You can take a horse to water but a pencil must be le(a)d: The challenge of “What does Digital really mean for the industry”?
19 May 2014
Recently, I facilitated a roundtable discussion on “What digital really means for the industry”. Over the last couple of years, we’ve run many similar roundtables on the topic. Each time we run one, it never ceases to amaze me around the lack of a common definition for what digital really means, not just across the industry between firms but also between individuals within the same firms. In fact, I’m sure that there is a PhD paper waiting to be written on the topic. One of my favorite set of questions at these events is to first ask the delegates how they define “digital” and then to follow-up by asking if this definition is shared across their organization. Generally, when you ask the first question, you get very articulate and clearly well-thought through strategic response that makes 100% rational sense. Then, when you ask the second question, you often get a look of despair or, at best, frustration with their colleagues who “just don’t get it” or are “pulling in different directions”. Well, I might be exaggerating a little here but hopefully you get the idea. From the experience of asking this question repeatedly over the last couple of years, it seems to me that there are two challenges around “what digital really means for the industry”. The first challenge relates to opportunities presented by technology, which range from the mundane (such as good old fashioned ‘Straight Though Processing’ and even the application of newer more exciting mobile technologies in customer engagement) through to the extreme (such as new device enabled propositions and business models fueled by the Internet of Things). This is the “what?” challenge, the one that we hear most about and the one that we can articulate the best. It’s tangible. You can see it. You can experience it. You can recognize what others are doing that you are not. There is no mystery around this challenge and you can build a program of change to address it. The second challenge is a more subtle one. It is “as old as them thar hills” and can be aptly summed up by the saying “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. It’s also one that this industry, as well as others to be fair, have been struggling with every time there is a step-change in pace and direction. If you know where you need to head to, bringing the rest of the organization along with you is the next big challenge, especially when you're a large and complex one. This is the challenge of “How?”. When discussing the topic with one insurer, he shared with me his view that “digital” is merely a term used to get his team to think differently about the way things are done. To stop his team thinking about the way they do things today and start thinking about what could be instead. For me, this was a refreshingly honest perspective. It was not about the devices, the technology or the Apps, it was about re-envisioning his business. To achieve this takes great leadership and mustering support around a shared vision. This brings me back to the title of this blog. Stan Laurel couldn’t have said it better (or maybe worse?) in “Way out West” … “You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be le(a)d”. Maybe now is the time to move the debate on to talk more about the “pencils” and the vital role that leadership has to play in addressing successful Digital Transformation? I’d be interested to hear your views about where the challenges around digital really lie for you.