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03/24/2022

ALTA SPRINGBOARD: How to Achieve a Human-centric Digital Transformation

Oneill

Businesses can’t ignore the need for digitization, and humanity can’t ignore the need for purpose and meaning. The best and ultimately most successful approach to digital transformation strategy is one that starts with strategic purpose, uses ongoing data and results to improve, and achieves sustainable business success.

During the Westcor-sponsored Idea Festival at the 2022 ALTA SPRINGBOARD in Tampa, Fla., tech humanist Kate O’Neill shared insight to help attendees better understand the human impact of emerging technologies.

Companies like Google, Etsy, Cisco, and have turned to O'Neill to get a reality check and be successful and respectful with human-centric data and technology.

O’Neill has spent her career helping companies, organizations, cities, museums and entities of all kinds solve strategic problems arising from integrating data and emerging technology into their business model and operations.

She said the best and ultimately most successful approach to digital transformation strategy is one that starts with strategic purpose, uses ongoing data and results to improve, and achieves sustainable business success.

“This is a different way to think about the future. When we talk about it as a concept, we either think its dystopia or utopia,” O’Neill said. “The either-or framing doesn’t help. We need to think holistically. The future won’t be either of these things. It’s what we make of it. We get to make choices about the processes and technology we adopt and the experiences we provide.”

O’Neill said to prepare for a world where everything is connected, we need “to build our best technology, grow our best businesses and become our best selves.”

O’Neill encouraged attendees to create the best futures for the most people by developing opportunities for the most people to thrive.

“Data is about people,” she said. “When you hear tech, think human experiences. Remember to orient everything in that direction to serve the people who need to be served. Emerging tech will add capacity and scale like never before.”

O’Neill shared how the new Amazon Go convenience stores operate and could impact human interaction. The stores are cashierless and partially automated with customers able to purchase products without being checked out by a cashier or using a self-checkout station.

Basically, the customer scans their phone, shops and walks out. Everything gets scanned as the customer walks through gate and gets charged to their account. O’Neill said there are some rules: anything you take off a shelf is automatically added to the virtual cart.

“Since products you take go into your cart, you can’t take things for other shoppers,” she said.,

O’Neill said Amazon plans to roll this out into Whole Foods and plan to open 2,000 stores across the country.

“If we are saying it’s OK to not help each other in that environment, we’re saying its OK not to help people in any environment,” O’Neill said. “Experience at scale changes culture. Experience at scale is culture. It’s a profound thing to think about.

Her point is that businesses need to think about the experiences they want people to have. As digital closings evolve, title companies will want to think of how homebuyers will feel during a remote closing.

O’Neill encourages companies to use humanizing language. Instead of always saying “users” or “customers,” say “people” when you mean “people.” Get clear on what human problems you’re trying to solve at scale, and encourage teams to translate their own work into how it helps the company solve those problems, she said.

O’Neill also mentioned a quote from Bill Gates, which highlighted how automation can enhance processes, not fix broken ones.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency,” Gates said.

O’Neill believes that AI and some of the other emerging technologies will have capacity and scale like never before. This means we have an ever-increasing obligation to think responsibly about the world we are building through their use.

“Humans can’t leave meaning up to machines,” O’Neill said. “Look for tech that moves us forward but do it with a purpose that moves your company forward. Subtle nuances are not AI’s strong suit.”

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