Digital Business Transformation: Put People First for Success

Important Lessons

It’s a big understatement to say that 2020 was a terrible year. But it changed what’s normal in business, especially the speed of change, and we learned some important lessons. One lesson is that while businesses still want to grow, they are staying away from building more physical infrastructure to do it: things such as stores, offices, and so on. Instead, businesses want their technology investments to offer a better experience with more speed and breadth. Companies want a digital business.

Framework for a Human-Focused Digital Business

Inclusion and Collaboration: Use your whole team (it’s bigger than you think!)

In practical terms, moving to a more digital business means you want to increase your scalability and reach. You want to open up your business to new markets and channels. You want your customers and employees to be as broadly capable and powerful as possible. You want them to put your investment in technology to work in an efficient way. But you want to do those things without investing heavily in physical structures, including office space, buildings, and similar things, that can take a long time to build and limit how fast you move in a risky, fast changing world. The journey to a successful digital business depends on how well you increase those capabilities without frustrating your customers and increasing your costs. The first step on that journey is to include everyone on the trip — your employees, your partners, and your customers.

Use Data Science to refine your blueprint for change

Once you’re focused on what’s actually effective: you’re in a good position to use your extended team to look at all the facts of what’s going to work in your digital business. This is where Data Science provides the insights on the actual evidence from your business. Use Data Science to look at your existing processes to identify risks, choke points, and overall candidates for automation.

Digital Business from IBM Architecture Center[3]

Design for People

As you pursue automation, remember to provide a human connection in the digital experience. If the automation de-personalizes or disrupts that business experience, the evolution to digital business risks damaging the reputation of the company, or at least missing the audience that would support the company in the marketplace.

Design for People: Operations

A special case for human design is the team(s) who runs the business and IT operations. They want the digital business workflows to be efficient and empower their decisions. One thing that helps is enlisting change management champions from within your operations teams. Your automation champions need to be respected, grassroots level collaborators who can clearly spread the vision and execution steps behind the automation initiatives. These are the people who will manage the experience, so they need to embrace it. What they’re really doing is embedding their knowledge of the business experience into the automation, so they are incredibly important to the transformation process. When change is managed well, and leaders are open and transparent, we’ve found that people are more likely to enjoy being part of the process (including learning new skills/tools) and will be integral to preserving the business knowledge and integrity of the company.[4]

Transparent, Fair AI that supports your values

An important part of a transformation to digital business applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) where it can help. Since the root of AI is statistics, the core of AI uses these statistics to determine what are the most likely outcomes based on their inputs, and they respond with that result. As the AI might say: “What is the most likely electronic thing I can do for you based on what I’ve done before?”.

Grow the Automation People and Skills

Possibly the most important part of transforming to digital business is making sure that the team doing the transformation has the right skills and values: skills and values are the catalyst for making the transformation reaction happen. As part of your automation journey, you want to take the time to develop an actionable strategy to identify, train and grow the skills that are critical to the direction of your business. Having a strategy to invest in training will increase the likelihood of the changes being adopted and increase things like Return on Investment on the changes you make.

Risks of putting off automation

Aside from slower speed and reduced scope, manual processes introduce other risks. As we mentioned above, it’s very difficult to get an audit trail for a manual, one-off process. You actually reduce risk by implementing a system that generates the breadcrumbs of a day’s automation. It helps your hard-working employees get some credit for what they do.

More to Come

Companies want a digital business model to win in the marketplace, but we’ve seen that if they don’t focus on people and people-centered values, they’ll lose. We think that they don’t have to lose, and in fact, can win even bigger as they apply people centered values to the transformation.


We’d like to give a special thanks to our reviewers, Fred Meredith, Mart Wenker, and Kyle Brown. We value their insights and advice greatly.




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Tony Efremenko

Tony Efremenko

Focused on AI, Data Science, and Cloud Technologies