After three decades at Deloitte, Peter Williams finally has a job title that he really enjoys. Williams is a CEO at the professional consultancy firm but he isn’t the chief executive officer, but rather the chief edge officer.
It’s not every day you are appointed a chief edge officer but Williams, who formerly led Deloitte Digital, has stepped up to build the Australian chapter of Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge.
The Centre for the Edge works like an early detection system scouring the edges of the society and gauging the big shift in how we interact with technology. This shift is characterised by the rise in the accessibility of computing, hyper-connectivity and using the web as a problem solving and knowledge discovery tool.
With the local enterprise space still grappling with cloud, BYOD and big data, Williams’ mission is to look past these trends and identify the ones that are yet to appear on the radar of enterprises.
"My role is to get out there and see what’s going on and then help enterprises make sense of that,” he says.
So what is on Williams’ strategic radar and how can organisations get ready for the trends that are just around the corner?
One of these trends is gamification, which is the application of game dynamics and design elements to non-game problems. Playing games on company time may seem like an anathema to senior management but there is real value to be gleaned here, especially when it comes to sharing knowledge and solving problems.
According to Williams, the biggest challenge is deciphering how to replicate the level of engagement that many have with games in the workplace
"The other thing we are really interested in is how knowledge flows within the gaming community,” Williams says.
Gaming communities are exceptionally good at sharing information- whether its ranking performances or creating collective networks that encourage knowledge sharing to tackle a particular problem.
This is a key plank of the collaborative workplace that has been touted as a holy grail for many organisations and Williams says that most management types are starting to see the benefits.
"The really successful organisations will be the ones that acquire the most passionate people to drive things forward. These are people who will put in discretionary effort and take ownership of their work rather than just turn up.”
Crowdsourcing and problem solving
Another element of the collaborative approach is using crowdsourcing to solve problems, which challenges the traditional models of how an organisation provides support to its customers. One example of this is the crowd support feature for Telstra where an online peer-to-peer platform provides answers.
"This is cloud-based software that is using crowdsourcing, rather than calling a call centre, customers can jump on to the platform and find a solution,” Williams says.
Usually these platforms will have super contributors, often people working for the company, who choose to engage with the customers at an unofficial capacity.
"Leading customers out there usually know a great deal about the products and services and it’s all about getting them to share their knowledge.”
The hyper-connected world
So why would someone devote their time to help strangers? According to Williams, they will help because that is the very nature of social networks
The web has moved away from a creation-consumption model and the focus today is all about people connecting with each other. Asking questions and be willing to look for answers from non-traditional sources.
"Our ability to tap into tacit knowledge, to be part of communities to share, learn and collaborate is greater than ever before,” Williams says.
This in turn reinforces the need to value our social connections. It’s not a question on how many connections a person has it’s really more about forging connections that foster meaningful debate and insight.
This hyper-connected world that democratizes knowledge is characterised by a multitude of networks and for Williams this holds enormous potential when it comes to embracing the power of the crowd.
"There are all these networks out there on any topic you may be interested in whether it’s baking cupcakes or nuclear physics.”
"If you want to get deep into something you cannot not only get all the information you need but also connect with experts,” Williams says.
Enterprises can make the most of this trend provided they are willing to curb their instinct to say no to new mediums. A case in point is the continued push in some workplaces to ban YouTube, which Williams says is a great platform to share information.
"When YouTube came out in 2005 it might have been more about funny cat videos but now if I want to know how to do something or a walkthrough guide I don’t go to Google, I go to YouTube.”
"YouTube is the greatest rich knowledge collection in the history of the planet, sure there is a whole lot of stuff you don’t need but that’s why you have a search function.”
What’s interesting is that quite often the blocks aren’t coming from CEOs or CIOs but rather a layer of risk-averse middle management, as Williams calls them the ‘corporate antibodies.’
As organisations grow these layers of risk management are more often than not a hindrance to innovation.
At some point enterprises need to recognise whether they are motivated to succeed or are they motivated to avoid failure?