When I was a kid in New England, we figured out what clothes to wear on a winter day by scraping frost off the window and looking at the thermometer. Today I just ask Siri or Alexa. The weather report may be more accurate and easier to obtain, but the outcome is the same–I know how to dress for the day.
Today we have powerful new technology tools at our disposal. With the help of machine learning and AI, software can figure out things we would have had to figure out on our own in the past. But it would have taken forever.
When I talk to Cognizant’s clients, many of them are overwhelmed by all the possibility out there. They ask, “Where do we start?” What they don’t understand is technology is no longer the problem for business. For all the rhetoric, the purpose of AI, analytics, and modern software is simple: it’s to make our lives easier.
At Cognizant we’re in the business of helping clients achieve great things with technology, and we are certainly passionate, even obsessed, about doing that elegantly. We tell the companies we work with not to focus so much on the technology, but rather on the problems they’re trying to solve. What matters more than the tech you use is what you’re trying to accomplish.
What is harder than getting the technology right is changing the managerial and employee mindset. Organizational structure and ego–that’s the struggle most leaders face. The challenge is getting your organization aligned for the business results that really matter. It’s all about adopting a modern mindset.
It’s understandable that so many businesspeople remain intimidated by technology. The industry has mystified everything with acronyms and noise. But the technology is basically the same as ever. Applications don’t work without data, and data doesn’t accomplish anything without software applications. If the graphical user interface is terrible, nobody’s going to use it.
By doing such a good job of mystifying it all, the tech industry is actually slowing down business progress. We’re not having the honest conversations about what’s real. We spend more time instead with religious debates about things like whether to use the AWS cloud or Google’s version.
So what is the modern mindset? It’s not about being right all the time. The modern mindset is to be empathetic, non-judgmental, and to understand and appreciate diverse ideas and concepts from both your employees and your customers in order to uncover unexpected solutions.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said it best: “the only way you get to real innovation is by being empathetic.” You must try and understand what people need, even when they can’t articulate it. For those companies and institutions that can figure this out, there’s going to be a massive release of innovation capability, and exponential growth.
When you begin a project, the key question is: What outcome do you want? Are you trying to make a transaction feel easier for customers? To reduce the cost or increase speed in a business process? Maybe you’re in insurance, and you want to speed up how a claim gets adjudicated. Or you may want to find ways to drive down the cost of some kind of healthcare transaction. Those are the things that matter.
All of that can now be reinforced and done better with technology, but the business outcomes have never changed. Either you acquire the customer, or you don’t. What changes is how you acquire that customer, and what format or channel you use. Someone may chase a prospect down in the airport, trying to get them to sign up on an iPad for a credit card. Or you might place a Facebook ad or send a direct mail piece.
The large tech and software firms have solved many of the tech challenges we had to wrestle with years ago. The tech superpowers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, coined “hyperscalers,” are spending many tens of billions a year to build data centers and cloud services. Every company can take advantage of that enormous investment and simply pay by the month. No longer does a technology manager have to go sit on the loading dock waiting for trucks from Dell to show up with 500 servers. All that complexity is gone, and the industry keeps on making it easier and easier.
So, we’re at a Zeitgeist-shifting moment. All the things you always wanted to do or could imagine doing can now be done. But still, I worry a lot about the Fortune 1,000. Too many of them have antiquated processes. They’re not modernizing them fast enough. They are approaching the challenge with the same mindsets and wondering why there is no breakthrough.
The way to get more out of tech is often to focus on changing the company’s culture. Too many companies are still organized vertically, with functions in silos. Yet business processes generally work horizontally, across functions, even across industries. It’s a central problem that’s both cultural and organizational.
It is possible to address that and operate differently. For example, one major bank turned its credit card division on its head and began putting people in charge of customer journeys. They turned the processes horizontally, because they realized that in the old vertical structures there were just too many handoffs inside the organization. They redesigned the incentives and the cost structures. They realized that what really mattered were things like – how successful were people when activating a credit card? Or what did it feel like to make a payment?
Some new companies can offer car insurance to a consumer in literally two minutes. The people who identify with that kind of service are millennials, Gen Zs, or younger. But 15 years down the road, they will be the most profitable customers. These are the people that new digitally savvy companies are picking off. The big insurance giants may be fine now, but in 10 years they will feel the pain.
Among the Fortune 1,000, few have mastered this. The newer firms can come in and pick off very specific products and features, and build on the back of that. For example, where’s Venmo going to go? It’s all that kids use for payments these days. Soon enough, Venmo will become a bank. And younger people will just use it.
But if a company’s leaders want to move their organization into the modern tech-driven and connected mindset and reality, it’s not going to be just about adopting the right technology. First, they have to get their corporate structure right, and their metrics. And to change an organization, it is fundamentally all about leadership. You have to bring people along for the ride. Leaders have to take the time to engage and listen, to understand, empathetically, people’s concerns and problems. You don’t have to agree with everyone’s views. But if you don’t listen and take the time to understand them, how do you help them change?
As systems all around us become more accurate and faster, that’s going to push progress faster. If a medical claim that used to take 30 days to be adjudicated, for example, now only takes two minutes, what will that mean for society in health care?
After a hurricane, an insurance company can fly a drone to assess the damage to a home. They can put different types of sensors on the drone to give a better view of the damage. Otherwise, someone has to get up on a ladder and try to figure it out. It’s still the same outcome, which is to adjudicate the house claim. Now you just make it happen faster, with more accuracy. But guess what, you also did it more safely. You didn’t put an adjuster in harm’s way. But now that adjuster can go onto his or her laptop and get a feed from an AI application that assesses the damage. The result will be happier home owners, because they got their money faster.
People worry that jobs will be threatened. But these new systems will open up a whole new set of jobs. Who’s going to be the drone fleet administrator? Those skills and people don’t yet exist. And we’re going to be able to unleash all this human mind power. Today, too much of that capability is being wasted on mundane tasks. Going forward we’ll be able to solve big and important problems that today nobody has time to address. With a modern mindset, you’re going to be amazed at what you can accomplish.