Digitization is never the ultimate goal

Digitization is never an end in itself. It may seem strange for a specialist in digitization to say this, but it is true. Digitization should always make other things possible: it should lead to better experiences. And when it comes to experiences, it is always about the human dimension.

If something is at risk of becoming scarce, it gains value

In fact, we are now seeing a trend throughout our society where we increasingly desire ‘real’ and special experiences in which physical contact and human interaction are important. This is obviously a reaction against the growing presence of technology in our lives. This evolution has happened so fast that many people now have some kind of anxiety about the human dimension being affected by the dominance of the digital. Just think of the emotional discussions about the extent to which robots and artificial intelligence might also be able to do the jobs of university graduates in the near future.

Of course, we are all aware that technology can make our lives better, but nevertheless we also hold on to the analogue. This analogue 'reaction', by the way, mainly comes from the generation of people in their twenties and thirties, not so much from the older generation harking back to their youth out of nostalgia. It is mainly younger people who now find it very easy to combine flexible and digital work and communication, with physical and authentic 'retro' experiences such as playing LPs, going to live concerts, food trucks, sleeping in people's home through Airbnb, and so on.

The explanation for this trend is a basic rule of psychology, economics and biology: if something is at risk of becoming scarce, it gains value. So if there is a scarcity of analogue stimuli, people will look for them more and more to restore balance. It is also remarkable that as a result of this interest in the analogue, now for the first time you see two adult generations that are like two peas in a pod: today many people in their fifties and sixties are completely up to date with the world of their children – those in their twenties and thirties.

Physical shops will become important again

Moreover, purchases are certainly not all digital. According to IBM, from 2020 there will even be an increase in the number of physical shops again. A typical example is Amazon's acquisition (announced in June 2017) of the American supermarket chain Whole Foods – Amazon's biggest ever acquisition. Food products are now simply more difficult to sell online than other products. It is also no coincidence that Amazon has bought a premium player. Amazon is banking on the fact that people are once again willing to pay more for high-quality products.

We also expect the baby boomer generation to have a big impact on the renewed growth in the number of physical shops. They will be retiring in huge numbers in the coming years, they have enough money and so will be happy to go into town. If you have enough time anyway, it is just more pleasant to discover, experience and see new things physically than always be sitting online at home. But here too we expect a combination of the physical and the digital: physical shops will become important again, provided that digital technology facilitates the visitor/buyer so that, for example, they save time or can compare products faster. A good example of such a 'physital operation' (the combination of physical and digital) is that of the clothing chain GAP: in the US, some years ago they started an online service that allowed customers to book a fitting room in a physical shop. Customers book a specific time slot and they can have the clothes they want to try on already hanging there. The idea is catching on in a big way.

You are never dealing with a company but with people

For B2B companies too, digitization is never a goal in itself but should primarily lead to better experiences for customers. Don't forget that everyone is a consumer; you are never dealing with a company but with people.

For example, Cheops is a real 'people business'. When recruiting we are very conscious about selecting IT experts who are not only technically qualified but who also have social and emotional skills: very important in the contact with our customers. We do not consider the digitization that we offer our customers to be the ultimate goal. The point is that, thanks to outsourcing (a part of) their digitization, our customers no longer need to pay attention to operational aspects, but can instead fully focus on the interaction with their customers. In this way, the customer experience becomes not only more efficient and faster but also more personal.

In any case, Cheops does not want technology to be its sole starting point, however good and useful that is. In a world full of bits & bytes and in which a great many trivial functions can be taken over by technology, you also need to focus on aspects that bear witness to human intelligence and therefore offer value added. And it is precisely through efficient digitization that more room is created for valuable human contact.