December 16, 2020 – Transformational technology is becoming increasingly commonplace, and behind it, the people who are working to find a match for business needs. Gamiel Gran and his guest host Patrick Naef talks with Michiel Boreel for Mayfield’s sixteenth CXO of the Future Podcast. Michiel is the Global Chief Technology Officer of Sogeti, a Capgemini Company, and is well known for his research on the impact of technology on society. Michiel has held this role for 15 years, with the last 10 years at the international level. Listen in to learn from his insights on digital transformation, innovation, leadership and organizational dynamics.
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Michiel was educated as an industrial engineer and began his working career in 1986 as a junior consultant with a management consultancy firm in Amsterdam. After two years of advisory work on large scale restructuring of both public and private firms, he made the transition to IT in 1988 by joining Capgemini and Sogeti.
“I joined this company when it was very small with about 200 employees. The company gave me new challenges every few years, but more importantly they gave me the freedom to work on the things that I was interested in. That’s why I’m still working there. It’s been a pleasure seeing the growth of the organization from 200 to 18,000 people. I started as a programmer and then went into a more consultative job in the area of reverse engineering which is where I met Patrick.”
Patrick was also involved in reverse engineering as a graduate student in computer science, so the two met in Switzerland for a discussion on the topic and developed a strong business relationship and friendship that still exists today, 30 years later.
Michiel went into sales for a few years, and while it wasn’t his passion, he learned a lot about the company and the industry and for this reason, he recommends this path to others. In 1994 Sogeti asked Michiel to lead a new initiative, Vision, Inspiration, Navigation Trends (VINT)—a small research group with the goal of inspiring customers to apply new technology in business processes. The focus of his research was determining the role that IT will play in the future of society and how technology can be applied to create meaningful business innovation.
“The topic constantly evolves and there are still many questions—the more you learn about it, the more questions you have. I would have remained a researcher in this area, but there came a moment when researching just wasn’t enough. I got involved in strategy and marketing, and later took on the role of Chief Technology Officer where I am today.”
Disruptive Innovation and the Un-Organization
How are incumbent organizations responding to the need to speed everything up? And how can they respond to the potential disruption of startups that scale very quickly and eat away at their profits? This is where Michiel’s concept of the Un-Organization comes in:
1) Understand what the drivers are for growth in a network-based society. How do you think about organizing production on the supply-side of economies of scale (and the demand side of economies of scale)?
2) Unorganize. Think about the role of management. Envision an organization that is much faster and able to innovate at the speed of your customers’ technological and behavioral changes. By rethinking the role of management, you reduce the distance between the people that actually do the work and the customer. By getting out of the way of the control and command type of management, you cultivate autonomous teams that organize themselves.
3) Unbundle. As many conventional organizations grow, they bundle their products or services which often over fulfills the needs of the customer. In the new network economy, it’s possible to fulfill the needs of the customer not as one organization, but as a network of all kinds of players that together provide the solution for the need.
4) Unman. The unman principal is about rethinking what people need to do and what machines can do. It’s the radical automation of many routine processes. This is not about replacing people, but about empowering them do what they’re good at, and letting machines do the other stuff that machines are better at.
5) Unleash. Re-think the way that your organization innovates by being more open to outside collaboration. Many organizations have very smart people working for them, but you can always expand that network outside to meet even smarter people. Connecting with these external talents can create a porous organization where ideas flow in and out freely.
You could call it Un-Organization, but I think it’s just a different pattern of organization.
Most companies today are still organized in a fairly strict pattern of hierarchical structures that were actually invented during the industrial age when you had to separate people at the assembly line because doing and planning/thinking were different roles. This structure is clearly out of date. In today’s networked economy, the traditional hierarchical structures need to be rethought. In modern organizations if you really want to become an agile and responsive organization, you need to focus more on how to bring people together and connect them, rather than separate them.
Digital happiness: The degree to which a person views digital technology as contributing to the experience of positive emotions, getting into a state of flow, or being able to live a meaningful life.
Digital happiness is a premise that Michiel’s research team conceived of when they met Carlota Perez of the London School of Economics. Perez dedicated her life to studying the relationship between basic innovations, technical and institutional change, and economic development. In her book, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages, Perez maintains that history runs in cycles. Our current cycle started around 1970: the age of information and communications technology. In the second wave of this technology cycle, everything that seemed farfetched just a few years ago is available to everyone, including tremendously advanced technologies such as AI (at a relatively low cost). But is the technology we are creating socially desirable? Michiel’s research team considered a variety of factors to postulate their thesis on digital happiness:
- Are organizations with happy customers more successful than organizations with unhappy customers?
- Can you only have happy customers if you have happy employees?
- What is the definition of happiness? (Spoiler: Happiness occurs when you meet a person’s needs to live a pleasant and meaningful life) -Martin Seligman
Digital happiness occurs when organizations move beyond being customer-centric to being customer-obsessed. This approach meets the needs of customers and their well-being.
Happiness should be at the core of a company’s strategies and at the core of the digital transformation that organizations are going through.
Digital Happiness, Technology, and Ethical Decisions: The Frankenstein Factor
“Why are people so afraid of AI? People in western cultures are more afraid of AI than people in eastern cultures. In a presentation I did in Japan about a year ago, I asked the Japanese audience if they would be comfortable with an AI robot taking care of their elderly parents or their young children. 90% of the people in the audience said yes: “I trust AI, I trust technology and it will enhance my well-being.”
If you ask the same question in Europe or the US, people will say ‘Hell no, absolutely not!’ They view technology from a place of fear rather than from a place of opportunity. ‘Technology will eat my job; it will make me redundant.’ CTOs need to act as Chief Therapy Officers and deal with unfounded fears. Be transparent about the benefits that technology can offer and protect employees from the downsides of technology. Be the guardian of digital happiness for your employees and your customers.”
“Michiel, you have an amazing capability to spot emerging trends. What is the next big thing on the horizon in terms of technology and what should our listeners do in order to become more innovative and drive innovation within their own companies?”
“The most important thing is to give people freedom—but not freedom without accountability. People are your biggest asset, but too many times in organizations you have extremely creative people that come to work at 9am, switch off their brains, follow procedures, and do what they’re told. You need to create a culture that offers people the freedom to work on things that interest them. Give them the freedom to be creative and then don’t be worried too much if they fail. Failure is good if it’s original. Don’t repeat the same failure, please.”
5 Key Takeaways for the CXO of the Future
1 – I’m always trying to learn. If you want to have a conversation and you violently agree or disagree with me, tell me. I’m always interested in hearing examples where my ideas don’t work.
2 – Give people freedom. Create a culture that offers people the freedom to work on things that interest them.
3 – If you want to learn a lot about an industry, go into sales.
4 – Be transparent about the benefit of technology and protect team employees from the downsides of technology. Be the guardian of digital happiness for your employees and your customers.
5 – Digital happiness happens when organizations move beyond being customer-centric to being customer-obsessed. This approach meets the needs of customers and their well-being.
About Michiel Boreel
Michiel Boreel has worked in the IT Industry for over 35 years. Since 2007, he has been in the role of Chief Technology Officer, part of the Management Board of Sogeti Group on the international level.
Educated as an Industrial Engineer, Michiel started his working career in 1986 as a junior consultant with a highly regarded management consultancy firm in Amsterdam. After two years of advisory work on large scale restructuring of both public and private firms, he made the transition towards the information technology industry in 1988 by joining one of the companies that are now united in Sogeti. Performing several assignments in systems programming and security he learned about the more technical side of the profession.
Combining both technical skills and organizational experience, Michiel started advising about the reverse engineering of legacy information systems and migration estimation methods. Adding commercial responsibilities he worked for a couple of years as an account manager for clients in the financial and telecom industry.
In 1994 Sogeti asked Michiel to lead a new initiative, Vision, Inspiration, Navigation Trends (VINT), a small research group with the goal of inspiring customers to apply new technology in business processes. The constant theme in all of the VINT research is the question what role IT will play in the future society and how technology can be applied to create meaningful business innovation. Since the start of the institute it has published over 15 books. Some of the latest publications are “Machine Intelligence”, “Design to Disrupt”, “Internet of Things”, “Big Data”, “The App Effect”, “Don’t be Evil”, “Seize the Cloud – A Manager’s Guide to Success with Cloud Computing”, “Collaboration in the cloud – How cross boundary collaboration is changing business”, “Virtual Concept – Real Profit with Digital Manufacturing and Simulation”, “Me the Media – The rise of the conversation society”, “Open for Business – Open source inspired innovation” and “SOA for Profit – A Manager’s Guide to Success with Service Oriented Architecture”. Over the last couple of years, VINT has evolved from targeting a Dutch audience towards a more international stage. Many books have been translated into English, French, German and Spanish.
Based on his research and books, Michiel Boreel is often asked for his engaging and visionary speeches or in the role of Master of Ceremony at national and international events. Additionally he works with many clients to create in-house innovation workshops where, through a strategic dialogue, emerging technologies are translated into specific business innovation opportunities.