In this article I’m going to explore why building a Power Platform solution with my wife was really important to me, as it underlined something I’ve been thinking for a while – has digital transformation in the workplace failed? Many organisations are still stuck with trying to digitally transform, or maybe they think they have but the reality is vastly different.
This article might come off a bit ranty, in truth it’s just a hugely passionate subject for me. Hopefully that comes across as you read on.
I’ve previously made jokes about my wife wanting to use a paper-based diary to manage her business appointments. More interestingly though, why was that her kneejerk reaction?
Rewind back to 2007 – the first ever iPhone came out. For me (age 42 as I type) this was HUGE, a complete game changer. I’d been brought up with Commodore 64, Spectrum, Mega Drive & SNES, but a smartphone – that was something else. Overnight we went from blocky mobile phones that could barely send a text properly, to a device that you could literally run your life from. Before you knew it the term “there’s an app for that” could be heard far and wide.
I think that’s where I – and most others – digitally transformed. Expectations rose as to what technology was capable of, our experiences outside the workplace becoming faster and more intuitive. Look at the Amazon app now, for example – you can buy something with just a tap, then a swipe, it’s that easy. Yet, well over a decade later, that ethos seemingly still hasn’t fully made its way into the workplace, not even post-Covid.
The use case
Speaking with friends & colleagues, I wonder if my wife represents the typical millennial that’s worked in non-IT roles. She’s not IT illiterate (I think that’s a term of the past now) and like most of us, she’s super proficient in the ways of the smartphone; she loves an Insta reel as much as the next person, practically keeps Facebook Marketplace running all by herself, can design some cool stuff with Canva and knows her way around a Word document. Her go-to fix when her laptop freezes is to keep bashing the same key repeatedly whilst shouting “will you f**king work!!” or she’ll shout at her phone because “that’s not what I asked you to do, was it?”.
However, her working culture in the past 10+yrs isn’t one of innovation or digital excellence. When I first met her, she worked for a high-end Spa that used the oldest and worst computer system I’d ever seen. It looked like MS-DOS and performed about the same too. There was also heavy reliance on manual diary entries to assist with therapist utilisation. When our daughter was born, she swapped the mental hours as a Front of House Manager for a part-time Admin Assistant role with a large University. A typical admin role really; monitor a shared mailbox, writing things on paper or punching figures into Excel Workbooks. You’ll know the type of workbooks I mean; those behemoths that have 800 tabs, conditional formatting done manually, no formula’s to make things easier & don’t get me started on data consistency.
I remember lots of conversations with her during Covid when we both worked at home. It was clear that her employers idea of digital transformation was migrating from on-premise to the cloud. That was it, job done, pats on the back, great work everyone! But there’s my wife, in a team of 8-10 who routinely got overloaded to the point of tears & sick days. Too much work, no extra staff and yet no real way, or plan to improve the underlying processes. There was no real commitment to digital transformation – actually transforming the way they worked. That means removing the bureaucracy, stop stifling innovation and productivity, empower your workforce.
Simply migrating to the cloud is not digital transformation. Not when your staff are doing the same thing they always have, but have just swapped your own servers for someone else’s!
It’s not really that hard to see why my wife’s kneejerk reaction was a paper-based diary for her business. She knew the iOS app store would have loads of apps, but none met her exact needs or cost a monthly fee. Why would she think of other digital offerings when she’s never been informed about them – let alone empowered to use them? She’s going to default to what she’s always known in the business world; Word, Excel, Outlook, paper. None of her employers have given her any real opportunity to be curious, to try or even use something new. “This is the way we’ve always done it”.
Maybe she’s digitally suppressed? I don’t know what else I’d call it. What I do think though, is she’s one of the many by-products of organisations who haven’t fully committed to digital transformation and, as such, have failed. Excel Online, PowerPoint Online or using Teams only because you had to during Covid is not a measure of success here. My wife and many others represent the complete opposite, and that’s what made building a low code solution with her so appealing. It was an opportunity to increase her knowledge & awareness that her previous employers had the responsibility to do.
The million $$$ question I guess. I think there are many factors involved for digital transformation objectives failing.
I can generalise, to say a lot of Senior Management isn’t diverse or young enough to truly drive change. Your average mid-to-late-50’s white male Director is just sitting pretty until it’s pension time, they don’t want to rock the boat. But also, empowering a workforce to solve business problems themselves is an alien concept to them. They’ve had 40 years of control, power, authority, sysadmins & countless approvals; any sign of something new or genuinely innovative, that puts power in the hands of employees, is shut down and turned off. “Can we remove Power Apps?” and “What’s the value of automation?” are GENUINELY two things I’ve heard and read in previous roles. It’s exactly the sort of C-suite mindset that my wife was subject to as well, along with the usual go-to responses of “we don’t have time”, “we don’t have the budget” etc etc. No wonder digital transformation has failed for any such organisation.
Or maybe they’re rolling out something we hear a lot. “We’re not sure about turning x on, we don’t want people running off and creating the wild west, leaving us with a bunch of technical debt”. I totally understand that, but there are two solid counters. Firstly, certainly in terms of the Power Platform, there are toolkits available to help understand, monitor and nurture usage in your tenant. You even have brilliant humans like Michael Roth who help us understand and navigate the admin side of things, so to help provide the right foundation for your workforce to innovate. There are some Microsoft Partners now leading the way in helping organisations prepare for mass enablement and I’m lucky that I work for one of them. Secondly – don’t want a wild west? I bet if we were to look at your SharePoint or OneDrive estate, it’d be a graveyard of unused office documents that haven’t been opened or edited in years. You already have the wild west, at least with the Power Platform you have the tools, people and Partners to help roll out, educate and scale properly.
Speaking of the MS Partner landscape, have we as consultants and architects done the right thing by our clients? I’ve spent a few weeks drafting this article, during which time this awesome clip floated around on socials. What Will Dorrington says is bang on – we’ve focused too much on one individual business problem, built something to fix that problem and we’re done. What we haven’t done as well is help businesses to understand any other problems, and how enabling people to find solutions themselves is way more beneficial, short and long term. Invariably that will mean a cultural shift, but one partners are more than capable of supporting with engaging consultancy.
Then there’s the local or economic climates. Some companies are still drowning in legacy IT debt, so the thought of letting line-of-business employees build their own solutions to bottlenecks isn’t going to happen. Not when Mr. Robot is waltzing through non-existent security, or WLAN networks are still being powered by a hamster on a wheel. Then there’s budget cuts or global pandemics – I get it. Sometimes best laid plans can’t happen because of things outside of our control. I’d still argue that even then, the term ‘digital transformation’ was floating around at conferences I attended back in 2017. It’s easy to hide behind the economy as a reason for not doing X, Y or Z, but there’s been plenty of time before that to have got on the front foot.
Taking the bull by the horns
If businesses can’t empower or enable their workforce, maybe we can. Maybe helping to re-address expectations will help others choose a more forward-thinking company for their next role, or be that additional catalyst for change internally. I return again to my use case – my wife or people in a similar boat. I have and continue to find so much value in helping them to see the art of the possible, especially when they’re not from a typical IT or developer background. I want others to experience that feeling when you nail some Power Fx, or build an easy flow that makes life so much easier.
I’m not saying we all need to head to our local high street and preach the gospel according to Low Code, and how a ClearCollect saved our lives once. I am saying that we can potentially make more of those micro transactions we have with people to tell them, then even show them what the digital world has to offer beyond Excel and Instagram. You could unearth the next successful career switcher story; your wife/partner, best mate, kids, the-person-you-speak-to-on-the-school-run-but-don’t-know-their-name – all untapped resource!
I’ve spoken to quite a few people around this topic recently, a handful from many examples I’ve seen or heard on my travels:
> My wife having a crack at the Power Platform – YES.
> A friend has been talking to a teacher about Power Automate and wants some tips – GET IN THERE.
> Two of Sheryl Netley’s children have gone through their PL-900 – AMAZING.
> Matthew Harding is mentoring his friend to learn the Power Platform, so he can secure an alternate career path – BRILLIANT.
This is all great evidence that it’s not just “biz apps” – low code and modern ways of working can extend way beyond the Monday-Friday 9-5 grind, they’re not exclusive to businesses.
Companies want to hire people with growth mindset. Therefore, give those people the right capabilities and technologies to help them improve the way they, and you work. Don’t say you want growth mindset, but actually bring people into a fixed mindset culture that’s process-heavy & bureaucratic, else you’ll just end up with a culture as depicted in this short video.
By enabling those closest to us, in or out of our workplace, when they decide to pursue their next career move they can ask proper questions. They can do away with “how much leave do I get?” or “do you shut for Christmas?” and start asking things like:
“Are you enabling your staff to innovate & solve business problems? If so, how?”
“How do you ideate internally? How long do good ideas take to be approved, prioritised and actioned?”
“What does your internal tech community look like and how is it supported?”
“What’s the current adoption & ROI of Low Code and Modern Work tools?”
“How much time have you saved by modernising business processes with Low Code/Modern Work tools?”
Start focusing on the people and the technology, and how both can work together in an empowering way to drive real business change.
TLDR: Digital transformation is dead. Long live enablement. Think big, start small, scale fast.