January 26, 2021

Sustainable Digitisation: a digital strategy that can go the distance


Personas remando
In 2020, amid the massive flurry of ‘going digital’ that was occurring across Europe (and indeed the world), The European DIGITAL SME Alliance- the largest network of the small and medium sized ICT enterprises in Europe, representing about 20,000 digital SMEs- proposed the coining of a new term: sustainable digitalisation.

Digital SME defined sustainable digitalisation (or sustainable digital transformation), as the ‘process of digitalising the economy in a long-lasting, green, and organic way by building on its key strength: innovative SMEs and their business ecosystems’ and with the long-term goal of strengthening European digital sovereignty.

We would like to bring our reflections to the concept of sustainable digitisation at the individual company level.

First of all, we would like to differentiate between digitisation of the running of the business (i.e. the internal operation of the business), versus digitisation of the business model (e.g. e-commerce, servicification, etc.). We strongly believe that the digital transformation of a business needs to occur from within. In the quest to design digital strategies for innovating their business models, companies should not overlook the digitisation of how they run their workplaces and their operations.

Secondly, while the word sustainability is increasingly associated with the environment and the Green movement, in its most generic sense, sustainability is the ‘ability to continue at the same level for a period of time’, i.e. the ability to go the distance at a continued pace. This is very important when we talk about workplace digital transformation. So let’s consider the massive wave of ‘digitisation’ that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, whereby overnight companies made the lightening move to adopt digital tools to ensure that they could keep their teams up and running in the new remote working scenario that was the consequence of lockdowns and restrictions. Is this sustainable digitisation? We certainly feel that it is the beginning of the wave: so most companies have finally gotten into the Digital race. But will they last the course? Well, The European DIGITAL SME Alliance themselves made a poignant observation when they said: ‘Companies, but also society as a whole, need to understand that ‘going digital’ does not stop with a Zoom subscription.’

We feel that a massive opportunity now exists for progressive companies to step off the track for a moment, to pull into the Pit Stop, and draw up an enduring digital strategy, that focusses first of all on using technology to improve business performance thanks to increased automation, optimisation and the ability to process internal workplace data and to convert it into actionable information and insights for fact-based decision making and planning, recommendations, and predictions. The digitisation of the processes that enable us to get work done ultimately give us a Workplace Advantage, and this is an ideal front- runner for moving on to define a strategy for creating new market and competitive advantages with technology and innovating our business models.

Just one final reflection on sustainability; another important aspect when we consider workplace digital transformation is that of worker ‘buy-in’, and company-wide, sustained use of the digital tools that are central to the transformation. It needs to be an ‘all-in’ approach; this is vital if we are shifting manual and offline processes on-line and if we are moving to a data-driven organisation. To really reap the power of ‘data-driven’, data needs to be complete and robust. Everybody needs to be using the tools systemically and systematically. Data holes lead to blind spots and distortions. For Digital to work its magic in enterprises, it needs to be, just that: sustainable.