Defining digital or what it isn’t. Not easy…

First an admission. Around 18 months ago I was tasked by my boss to offer a smart and easy answer to the question “what do we mean by digital”? The question was asked in the context of creating a digital learning service. I admit that I have, as yet, not completed this task. This is not because I have not tried, I just haven’t quite offered a satisfactory answer. In my defence, I think this is because the D word is used as shorthand for many different priorities, possibilities, technologies and tools. It is tactical and strategic by a simple turn of phrase.

Here is one example of the beguiling nature of what digital can offer. It is in answer to what General Electric now sell to their customers:

They’re essentially selling what customers want—which is speed, time, and performance, rather than just buying a thing, a jet engine.

I now see that I am in good company in struggling to land the digital fish to the shore. These, highly qualified, folks from McKinsey have failed to offer a pithy response as well. There are some really nice ideas and examples in the article if your boots are high enough to wade through the buzzwords and business speak. One advantage consultants have in this arena is experience across many sectors and contexts. They reflect on the new imperatives for customer communications and channels, the new business value that can be created (new products and services for new needs and to scratch new digital itches) and fundamentally new ways of organising, working and producing.

There is a lot a stake here and some big bets to place in managing digital changes. I wonder though whether trying to define digital is the right challenge to chose. Perhaps we should focus on distilling the organisation and business challenges into one succinct phrase without mentioning technology and digital at all. That detail can come in when we describe the strategy and steps in response. So, defining a digital learning service, perhaps, should focus on useful relevant sources of support, expertise and experience to immediately meet the needs of a connected workforce.

Or something like that. Digitally too. Of course.

Leave a Reply