Digital transformationsBehavioural aspects of digital transformations

I read an interesting article recently which highlighted how human behaviour shapes digital transformations. It was a report from Google saying they halted early experiments with driverless cars because of unexpected human responses.

The idea they were testing was for cars to drive themselves in most situations. The driver would only take control if something unusual happened. When drivers tried this, however, they found it hard to stay focused and began falling asleep at the wheel. This meant that they were not able to take control of the car quickly if necessary.

Objectively, this type of driverless car is perfectly valid. However, humans do not behave in a way that makes it workable in real life. Google is now having to focus on making cars fully autonomous, capable of driving safely by themselves in all situations. This will be far more complicated and costly than being able to rely on occasional human intervention.

The success of technology relies on humans

Even the success of fully autonomous cars will be reliant on humans behaving in certain ways, including:

Accepting loss of control

People will need to trust that driverless cars are safe before they use them. Currently, driving is a skilled and responsible activity with the driver commanding high levels of control. Will drivers be happy to give up this power?

Digital transformations often replace human activity with technology, resulting in loss of individual control. Loss of control is a big cause of resistance in change situations. Therefore it is never guaranteed that people will welcome the technology, however clever or labour saving it may seem to the developers.

Behaviour of other road users

If driverless cars stop when they sense something in front of them, will pedestrians still use formal crossing points? Will cyclists take so much care? Will drivers of traditional cars bully driverless cars, pulling out in front of them and cutting them up?

One of the stated benefits of driverless cars is quicker journeys in urban areas. This benefit may be threatened by the behaviour of other road users. Ultimately, this may lead to lower adoption of driverless cars because they are slower and more frustrating than traditional cars.

Human error in programming

Driverless cars will be more computer than car. Hundreds of millions of lines of code will need to be produced to make them run safely. This code will be written by humans. Human behaviour is not error free, so issues with software will inevitably occur. These may be significant enough to render the cars unreliable and therefore affect adoption and usage.

Maintenance and updating

Like any computer, the software in a driverless car will need to be updated regularly. Can owners be relied upon to continually update their vehicles? Even a small percentage of out of date cars may threaten the success of the technology, as all vehicles will need to interact with each other on the roads.

Cyber security

Cyber security is an enormous risk for any technology. The potential chaos will make driverless car technology an attractive target for those who wish to cause harm and disruption. This is one of the hardest human behaviour to deal with, and could ultimately make driverless car development uneconomically viable.

Humans are often neglected in digital developments

The development of driverless cars is a perfect illustration of how the success of digital transformations rely as much on human behaviours as they do on developing new capabilities in technology.

It also reminds us how humans are often neglected in digital transformations. A recent House of Lord’s report states that the  behavioural aspects of driverless cars have been under-researched, with over 400 questions about potential impacts of human behaviour not yet having been addressed.

I have worked on many technology-enabled changes which have mainly focussed on the potentials of the technology. The impact of human behaviour can easily be underestimated. Project teams are often reluctant to amend technological ideas to accommodate the limitations of their users. However, it is vital to take behaviours into consideration if we want our digital transformations to be successful.

What do I do next?

There is no quick and easy way of overcoming these issues, but here are a few ideas of what you can do to raise the awareness and importance of the behavioural aspects of digital transformations:

  • Always ask ‘what will people feel about this?’ when new ideas are proposed
  • Create a user group to explore how new ideas will impact the behaviours of the organisation, and whether they think the required behaviour changes are feasible
  • Raise necessary behavioural changes as risks in the formal risk register to ensure they are given the same importance as technological risks
  • Involve users in designing and testing to ensure potential behavioural issues are picked up early on
  • Build business change expertise and resource into your transformations to support users through any unavoidable behavioural changes

Remember- you can develop the best technology in the world, but it will fail if people do not use it properly. Just ask Google!