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Author's profile photo Guido Schlief

Why the future of your business depends on its present biggest asset

Can I predict the future? Possibly. I can tell you that in 20 years’ time your company’s greatest asset will still be its people. Above technology and the Internet. I am certain this will be true, even with my position at SAP; in fact, it is my role which is responsible for this way of thinking: the most intelligent enterprises will be human enterprises, where digital transformation begins with people and is supported and enabled by the right technology.

People have been embracing and acclimatizing themselves with new technology for centuries. Take some of the most important inventions from the 20th century alone: the automobile, radio, television, airplane, personal computer, and the Internet. At first, the concept of many of the discoveries seemed preposterous to many, yet as the inventions demonstrated progress and made lives easier, people came to appreciate the value they created – faster travel, far-flung travel, quicker communication, and access to wider knowledge, amongst many other benefits. The masses then embraced the technology, adopting it into their way of life and crucially, never looking back.

People hold the power

I often think of these innovations when discussing people-centric technologies. There is a view that the human race both loves and loathes technology; that we are simultaneously empowered and threatened by it. In the workplace, some fear they will be replaced by machines in the future, a notion that honestly baffles me, as I’ve always viewed technology and people as the ultimate partnership and digital transformation as doing just that, transforming  the lives of humans.

Since the beginning of time the human race has endeavored to design and construct tools to make lives easier and more rewarding, as a matter of survival and contentment. The inventions stated above prove this, they have enriched the lives of people and were created, by people themselves, for their own benefit. That’s something businesses don’t always give humans credit for: people hold the power in technology.

Yet technology for the sake of technology can be useless to businesses; it must have purpose and solve a problem or improve operations, and most of all benefit people. You can invest in the best software in the world but without the support and buy-in of employees, it won’t work for your company. Fear not however, humans are designed to adapt and once aware of the benefits of digital transformation, can more often than not become its biggest champions.

What are the roles of people and technology in your business?

Take automation – it doesn’t eliminate roles. Instead, it improves productivity and efficiency by freeing people from repetitive tasks so that they can focus on solving the bigger issues – using nuanced soft skills that cannot be replicated by machines, such as intelligence, intuition, and perception, enabling them to discover the new technologies of tomorrow. This makes employees invaluable to an organization and is the reason SAP has incorporated human-centered design methodologies into the heart of its business model.

Many companies make the mistake of believing digital transformation is about simply introducing more technology into their operations, when actually it must first be about involving employees in the design process, gaining an understanding of their needs and role, then integrating them into the implementation of new software. This method offers the dual benefit of aiding businesses in gaining a better understanding of how technology can improve existing processes undertaken by people and ensures employees are more likely to positively adopt the systems.

Companies need to continue to place trust in people, the true chameleons through time, who have countlessly questioned, considered, and then adapted to new landscapes and inventions, harnessing technology to make their lives better. It is the very manner of evolution, but before you ask humans to value technology, you must first demonstrate that you value them.

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