Anni Rowland-Campbell is an Adjunct Teaching and Research Fellow with ANZSOG (the Australian and New Zealand School of Government), a Board Member of the Web Science Trust, and the Director of Intersticia. For the past two decades she has worked with government, not-for-profit and corporate organisations to promote a broader understanding of digital technologies and their impact on society. Anni is on the steering group for NPC’s Digital Transformation programme.
Last week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, tech was at the top of the agenda, with some even calling our digital age the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. To others, the act of transforming companies, industries, even our society through new technology is known as ‘digital disruption’. But what exactly is digital disruption, and what does it have to do with the social sector?
Disruption—the good kind
According to Pierre Nanterme, CEO of Accenture, this digital revolution seems to be coming in a number of ‘waves’ which are disrupting many current business models.
Wave 1 is being driven by the digital customer, who is both driven by, and demanding, more interactive and personalised experiences. Wave 2 is emerging as digital enterprise leverages these new technologies to optimise costs and gain greater productivity through increased enterprise collaboration. Wave 3 is where companies are truly revolutionising business with the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive computing.
In other words, disruptions are happening because:
- People (ie, consumers) are dissatisfied with a product or service.
- Someone has a ‘leap of imagination’ about a new and better way of achieving the same objectives.
- The technology exists that allows them to easily and relatively cheaply bring this new approach or service to the market.
Uber and Airbnb are but two examples of instances where a clever idea has radically transformed an industry through the monetisation of data, rather than through selling a service or charging a fee. And they work because they suit the customer’s needs.
What this means for charities
What is new in this ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is that it is not the businesses—of all kinds—that are in control, it is the customer. So no one company or sector has the monopoly over services, as long as suppliers provide what’s best for the end user. There are already entrepreneurial, socially minded organisations harnessing digital to improve ‘traditional’ charity services. Take FutureGov, for example, who’s Casserole Club—a social enterprise which matches cooks and diners—has harnessed digital and is taking over the role of Meals on Wheels.
Because of the prominence of the ‘customer’ within digital disruption, charities and non-profits are in an incredibly powerful position to make a difference through new technology. This is not only because they understand the needs of their beneficiaries (or ‘customers’). It is also because at the heart of digital interaction is the relationship between the provider and the customer. And this needs to be built on the trust that is embedded in many charity relationship, which itself is becoming a form of currency.
The charity sector needs digital leaders
What I have found while running similar workshops thus far is that there is a hunger to know more about this new emerging economy, and the ‘revolution’ underpinning it. One of the most important elements of the day is to get participants to reflect on their own knowledge and to articulate what they need to do to improve their digital skills.
These workshops will help people make sense of the digital world through recognising the importance of learning to ‘think digitally’. What we are aiming to do is to help build digital literacy within the sector, so that digital becomes a way of being, not just of doing. From there our aim is to enable all sorts of new ideas and disruptive models of working that have the potential to improve lives everywhere.
Digital disruptor Taanet Hinrikus, who attended Davos last week, put it best when he said:
[We are] harnessing technology to create change, to create better services, to create a better world.