When I was a kid in New England, we’d figure out which clothes to wear on a winter day by scraping frost off the window and looking at the thermometer. Today, I just ask Siri or Alexa. The weather report may now be more accurate and easier to obtain, but the outcome is the same—I know how to dress for the day.
Today, with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), powerful new software systems can figure out things in an instant that it used to take us much longer to do.
When I talk to Cognizant’s clients, though, many are overwhelmed by the vast range of possibility of these digital initiatives. They ask, “Where do we start?” What they ultimately come around to is the understanding that technology is no longer the problem. For all the rhetoric, the purpose of AI, analytics and modern software is simple: It’s to make our lives easier.
That’s why we tell the companies we work with to focus less on the technology and more on the problems they’re trying to solve. What matters more than the technology you use is what you’re trying to accomplish.
But this is easier said than done: The challenge is changing the managerial and employee mindset, and getting the organization aligned for the business results that really matter. This is what it means to adopt a modern mindset.
Start with empathy—not technology
It’s understandable that so many businesspeople are intimidated by technology, what with all the industry acronyms, jargon and noise. By doing such a good job of mystifying it all, the tech industry is actually slowing down business progress. Instead of having the honest conversations we need to have about what’s real, we end up engaging in religious debates, like whether to use the AWS cloud or Google’s version.
It’s time to focus on something else—something that ultimately defines the modern mindset of today: uncovering unexpected solutions by being empathetic, non-judgmental and open to understanding and appreciating diverse ideas and concepts from both employees and customers.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said it best: “I think great innovation comes from the empathy you have for the problems you want to solve for people.” For those companies and institutions that can identify what those problems are—even when they’re difficult for people to articulate—there will be a massive release of innovation capability and exponential growth.
When you begin a project, the key question is: What outcome do you want? Are you trying to make a transaction feel easier for customers? Maybe you’re in insurance, and you want to speed up how a claim gets adjudicated. Or you may want to drive down the cost of some kind of healthcare transaction. These are the things that matter.
All of this can now be reinforced and done better with technology. The large tech and software firms have solved many of the tech challenges we had to wrestle with years ago. The tech superpowers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, coined “hyperscalers,” are spending many tens of billions a year to build data centers and cloud services. Every company can take advantage of that enormous investment and simply pay by the month. No longer does a technology manager have to sit on the loading dock waiting for trucks from Dell to show up with 500 servers. All that complexity is gone, and the industry keeps on making it easier and easier.
Making the modernization shift
So, we’re at a zeitgeist-shifting moment, when all the things you always wanted to do or could imagine doing can now be done. But for many in the Fortune 1,000, taking advantage of these opportunities will mean moving away from a corporate culture that allows for siloed business functions and the use of antiquated processes. Too many businesses are approaching the modernization challenge with the same mindsets and wondering why there is no breakthrough.
We’ve seen success at companies that do the hard work required for modernization. For example, we worked with one major bank that realized the old vertical structures within its credit card division resulted in too many handoffs inside the organization. It remade its processes so they worked cross-functionally, and it put people in charge of customer journeys and redesigned their incentives and cost structures. The bank realized that what really mattered were things like how successful customers are when activating a credit card or what it feels like to make a payment.
This is the type of thinking necessary in a world where digitally native companies are offering services like car insurance to consumers in literally two minutes. The consumers who identify with that kind of service are millennials, Gen Zs or younger generations. Fifteen years down the road, these will be the most profitable customers, the ones that the digitally savvy companies are picking off. The big insurance giants may be fine now, but in 10 years, they will feel the pain.
The Fortune 1,000 needs to master this—and so far, too few have. The newer firms can pick off very specific products and features, and build on the back of those. Look at Venmo—it’s the way young consumers make payments these days. Soon enough, Venmo will evolve into a bank, and it will be a natural progression for younger people to just use it.
This is why it’s so vital for companies to look beyond technology in order to move into the modern, tech-driven and connected mindset. First, they have to get their corporate structure right, and their metrics. And fundamentally, that’s all about leadership. Leaders have to take the time to engage and listen to people, to understand, empathetically, their concerns and problems. You don’t have to agree with everyone’s views, but if you don’t listen and take the time to understand them, how do you help them change?
Accelerating the move to modernization
As systems all around us increase in accuracy and speed, progress will also accelerate. If a medical claim that used to take 30 days to be adjudicated, for example, now only takes two minutes, what will that mean for society in healthcare?
Or what if after a hurricane, an insurance company could fly a drone to assess the damage to a home instead of someone going up on a ladder and trying to figure it out? It’s still the same outcome—which is to adjudicate the house claim—but it’s faster, more accurate and safer. Rather than adjusters being in harm’s way, they can get on their laptop and get a feed from an AI application that assesses the damage. The result will be happier employees and home owners, because they get their claim completed more quickly.
While some people might worry these types of capabilities will threaten their jobs, the opposite is true: They will open up a whole new set of jobs. Who’s going to be the drone fleet administrator? Those skills and people don’t yet exist. We’ll unleash all this human mind power that, today, is too often wasted on mundane tasks.
With a modern mindset, businesses will be able to solve big and important problems that today nobody has time to address. People will be amazed at what they can accomplish.
A version of this blog post originally ran on Techonomy.