Why digital capability (or comfort) matters

keyboardI spend a lot of my time at the moment talking about digital capability. To my mind, this means the ability of people throughout an organisation to make the most of the opportunities offered by digital technology.

Capability is less about skills though, and more about confidence – or maybe comfort.

Sure, a certain amount of skill is involved. I sometimes refer to this as the ‘Alt-Tab’ test. If someone knows that Alt-Tab means to quickly flick between applications on a Windows based computer (it’s Command-Tab on a Mac), they are probably going to be ok in the new digital world.

To me though, digital capability is more about knowing where to look for the answers as it is knowing the answers in the first place. It’s about understanding why people might want to use a certain tool, rather than using it yourself. It’s about being curious, networked, agile, user centred and flexible rather than knowing how to use this app or that.

This matters because the landscape is changing. A few years ago, an average worker in an office might need to use four or five systems on a regular basis. Their email, the database for doing their jobs, Office, the intranet and perhaps an HR or other system.

These days though, people are being invited to Dropbox folders, Huddle projects, Asana task lists, Trello boards, Basecamps, Nings, Yammer networks, Google Docs and more. The numbers of different systems are growing and often the first people will have heard of them is when they are invited and expected to use them.

Nobody can learn in advance about systems they have never heard of! Instead, they need the confidence and comfort with digital tools that they can recognise how they probably work, and have the knowledge to know they are unlikely to break them just by having a go.

As I have written before, and will do again, the days of monolithic, one size fits all IT systems is over. As Euan Semple says in a recent blog post:

Building a technology ecology from small iterative deployments of specific tools, with a throw away mentality that allows more constant adaptation, driven by ongoing conversations with users is the only way to do technology efficiently.

In this new world, everyone needs to be comfortable with switching between apps, even when those apps are doing rather similar things, just in a slightly different way. This won’t come from learning each app one by one, but instead by understanding the principles of digital tools, and the underlying philosophy of how they work.

As is often the case, the online comic XKCD nails it:

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Dave Briggs

I'm an experienced senior manager in digital and ICT, looking for interim engagements to modernise technology teams to help organisations transform.