand your target users as people and not just consumers. Take the time to understand their motivations, their goals, their context, and their comfort with technology.

Perhaps the industry term “digital transformation” is a misnomer. Perhaps we should be calling these initiatives something along the lines of “experience transformation”? This might reinforce the point that our work as innovators is about people first and technology second. To paraphrase futurist and influential author, Gerd Leonhard, this is not really about technology─ it’s really about transcending technology.

Looking for more insights on technology, innovation, and industry disruption in the new year? Take a look at our guide exploring “Digital Strategies for Future-Proofing Your Business in 2017.”