The jury is out on whether businesses save any money through digital transformation. 

Typically, companies replacing existing internal and customer facing processes with digital systems look for productivity gains to offset the cost of these digital transformation projects. Unfortunately, looking for cost savings is asking the wrong question. 

The mainstays of digital transformation — cloud, social and mobile systems — accomplish something more important: They offer organizations a greater capacity to engage with an individual.

An Ecosystem of One

Engagement isn’t talking at someone, it’s talking with someone. In order to fully engage, you need to have a deep understanding of a person. And part of that understanding includes recognizing that no person is an island. Everyone, even someone living alone in a cabin in the woods, has other people and organizations that touch them.

They have an ecosystem, the ecosystem of the one.

Understanding this individual, personal ecosystem is the ultimate point of digital transformation. Digital transformation is not just “going paperless.” It’s about moving interactions into the digital realm. Digital interactions, especially social interactions, allow the unprecedented gathering of data about the person and, more importantly, the people that surround them.

This is the essence of the social graph that drives social media and other socially enabled applications. The social graph is data about a person, the people they know, and, most of all, how they interact with other people. It is a model of a person’s online world, their ecosystem.

By gathering data generated by everyday activities, analytical models are utilized to understand the individual human being and personalize content and responses. This personalizing will no longer be simply for a class of people but for actual individuals. All that is needed is the data and an understanding of all of the factors that influence a person’s actions.

Preparing For the Future

Of course, that’s a tall order from a data perspective and for behavioral science as well. 

Understanding the entirety of an individual is impractical. Understanding a person’s ecosystem, however, can provide many of the clues to make predictions. The connections between data within this ecosystem — representing the interactions between people and their wider environment — will have much more importance than raw facts.

While the ecosystem of the one is a great idea, it's a future idea. Most predictive models still rely on affiliating individuals with well-known, well-understood groups. But in the mean time, you can prepare for this change:

  • Embrace Social Platforms: both internally and for customer interactions. Build up that base of data on customers, employees and their interactions
  • Adopt Big Data: Granted, the term “big data” is falling out of vogue, but the technology remains the same. The ecosystem of one will require tremendous amounts of data — be prepared to deal with it
  • Learn Analytics: All of the data about social interactions is useless unless there's a model to make sense of it. Graphs and other visualizations are nice, but the underlying model is much more important. Nearly any company of moderate size has at least one employee who would love to learn how to build models in R or Python. Find them, and support them in growing a new capability

The ecosystem of one won’t ever be a perfect solution — humans are too complex — but may become “good enough.” Good enough is all that we need to create personalized marketing, medicine and mentoring. 

The “why” of digital transformation, the real value of it, will not be found in productivity but in leveraging the ecosystem of one.