One of my favourite parts of my job is being creative in designing new functionality to solve business challenges to enable our customers to work smarter, gain new insights and generate more value from using Alyne. When we are in these creative workshops, we also have a generic user in mind and try to imagine how this user will interact with the new feature.
When we put this to the test of reality, I have been surprised by how differently some users engage than we had imagined. I call this the digital divide - a gap in approach, intuitiveness and experience in using digital technology. Often we observe this in some of our older users, however age is surprisingly not always a good indicator. Even some people younger than I am find themselves on the far side of the digital divide.
I have thought about why this happens - and what we can do about it.
I am a firm believer in lifelong learning. I have found that especially launching my own company has thrown me on the steepest learning curve of my life. I also observe that some corporate environments do not encourage learning as much as they should. As a result, employees become complacent or even disengaged, and so widens the digital divide and increases the gap to cross in order to embrace new tech.
When we are young, humans can absorb new information like a sponge. I watch in awe how my three year old naturally uses my phone, browses Netflix on the TV or talks to Siri. At some point most people seem to lose their curiosity for new tech and stick with what they know. Facebook’s ageing demographics are a great example for this.
In a corporate environment I get that employees can be opportunistic. If spending time on understanding new tech is distracting from other activities that affect my bonus I can appreciate a certain hesitance.
Especially in Germany, a healthy concern for privacy and conservatism has grown into full-on paranoia and prejudice in much of the media coverage and public discourse over new technology such as cloud or artificial intelligence. This vicious cycle of filter bubble perpetuation can rub off on decisions in the corporate environment.
So what can we as a tech company do and what tools do organisations have to bridge the digital divide?
As a tech startup we need to be more empathetic towards the digital savviness of our customers and create an engaging learning experience and avoid both abstract jargon and condescension at any cost. The learning experience needs to be focused on hands-on doing and experimenting - not just repeating a series of clicks to achieve an outcome. We also need to bring back some fact into the conversations around privacy, cloud and artificial intelligence. We need to be both a voice of reason and a confident advocate to address both legitimate concerns and prejudice.
Organisations need to create a continuous learning environment if they want to optimise change management and enable digital transformation in the enterprise. Organisations also need to make experimenting and learning part of the performance metrics for their teams. You can’t always innovate, learn and experiment on a tight schedule, so you need to incentivise and provide space for your teams to bridge their personal digital divide.
As with every innovation, we will likely not be able to bring everyone along on this digital transformation, but it must be our mission to engage as many as we can.