Digital transformation starts with culture change

If you want better business outcomes, invest in great experiences for employees and customers

Humans in the age of digital transformation
  • The digital transformation trends' core elements are speed, intelligence and superior stakeholder experiences
  • Emerging tech enables great employee and customer experiences that drive desired business outcomes
  • Successful companies will disproportionately invest in culture change to help people through the transition

A few years ago, “digital transformation” was just another business buzzword. Today it’s a strategic imperative, as machine learning, process automation and other emerging technologies change business from the ground up.

No organization can reap the benefits of next‑generation tech without putting employees at the center of its strategy. To understand why, we need to consider the three core elements of digital transformation.

The first is speed. Machine learning and automation can accelerate all business functions, from IT and security to finance, HR and customer service. They also enable business processes that adapt and improve on their own.

Next is intelligence. Companies have traditionally relied on “rear view” KPIs that look at past performance to make guesses about the future. These metrics are rapidly giving way to tools that apply machine learning to create real‑time insights that accelerate and improve human decision‑making.

Superior human experiences are the third and most important element. Digital technologies enable better processes and experiences for customers and employees. These differentiated experiences are critical to achieving desired business outcomes. To be successful, digital transformation initiatives must enable great experiences for employees and customers.

Each of these elements is disruptive on its own. Collectively they represent one of the biggest shifts in the history of work. To capitalize on this shift, businesses need to build a strong internal foundation. Companies can invest in acquiring the best technology to jumpstart their digital transformation journey. But those investments will likely be wasted if employees don’t embrace the change.

Companies need to invest time and resources in several key areas. The first is equipping employees with the new skills they need to succeed. Routine tasks that currently suck up as much as 60 percent of an average employee’s time will disappear gradually, as automation and AI take over layers of low‑level administrative work.

Long before that happens, however, companies need to identify the skills and competencies that will make employees successful long‑term.

Business leaders should invest in culture change management programs that train employees to be as comfortable working with intelligent machines as they are with human colleagues. The rise of machine intelligence doesn’t mean that people and machines will compete for jobs. Instead, the power of AI—and the potential for better business outcomes—emerges when people learn to work productively with machines.

Leadership is another key factor. Companies need leaders who understand how automation can help drive business success. A key leadership skill will be defining what processes can be delegated to technology platforms and which ones still require human oversight.

We have a program here called Now on Now where we use our own technology to automate a variety of routine tasks: IT operations, legal contract processing, quarterly financial close, and many more. Alongside these technology programs, we invested in organization change management programs to help employees understand how their jobs would shift and make clear that they can now focus on more fulfilling work instead of routine repetitive tasks.

In addition, we trained our employees on new competencies that build their careers and equip them to be successful. For example, we identified four critical training programs that we now require for all IT employees: communication and influence, design thinking, machine learning, and automation.

Among the ways we use our own technology is automating the quarterly financial close, as opposed to forcing accountants to enter massive amounts of financial data into an ERP system. That shift was successful because we were able to show our finance employees that automation doesn’t threaten their jobs. Instead, it eliminates repetitive busy work and allows them to concentrate on higher‑level tasks like analyzing key financial metrics that drive our business.

In the IT function, similarly, we’ve automated routine tasks like provisioning servers, imaging new laptops and eliminating phishing emails. This increases system uptime, which helps the business. It also allows our IT team to focus on more strategic work like building technologies that help our customers.

Employees won’t just go home one night and step into new roles in the morning. Successful change requires investment in communication and training, because you need great people and a great culture to execute any digital business strategy.

You can’t change a culture by writing code. That’s why companies need to get started on human transformation today.

If you’re interested in learning more about how digital transformation at ServiceNow starts with people, watch this brief video.