You can navigate your digital future

On Thursday 21st November, our annual European Executive Forum took place in the stunning surroundings of the St Pancras Hotel, London, designed by George Gilbert Scott.  We were delighted to be joined by over 100 CXOs and senior business leaders.

You can navigate your digital future

As the leader of LEF, it was a pleasure to have an opportunity to share with our clients and prospects the research that our team has been working on over the last year. However, the Executive Forum also enables us to put this into a fuller context, with unique perspectives from our guest speakers Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School and Sheila Doyle, Chief Information Officer at Deloitte.

Here we get to an interesting paradox. The promise of technology (and its benefits) has never been greater, new tech products such as smart products, software agents, sophisticated robotics, information-rich digital twins, deep learning-based automation and 5G will all have a significant impact.  However we all know the transformation journey is a tough one and for many clients it is slower than either they and their leadership would like, Furthermore, powerful political, media and other societal forces are turning against the technology industry as never before in highly sensitive areas such as privacy, antitrust, economic inequality, national sovereignty and more.

The agenda for the day then focused on challenging and putting forward points of view to our audience on how best to navigate the journey, considering not only how the pace of change in the IT industry can affect this, but also how technological, demographic and social innovations are transforming how we live, how we work and what we care about.

This really matters, and it’s changing how companies and their employees will function in the future. Social and cultural change are impacting companies in ways that too few are recognising.  It is one of the reasons that digital transformation fails for many. 

The day opened with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School, challenging the audience to think about the ‘100-year life’. How children born today will live to that age, when in 1850 it would have been just 45.  The way we run our lives has changed dramatically and will continue to do, with most of us working into our 70s.  Alongside those changes, a shift is occurring towards individuals caring less about money and caring more about intangible assets: a move from savings, property, pensions to learning, health and happiness.

Dave Reid, Programme Director at LEF, then outlined the PR problem ‘Digital Transformation’ is having.  He explained that a more refined definition is needed and that it really is three distinct areas IT Modernisation, Business Transformation, and Industry Disruption.  Each has different drivers and understanding where you are is critical to success.  From there, companies can apply three steps to successfully driving change.

Bill Murray, Senior Researcher and Advisor went on to talk about the future of digital platforms, and the huge opportunities they offer organisations.  These platforms used to run functions, then they ran businesses. Now the most evolved digital platforms run business ecosystems.  In Bill’s view traditional businesses that are prepared to change significantly, can confer the ability to constantly evolve. The most advanced digital platforms can even help organizations to beat the likes Amazon in their chosen fields.

After lunch, we heard from Sheila Doyle, Chief Information Officer at Deloitte.  In conversation with Dave Reid, she outlined her approach to digital transformation, and how it delivered successful change for the business.  She also shared how she is applying her personal experience outside Deloitte, and how data is helping to save lives in the ambulance service.

We then turned to culture, ethics and their impact on organisations.  Researcher Simon Wardley unpacked culture and then reconstructed it through use of Wardley Mapping.  He concluded that the best thing companies can do as a starting point is to ensure they adopt universally accepted values.  Digital anthropologist Caitlin McDonald then focused on the hot button of Digital Ethics – where she argued that the business world is going through a much wider ethics problem on developing areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and automated decision systems.  Caitlin drew on her report Sustaining Digital Ethics through Evolution, as well as sharing findings from our recent Ethical Digital Study Tour in October, where we took a deep dive into how Ethics is a systemic-level conversation about what the right thing to do is. 

David Moschella, Research Fellow at LEF, closed out the day by looking at how some of the tech industry’s leading firms are routinely accused of destroying jobs, ending individual privacy, widening economic inequality, inciting political polarization, abusing their monopoly power, being ripe for foreign manipulation, and generally being untrustworthy in an age of data-driven machine intelligence.  He asked whether this is just a phase, and concludes that most of the criticisms are greatly exaggerated. The bad news, however, is that the IT industry is doing such a poor job of defending itself that many of these narratives have already taken hold. David highlighted the increasing need for the digital industry to respond much more directly to its many critics.

There were many takeaways from the day. Multiple challenges exist especially for traditional firms who have not been designed from the ground up for the current environment. Organisational change, skills upgrades, new forms of leadership and leveraging data to drive new ecosystems are all formidable challenges. However, an understanding of the stage where an organisation is on its transformation journey is very important to then take the appropriate next steps, and bring colleagues and clients on that journey.

Review the presentations from the day attached to this page to get the highlights of each session.  If you would like a more detailed discussion on any aspect of the day then feel free to contact me or reach out to any member of the LEF team.


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