Digital transformation must help us rediscover our humanity

It is the responsibility of business to ensure that digital transformation is only adopted where it truly augments the organisation, and not merely as a simple cost-cutting measure.


Johannesburg, 29 Jan 2019
Read time 4min 10sec
Andrew Moodley, Chief Digital Officer, Axiz.
Andrew Moodley, Chief Digital Officer, Axiz.

As digital changes the nature of business, so companies have a responsibility to ensure their employees are being upskilled for different kinds of jobs, in order to ensure there is room for them in this new age. What is required is a shift in perception around digital transformation, moving away from the idea of it being a threat to certain jobs to one where it is about creating an opportunity for employees to acquire new skills.

According to Andrew Moodley, Chief Digital Officer at Axiz, employers have an obligation to reskill people as digital transformation takes place. When you are disrupting an industry or a market, he explains, there remains an obligation to include those who might otherwise be left out.

He uses as an example the transition from horses to motor cars. Many saddle makers were likely made redundant by the transition, he says, and what should have happened here was for the auto manufacturers to bring them on board and use their skills to, for example, make the leather seats fitted in the vehicles.

"We are now at a point where technology is clearly threatening many jobs, and it is thus important that the decision-makers in an organisation remember their humanity and practise this kind of inclusion. In my opinion, digital transformation is a magnifying glass on our own humanity, and on whether or not we care enough about other people to lift them up," he says.

"The first question businesses need to answer about the adoption of new technologies is whether these are being leveraged purely for the sake of cutting costs, or if it is genuinely in order to benefit the business and its customers."

For a long time, technology has been used to enable businesses to be leaner, faster and more efficient, often coupled with reduction in workforce, he explains. However, if we continue on this trajectory, suggests Moodley, we may well be compromising our own future.

"Technology today has the potential to impact on both white collar and blue collar workers, so when enterprises consider their technology strategy, it is imperative they think about more than just cost, and consider its role in augmenting and enhancing the people. In this way, it becomes possible to find the opportunities that a new technology will create for an organisation and its employees.

"It is about asking what was not possible in the existing business model that can now be done by implementing a particular technology, and how this can help employees to become more productive or be more liberated in the way they work. Technology should never be adopted purely because it can reduce costs, and you should never undertake change simply for the sake of change; it does not end well."

Moodley agrees that artificial intelligence (AI) is certainly going to force us to rethink functions, ways of working and how we do things, but adds that it, like any other new technology, needs to be about building ecosystems and transcending the technology. Remember, he continues, in the modern world, we are becoming more dependent on one another, and this developing gig economy creates an ecosystem where everybody can participate.

"This is a big change from the current system, where it is pretty much binary and success inevitably comes at the expense of someone else. A balanced ecosystem is a virtuous spiral, one in which we have to consider all participants' value and needs. In such a scenario, everybody can win."

There is little doubt that something like AI is going to fundamentally change the world, he states, pointing out it will either augment us or replace us, depending on how business approaches its implementation.

"Ultimately, we need to see the decision as being about more than just machine versus human, which is the cost-cutting approach, and realise that it is about augmenting the human in a manner that will improve the organisation's capability.

"We definitely need to think long and hard about this issue, and we must always remember the human touch, as we don't want to end up losing people because of the implementation of a digital strategy. Or to paraphrase Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba: we should teach humans to care more, values, believing, independent thinking and teamwork. If the machine can do it better, we should reconsider whether that knowledge is worth having, otherwise we are designing a world where the machines will win," concludes Moodley.

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