This week we spent some time in the Great Hall of Hogwarts Castle which was a great experience … well, actually it was the Great Hall of Christ Church College in Oxford that we were in. This is the hall that was copied in the film studios to represent the iconic Hogwarts location and augmented with digital technology for many of the scenes. Although, walking into the Christ Church hall it instantly felt like Hogwarts.

Blog 2 Great Hall

This experience reminded us of the content of the course we have just finished. Digital technology is creating the capacity to do entirely new things and novel ways of doing business. Some of this technology has been around for a while (such as digitally re-mastering aspects of the Great Hall for a movie) and while individual technologies just keep on getting better, by themselves they don’t create the potential for revolutionary business change that we referred to in the first blog. However, when you add the other disruptive technologies now approaching maturity there is an explosive mix.

In fact, it is not just how you combine mobile, big data, the Cloud, and social media to create entirely new products and services. It is also the world of internet connected sensors, and machines with embedded computers. For example, machines used in manufacturing are now being connected to the Cloud, so automated systems can dispatch spare parts when a machine self-senses a component failure.

You can just about digitalise anything. In one of our group activities we were asked to describe our hobbies/pastimes and each group was asked to identify one object from that pastime. These somewhat randomly selected items included golf clubs, dogs, dog collars, and ice axes. We were then asked, as a desk exercise, to digitalise these items with technology we knew already existed. (and, yes, we've also learned that ‘digitalise’ means something different from ‘digitise’).

As an example, one group in the class ‘invented’ a set of golf clubs that could assess your state of health, your mood, grip, swing arc, club speed, point of contact with the ball, etc. You could adjust the motorised head with different angle and loft settings. All the data from every shot would transmit to the Cloud in real time so you could see why the shot went wrong by looking at your Smartphone. Things like instant e-coaching and virtual games on great golf courses like Augusta would also be available.

The potential seemed absolutely limitless and there was talk of the group taking out a patent and going into business together. Alas, when they looked it up someone else had already patented such a golf club! The other items were equally inventive ? and very possible with existing technology. Well, maybe not the dog!

This fun exercise made everyone think about the implications of the new digital age. It’s already underway, but, in time, every product, service, and business will be digitally re-mastered. Exceptions will be extremely rare. The businesses that don’t digitalise quickly will get thrashed in the market. The governments that don’t digitalise will have escalating costs and very annoyed citizens.

The course at Oxford has been absolutely fantastic. On the theme, ‘digital changes almost everything’ we had an extremely intense four days of interactive lectures and workshops delivered by Oxford business school academics and Gartner analysts who probed many aspects of digitalisation. The common denominator through all the change, of course, is human behaviour. There are some enduring truisms about leadership that have remained constant throughout recorded history. But there are some crucial extra dimensions for the digital age.

Blog 2 Henry the Navigator

Professor Michael Earl used Henry the Navigator as the role model for the modern CIO. Henry was an extremely important person in the age of discovery. (Of course an Oxford don always likes to use historical references to illustrate a point). Henry was a great innovator, discoverer, leader, and smooth political operator. The CIOs were reasonably happy with the comparison but we’re not sure about the hat!

So, in the four days we looked many facets of digitalisation. We went over what the research says about the enduring truths and what new tools do you need in the digital age including the areas of:

  • Leadership
  • Change Management
  • Customer Experience
  • The role of the Digital CIO
  • Success strategies for CIOs
  • The implications of personality types
  • The new Governance
  • How to break through leadership deadlocks
  • What the CEO wants from CIOs
  • Cyber security.

Apart from the impressive speakers, the great thing was the level of research, evidence gathering, and empiricism that had gone into the teaching material. (We suppose that’s what academics do). We saw the results of some very long running studies as well as some very recent ones. However the compelling nature of the evidence is not something we have seen before.

We won’t go into too much of the detail here, as there isn’t space. However, we will describe another of the extremely engaging activities, which was when the group was asked to come up with a digital strategy for Oxford University. The University is a pastiche of the hallowed and ancient and the ultra-modern (it is the world’s leading university in medical science research). The common thread is absolute academic excellence. The key issues for this digital strategy was how to create extra student value, revenues, public value, etc without undermining the very things that make Oxford what it is. For example, the Bodleian library cannot be cheapened in any way while you unleash the research power of its content through analytics and mobile.

Blog 2 Radcliffe

This photo is of the Radcliffe observatory in Oxford, commissioned to view the transit of Venus in the late 1700s. It was also the desire to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti that motivated James Cook’s voyage of discovery in 1769.

The first questions to be answered in constructing a digital strategy for Oxford University were: Is this to make money for financial sustainability, or enhance the custodianship obligations of the university with its 900 year old treasure trove of knowledge? Is there a democratisation of knowledge obligation or, conversely, a digital innovation that might undermine the mystique of the University?

Similar questions will come up for all organisations as they enter the digital age with greater gusto. We look forward to collaborating on those issues when we get back to New Zealand. Regarding our future leadership endeavours we were often reminded that the positive effect of leadership is often indirect. This is about creating a culture and environment where people are energised and strive toward team goals. In doing this our leadership agenda must be, in the digital revolution, to ask better questions with much less focus on the traditional management response.    

The course finished on an inspirational note and another nautical theme to follow Henry the Navigator. This was an inspiring discussion on leadership from round-the-world yachtsman Peter Goss, who provided a vivid example of how great things are achieved through leadership and the team. One of his great quotes was: “You can be appointed to be a manager but being a leader is a gift that is bestowed on you by the team”.

This philosophy helped his team achieve great things and survive harrowing ordeals.

Blog 2 Peter Goss pic

Peter Goss with round the world yacht on screen

That’s us for now. Off to London next week for a whole bunch of site visits and case studies.

David and Craig.