The Treadmill Effect: Digital Transformation and the Challenges of Keeping Up

A recent Gartner report reveals that the biggest perceived risks in tech these days are related to the quickening pace of change. But is the real issue your organization’s inability to find its footing?

Associations are facing a lot of risks, but one that isn’t discussed much as it should be is the treadmill effect, or the quickening pace of innovation. It works like this: The treadmill keeps getting a little faster, a little harder to control, and without a well-thought-out strategy to pace yourself, you might just fall off.

And it seems to be freaking tech execs out. Recently, Gartner’s quarterly Emerging Risks Monitor Report revealed that the pace of change, which had been off the radar of many IT officials at the end of last year as they remained focused on privacy regulation, was now the top emerging concern for many of them.

In fact, the most recent list of top emerging risks reads like an IT department horror story:

  1. Pace of change
  2. Lagging digitalization
  3. Talent shortage
  4. Digitalization misconceptions
  5. Data localization

With the exception of data localization, which refers to legal regulations that require the storing and processing of data in the country where a user resides, all of the items are clearly related. When you don’t understand your digitalization needs, it’s hard to convince the right talent to join your association, and that leads to your technology approach falling behind, which means you’re not keeping pace. The treadmill is on an ever-increasing incline. The scenario writes itself.

The rising concerns about digitalization are coming at a specific moment when the grounds of disruption aren’t exactly rattling.

“Organizations are concerned with the pace of business change and vulnerability to disruption,” Matt Shinkman, who serves as the managing vice president and risk practice leader for Gartner’s audit and risk practice, explained in a news release. “Part of the reason they may feel this risk so acutely is related concerns around their own operations, including digitalization strategies and an inadequate talent pipeline.”

But what really weirds me out about it is that the rising concerns about digitalization are coming at a specific moment when the grounds of disruption aren’t exactly rattling. I stated at the beginning of the year that I thought the pace of technology was starting to slow down a bit, and you could argue that 2019 has largely exemplified this. There hasn’t been a quantum leap in gadgets this year; web technology hasn’t dramatically shifted, either. Neither has the cloud. And emerging technologies, like AI, are certainly exciting, but mostly we’ve seen a bunch of already-emerging trends continue to emerge.

While technology has moved forward in 2019, we’ve certainly had no breakout hits yet. While 5G holds a lot of potential, it likely won’t even be felt by most people for another few years. The biggest talking points, like voice assistants, are holdovers from prior years. And foldable phones, so far, feel like a glitchy nonstarter.

Rather, the ramp-up is really on the horizon, a few years from now, where some of the things that are already in place gain sophistication and advancement, leading to consumer expectations that those things just work. Think of it this way—there’s a bit of a delay from the time that the technology emerges and when it actually affects your real-world use cases.

On the other hand, some of the pressure might be coming from an organizational case of impostor syndrome. A 2017 survey from Wipro Digital found that half of respondents felt that they were struggling to execute against half of their digital transformation strategies. Rajan Kohli, the senior vice president and global head of Wipro Digital, blamed the issue on challenges in leadership and execution.

“Digital transformation efforts are coming up short on intended ROI, in part because digital transformation is as much a leadership issue as it is a strategy, technology, culture, and talent issue,” he said in a news release.

Let’s talk about that treadmill again. If your efforts to keep up are already feeling futile, ramping things up even more feels like an even bigger leap than it might for an association that’s keeping a handle on things. And you’re going to probably dread knowing that things aren’t going to slow down very much in the future.

If you’re in solid digital shape, with an IT strategy and a leadership approach that’s checking off all the digital transformation boxes, that treadmill probably looks like nothing. But if you’re out of shape, you’ve got a tough road ahead.

Now’s a good time to get into shape. Look hard at what’s not working and adapt.

(freemixer/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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