DigiconAsia: Two key expected outcomes of digital transformation have been customer experience and employee experience. But how effective could technology be in improving such human experiences? Is this objective self-defeating? And what could organizations do to make this transformation journey a more positive experience for customers and employees?

Cook: All industries are facing extraordinary disruption, and our focus has always been on digital acceleration. From small start-ups to big corporations, I see a transformation happening iteratively, in many short cycles, starting with the fundamentals of turning on the tech to revolutionizing your product and service to meet new customer needs.

For me, technology is there to scale the human touch. People’s reviews guide me to make the right purchases, and taxi companies can encourage more drivers on the road when we need them most. Dynamic pricing maximizes profits and gives me good deals. Technology is there to create better experiences for customers, but I don’t think it is quite so clear cut for the employee experience.

Many people lament impersonal self-service enterprise systems, for example. A new set of technologies is enabling the full automation of routine tasks which is leading to a de-professionalization of many jobs.

In support of the employee experience, we should use technology to limit uncertainty by:

  • Creating redundancy in global value chains that will help employees respond to the consequences of further ‘waves of lockdowns’
  • Using it to predict where consumers are willing to spend in a recession and what on so that businesses can pivot quickly
  • Creating a seamless iteration between working-from-home and working in-office

The economic impact of cash-strapped individuals and a confidence-vacuum in the markets will mean that businesses will have reposition and respond to changes that are confronting sectors as a whole. If we can use technology to catch customers and employees when they fall, we will get through this.

DigiconAsia: Social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated digital transformation in organizations of all sizes across all industries. The rise of the digital economy has become so much more apparent as a result. With this global experiment in remote business and workplace collaboration, and much discussion around the ‘new normal’, how much of today’s jobs could be taken over by machines, robots and software in the post-pandemic era?

Cook: Amazon is the West’s business OS with its cloud computing, e-commerce and logistics businesses. You would have thought that the extreme digitization you are referring to in this question would be prevalent here, but the numbers tell a different story.

Amazon has gone from two to 840,00 employees in 25 years as it becomes ever more digitized. Twenty-five years ago, the closest we got to cloud computing was throwing a PC out of the window. Today Amazon Web Services (AWS) employs 25,000 people.

I am a self-confessed technology optimist. What we will see is a shift in jobs. Technology will take over some jobs in many different sectors. But as you see with Amazon, technology creates new jobs in existing industries and other roles in emerging industries such as biotech.

At our school, we are now just as likely to employ teachers as we are learning designers, experience managers and AI developers. If history repeats itself, technology will be a net-job contributor, but this does not reduce the personal disruption people will face in their careers. So people can choose not to become obsolete, and for businesses to thrive, incumbent companies will have to learn to do the same. We will need:

  • To nurture a digital-first mindset
  • Bring business agility into the way they work
  • Restructure processes and people to support for aligned autonomy
  • Develop data-driven decision-making practices
  • Learn to leverage technology – both established and emerging