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Elevating, enabling, and engaging: Why technology is more than bits and bytes

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I love it for what it enables us to do; connect with people anywhere in the world, access hours of great entertainment content or find the answer to any question. However, as my colleagues over the years will attest, I have a gift for often needlessly overcomplicating a simple task by trying to bend my technology to make my life easier and then getting frustrated with it when it won’t work.

I find that as I’ve gotten older my interest in technology has changed from that of a hobbyist – who had the desire to tinker for long periods of time with something – to someone who wants technology to be an enabler that supplements my life. The boy who spent hours rebuilding the family computer using the MS-DOS manual after accidentally breaking it during the Wild West days of early 1990’s PC gaming has been replaced by someone who is striving for all the technology in his house to be passive, self-updating and transitioning towards being ambient. I now want technology to elevate my experiences. Whether it’s effortlessly quantifying my health and wellness or enabling me to remain present and have quality family time by replacing distracting, noisy, alarms with a light that quietly alerts with a change of colour.

Deloitte Digital also believe that technology should supplement people’s lives and elevate their experiences. Our work isn’t just about the platforms themselves. At its best, technology opens up previously unimagined opportunities, as evidenced in Deloitte’s 2023 Tech Trends report, and solves problems from climate change to the way we access healthcare and services. At its worst, it can have the unintended consequence of perpetuating bias or have a negative impact on our wellbeing. I, along with our northern-based Deloitte Digital team, am passionate about bringing this philosophy to our clients in the north of England.

The northern digital scene is vibrant and growing and Deloitte’s diverse teams are intentionally hired from this community. We’re striving to bring the global scale of Deloitte to our clients at the local level and deliver amazing digital experiences with people who are part of this local community and that consume these services. We’ve recently joined Manchester Digital, and our teams are committed, excited, and energised about the opportunities this presents to work with local partners and contribute towards closing the Digital Skills gap in the north of England.

Talking with these teams and our clients has illustrated to me a common set of challenges many organisations in the region face when trying to differentiate themselves using digital. I’ve highlighted a few below with some ideas to experiment with.

1. Adopt Design Thinking internally as well as outwardly: ‘Spend more time understanding the problem than solving it’ applies to internal activity as well as client facing products. Perhaps remote work has driven down employee engagement levels? Before investing in sophisticated video conference solutions, buying an off-the-shelf product to measure engagement levels, or investing engineering effort to build a bespoke product to organise impromptu meetings, interview your employees. Listen to them, analyse the findings, use low-tech (free) solutions to test out ideas and iterate until you really understand the problem. Complementing this with tight feedback loops and making people part of the problem-solving approach will show people their contribution matters and has an impact. It will encourage a culture of experimentation, hone digital skills and will drive up engagement just as much as the end product.

2. Teams disengaged with their products: Empower your digital teams.Delegate technical decisions to the teams closest to the problem so they use the tech that works for them. Introducing some simple guardrails like a traffic light system of approved tech; green (“this is approved to use”), amber (“let’s have a conversation to understand the rationale”), red (“sorry, we can’t make this tech work at the moment for tech debt, compliance, financial or security reasons”), and then allowing the teams to choose their own tech, will driver greater buy-in to the product and a greater sense of satisfaction when it ships.

3. Silo’d teams with isolated decision making: Promote an open culture. Transparency is important for any number of reasons. Encouraging the creation of multi-discipline internal meet-ups, show-and-tells, maker events, or hackathons can help flatten an organisational hierarchy and de-mystify digital to the wider organisation. These events can bring different disciplines - both tech and non-tech - together to encourage those serendipitous conversations about ideas, and can drive more experimentation. Open cultures promote a sense of buy-in to a collective mission; they can build a culture of innovation and encourage all employees in an organisation to think about technology as an accelerator as well as an enabler.

Over my career I’ve recommended or implemented all three of these ideas to various sized organisations from start-ups, to established industry leaders across the private and public sector. Each time the outcome has been different, but the result has always been positive.

I’ve also found myself applying similar concepts in my personal life. I'll hack a solution together using technology I already have - some would say “needlessly overcomplicating” things - to make sure I am solving the right problem before I make a big purchase. This approach benefits me as it helps me better understand the problem, by exploring what solutions might look like. Often it also helps me avoid the hype and jumping into purchasing a product that’s looking for a problem, rather than buying one that moves me closer to my goal of having a house of ambient technology.

As part of Deloitte’s commitment to building local digital capability in the north of England, I’ll be part of the Deloitte team that will be teaching some of these Design Thinking techniques to local 16-18 year olds at the upcoming Deloitte Spark hackathon.

If these observations have resonated with you, or you’d like to learn more about the work we do to help make tech a force for good, get in touch with us to chat further.

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