I know. I know. The headline reads like an introduction to the thesis of a techno-snob, which I am not. In fact, as a child of the analogue era, I am instinctively drawn to digital technology as the outcome of a bridge crossed. A language interpreted. A frame repositioned. An arduous journey into new territory.
On the other hand, my 25-year-old son is a digital native who engages no such challenges in interpreting his music, words or images. It is the first and main language of his craft.
In my case, it is much like my basic-to-intermediate Spanish. I am inclined to arrange my thoughts and ideas before consulting with a rather limited range of nouns, verbs and woefully deficient descriptors. Only then, upon their translation, are my thoughts anywhere near intelligible to the Spanish-speaker.
At the radio station, we used scalpels and scotch tape to edit audio. At the newspaper, there were scalpels as well, to “cut and paste” artwork before it was ready for “shooting” and reproduction as negatives. Today, processors and applications handle them all.
My wife, however, is an IT veteran of over 40 years who learnt to code in mysterious languages no longer widely employed. At our home, in the early years, there were beige-tinged data “punch cards” everywhere. The “mainframe” computer at work occupied a room the size of a two-bedroom HDC house.
For her, the modern digital reality was never far off—zeroes and ones from the start providing an essential vocabulary.
Today, we are called upon to embrace what is being described as a “digital transformation”—an amorphous process involving a wide variety of new and emerging technologies and applications.
Yet, there appears almost everywhere to be a deliberate effort to leapfrog what I think are some important features of the required conditions. They include human capacity, at all levels, to execute the transition.
The experts, and I have one in the house, speak of “system-based process optimisation” as a key component of “change management”—lofty expressions that point to both human resource and technological transitions.
As a consequence of the frequent omission of the human element, we often have transitions managed and engaged essentially by people who require translation/interpretation services themselves. The outcomes are often garbled and meaningless.
I have developed the terrible habit of scanning the desktops of the business executives, politicians and educators with whom I come into contact.
If I see piles of files and bits of paper, I respond differently from when I see laptops, tables and smartphones. I am tempted to make judgments about the level of technological interpretation required, and about their own capacity at the helm at a time of transition.
I am also not always exceedingly confident about what is on offer when I don’t see 25 and 30-year-olds at the controls.
In their absence, the expectation tends to be on infrastructure and processes to execute old tasks better— as interpretation/translation—rather than on changing the language from one to another.
Look closely and you will see why the government grants’ process went off-track recently and why the mere automating of official transactions has not added substantial value in other areas.
This, in my view, is not solely a matter of mechanical transformation, but one that grapples with issues of personal and corporate mindsets and organisational culture.
Hopefully Senator Allyson West, who now heads a new ministry of public administration and digital transformation, together with technology expert, Minister Hassel Bacchus, are mindful of this.
By now, as well, I should think they have begun assembling a cadre of young digital natives who understand and speak the language of real change.
Such a transformation ought not to focus on doing the old things better, but rather on doing new things well.