People-centric Digital Adoption Helps Organizations Remain Agile and Competitive

Creating a culture of innovation within organizations is critical. Here are the challenges facing leaders and strategies to overcome them.

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  • [Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

    Amid the digital era’s complexities, leaders must navigate the intersection of technology, business, society, and, most importantly, people. Innovation is key to balancing all these components. 

    This allows businesses to transform and emerge as leaders, says Mohammed Amin, Senior Vice President of CEEMETA at Dell Technologies. “However, innovation can only be truly harnessed when the people, process, and technology transformation are uniformly applied across an organization’s practice,” he says. “This means leaders need to look into their businesses’ readiness and maturity to innovate and double down where required.” 

    Companies are under immense pressure to innovate. “If your organization doesn’t embrace the latest technology and consistently bring compelling new offerings to market, it will soon be supplanted by competitors,” says David Boast, managing director of Middle East and North Africa, Endava. “This pace of digital advancement forces leaders to forgo strategy in favor of rapid, tactical responses. The negative impact of this ‘quick fix’ approach is profound.” 

    Technical and business debt—caused by the additional investment needed to undo the shortcomings of quick-fix tech solutions destined to become weak links in the long run—is foremost among these.

    True innovation can only be achieved through a people-centric approach. “Technology provides the tools and infrastructure for innovation, but it is ultimately the people who drive the implementation of digital solutions,” says Joe Hawayek, CEO of Diginova Health Solutions, adding that balancing the integration of technology with a focus on people and process requires a holistic approach to leadership that prioritizes collaboration, communication, and empathy. 

    Highlighting that technology that does not consider its impact on people can reduce employee engagement and productivity, Sergey Yakimenko, Principal, Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network, says, “This disconnect can increase resistance to change, as employees might not understand the benefits of new technologies, resulting in heightened skepticism and opposition.” This, he adds, leads to reduced morale, inefficiency, and an erosion of trust within the organization.  

    Highlighting how project failures within technology integration are often due to humans needing to be considered, Boast shares recent Endava research, showing that more than half (54%) of Middle East organizations reported wasted digital transformation investments. “Of all the reasons cited for getting into digital transformation in the first place, globally only 42% of organizations say they were trying to improve the employee experience.” 

    This suggests that failing to leverage human advantage sets a business up for a fall.

    Amin says that according to Dell’s Innovation Index report, close to 90% of respondents from UAE and KSA said their business had a vibrant culture of innovation. However, 64% revealed that their company’s culture is holding them back from being as innovative as they want. “By building a culture that treats people as the greatest source of innovation, businesses can capitalize on the opportunity in front of them. To do all this, they must create a culture that welcomes change.”

    Challenges Leaders Face in Creating a Culture of Innovation

    Cultivating an innovative mindset, however, is easier said than done. Organizations struggle to undertake digital transformation projects due to limited time and resources. “The need to change internal culture and mindset, having the right skill sets and expertise in place, and ultimately choosing the right technology partners can often be daunting,” says Amin. 

    Another major challenge is growing cybersecurity threats and a lack of an innovation mindset to drive successful human-machine partnerships. 

    These challenges vary by sector. Sharing his insights from the healthcare sector, where ensuring seamless integration of technology into existing healthcare workflows and legacy systems while maintaining patient safety and regulatory compliance is a prevalent issue, Hawayek says,“This requires striking a balance between innovation and risk management, as introducing new technologies may disrupt established practices and workflows.”

    These complexities are further compounded per country and region. Hawayek says leaders in the UAE and the GCC region face unique challenges related to regulations, cultural norms, and infrastructure disparities, as there is no “one size fits all” solution. “For example, while the UAE has made significant strides in embracing digital transformation in healthcare, other GCC countries may have different levels of digital maturity.”

    Shifting Leadership Roles and Mindsets 

    This dynamic digital environment, Hawayek says, underlines the importance of agility, adaptability, and innovation. “Leaders must be willing to experiment with new ideas,” he says. “This requires a shift from top-down, command-and-control leadership styles towards more bottom-up, collaborative and inclusive approaches.”

    Yakimenko says leaders should emphasize technology as a tool that complements and enhances human skills rather than replacing them. “This requires developing leadership skills tailored to the digital economy, fostering a culture of continuous learning, and maintaining an inclusive culture within the organization that supports the development of human potential.” 

    Amin also highlights the importance of placing people, processes, and technology in the best positions for success. “To that end, many leaders still need help to close the digital skill gaps, while some face a lack of employee buy-in and a workforce culture that is resistant to change.” 

    The Value of Learning and Cross-functional Teams 

    Yakimenko believes leaders should advocate for continuous learning environments integrating technology training with core business processes. “Promoting a culture where experimentation is rewarded, not penalized, is also important. Additionally, they should incorporate flexible work arrangements and a mix of permanent and freelance talent. This diversity in the workforce can provide a range of skills and perspectives that enhance the organization’s ability to adapt.”

    Emphasizing the importance of open communication, Hawayek says,  “Leaders must clearly articulate the vision of their digital initiatives and how they align with the organization’s goals. Prioritizing cross-functional teamwork is also a critical strategy. By breaking down silos and fostering collaboration teams between different departments, we can leverage diverse views and ideas to drive innovation.” 

    Creating cross-functional teams that include tech-savvy and tech-averse employees would help ensure technological solutions are grounded in everyday business. “Leaders should establish robust feedback mechanisms that can integrate technology into daily business processes, enhance productivity and employee well-being,” Yakimenko says. 

    Lastly, Amin recommends that companies work with a technology ally who is relentlessly focused on developing innovative solutions so they can focus on their people and foster a culture of innovation, not just managing infrastructure. “Companies often need help understanding that successful transformation is about so much more than hardware and software.” 

    At the end of the day, Boast stresses that dealing with digital change relies on more than domain expertise alone. It demands a deep understanding of organizational dynamics, strong relationships with technology partners, and a people-centric approach to business. “The bottom line is that without people, technology is pointless,” he says. “Whether it is customers, employees, suppliers, or anyone else in the product value chain, humans must be at the heart of the decision-making and the critical success factors.”


    The NextTech Summit 2024 agenda promises a stimulating exploration of the digital frontier. By fostering discussions on responsible technology adoption, leadership in the digital age, and the ethical considerations surrounding emerging technologies. Click here to register. 




    NextTech probes how combining emerging technologies can unlock real value for businesses and economies.
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