Who does digital?

Who does digital? I mean, who actually works on it and makes it happen? This is a really simple question and a pressing one. Easy to ask. Hard to answer. Even harder to get it right, I suspect. (It is a close relative of the other pressing and less asked question: “What do we mean by digital?”). My fear is that, in many organisations, there is an assumption that digital is done by other people. By them.

As technology inevitably changes everything, most organisations are in some manner or other trying to become more digital. There is an industry of advice and guidance on how to achieve this. We are all at it.

Digitally native businesses will hold assumptions that we don’t tend to see readily elsewhere. The Kahn Academy consider the production of learning content and it’s distribution in quite a different way to most other publisher of learning content. YouTube looks like a pretty good route to a global audience. MOOC providers have engineered social tools into their fabric rather than finding ways of sewing them on later. These decisions feel natural and obvious because a history is not being redrafted or a heritage questioned. It’s normal and obvious.Everyone within these organisations readily sees the logic. For those on the digital migration, these certainties are rare.

Digital migrant organisations tend to be less sure-footed. There is not usually an obvious or natural home for the digital stuff. An IT department, often chosen as the digital beachhead, tends to come from a different heritage, a word of enterprise systems, corporate technologies and waterfall approaches. Often not so adept at the agile and iterative approaches of the digital natives (thus slower and more costly). Specialist digital teams (many of which were previously called Online teams when the web was ascendant) are a good step to focus the development needed. These can risk a new type of specialisation and marginalisation though as they are relied on to ‘digitise’ the content and output of other teams, preventing the new skills and competencies from emerging in those areas. For successful businesses, digital is not something that others do. It is a thread running through all functions and activities.

Digital organisations have found ways of balancing the inputs and needs of technology, commercial and content functions. Where one dominates the real focus can be lost. The real focus needs to be on user needs. Users need a smart champion who gets content, technology and commerce and can translate these amongst the interest groups internally. This championship mantle is being taken up by the Product Manager, a new profession with new disciplines and methods. This new professional is comfortable with all communities, never losing sight of user needs (real needs not assumed ones).

The eLearning game needs this expertise and the ways of thinking and working that it brings with them. People’s learning needs are most often and readily met by the products of digital native businesses. This experience is setting expectations higher than we have traditionally seen, often as a result of well managed product development.

One response to “Who does digital?”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I believe the user’s needs should be always considered. Since the ‘product’ of e-learning is to serve the very users it should meet theirs criteria.

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