The challenges of post-digital transformation for companies
Updated: May 1, 2022
Institut Mines-Télécom Business School
*Faculty member of the Business Science Institute.
Article initialement publié sur The Conversation France.
This contribution is based on the work conducted by Aurélie Dudézert, university professor at Institut Mines-Télécom Business School, as part of the writing of the book "La transformation digitale des entreprises" published in the "Repères" collection of La Découverte editions. This book received the 2018 FNEGE Prize for the best management research essay, of which The Conversation France is a partner.
Since 2013, companies are in the grip of what they call digital transformation. This is experienced as a global process of transformation of the company that must lead it to review its methods of collaboration with customers, its internal work processes and sometimes even its business model. These transformations are presented as necessary to adapt to external developments (uberization, Factory 4.0, etc.).
The organization of work is being shaken up
In terms of work organization, digital transformation is linked to the introduction of information technologies (smartphones, tablets, apps, connected objects, chatbots, social networks, home automation assistants, etc.) into the enterprise, which have three characteristics:
They are at the fingertips of each of us. Even if their operation is often very sophisticated, these technologies have been designed to be simple to use.
These technologies manage information flows that were previously not taken into account (about our knowledge, our tastes, our emotions, our relationships, our physical, gestural, vocal data, etc.).
While information technologies used in companies until now were implemented to support the management of work processes formalized by the organization and the hierarchy, digital technologies support information flows centered on direct interactions between individuals.
These technologies put in the hands of employees give them greater autonomy and freedom of action. By mobilizing them, employees can be more reactive, creative and innovative and thus better respond to customer needs. Paradoxically, these digital tools also increase the possibilities of control of the employee by the company by allowing the collection and processing of more precise and even intrusive data on the employee. The introduction of these technologies thus calls into question the autonomy/control relationship established between the employee and the company in the classic Taylorian doctrine of command and control.
To support these changes in work organization and take advantage of these new opportunities, large French companies have been implementing internal digital transformation programs for several years. Projects have been launched that mobilize significant technical and human resources. Between group programs (specific training plans, digital skills development certifications, characterization of "digital" skills in job references, etc.) and experimental tinkering, a wealth of experiences and practices has emerged in a few years.
After this period of transformation and change in the organization of work, what are the challenges facing these large companies today?
Three critical issues
In my opinion, there are three particularly critical points today:
1. Integrate the new work management practices developed with the digital transformation into the organization's norm.
With the digital transformation, some local managers have implemented new ways of managing work. They have progressively affirmed a work management practice that is less centered on command and control than on a relationship of collaboration and trust with the employee. They consider that command and control management methods are non-productive, infantilizing and out of step with the reality of the level of the employees hired. They find it difficult to accept the tension between the management methods they use in their teams today and the constraints imposed by their own hierarchies structured around command and control.
2. Reconciling the value of creativity and autonomy with the commitment of employees to the collective project.
Digital transformation practices have led to the over-valuing of employees' creativity and autonomy skills. The speeches of company managers, recruiters and human resources managers have urged employees to use the potential offered by digital technologies to unleash their creativity and put it at the service of the company. At the same time, the uses have led to a new form of autonomy for the employee who now has all the necessary knowledge at his fingertips. The difficulty that quickly became apparent was how to reconcile the development of this type of skill with the commitment to the collective project. This gap between valuing creativity and autonomy and commitment to the company's collective project already existed before these digital transformation projects, but these approaches have further accentuated the problem.
3. Get away from the fantasies surrounding big data and AI technologies.
Large companies quickly became very enthusiastic about the opportunities offered by the technical capabilities to develop and process the mass of data generated by their employees. Some of them have started to experiment with uses, especially for HR data.
However, these projects have shown that the understanding of these technologies is, in many cases, fantasized and far from the technical reality. The myths of technology determining the organization of efficient work (or technofania: technology will solve all the problems by itself) or technophobia (technology is alienating, people in the workplace will disappear) too often structure the approaches implemented without looking at the reality of these technical objects.
Research in information systems management conducted since the 1980s has largely shown that information technologies are not magical or rational. They do not provide turnkey solutions for creating a high-performance work organization. They are simply machines and programs designed by human beings who have a particular vision of collective action and its efficiency.
Other visions are possible. Technologies are not opposed to human beings in the workplace either. Employees only use technologies that are in phase with their work. Introducing a technology will only fundamentally change work practices if the objectives of the job change. In the opposite case, the actors undergo the technology but play with it and divert it to be able to do their job correctly according to the existing objectives.
Digital transformation as a revelation of paradoxes
Many companies that have implemented digital transformation programs have not foreseen the profound implications of their implementation on work organization. They considered that it was only a simple adaptation of work practices to new tools, offering new opportunities in terms of efficiency.
The deployment of these digital technologies within organizations has brought to light paradoxes in the organization of work that existed before the digital transformation, but which are now very apparent.
Faced with this situation, will these companies choose to turn back the clock and make these projects a mere parenthesis in favor of a vigorous return to Taylorian command and control? Or will they take the risk of undertaking an in-depth overhaul to create new and unprecedented work organization models? In any case, it will be their choice and not a necessity linked to a changing environment.
Article translated from French with https://www.deepl.com/translator
Aurélie Dudezert's articles on The Conversation France.
Aurélie Dudezert's books & articles via CAIRN.info.