Human-computer interface design could become the most critical competency for business success in the near future.

Once, content was king. “Now human-computer interface is king,” said Patrick Meehan, vice president and research director in Gartner's CIO Research group.

It’s one of the fastest growing job descriptions in digital business, he said.

Time for Social Science

Meehan spoke yesterday at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando about the role of social sciences in designing a digital business.

The four social sciences:

  1. Psychology: Making a connection, embracing the different ways people learn, such as reading or listening, human cognition.
  2. Anthropology: Learning by observing, innovating feasible ideas, don’t dictate.
  3. Sociology - Crowdsourcing, collaboration, look for communities of people who share interests.
  4. Economics - Groups of companies are moving to marketplaces: PayPal wants to be your bank. Customers want to alert the business when they need something, so business needs to be able to sense those alerts.
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Billions of People and Things

Digital business is redefining the role of information technology, Meehan said.

Gartner predicts that by 2020, more than seven billion people and businesses — and nearly 35 billion devices — will be connected to the Internet.

“If digital business is nothing more than a technology sandbox, then we’re going to miss the mark,” he said.

Meehan distinguishes between digital marketing and digital business.

“Digital business is not a great website,” he said. “If you’re doing just digital marketing, you’re not doing digital business.”

“Digital marketing is essentially extreme e-business. It puts too much effort into creating a ‘market of one’ for each customer. Technologies, such as big data and analytics, create an illusion of putting customer understanding first,” Meehan and his Gartner co-author Brian Prentice wrote in a report this year about “digital humanism.”

Digital marketing is about building relationships. But digital business is controlling the relationship.

“Digital business gives me what I need when I need it even if I don’t know I need it.”

In digital business, there are no markets, only situations.

Tracking Everything

One of the biggest drivers of digital business today is the “quantified-self” trend, which aligns with wearable computing.

Wearable technology, such as Fitbit bracelets, can track aspects of personal health such as calories burned, heart rate, and length and quality of sleep.

“We are quantifying ourselves and getting more active in preventive medicine,” Meehan said.

Rather than being lectured to by a doctor, many people are taking charge of their health. “I want to be able quantify myself. I don’t what you to quantify me,” he said.

“That is a psychological flip. The customer is now the market maker.”

The enterprise is merely a player in the customer’s personal market.

Stop Targeting Generations

Business should stop marketing to generations —whether it’s a generation of baby boomers or millennials.

“First of all, it doesn’t cross cultural boundaries. It’s very American-centric,” he said.

“Societies of youth, bundles of youth, from a cultural and anthropological perspective, are changing now about every three to four years, so forget generations.”

Instead, companies should target like-minded people. “It’s all about finding like-minded birds of a feather,” he said “Beware the black magic of digital business. We make it sound really easy.”

“Just like the birth of the Internet, the hard part is not the technology. The hard part is the behaviors. The behaviors can be analyzed and blueprinted, if you follow the four disciplines in the social sciences.”

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