Embracing Digital Humanism

Digital humanism seeks to enable people to achieve things they never believed possible or redefine the way their goals can be achieved

By 2020, our planet will be home to 30 billion things with embedded intelligence combined with nearly 8 billion smart devices. That means by 2020, there will be a ratio of approximately six intelligent devices/things for every human on the planet.

In a world of digital business, IT leaders will need to orchestrate all these new devices, new data streams and new experiences to create value. But what principles will these IT leaders apply?

The emerging digital world requires human-centric digital leadership. Digital humanism is the notion that people are the central focus in the manifestation of digital businesses and digital workplaces. Businesses who embrace digital humanism use technology to redefine the way people achieve their goals and enable people to achieve things not previously possible.

Digital humanism stands in contrast to digital machinism – a view that sees the minimization of human involvement through automation as the central focus of technology. This perspective is driven by the belief that technology is valuable when it allows people to spend less time on mundane, repetitive and inefficient tasks.

“We must recognize the profound impact digital technology is having in the work, the way we shop, the way we interact, the way we live,” said Brian Prentice, research vice president at Gartner. “Businesses should seek to understand how our shared humanity can define the systems they create and control. Doing so not only allows people a sense of mastery over technology, but it provides direct benefits to the business that digital machinist-driven automation simply can’t.”

Digital humanism drives innovation. One of the key factors propelling digital humanism is a common view that digital technology, while having had a profoundly positive impact on society, has also been the source of much complexity in our modern lives. More organizations are recognizing that targeting that complexity through humanized digital systems is a significant source of innovation opportunity.

Digital humanism is aligned to the emerging workplace. Businesses can promote workforce effectiveness by accommodating digital lifestyles and changing work models. ”There’s a unique opportunity to build new or optimize existing systems by empowering high-impact workers,” said Mr. Prentice. ”This is in contrast to the digital machinist, who believes businesses should use technology to optimize business processes with a limited consideration for the people who use the systems.”

Take this example: a U.S.-based hospital recently needed a system to improve operational efficiency in its intensive care unit (ICU). Normally, such a system would have been designed exclusively by hospital administrators and the IT organization. In this case, the hospital researched how the nursing staff operated and used those findings to deliver a system that was most efficient. By framing the system through the lens of its ICU nurses the hospital avoided imposing an expensive system that would have ultimately failed through lack of use or reduced productivity.

In 1922, noted physician Havelock Ellis remarked, “The greatest task before civilization at present is to make machines what they ought to be, the slaves, instead of the masters of men.” Nearly 100 years later, businesses are still contending with this philosophy, perhaps more than ever. Businesses must cast their vote for digital humanism or risk putting the machine in power.

Gartner clients can also access more information and advice in the report, Digital Humanism is a Key to Digital Success. This is part of the Gartner Special Report Digital Business: Digital Humanism Makes People Better, Not Technology Better which explains how CIOs and business leaders must integrate human-centric digital leadership into their overall strategic plans to drive successful digital strategies.