Once upon a time ‘business as usual’ was good enough…

The battle of digitalisation versus experience In an age when the volume of data threatens to overwhelm not only individuals but businesses as well, EP argues that people, relationships and emotion are still the final differentials

Today, customers and businesses ask for more than the normal. In a world where everything is connected, it asks constant questions of every business and requires every business to be prepared for change. However, most business models are simply not ready for such change, such dynamism. In fact, one can argue that the constant connectivity pushes businesses too hard.

The digital revolution has changed so much. It has had many positive effects. It has allowed the world to become open and transparent. It has opened up learning, communications and visualisation, but the speed of life is becoming faster and faster and the reality is that neither business structures nor people are able to cope with the speed of change. EP has often written about the pressures being placed upon every executive. The average number of emails that each person receives is over 150 per day and yet we are only able to absorb the detail of a third of this number. As the world becomes faster and more open, people are not embracing broader globalisation but in fact seeking a simpler life and time.

One can argue over whether Brexit was good or bad for the UK, but the truth is that the country was split, that we have understood the split better and that there were many regions that wanted to retain their identity and were afraid of seeing their values broken down.

At the same time, arts and crafts have never been more popular. People are returning to the old pleasures for relaxation – arts, music and sport. The recent Olympics were a great success, but Britain’s rise up the medal table just reflects how sport and fitness has once again become increasingly popular. However, there is maybe more still to come:

  • One in four executives suffer from mental problems. Maybe there is an argument to return to the old ways of a nine to five working pattern with one-hour lunch breaks and secretaries to field the mountain of information being passed through each day. There is a need for time for executives to just stop and reflect and there needs to be more structure for this to happen.
  • At the same time the consumer and business will not stop asking questions, so standards will constantly rise and businesses need to consider how to allow their executives the freedom to answer the questions being posed. There is a view that many businesses are too negative and often have a mindset of cost controlling rather than considering new methods of business growth. Many privately say to us that their businesses are being driven by change and are not driving change. How can the balance be switched?
  • Digitalisation has arguably become a barrier to internal communications and there is a need for greater networking and social hubs within businesses to encourage greater informal problem-solving.
  • There is a need to make people more important again. There is school of thought that suggests that science fiction is actually becoming science fact. Think of self-driving cars and robots. The skills that are needed within businesses are changing rapidly. However, there is one that is a constant – the importance of relationships and that, in business, people buy people. Too many businesses have relied on their brands to do the work when actually what can achieve success are old-fashioned skills – people building strong relationships, trust, vision, leadership and fun at work.

So how do we prepare people for the modern work environment? Are we training people more? No. Many training budgets have actually decreased. People do need development, as change is no longer gradual but happening at such a fast pace. We are now operating in a world where our cars, our businesses and our homes are all wired together and talking to each other. 

Even our bodies will soon be digitally connected – fitness trackers are now measuring our bodies better than ever before and are connected to our phones.

The digital revolution has created the perfect storm of change that in turn creates data of record levels, which creates greater MI and communications. And the cycle continues. But still the true differentials are people and great values. Looking back on the 1980s and 1990s, Gardner Merchant and Forte stood apart as businesses because they trained their people better than anyone else. There is a need for the same philosophy today.

Anything that cannot be automated or digitalised will become extremely valuable and this can be hospitality’s gain. Today, hospitality is entertainment – it is about imagination, inspiration, emotion and service. Hospitality can be even more special in how it links great people to the modern business. It is no coincidence that hospitality is becoming increasingly creative at this time. There is so much original thinking and the value of service has returned to being a key differential.


“Hospitality is entertainment – it is about imagination, inspiration, emotion and service. It is no coincidence that hospitality is becoming increasingly creative”

One of the major changes in the generations that has been well noted is that experiences have become increasingly important. People will pay for greater experiences – for hospitality experiences that inspire and touch their emotions; that are indulgent and luxurious.

The challenge for hospitality is to prepare its executives for this new world. Data and digitalisation has been dominant and will create accurate MI. However, what will make a business different is the emotion and values that a business is led by. Yes, we can go back to the days when a leader set out the values of an organisation, but this is deeper – it will be how each service engages the consumer and makes them experience something of value.

The future is not technology; it is, as it has always been, all about people, emotion and relationships. Hospitality is all about emotion and that is where we need to focus – to develop creative solutions that manage the technology of the modern world to create even greater experiences and allow the industry to prosper.