Research director Bola Rotibi focuses on the people behind the technology

“The soft side of technology is often overlooked."

By | 3 minute read | March 6, 2019

This story is part of Big Thinkers, a series of profiles on business leaders transforming industries with bold ideas.

Bola Rotibi has a piece of advice for companies building new technology.

“You can’t expect artificial intelligence to improve your situation if you don’t use actual intelligence in its formulation,” said Rotibi, research director and founder of UK-based Creative Intellect Consulting.

That’s because focusing on how people really use and benefit from technology can frequently be an afterthought in software development projects, according to Rotibi.

“There’s a danger in thinking technology is all just bytes and code, but the whole culture around technology is what is really exciting,” she said. “The soft side of technology is often overlooked—the psychology behind it, how people interact with it and are impacted by it.”

The love of the people behind the tech led Rotibi to where she is today. Her openness to new ideas and perspectives started when she was young (“Gosh, do we really want to go that far back?”). She loved science fiction like Star Trek and Star Wars, and was also an avid reader who immersed herself in art. This balanced and open approach to life continued in her working world.

As Rotibi built an impressive career spanning engineering, software development, and IT analysis, she often noticed that developers were too siloed from the other decision-makers, especially when it came to strategy and operations. She realized that being a smart digital operator was not all about building software effectively. Just as important to success were developers’ interactions and integration with other roles like business and operations.

She decided to do something about that, and founded Creative Intellect Consulting, which embraces software development delivery and life cycle management across the software landscape.

As part of its work, the company looks at key technologies like cloud, blockchain, IoT, 5G, agile and DevOps within the context of business and operations. To be successful with transforming business, however, Rotibi recommends being outcomes-oriented rather than diving into the latest buzzworthy technology.

“For a successful digital transformation, the key thing is a long-term vision and the outcome you actually want to achieve,” said Rotibi. “When a digital transformation doesn’t work, it’s often because a company implemented new technology but had no clue as to what it could do for its business.”

To that end, organizations need to think about new ways of operating, improving customer experience, disrupting themselves and their market, and seeing what opportunities they can grasp. And, said Rotibi, it’s about “how a business interacts better with itself and with its community. And that community might be suppliers, customers, and employees.”

A community mindset is useful because it often removes roadblocks. Conversations suddenly shift from “what can the technology do?” to “what do you want the technology to achieve?”

“Whenever you ask a company about digital transformation, the one thing they will always say is that it is so important to have the right people who are able to think beyond the boundaries and collaborate,” said Rotibi about why she insists on marrying lines of business with developers. “That’s not technology, that’s people.”

Besides being outcomes-focused and embracing the people element of digital transformation, Rotibi recommends that organizations analyze how they can use what they already have.

“You can’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” said Rotibi. “You can leverage a lot of old technology, practices and operations even before you get to the new things.”

This “leveraging the old” approach also applies to new technologies like 5G, a technology sometimes criticized for what it can and can’t do today.

“You have to prepare yourself now to get to 5G,” she said. “It’s about leveraging the network that you have today—and you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve—because you’ll be in better shape to take advantage of what’s coming tomorrow.”

Another technology example is IoT, which is fundamentally about connectivity. What any business must do irrespective of what era they’re in—whether 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G—according to Rotibi, is ask what you get from that connectivity or can it can help with your communication network. Organizations should explore the possibilities first.

As for the future, Rotibi paints a picture of teamwork across all aspects of the company; in fact, all walks of life. She imagines a frictionless future in which people can go from an idea right to a solution, and then right to a customer.

“My hope is that open industry will allow people with ideas easily to quickly realize those ideas,” Rotibi said. “It won’t matter where they are from or who they are.”