The Digital Inbetweeners Generation

by | Dec 10, 2020 | Change, ICT4D, Identity


“I don’t take card, only cash.” We were at a local market and I was trying to pay with my credit card like I had done at all the other stalls. I was surprised by the response because the seller was someone in their 20s so I’d immediately assumed everything would be digital.

“I’ll be back” I said as I went in search of an ATM. Upon return, I asked her about it.

“It’s not worth it” she said. “I’ve tried it, but for the volume I sell, the costs for me mean I scrape by. Plus I often sell in locations where connectivity is poor and most devices don’t work. And yes, I know I lose some sales, but I’ve done the math and cash makes the most business sense right now for me.”

In chatting with other sellers. Some loved the digital payment systems. “It’s brilliant, everything is integrated, so no accounting for me!” While other felt they had to because they feared the loss of sales, but they didn’t like it. “I don’t have a choice, do I? I need this kind of payment system otherwise I look old-fashioned and a luddite. However, it’s a real pain. It doesn’t easily sync with existing my bookkeeping system, so it’s expensive and takes my time. But at least I look modern to my customers.”

Our digital ID systems face similar challenges. We’re the ‘inbetweeners’ generation. Some organisations still collect data analogue – on paper. Some are fully digital. While many, if not most, are a mixture.

We often imagine and expect digital transformation to be all about being fully digital. And we are disappointed. Digital transformation is all about the ‘inbetweeners’. Therefore, our systems, processes, approaches, mindset & culture work must include analogue, clunky, and ‘modern’.

One of the challenges which sellers told me about was that some digital payment solutions required them to use specific back end accounting systems. But they used a different accounting solution, so the promise of integration wasn’t for them. We see this all the time in digital ID solutions in aid – it’s difficult to integrate the back end of solutions unless you buy the full stack of solutions.

Digital transformation change makers need to build bridges between legacy systems and the new or future ones. In the aid world, this means we need to have analogue systems integrate with fully digital ones. And perhaps that comes best when we focus less on talking about systems and more on the impact we are seeking and the context in which we work.

This is immensely difficult work. But critical.

Photo by Mark Neal


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