Simplification killing your Digital Journey

Decision making is routinely disrupted by biases, over-simplification and other mind games. A digital journey is no exception, and being complex by definition, the careful use of simplification is key, particularly as it relates to technology choices.
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By Diego A. Navia

Simplification, transparency and responsiveness increasingly permeate our daily lives as consumers, empowering us with options and the ability to hold vendors and service providers accountable. Transferring money, paying bills, buying tickets, ordering food, getting transportation, calling friends and relatives several time zones away, restocking groceries respond to a decision making process as simple as clicking a button.

Heck, we may even do so by having a conversation with what seems like another human being or bypassing decisions altogether via automated triggers based on our lifestyle. Several technology and business layers underpin these solutions, but for us as consumers, convenience, process simplification and addressing our needs is all we care about.

We tend to believe we are rational thinkers, when in reality we tend to be lazy and use the automaticbrain system much more, making quick decisions without analyzing very deeply

Intuitively, simplicity and speed seem a natural tendency of human beings, and the digital era is proving to be fantastic at delivering on those needs. Who has time to understand all the details when even the most basic concepts to get started are complex enough? Research and experts in this area confirm our intuition.


In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologist and economics Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, explains the two systems in our brain. He highlights our tendency to believe we are rational thinkers (System II) when in reality we tend to be lazy and use the “automatic” System I much more, following a quick decision making process without analyzing very deeply.  By doing so, we apply mental shortcuts (heuristics), simplification and use minimum information required.

Complexity Under the Hood

Of course, bringing to life digital payments, marketplaces, service portals or voice agents require an enormous technology complexity. Whether it’s servers, networks, security, software frameworks, programming languages, connectors or API’s, there are many complex layers to ensure the technical side delivers what it’s supposed to. 

Making technology work for the consumer adds another layer of complexity and alignment that can be addressed by understanding consumer preferences, harvesting data and designing wonderful consumer experiences via Design Thinking – to pick an example. Yet, in addition to getting the technical and consumer layer right, these initiatives need to address corporate strategic objectives, strengthen competitive advantages and deliver tangible financial impact to corporate financial statements to be sustainable over time. But then again, as consumers, we focus on the handful of reliable and relevant options.  

An increasingly mainstream approach seems to follow along the lines of “technology drives modern businesses, so let’s find and embrace a new technology that will take us there”

Technology Magic Bullets

While simplicity makes sense from a consumer perspective, this thought process becomes a major hindrance if tasked with building, transforming or delivering a world class consumer experience on behalf of your organization. Unfortunately, that seems to be a good portion of what’s going on as it relates to Digital Transformation initiatives and our own digital journey. These days and for several years now, we have been flooded by service providers, thought leaders, conferences and social media pitching technology acronyms converted into magic bullets.

They seem to promise a technology ride that will transform organizations into a modern, next generation, digitally enabled enterprise almost by the touch of a menu button. A pitch that shows System I taking over System II, to quote Kahneman. An increasingly mainstream approach not dissimilar to “get rich quick” schemes that in this case, makes a digital journey quickly transition from excitement to disenchantment. 

Enter Robotic Process Automation, Analytics, Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning just to mention a few in the long list of “magic bullets” for a digitally enabled, modern business. An approach characterized by excitement at the outset, frustration as complexities get uncovered and disillusionment/ abandonment as financial, business and even technical objectives are not achieved.

Don’t get me wrong, I love simplification and can’t stand unnecessary complexity but maybe because of true exponential complexity (e.g. technology options, business models, technology layers, integration) and in lieu of true knowledge depth and meaningful business-technology abstraction ability, we may be relying on over-simplification. 

In lieu of true knowledge depth and business-technology abstraction ability, we may be relying on oversimplification

Of course, not all is lost as most of these technologies add value, help shape a viable digital journey, contribute building blocks to the modern enterprise and may drive a competitive edge. While leveraging Agile and Design Thinking for implementation comes with the times, it’s not as if by adding them you can swap AI for BPM, RPA for Adobe OCR, Salesforce for on-premise Siebel/Oracle CRM or Cloud ERP for any flavor of SAP – including HANA, and deliver business results.

For decades, large scale change failures have been associated with lack of change management, limited focus on human capital and limited rigor on financials and strategy alignment. This has been the case well before the Digital age and many of these well documented principles and best practices still apply, to the point where content has been repackaged and shared as digitally centric; a great example that to succeed in this new era, not all is new.

Technology Magic Bullets don’t add up to to a Modern Enterprise

Strategic Technology Capability Building

Step back, understand new business and organizational models enabled by digital connectivity and build tech-enabled capabilities that will bring competitive strategy choices to life

The key point remains, even if well implemented and aligned to a great consumer experience, a specific technology does not add up to a modern agile enterprise. It is important to step back, understand the new business and organizational models enabled by digital connectivity and define a competitive strategy specific to market and competitive environment.

With an end-picture in mind and a clear understanding of current operational position, it’s easier to build capabilities by following a digital journey that will move the entire organization to an improved competitive position. In lieu of a strategic capability big picture and acknowledging most organizations already have high dollar technology initiatives in flight, it may be wise to work with what you have, rationalizing and minimizing functionally siloed start and stop waves of “hot” technology initiatives. Bringing initiatives together around a relevant capability-building digital journey can start by focusing on three key areas for each initiative:

Fit-for-purpose Software

There is an explosion of technologies and companies that provide solutions for the same business problem. For example, RPA may provide a solution in the same rule-based space your existing BPM or OCR investments can; similarly, the “smart version” of RPA now brings AI as part of a suite when another project can use ODM or a standalone AI product for this. 

Unfortunately, a lot is untested, so you might as well clarify business needs, choose the right platform, the company that best fits your needs and try to separate reality from “vaporware”. It may also be wise to be forward thinking, asking if a solution like an API initiative may be more strategic and have better returns over time than RPA for those areas where you are effectively moving data across systems.  

Modern technologies build on an increasingly large set of technology layers (i.e. data, security, databases, reusable code, operating systems, software architecture, connectors, servers, network, etc.). There is no need to add unnecessary stress and expenses to an in-flight project/ program trying to fix what could have been done up-front. This is the modern equivalent of avoiding Apple if you had a Microsoft environment. 

So, let’s say you have an AI NLP initiative. Even if you are in the cloud, do you have a position regarding open source?  do you use Git? which are the licensing and support arrangements for all the pieces? What is you approach to reusable code and libraries? If you want to implement QLIK or Tableau, do you have the databases? how many versions of the data do you have? is it reasonable to expect that data segregation & security can be put in place?

Technology Layers

Strategic Fit

Most digital initiatives are large and expensive, in part because they are supposed to be transformational. So, let’s ensure the Transformational part is in place by focusing on three areas.


Most digital initiatives are large and expensive, in part because they are supposed to be transformational. Let’s ensure the transformational part is in it

Learn more about enterprise digitization, unlocking Enterprise Value and the how capabilities digital journey add-up to the big transformation picture, by exploring or simply contact us.

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