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PwC: Don't just invest in digital -- invest in human experience

Companies need to focus on the human experience of technology if they’re going to handle the enormous change that new technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and augmented reality will bring to workplaces, according to new research by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“Rethink how you define and deliver digital initiatives, consider employee and customer interactions at every step of the way, invest in creating a culture of tech innovation and adoption, and much more,” the report said.

PwC’s advisory practice released its 2017 Global Digital IQ Survey on Tuesday.

Considering why and how employees, customers and business partners use technology, the report said, can raise a company’s “digital IQ” — a measurement of people’s “ability to adapt to change and utilize digital and emerging tech.”

The digital IQ at companies fell sharply between 2016 and 2015. Though a slight majority, or 52%, of the 2,216 business and IT executives surveyed in late 2016 gave their digital transformation efforts high marks, 67% of respondents did a year ago.

Why the precipitous drop?

Chris Curran, chief technologist at PwC and author of the report, said technology is an everyday conversation in organizations today. It’s moved beyond IT and into finance, human resources and other business departments, and real investments are being made — in product innovation, marketing analytics systems or some other technology. That’s part of the problem, he said.

“All of the leaders in those businesses are not IT leaders; they’re line-of-business or functional leaders,” Curran said in a phone interview. “And when it comes down to ‘How fast can I get this done? Do we have the skills to get it done? Do we have the tools and the data to get it done?,’ maybe the answer isn’t as robust as they thought it might be.”

A lack of the proper skills and tools is likely why more companies reported lower digital IQ in 2016, Curran said. Indeed, the report found, just 43% of organizations have teams dedicated to digital innovation. Further, 24% of organizations said the lack of skilled teams is holding back digital efforts; 39% said it’s becoming an issue.

Missing: Human experience

When PwC started measuring organizations’ digital aptitude 10 years ago, getting organizations’ business and IT sides aligned on business plans and objectives was of top importance, Curran said. But over the years, as employees got savvy about consumer technology, Curran realized that the business-IT-alignment concept “wasn’t focused on the customers. It wasn’t focused on the market or the users of the technology. It was focused on some internal objective.”

Companies can get value out of their technology investments — and feel more confident about them — if they think more about the problems people are trying to solve with technology in the first place, Curran said.

“A large set of the best implementations of technology are ones where they’re seamlessly integrated into whatever it is that someone is doing,” he said. “It doesn’t create some clunky thing that has to be learned.”

Yet user experience is not seen as imperative at most organizations. Growing revenue was the top goal for 57% of respondents, up from 45% in 2015. Creating better customer experiences was No. 1 for just 10%, down from 25%.

Corporations that need people

Organizations that emphasize the human experience “report superior financial performance compared with their peers,” the report said.

They also are more adventurous with emerging technology: They have dedicated teams for digital innovation, rely on customer advisory groups for product development and plan to invest in augmented and virtual reality during the next three years, “tools that could create strong connections with customers as the technologies mature.”

These more people-centric organizations probably gravitate toward newer technologies because their attention is on their customers’ and users’ problems, Curran said. New tools offer new possibilities for solving those problems.

“The more options that you have at your disposal for doing that, the more flexible and innovative and creative and timely that you can be,” he said. “And so the way to get that is by being more aggressive around learning about the emerging technology world.”

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