Digital Transformation Leads to Digital Enlightenment

Stephen DeAngelis

June 8, 2020

At some point in your education, you probably learned about the period known as the Age of Enlightenment (sometimes referred to as the Age of Reason). Most scholars place the Age of Enlightenment during the 17th to 19th centuries. It was a period of remarkable advancement in the West. Some scholars mark the beginning the Age with the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687). Francophiles generally trace the beginning of the era to French thinkers who emerged following the death of Louis XIV of France. Most scholars end the Age of Enlightenment with the beginning of the 19th century. Wikipedia notes, “The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy — an attitude captured by Immanuel Kant’s essay Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment, where the phrase Sapere aude (Dare to know) can be found.” I think it fair to say, the Age of Enlightenment was an age of transformation.


Dean Stoecker (@alteryxdean), founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Alteryx, believes we are entering a new age he calls the Age of Digital Enlightenment. He explains, “In the history of modern civilization, we’ve witnessed four major revolutions that forever changed the way the world operates. From the impact of irrigation on hunting and gathering in an agrarian economy, to the impact of assembly lines in a manufacturing economy, to the evolution of the workforce in the industrial economy, society was forced to rethink the jobs we inhabit, the businesses we operate and the cities we live in. … Fast forward to present day and a new revolution is underway: The Digital Revolution. Once again, society stands at the precipice of a new global economy, a new workforce, a new everything.”[1]


Digital Revolution and the Age of Digital Enlightenment


In the business world, what Stoecker calls the Digital Revolution is often referred to as digital transformation. Brian Solis (@briansolis), a digital analyst and futurist, asks, “How do you define digital transformation, and what does it look like once you’ve digitally transformed?”[2] Those are not easy questions to answer. Solis explains, “The truth is that everyone defines digital transformation differently, and as such, the end states are difficult to define.” During a 2017 conference, Tricia Wang (@triciawang), a self-described Tech Ethnographer & Sociologist, told participants, “A lot of companies treat digital as if they are ‘doing digital’ — this is ‘digitization’ at its worst — as if it’s some checklist of things to do. It’s very transactional, and people are so busy doing digital they don’t even know WHY they are doing it in the first place! Whereas [some companies] embrace ‘being digital’ — this is ‘digital transformation’ at its best — it’s a total paradigm shift in the culture and operations — it’s not just about buying the latest digital tool, but about creating a new system, new cadence, new mindset.”[3] Or as Stoecker insists, its a digital revolution.


Being digital inevitably involves cognitive technologies. Why? Because so much data is being generated each and every day, only cognitive technologies can help companies make sense of it (i.e., can provide enlightenment). Many people fear cognitive technologies will make masses of people redundant. Corrie Block (@DrCorrieBlock), CEO of Paragon Consulting, isn’t one of them. He writes, “A lot of businesses are daunted by the prospect of AI, partly because of a lot of misconceptions around it. Most people think it systematically works towards replacing a human workforce. It does not! What it actually does is help you realize the latent potential of your team, which is currently bogged down by tedious processes.”[4] Stoecker agrees. He writes, “Human beings are, and will remain, the single biggest factor in successful artificial intelligence, automation and analytics. Corporations and global economies need to harness the power of both to stand any chance at surviving their shrinking half-life and fueling prosperity in the Digital Revolution.” Many experts now believe augmented intelligence (i.e., assisted decision-making) is what will divide winners from losers in the Digital Age. Bain analysts, Michael C. Mankins and Lori Sherer (), assert if you can improve a company’s decision making you can dramatically improve its bottom line. They explain, “We know from extensive research that decisions matter — a lot. Companies that make better decisions, make them faster and execute them more effectively than rivals nearly always turn in better financial performance. Not surprisingly, companies that employ advanced analytics to improve decision making and execution have the results to show for it.”[5]


Leveraging cognitive technologies


Mark Minevich (@MMinevich), principal founder of Going Global Ventures, writes, “Every single digitally adept enterprise has the potential to enhance operations with the correct implementation of artificial intelligence technologies.”[6] He emphasized “correct implementation” because laying the groundwork for any transformation or revolution is important. He offers “a 5-point guideline that digitally inclined enterprises can institute to fast-track AI adoption.” The five points are:


1. Begin with data. Minevich writes, “The first leg of the AI adoption journey requires businesses to already possess strong data analytics and metric-gathering capabilities. Artificial intelligence technologies, such as machine learning algorithms, must be fed a substantial and consistent stream of data in order to be useful. If enterprises are not data-geared, the power of AI vanishes, as it lacks the fuel and capacity to provide any meaningful insights to guide the decisions of firms.”


2. Determine how cognitive technologies can help. “Having identified strong data analytics capabilities,” Minevich writes, “firms must then determine how AI can help by establishing a rigorously formulated business question. At this moment, the specific intent for AI is made clear. … Whatever the objective may be, enterprises must come up with a proposal as to how artificial intelligence can be helpful in order to save time and accelerate the roadmap to proper AI integration.”


3. Test the waters. According to Minevich, “The next segment of the roadmap deals with tests and evaluations of candidate AI applications. Prior to official deployment, firms must evaluate the intended AI mechanisms on a micro level in order to minimize errors, harness the fullest potential of AI and ensure a smooth transition come launch time.” At Enterra Solutions®, we recommend a “crawl, walk, run” approach. Such an approach allows solutions to be tweaked as they scale. Testing is the crawl stage.


4. Establish concrete use cases. Minevich explains testing must result in “the establishment of concrete use cases. … The product of this final evaluative process would come in the shape of definitive AI use cases that could positively augment enterprise operations and consequently be used in the next phase of the adoption roadmap: amending the business model.” Establishing concrete use cases is the “walk” stage of the crawl, walk, run approach.


5. Amend the business model. The final (or run) stage involves changing the business model — or as Yang describes it, “Creating a new system, new cadence, new mindset.” Minevich writes, “At this point in the AI adoption journey, enterprises must augment their business models in order to accommodate artificial intelligence. This step in the roadmap is crucial for relaying the implications of AI to all stakeholders involved, from investors to customers and elaborating upon the impact of the installation.” This is the “run” stage of the crawl, walk, run approach.


Concluding thoughts


Stoecker concludes, “We are in a new age of enlightenment. Just as new intellectual and philosophical concepts introduced reason and a new way of thinking about our world in the 17th century, the promise of automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning requires digital enlightenment in the modern-day enterprise. Successful digital transformation is no longer a nice-to-have, but a critical business imperative, as an increasingly accurate indicator of a company’s survival.” Block adds, “Do you still think AI has no place in your business? Then it could be that over the next two years, your business will find itself out of place too.” Join the revolution and enter the Age of Digital Enlightenment.


[1] Dean Stoecker, “The Fourth Revolution: The Age Of Digital Enlightenment,” Forbes, 25 February 2020.
[2] Brian Solis, “Rise of the Cognitive Enterprise in a Post-Digital Transformation World,” eWeek, 17 January 2020.
[3] Trevor Miles, “Let’s be clear: Digitization is not the same as Digital Transformation,” Kinaxis Blog, 8 December 2017.
[4] Corrie Block, “2020: The Year Of Artificial Intelligence For Your Business,” Entrepreneur, 19 January 2020.
[5] Michael C. Mankins and Lori Sherer, “Creating value through advanced analytics,” Bain Brief, 11 February 2015.
[6] Mark Minevich, “5 Steps To Get Digital Enterprises Ready For AI Adoption,” Forbes, 19 February 2020.