In the eyes of our leaders, the growth of GAFAM and other BATX could have been a source of scepticism, curiosity, jealousy, even frustration. What do these companies have in common? They represent successful examples of platform economies. They bring together customers and service providers directly in a single digital space. This space is a breeding ground for data, making it possible to envisage the generation of margins and significant productivity gains.
Having access to the behaviour of thousands of users in one human activity clearly opens the door to significant growth. We might be led to believe it is a matter of technology or data. These accesses are certainly the expression of technological power, but this cannot be expressed without embodying the human dimensions.
Embodying the evolution of the system
In a 2017 report, the McKinsey Global Institute shows us that a digitally advanced structure has an accelerated rate of growth compared to potentially less mature competition. Beyond this digital investment, we feel another point is particularly important: the support of the executive committee on digital and data initiatives. The importance of management support is not limited to a few companies following an explosive growth model like GAFAM.
In La Transformation Digitale des Entreprises, David Autissier and Emily Metais-Wirsh discuss French examples of companies’ successful digital transformation.
Companies that have succeeded in their digital transformation
For example, AXA has decided to place the customer at the heart of its digitisation and marketing strategy. One of the markers of this desire to put digital at the centre of AXA was the appointment of a chief transformation officer and a chief digital officer to the executive committee. Interestingly, AXA has taken the lead instead of being subjected to digital transformation. It has sought to transform its business to protect people’s lives and no longer be a “claims manager”, while the average age of its employees is 47. Thus, digital technology has become an ally in challenging a business model.
Another potentially surprising case is that of the Pernod Ricard group. One of the group’s historical difficulties has been geographical fragmentation and distance from its end customers, knowing what they want, where and how. Digital technology offers the opportunity to solve these problems through customer knowledge, in particular, by exploiting Social Listening. Its CEO is a driving force behind the digital transformation of the group, which has generated organic growth of 10% after four years.
Finally, the case of La Redoute, on the verge of filing for bankruptcy at the end of 2013. The arrival of 100% digital competition undermined the company’s value proposition, making digital essential for survival. So Nathalie Balla (CEO), supported by Eric Courteille, fought to transform the company and its culture, despite the disengagement of Kering, its owner. The gamble paid off because by calling into question historical operations (the famous catalogue) and aligning the interests of all (particularly the many employees who have become shareholders), the group proved profitable again in 2021.
Paradoxically, the world is digitising in search of new growth models, but it is not a question of technology. It is striking how few of these reasons are actually technological. Successful digital transformations have only been possible through the exercise of leadership – human – which has stimulated the overhaul of ways of working. Technology is, so to speak, secondary.
Platform economies and digital businesses are, generally, agile. And agility should be seen here as a state of mind. By having access to real-time information, companies naturally evolve towards fast-changing organisational patterns with a significant capacity to adapt.
Historically, labour law sought to protect employees following the challenges brought about by the industrial revolution. However, recent technological developments have undermined these provisions, as authors including Alain Supiot, Diana Filippova and Shoshana Zuboff have argued: employees are even less equal today.
While the employment contract was initially conceived as a new freedom, freely granted, this is clearly no longer the case. In platform economies, the question arises, should Uber drivers be entitled to mutual insurance? Social security? A minimum wage? Do they have the right to operate alongside taxi drivers? The issues raised across Europe are indeed numerous, and multiple challenges will require legislation soon.
What can we say about jobs that have been called into question, such as those of checkout staff? When, in the near future, passing a shopping trolley through a scanner will be enough to calculate its monetary value, or when the transaction is carried out online, what place will there be for this job? According to Géant Casino, the answer lies in customer support and human contact. This involves a major training initiative for employees. Indeed, how should we manage behavioural problems (theft, etc.) or a variety of technical problems? The answer is with human beings. In a similar situation, when renting a self-service bike or scooter, what can the user do in the event of a system failure other than try to call a central office that may be several thousand kilometres away? This is the trap that large retailers seem unwilling to fall into.
Finally, questions arise about the self-employed, craftspeople and local shops. Their situation is all the more worrying in 2020 with the consequences of the Covid pandemic combined with the lockdowns we are experiencing. Broadly speaking, while a large group has the option of redirecting part of its commercial activity to digital media, the “small” group is deprived of this same flexibility. As we have seen in the press, legislation on opening permits as a way of maintaining consistency for all presents a certain challenge in respecting the French maxim of equality.
It seems that legislating and training will be our best protection in increasing our individual resilience to the challenges of platform economies.
Getting on board
Once our leaders point the way and our functions are reasonably stable, a question remains. How do we support this change for all employees? The HR function has a dual and critical role here: it is being transformed digitally (more teleworking, digital management tools, etc.) AND it must support the change of reference systems for employees.
New tools like e-learning and human resources management platforms could suggest that employees will take responsibility for their own professional development. It is, however, an illusion to think that most will align and train themselves to follow regularly challenged business trajectories. We must support them, but how?
In Chapter 5 of its “Going Digital” programme, the OECD explains the challenge we must face: training employees and preparing them to have several professional lives. Indeed, digital technology not only creates new professions, it also transforms many of them.
La Poste is a positive example of this acculturation effort. What do a “data scientist”, a “data engineer”, or even a “data analyst” do? How do we work with them? To do what? Business teams must be prepared to answer these important questions. La Poste has also implemented training strategies that, for example, allow counter staff to become data engineers. This type of initiative brings a digital bridge to professionals who are then:
- fully integrated into the terrain,
- following a resilient development path,
- and loyal to the company’s core mission.
Academic research is exploring the possibility of restructuring university programmes to follow the needs of the labour market. Designing training that is more dynamic improves the employability of future professionals. These mechanisms do not yet exist.
The trend is there; we all need to become more agile to benefit from recent technological advances. This investment is both personal and structural.
Our economic model takes us to a world where digital technology will become increasingly important. The choice we have could be summed up in the difference between following and embodying.
There is no doubt that HR jobs are becoming more complex and regulations have become entangled. It is certainly possible to choose to apply coercive human “resource” management that destroys the social fabric without even needing digital technology. However, alternatives exist at the other end of the spectrum: co-construction. Technology is not a problem in itself; it is merely a magnifying glass for our own problems. Concentrating more human energy in one place can only bring us face to face with how we do things.
Digital technologies are not a brake but the opportunity to question ourselves.
Platform economies, our digital world, are not single but multiple Will you be ordering from Amazon? Or will you think of the Circular Economy offered by the local market? Digital technologies are not a brake but the opportunity to question ourselves. One of the remaining questions concerns your choice as an individual. What sort of digital world do you want to contribute to?