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Earlier this week I couldn’t resist an invitation from OpenMind to its book launch of “Reinventing the Company in the Digital Age.” Always on the hunt for fresh perspectives on digitization, I headed into Boston for what I hoped would be an enlightening event at the venerable Harvard Club. For the most part I wasn’t disappointed with the presentations and roundtable which turned into less of a hard sell on the book, and more of a free-wheeling conversation about how companies need to radically change pretty much everything they do or risk obsolescence.

OpenMind is an online community created by BBVA, one of Spain’s largest banks, offering free articles, books, videos and infographics on challenges across science, technology, economics and business, the environment and humanities. The latest book on the digital age is actually a compendium of articles from heavy-weights in academia and beyond including Harvard University, The Economist, Geoffrey Moore, Wharton, Stanford, Columbia and Berkeley. It covers ground similar to the Workforce 2020 Oxford Economics study I’ve been writing about.

The roundtable speakers agreed that big data and other technologies, millennials, and diversity are forcing companies to work, manage and lead differently. But what hasn’t changed is how customers compete, either by lowering cost or product differentiation. Yet many companies struggle to understand digitization and what it means for their people, business model and ability to grow.

Rethinking outmoded workplace systems

Peter Thomson, co-author of, “Future Work” talked about how millennials (and others) are upending 200-year old concepts of work.

“We have work structures that were built in the 19th century around people working based on their presence,” he said. “People whose job is mainly online still have to sit in an office because the only way their manager’s manager thinks they can have accountability is to see them there.”

Thomson also discussed the dismantling of traditional reward systems. “People want to be rewarded for their output that contributes to the bottom line, not activities around processes,” he said. “In the organization of the future, we value results with genuine rewards. It’s not about attending meetings and not producing anything. It’s not the person who works the longest hours that’s most valuable. It’s the smarter employee who gets the job done quicker who has the greatest value to the company.”

This is precisely why BBVA initiated large-scale transformation of its entire company, encompassing people and technology.

”BBVA has increased investments in digital banking to build a real-time, scalable platform that’s re-engineered processes and improved productivity. Our open, innovation platform has changed our culture and increased our customers,” said Francisco Gonzalez, Chairman and CEO at BBVA. “We’ve brought in new people too, including an American woman who doesn’t speak Spanish."

What I find particularly intriguing is that a bank is sponsoring an online knowledge community, a great example of how technology is opening up unprecedented opportunities for industries. In the digital age, everyone has a platform – provided they have the quality content and smart people behind it to foster a rewarding conversation.

Follow me @smgaler

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