To reap the benefits of the digital revolution, we need to transform the pillars of society to focus on collaboration and connection and empowerment. Here’s how.
As the world’s top economical thinkers and leaders convene this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, all the focus will center on the 4th Industrial Revolution — how individual organizations and the world at large are transforming, willingly or not, at the hands of technology.
At CA Technologies, we talk a lot about how technology — specifically software — can help organizations both run their existing businesses better and even transform the definition of their business altogether. But while technology might be able to enable transformation, it’s the ability to connect horizontally, iterate and move quickly, and put coordination over control that is actually the driver of true transformation.
In other words, what makes successful transformation happen is the creation of agile systems, which — paired with agile technology — can power an agile society.
The 4th Industrial Revolution: The Cart Went Before the Horse
In 19th-century England, bus companies, dependent on horses to pull their carriages, were furious with the advent of new “horseless carriages.” Travel was becoming mechanized — faster and more convenient. The government defended horse bus companies and introduced Red Flag Laws that set automobile speed limits to how fast a man could walk with a red flag in front of them.
It’s easy to say now that the British government was wrong for stepping in and ultimately slowing progress. Yet today, a strikingly similar narrative is emerging as ridesharing companies have rapidly gained popularity, taking on local governments and regulations along the way.
Governance is not the only system being challenged by technological progress. Consider societal constructs, like education. The 4th Industrial Revolution means that the world is getting more automated — McKinsey estimates that 45 percent of paid activities have the potential to be fully automated using technology that exists in the world today. There is a clear need to rethink the kinds of skills and ways of learning to create a world where work is still meaningful and profitable, both for the organization and the worker.
The common thread here is that to fully realize all of the benefits of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the foundational pillars of society need to catch up. That’s where “agile” comes in.
Agile: From the Tech World to Society
The term “agile” has multiple definitions, but in the software development world it describes an approach for development that is fueled by self-direction, cross-functional collaboration, continuous improvement and delivery of value and quality.
This new mindset is what the revolution needs to be successful — agile thinking is the driver, technology is the enabler. But how can we take this construct and put it into action to ultimately create an agile society?
An agile society means transforming the existing systems of control to focus on collaboration and connection — and enabling them with a foundation of technology that fuels experimentation and innovation. Here are three ways this can take shape:
1. From Bureaucracy to a Model of Engaged Constituents
Governments and governing institutions oftentimes are regarded by constituents as difficult to work with and focused on maintaining the quip of, “Well, that’s just how we do things around here.” But while we can complain about this sentiment, the revolution demands proper governance to succeed — it just has to turn the focus to engagement.
In the United States, a nonprofit called Code for America is completely dedicated to modernizing municipal government IT programs and making working in government fun and creative. One of their most compelling projects is empowering cities to develop an open-source web application to solve a citizen-selected civic problem, which can then be used or adapted by any city. The results have been remarkable — simultaneously, officials and citizens have addressed local problems while also reducing public IT costs by enabling code-sharing among government entities.
2. From Top-Down and Siloed to Empowered and Diverse Cultures
Agile thinking is all about horizontal collaboration. To achieve this balance, it’s critical to create a diverse workforce — in skills, experiences and perspectives. Understanding that technology is shifting how organizations operate and the output they are creating, two main components must be addressed: education and diversity.
For education, we need to focus on what robots can’t do. The critical-thinking skills at the core of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education is the right start, but we also need to consider other non-cognitive skills — such as how we communicate and network with each other.
Organizations can only succeed if their people can bring different perspectives to the table — and are actually empowered to do so. We need to strengthen and support people, especially women, to create a workforce that is actually representative of the global population.
3. From ‘Keeping the Lights on’ to Enabling Digital Organizations
With the pillars of governance and diversity in place, the agile society is ready to be enabled by technology. Technology used to be about maintaining the processes and systems already in place, but 53 percent of respondents in a recent survey by Harvard Business Analytics Services said their organization is investing in modern technology to develop digital products and services faster, instead of maintaining old systems.
As organizations make this shift, software represents a powerful opportunity for organizations to rethink who they are and their purpose, as well as how they connect with other organizations to form bigger networks. Consider a company like Salesforce.com — it generates 50 percent of its revenues from making its technology open to other companies, creating a multiplier effect of value.
Agile thinking is being used to enable digital transformation at all sorts of companies. In the automotive business, Tesla repaired a critical safety defect without even issuing a recall — it simply pushed a software update to the affected cars, and the problem was fixed in a matter of weeks.
Through history, big technological leaps have changed our human lot for the better. As the 4th Industrial Revolution sweeps overs us, we need to make sure the core pillars of our modern world are agile: connected, nimble and tech-enabled. In so doing, we will continue to improve lives and services where they matter most.
All views expressed are those of the author.