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The Social Science of Digital Business

To succeed in digital business, understand why people behave as they do.

While technology drives tremendous opportunities for business transformation, digital businessideas are likely to be ignored without the proper context. To succeed in digital business, enterprises must understand why people behave as they do.

During his keynote at the Gartner Tech Growth & Innovation Conference 2016 this week in Los Angeles, Patrick Meehan, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, explained that IT organizations’ processes, staffing and measurements are not currently designed to understand human behavior, and are therefore not positioned to exploit the possibilities that smart “things” will create.

“The fact is that people will tune out digital businesses designed around technology, without human considerations,” said Mr Meehan. “Too much technology can crowd out the human factor, especially an understanding of what customers want and need.”

For digital business to succeed, CIOs and other digital business leaders will have to lead the transformation of the enterprise from a skills orientation (“how we do things”) to a competency orientation (“why we do things”). They can teach their enterprises the all-important “why” by adding competencies from four social sciences: sociology, psychology, anthropology and economics.

Digital business needs designs that make people, not technology, better. Too much technology can impede this human aspect, and get in the way of understanding what people really want and need.


Ultimately, people learn from, and listen to, those who are like them. In the past, enterprises have used their control of media to manufacture a sense of belonging to a community. Social media, mobile devices and other technologies now give people access to wider, authentic communities. The enterprise can participate in, but not control, these communities. The discipline of sociology enables an enterprise to understand how communities form and function so that it can engage with them for mutual benefit.


Human-computer interface design will become the most critical competency for digital business success. People already have multiple screens and the Internet of Things (IoT) will add more “things” which will begin to negotiate on the customer’s behalf.

“The discipline of cognitive psychology provides a design context for the enterprise to create systems that coordinate the information and activities occurring on all these devices, and presents them is a way that conforms to the customer’s daily life, in a way that is intelligible to them,” said Mr. Meehan. “Without such an approach, a customer, citizen or employee could be confused as to what is happening on their behalf, and whether or not they need to react or interact with these interfaces.”


Digital business needs designs that make people, not technology, better. Too much technology can impede this human aspect, and get in the way of understanding what people really want and need. They don’t need an app, they need to get something done, and an app is just a means to that end. The discipline of anthropology enables an enterprise to learn about people on their own terms in their own environment, so that it can offer solutions they will accept.


The enterprise can neither predict nor create the digital businesses it envisions. Like social networks, digital businesses need to evolve organically. They will change direction. The enterprise will build something, and partners, competitors and customers will react to it and thereby change the market in ways the enterprise couldn’t foresee. The discipline of economics enables the enterprise to see when models change and to understand economic principles that will help it to adapt to new market conditions.

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Video replays from Gartner Tech Growth & Innovation Conference 2016 will be available on Gartner Events On Demand. Follow news and updates from the conference on Twitter at #GartnerTGI.

Gartner clients can read more in the report, “Draw on Four Social Science Disciplines to Design Digital Business.”

For more visit Smarter With Gartner website.

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