Six technologies shaping human-centred organisations

Fernando Polo

8 November 2018

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Is technology dehumanising society or is it actually making us more human? It’s a hot philosophical debate without an easy solution. At Good Rebels, we’re technology optimists and intrinsically humanist. We believe that technology is helping organisations to put people first. In the long term, the benefits of the Industrial Revolution outweighed the negatives; and now the internet has brought about a ‘human revolution’. Humans need the internet like a fish needs water; it connects minds, facilitates knowledge-sharing and spurs innovation.

Digital technologies built upon the Internet and new emerging technologies are helping humans to further connect, socialise, collaborate, co-create and innovate faster. Through technology we can limit unnecessary bureaucracy and put people, not the system, at the centre of all we do.

Why go human-centred?

Three trends have converged which provide further support for the idea that Human-Centred Organisations are the only way to go in a business sector which is harder and harder to predict. They’re not new, but they’ve yet to be considered as a group.

First, digitisation. Though many people see it as a threat, the truth is that digital technologies are giving individuals superpowers – the ability to face up to powerful entities. These technologies help people to orchestrate initiatives in a decentralised but still collective manner. That’s what we mean when we say we’re living in a world powered by people – more so than ever before.

Second, ‘human-centred design’, a concept which originated in the field of ergonomics. As consumer power grew, traditional disciplines like industrial design gave way to design thinking – a user-focused methodology designed to find solutions to meet complex needs.

Third, a trend which is related to the paradigm shift away from the ‘maximising shareholder value’ mantra popularised in the 1980s. Few management experts today would speak publicly against the idea of for-profit organisations engaging with society while at the same time delivering value to their investors. The triple bottom line is just one exponent of this management trend.

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Human-Centred Organisations prevent stakeholders from feeling overwhelmed by structure. These organisations are obsessed with the journeys taken by their customers, employees and partners. They’re concerned with how their work impacts ‘citizens’, or society at large. Let’s discuss a few technologies that are helping organisations to be more human-centric.

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1) Mobile and geolocation are paving society’s highways

Ten years after the introduction of the iPhone, people everywhere are using smartphones in ways that we couldn’t have predicted a few years ago. The Ubers of the world couldn’t exist without the smartphone market, as well as technologically advanced infrastructures, mobile broadband connectivity and a hidden but efficient network of satellites. Many cities are developing more innovative methods of transportation (public or privately funded, and mostly electric) thanks to the magic of smartphones allowing users to pick up their phone and reserve the closest electric vehicle. Organisations like Car2Go or eMov seem outdated when compared with those organisations that allow users to share eBikes or even eScooters.

But it’s not just about urban mobility. Google Maps and Yelp reviews help users to navigate the city looking for a good spot to eat or grab a cup of coffee. And once they’re there, more and more users are choosing to pay with their phone. Companies like EasyJet – who produced one of my favourite travel apps – are continually improving the consumer journey through a focus on digital touchpoints delivered via smartphones. These apps provide users with real time information – like the reason behind a delay or a suggestion to take cash because the onboard card machines are not working. All this adds to the convenience of paperless travel.

2) Biometrics cut down on the burden of bureaucracy

For those of us who travel light and travel often, we know all too well that electronic passports have considerably reduced queuing time at airports; and the same facial recognition and fingertip scanning biometric technologies that improve user experiences at airports are helping FinTech companies to improve the experiences of opening a bank account – N26 is a great example of this.

The adoption of eGovernment technologies promises to reduce bureaucracy and, by no coincidence with Brexit on the horizon, the British government has overpromised somewhat in this regard. Big disruptions aside, we’re going to see a reduction in day to day paperwork with more and more governments choosing to adopt 2-factor authentication. These governments are emulating the work of technology companies who’ve introduced a 2-factor policy in order to avoid incidents of fraud, and countries like Estonia, which is an example of an advanced eGovernment.

3) The impact of smart workplaces on the Co-Worker Journey

From the moment we started to play with new social technologies and tools in order to help our clients develop corporate blogs back in 2005, it was obvious that these technologies would one day have a huge impact on the modern workplace. Email was the first digital, social technology introduced within the workplace – but internal social platforms were different. They facilitated a more open approach to internal communication.

In 2007, while working at a mid-sized Internet services company with a call centre of around 50 people, I decided to introduce SocialCast as a platform which would log positive feedback from clients and counteract the habit of chatting around the water cooler about more negative experiences. Not only did the introduction of this tool help to change attitudes within the workplace, but SocialCast became the new water cooler in and of itself. People started to share tips and best practices, and customer satisfaction improved in a matter of weeks.

This was only the beginning. Virtual reality, sensors and screens are going to permanently change the way work is done – making the process much more human-centred, facilitating access to experts, empowering teams and eliminating unnecessary hierarchies based on top down command and information control. Information wants to be free.

In a discussion of emerging tech trends this August, Gartner wrote:

Technology is increasingly human-centric, blurring the lines between people, businesses and things, and extending and enabling a smarter living, work and life experience. In a smart workspace, electronic whiteboards can better capture meeting notes, sensors will help deliver personalized information depending on employee location, and office supplies can interact directly with IT platforms.

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4) Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics to avoid “mass targeting”

Robots and AI “taking our jobs” is perceived as a real threat – but although it’s been painful for some industries, we can’t deny that society as a whole has benefitted from the disappearance of many burdensome and dangerous manufacturing and farming jobs thanks to automation. In much the same way, software programmes like ERPs have replaced boring and repetitive information management jobs. Hopefully, a less skilled workforce will benefit from ubiquitous access to information and educational resources, and will be able to pursue more creative career paths and overcome a shift in need for different skill types.

Apps like Waze have shown us that, even while we wait for mass-produced autonomous vehicles to become a reality, we’re already enjoying the benefits of real-time data connectivity which helps us to avoid traffic or find the best route. More and more organisations are turning to behavioural analysis to help them understand their customers preferences and needs. Through data gathering, structuring and analysis technologies, they’re able to identify unnecessary pain points along the Customer Journey (like interruptions from advertisements) and focus on turning them into ‘wow’ moments instead. They’re even able to spot unfulfilled needs and design products and services around these needs, while taking into consideration the preservation of planet health.

5) Blockchain and IoT connecting the world and building trust

Organisations promising to improve product traceability or reduce their carbon footprint through the adoption of blockchain technology may sound a bit hard to believe, but these revolutionary technologies really have paved that path for decentralisation of trust.

Wikipedia was once the epitome of a social technology disrupting the industry through crowdsourcing, but Blockchain takes it up a notch. Not only can virtual currencies exist without the support of a central institution, smart contracts and dapps can help entities to manage complex decision making processes. Private blockchains will help companies to foster collaboration with entities scattered all around the world and amplify that promise of “small pieces loosely joined” that the Internet represents. Organisations unknown to one another, using a robust and incorruptible database to keep track of transactions, can help each other to ensure traceability and future responsibility.

We’ll all benefit from more open and adaptive supply chains, and the same thing is true of increased machine connectivity through the Internet of Things. Easier domestic management will be made possible through domotics (domestic robotics), or even telematic appliance maintenance, simplifying our daily lives.

6) The social part of the social media equation

Good Rebels was built on the shoulders of social media – just like the Internet, social media is everywhere now. In 2011, my brother and I co-authored a book called Socialholic, which praised the adoption of social media and the habits derived from its use. In recent years, Social Media has been under attack for its role in the proliferation of fake news and political polarisation – and to a lesser extent because of a distaste for ‘selfie culture’. Still, we believe the pros outweigh the cons.

Wikipedia has always been a fan favourite, but even Facebook and the like, with all its P2P communicational power, has been a force for good. Maybe we’re focusing too much on the media element of social media and forgetting about the smaller groups and communities making use of these platforms.

My kids and their peers learn in a completely different way to previous generations, and they’re more aware of the dangers of climate change and the importance of recycling. Internet and social media are key sources of information for this generation (think peers, not just media outlets). Collectively, they’re drinking and smoking less. And it’s not just the younger generation making a change – the fact that healthy or environmentally friendly habits like exercise or lifestyles like veganism are being adopted at an increasingly high rate is just one example of the power of many-to-many conversations bolstered by social media. I am especially sensitive to the superficiality of influencer marketing and merchandise, and when these kinds of ads infest social media it does bother me. But – not only do the abundance of selfies (or cat photos) on Instagram do no actual harm, they could also be interpreted as a sign of healthy ego building. Hopefully, the bigotry and hatred that comes with social media will become less prominent as we become better at using these tools, and as the government begins to take these platforms more seriously.

Human-Centred is how we describe the need to evolve from economies of scale and a bigger-is-better approach to a leaner, more decentralised and human-centred economy. Technology can help us to re-humanise a society still recovering from the collateral damage of the Industrial Revolution – like the isolation that comes with urban living. It can even help us to rebalance huge urban poles. Innovators everywhere can make their ideas a reality without big money backing their venture, relying almost entirely on their own creativity. Local communities can leverage new technologies to fight back against corporate lobbies, and the ability to connect with kindred spirits is revitalising civil action.

Let’s tackle our problem with inequality with political action, and stop attacking technology. If we really want change, technology can help us get there.




Read more about Human-Centred Organisations