Come the revolution: how technology is transforming platforms, people, processes and purpose - Q&A with Linda Davidson

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We’re at an inflection point for industry, where economic necessity along with the rise of AI-led innovation is driving the hunt for efficiency gains and rapid technological change is offering business new ways to improve operations at pace.

Against this backdrop, our next event on June 21 - Digital Transformation in Action: Platforms, Processes, People and Purpose – will bring together seasoned digital experts, thinkers, doers and disruptors, who will share their tips on the four pillars of digital transformation: Platforms, People, Processes and Purpose. We will discuss immediate steps you can take to cut costs, optimise processes and improve productivity to reap the results of the digital revolution.

Our keynote speaker for this exciting evening, Linda Davidson, has been there, done it and got the T-shirt. Linda made her own transformation from setting out as an actor and writer to become an operations and transformation specialist. Her career spans the likes of BBC, Channel 4, Warner Bros. Discovery and GroupM, and she describes herself as “working predominantly in the service of technologists in the media industry”.

Ahead of the event, we caught up with Linda to discuss her perspectives on the shifting landscape of digital transformation.

Q: Against the backdrop of economic volatility and the rise of AI, do you see this as a pivotal point for organisations to reimagine how they’re using technology? 

Yes. The early potential for the Internet completely blew my mind. I was part of the launch team for BBC Online, and it prompted my career change. I was an actor, then I was writing for Tomorrow’s World. And the team was launching something called a website. The potential for powerful communication blew my mind. I think we’re on the cusp of that again. We don’t quite know where technology’s going, or what our jobs will look like in the future, just like it was then. 

Q: How do you view the potential use and abuse of AI within digital transformation?

My reading of it is there are benefits to AI, particularly in the health sector. But short term, you look at leading enterprises openly saying it’s replacing humans with AI. That is a huge amount of job losses. The least businesses could do is soften the language around such announcements and upskill for future change.

As humans and as customers, we get attached to people, have an emotional connection. But research shows that technology is making these connections too. For example, one study found people surveyed thought AI had a better ‘bedside manner’ than human medical staff.

We might make connections with people, but we're certainly also making connections with robots. 

Q: Do you think every company should prioritise one or some of the digital transformation pillars (People, Platforms, Processes and Purpose) over the others? 

I’d say, people - whether employees or customers - will become more important because of the current debate about where digital transformation is taking jobs. Companies will have to think more clearly about those types of decisions and the wider economic impacts.

We always have to have our purpose defined too, otherwise you won’t get your people to stand behind a strategic vision. People have a lot to offer, that offering feeds into culture, which brackets together people and purpose. For example, you can automate lower-end jobs while you also upskill people to think strategically and creatively.

Q: With a nod to your background, what is your particular perspective on how the current shifts might affect the creative industries?

One of the big streaming services has just announced a TV series that’s completely written by ChatGPT. Personally I find that insulting. What is the creative team that sits around that, how do people evolve the plot and create an emotional connection with the audience?

On the other hand, it might be more cost-effective. The UK has seen a massive drain on talent and craft over the recent years. If we can bridge that gap using technology, then that can be a good thing. 

After all, when the camera was invented there were very serious debates whether or not creating a lifelike image at the touch of a button would devalue ‘real’ art.

Q: The creative sectors are the most striking example but speaking of other industries, is there a danger that organisations will rely too much on technology to implement change? Does human creativity and purpose still have its place in technology-led world?

Well, technologists are the most creative people I've ever worked with - because of how they think. But they also need people who can then take an idea, or a piece of tech, and apply it creatively.

That’s what I’ve done throughout my whole career. When Discovery made me IT director, I thought they were crazy. But I learnt it was because I understood all of the aspects of television, and I could translate it back to the technologists.

Now, when I look to the future role of digital leaders, firstly I think we’ll drop the word ‘digital’. Secondly, I think this era of change will redefine what transformation means. As a term, it’s becoming meaningless. I think the sweet-spot now is somebody who can ‘speak tech’, but also speak the language of the business.

You will still have the traditional technologists but creativity will emerge from a meeting of minds, in terms of business, technology and creativity. That’s already happening in the start-up world: enormously creative ideas that are supported by technology.

Q: Do you have a view on regulation, should creative and technology experts like yourself be involved?

If regulation is left with politicians and civil servants, it won’t work. Look at the gambling industry as an example of regulation taking decades to catch up with the fact that people were gambling on phones and not in bookies.

It’s why we need those ‘translators’ to be able to help people at the front and centre of business to not be afraid of technology. If you say the word IT or technology or AI to many businesspeople, tweety birds start going off in their head and they don’t connect to the possibilities, or the ethics of it all. Maybe it’s just about trying to speak each other’s languages.

The benefits of technology-led change could be huge, and it’s not just about profit. Being able to measure impact in terms of ESG is one area. It could be as simple as being able to track how much printing is going on. Saying to teams, did you really need to print that? Gamify it, see which department printed the least, saved the most money and had the biggest environmental impact. Then everybody gets behind it.

Q: But before we can use technology to build a better future for the whole of society, presumably all voices need to be heard in the development and implementation of the technology? 

We are getting different voices coming into technology. But there are still huge biases within this workplace arena that we’ll need to overcome to make progress.

When one of my peers was hiring, all of the CVs he got were male. I said, you need to make sure that the HR/talent team are being briefed and that you want to see more CVs from women. He did.

Since Black Lives Matter, there’s been a huge push to get people into corporations who have different and very powerful voices. I mentor apprentices at some big organisations, and often hear them say that they don’t deserve to be there. The stark fact is though, these organisations really need their voices, if everyone looks and sounds the same, there will be no innovation.

To hear more from Linda and a fantastic lineup of digital transformation experts, sign up for our Digital Transformation in Action: Platforms, Processes, People and Purpose panel discussion and networking event on 21st June in London. Sign up here.