While some spend their time pondering digital transformation, others are busy shaping it through real-world application. Sunnie J. Groeneveld does both. A digital transformation expert and entrepreneur herself, she helps organisations navigate the challenges of new technologies and market conditions. In an interview, she shares with us what she thinks could unleash the next wave of IT innovation, what could lead to readiness to change and why leadership is crucial.
Sunnie J. Groeneveld is the founder and a managing partner of Inspire 925, a consultancy specialised in employee engagement, digital innovation and the future of work. In recent years she has helped numerous clients ranging from global enterprises and leading institutions to disruptive innovators. Prior to this she was the first managing director of digitalswitzerland, Switzerland’s largest cross-industry initiative on digital transformation. The Yale graduate also sits on the boards of the Swiss engineering company HHM Group, the media company Galledia Group as well as the IT consulting and software company Emineo.
Sunnie J. Groeneveld: I think the big question for 2019 – for Europe at least – is going to be the 5G network. There’s a contest about which location is really going to be able to roll this out the fastest. 5G will mean that all the speeds of information, basically information travelling – especially also for connected devices, for trends like IoT – is going to radically change in countries who are capable of rolling out 5G. 2019 is in some countries sort of a major milestone moment where this may or may not happen – at least in some pilot projects. So if I had to bet on a technology that may reshape a lot of other disruptive technologies that would be the 5G network.
In my opinion, there’s one single technology that’s going to shape the next decade. It’s rather a combination of multiple technologies – from cloud to machine learning to AI to block chain to AR to robotics. The combination of some of these technologies, e.g. machine learning, AI and robotics is going to radically change a lot of industries, and they together are going to shape the next decade. And, from my point of view, all of these technologies, one thing their impact has in common, is that they are going to change the future of work. They’re going to change how humans work together, how they collaborate, we’re seeing way more structures going from hierarchies to networks, and so on. So I think, the future of work, if I’d have to name one single thing that I’m really excited about for the next ten years, that would be the future of work.
How to get people excited is always a big one. Especially about transformation projects and especially also about technology and one key piece is that sometimes I have the impression that people feel like technology is kind of put upon them and they don’t have a lot of shaping ability at all. They’re sort of the victims of this technological change and I think that is the wrong way of looking at it. In my opinion, the right way is to try to see ‘OK what can this technology do?’ and to understand this technology is just a tool and it is for you as a human to help shape this digital future that’s about to unfold and your contribution is much needed and it’s important that you engage.
From my point of view, having leaders, who can carry that message and can also show a vision of where they want to go thanks to technology and digital transformation but then at the same time not only communicate this but also enable people to truly engage in this vision, that’s going to be the key – to have this type of – I guess – digital leadership in the next years to come.
I think innovation can be realised in two ways. Number 1: Through external partners. Building up an ecosystem of start-ups, academic partners, and so on, to come up with new, innovative business models and technologies and uses thereof. Number 2, and the second way of doing it – of doing innovation – is to really enable your internal people to come up with their own ideas and to find ways to show them to leadership, to have entrepreneurship as one key initiative and part of your culture where you try to get your employees excited about handing in ideas.
And it’s got a lot to do with also allowing failure, allowing experimentation, allowing playfulness, allowing people to connect maybe with people they usually wouldn’t work with, and enabling, in a way, serendipity into the organisation and at the same time not punishing for failure, because failure is really experimentation. Innovation means experimenting, and it means trying five times and it going wrong, and sharing how and why it went wrong openly and not feeling like you’re going to be judged or punished for you sharing it. And in doing that enabling the whole organisation to learn. The more you share success and failure openly, you realise that all of it is just informing your ability to learn better as an organisation, in doing that transforming into a learning organisation, that is the #1 key for internal innovation to work.
I believe for me the #1 place where I get inspired is by meeting people, engaging with people, working with people who are excited about driving progress forward, about shaping the future, and having a positive vision about that. And I think whenever I find a group of people who in one way or another is working towards it and I can engage alongside with them, that inspires me endlessly.
Bechtle update editorial team
Published on Feb 1, 2019.