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The Digital Renaissance Is Here. Is Your Company’s Culture Ready?

Sooner or later we all feel like throwing up our hands and cursing the complexity of modern life. But while technology may seem the chief culprit in making things unmanageable, it is also the ultimate solution to complexity.

In the Internet of Everything (IoE) era, it is particularly important for business leaders to understand the power of technology to simplify our lives and support JBradleySAPinformed decision making. And this was a core theme at Sapphire Now 2014, an event in Orlando, Fla., that I was privileged to attend last week.

By using network technology to integrate people, process, data, and things, IoE counters complexity in unprecedented ways. In a city, this can involve something as simple as cutting the time it takes to find a (connected) parking space. Or IoE technologies can scale up to reroute traffic lights; for example, to head-off highway backups before, during, and after a large event.

In a brick-and-mortar retail setting (a key area of discussion at Sapphire Now), IoE can alleviate the complexity of managing customers, staffing, and products. With data from multiple sources comes heightened, real-time awareness, empowering managers to react faster than ever. For example, they can then stock shelves and reorganize staff in response to constantly changing levels of demand. With predictive analytics they can even respond before a customer rush begins.

The idea of hyper-aware, real-time decision-making resonated during a Sapphire Now panel discussion titled Thrive in the Digital Networks of the New Economy. I was honored to share the panel with such luminaries as Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT; Michael Chui of McKinsey Global Institute; and Jai Shekhawat, Deepak Krishnamurthy, and Vivek Bapat of SAP. And there was much discussion on the impact of bad decisions on failed organizations. Which is why we all take such an interest in technology that enables good ones.

Another key theme, which we been driving at Cisco in recent years, is the idea that by removing complexity, IoE enables managers to focus on execution and innovation. In effect, IoE can transform those managers into true leaders. But IoE is a full-fledged digital renaissance, and it is critical for organizations to keep pace with its accelerated rate of change. Indeed, embracing IoE is not just the right thing to do; it’s the profitable thing.

This all sounds great on paper. But as my fellow panelists agreed, a company’s culture can be a major barrier to embracing these transitions. It is important to remember that technological change (data and things) is only part of IoE. And the people and process elements demand that your culture be ready for a new paradigm, one in which hyper-aware decision making demands a new mindset within the organization.

In short, it comes down to a choice between what you know vs. what you feel. Whereas in the past, decisions may have been based on a leader’s gut intuition, in the IoE era they are based on real-time insights culled and analyzed from reams of information and arising from multiple sources (mobile, social, video, sensor-based, and so forth).

Is your culture ready for that change? If not, you may need to reconsider some fundamental questions related to your decision-making process. For example, how will all of this new data impact decisions? Who else can make the decisions, and within what parameters? And what if the decision maker turns out to be a machine?

Adjusting to such upheavals can be challenging, and the new ways of doing things can cut across the grain of an organization’s culture and familiar traditions. But it is imperative for all organizations to heed the changes driven by IoE and catch up to the digital renaissance.

As we all agreed, the one factor that most often brings down companies is bad decisions. And I believe many of those bad decision can be explained with a simple adage: It isn’t so much what you don’t know that leads to failure; it is what you believed to be true but wasn’t.

By opening your organization’s culture to a new dimension of hyper-aware decision making, the gap between what you believe to be true and what you know to be true will disappear.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #InternetOfEverything or with me @JosephMBradley or follow me on LinkedIn.

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