Author: Andrea Muratore – 08/03/2021
A SUSTAINABLE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION: HOW TO MAKE INNOVATION AT THE SERVICE OF THE MAN IN A CORPORATE SCENARIO
In every company’s point of view, the technological turning point and the increasingly pervasive role of innovation are now consolidated realities. All too often, however, the “sustainable” use of new technologies is underestimated in the economy of business processes or is linked solely to the more or less “green” impact of certain technologies, while there is a lack of studies capable of looking at the bigger picture.
The digital shift, the rise of new technologies in the production and business process and the development of a new relationship between workers and innovation are all phenomena at three hundred and sixty degrees and every company, of any size, must think about how to develop an appropriate cultural approach to these developments. A “culture of technology” is a transversal competence required in every organization where new paradigms are developing and others are setting in, provided that it is a culture at the service of both work and mankind.
Some of the most prominent scientist specialized into the technology field, among whom we would like to quote the artificial intelligence expert Paolo Benanti, have raised the question in terms of maintaining human control over machine and technology. In essence, innovation needs to be placed at the service of man, of his work (at any level) as an essential support but not as his substitute. With a jargon taken from the business sector, we could speak of kaizen, “continuous improvement” of business processes and the relationship between man and the company structure as a goal of fully sustainable innovation. This is because technology now embraces a large part of business processes, and its introduction opens up a series of issues of fundamental importance:
- – Which are the most functional technologies for each position and which can make up a cross-cutting “hard core” for all members of the organization.
- How to foster human productivity and technological complementarity between corporate figures belonging to different areas.
- How to exploit new technologies to encourage the relationship between the person and the workplace.
- How to optimize the management and exploitation of data acquired by the company during its activities.
All this implies a key to the so-called “Total Quality Management”: an organic management of innovation that responds to these factors can achieve the threefold objective of making the organization more cohesive within it, increase the awareness and link of the employee or manager with the company and also strengthen the efficiency of the company in front of customers and other stakeholders. This, in our opinion, means moving in a sustainable way in the relationship with innovation.
To answer the first two questions, it is necessary to reflect in an organic way. Tomorrow’s management must be able to govern a wide range of technologies, the most essential of which are undoubtedly multi-level communication tools, virtual spaces for sharing work in the cloud, business intelligence tools and, last but not least, cybersecurity devices. It is fundamental, in this viewpoint, to think technology in function of man and not vice versa: to tie company positions to practices such as “data entry”, for example, is a recurrent error of the relationship between company and digital that must be avoided in order to preserve workers from alienation and lack of identification with their own company. The human factor, as we intend the perception of the worker’s role in the corporate structure and the enhancement of knowledge and skills, must be central in the discourse, and clearly this takes on different nuances depending on whether it is carried out in companies of different sizes. In large companies, the discussion on the complementarity between different areas and branches, from logistics to finance, in terms of operational culture and day-by-day strategy, takes on greater value.
In the purely operational branch, technologies also allow a rationalized use of smart working mechanisms: the current pandemic emergency has made the essential need for such operational channels increasingly evident. At the same time, smart working and telework potentially pose problems other than those of an operational and economic nature that they help to solve (cost of space, cost of transport for the worker and so on), such as the potential alienation of the worker linked to excessive identification between home and workplace. A management that wants to introduce a real culture of digital sustainability must weigh up the pace and incidence of smart working in the overall relationship between employees and the company.
Finally, let us come to the data: they represent, according to the Economist, the “oil of the 21st century”. But just as oil is used for refining to produce expendable goods in the economy, the data also needs to be “refined” and made available to the business process. Companies usually generate huge quantities of information every single day, lacking on the other side the time to process and analyze it all without help: business intelligence tools help to fill the gap in this context. The information on sustainability generated and managed by contemporary companies is growing continuously. Within the framework of a truly sustainable enterprise, business intelligence and data mining tools cannot be disregarded, not only to improve performance in the operational ecosystem, but also to evaluate the company’s internal equilibrium. The decision-making process is strongly based on BI tools and also with a view to the company’s adherence to internationally defined sustainability objectives.
In conclusion, it is therefore vital for a company to form an internal culture of innovation functional to its needs. In order to successfully govern and channel it into its processes. To make new technologies perform well and transversally. To bring management and employees closer together and, last but not least, to remind workers and stakeholders that the center of economic activity is and always remains man, in his figure of worker. The real objective of sustainability, after all, is to strongly reaffirm this principle.
 Even in this field we can find very good contributions such as David Kiron, Gregory Unruh, The Convergence of Digitalization and Sustainability, MIT Sloan Review, 2018.
 Indeed, there is no lack of noteworthy and very interesting content on the subject: see for example the essay by Stefano Epifani, UN advisor on the impacts of digital transformation and president of the Digital Transformation Institute, Digital Sustainability, published by DTI in 2020.
 His is the fundamental essay “Homo Faber”, based on his studies of the relationship between man and technology, in which the reflection starts from a fundamental question under the economic, social and ethical level: “What happens when it is not humans, but machines that make the decisions?”.
 Combination of the Japanese words kai (“improvement”) and “zen” (continuous), indicates the corporate philosophy developed by groups such as Toyota to achieve a gradual reduction of costs in business processes.
 The level of commitment to this objectives is far more important in non-full digital firms, where the level of investment needed is definitely huge, such as Benjamin Edelman’s Multinationals in the Digital economy paper for Brookings shows (https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/edelman-mnc-tech-draft3.pdf)
Andrea Muratore – Indipendent Analyst