Around the world, technologies that make heavy use of data and that were seen as experimental once have become successful companies’ lifeblood. Big data, mobile, virtualization, social media and cloud, which were once considered as trends in technology worth exploration, have gone far beyond the experimentation stage. They have brought about an age where technology is the foundation of successful business and a prime driver of profitability, market differentiation, collaboration, business growth, adaptability and innovation.
In brief, nearly every business is now digital and likely to be most successful if it comprehends the benefits of digital.
Organizations that are farsighted have realized that IT is a strategic asset and should be used to review vital corporate operation aspects. You should employ digital tools to find useful data, analyze it, evaluate it, manage it, share it and derive insights based on it, besides reporting and commenting on it.
The executive leadership should recognize that the distinction between business and technology is disappearing fast and that success in the long term depends upon using and understanding technologies. They have to rethink strategies to go beyond marketing and ecommerce and towards digital. Digital tools can help restore personalized services for customers in many cases.
Consumers are individuals and more than faceless demographic profiles or digital transactions. Yet several companies have emphasized using context-based services, social networks and mobile technology to develop detailed demographics instead of improving ways of interaction with customers. Digital offers a new way to approach consumer loyalty and engagement. It provides communication channels for personalized interaction with consumers based on individualized services, effective interactions and convenient access.
You can drive growth in revenue by using digital technology for customization of consumer experience over a number of channels. For instance, you may provide a mobile app that detects when a customer goes to a competitor’s store and offers a promotion at that point. That way you can integrate data over all information channels and make use of it to create a seamless transition for customers.
You can strengthen your brand further through the addition of a successful social media strategy when delighted customers communicate among themselves, exchanging stories about their experiences and purchases. These favorable customer reviews are as required for brand loyalty in the digital age as paid advertising is.
Companies are no longer facing a lack of data, as far as aggregate information is concerned. Instead, they are faced with deficiency of useable data. Data gaps lead to them missing opportunities to make better decisions. Preventing data gaps calls for changes in the way applications are developed, configured, updated and implemented. Apps should provide data that answer specific questions for the enterprise. These should be like a net that captures specific data and offers information useful for specific services and requirements.
Effective analytics requires speed as well as data specificity. The utility of the whole process is limited if the time elapsed between data acquisition and data usage for effective action is too much. Responses that are nearly instantaneous have become the norm in a mobile and digitized business environment. New technologies that help speed up the insight to action data cycle are expected to fulfill the requirement and enhance the ability of the enterprise to deal with the velocity of data.
The time required for exploration driven by problems is decreased because of newer analytical packages that are low cost as well. Even new technologies for big data, which are built to process large data volumes have to be designed to function in real time or nearly in real time. The aim is to improve the response rate irrespective of increasing data volumes that have to be analyzed. It is all about matching the pace at which the business has to act on data with the velocity of data analysis.
Social media has become a powerful tool for interacting internally, i.e., for how employees collaborate and interact, along with being a platform for customer interaction. Mostly, internal communication is siloed and limited to Facebook and other such streams of social activity, besides videoconferencing and email.
Companies have to move ahead of social sites and develop channels that can be directly integrated into the software supporting business processes. This can lead to a solution that provides measurable and specific gains in productivity. Such a solution that addresses strategic needs can’t be purchased from a vendor and has to be designed by enterprises on their own, so as to meet specific needs.
The potential for transformation that cloud has can hardly be ignored by businesses and it is no more just an emerging trend. Companies have to mix off-premise and on-premise IT and integrate cloud with traditional software and legacy systems so as to combine the best cloud elements and create hybrid capabilities. They can launch new products or enter new businesses in short time periods by skilfully harnessing cloud.
Businesses can become more competitive, more responsive, more scalable and more flexible by integrating cloud in their IT strategies.
From basic models of business to social interaction, the corporate environment today is based on digital technology. The companies that can exploit its advantages the best will be positioned to compete better in the marketplace.
What Digital is
According to Gartner, at least 30bn devices and more than 7bn businesses and people will be connected to the internet by 2020. With things, businesses and people negotiating, transacting and communicating among themselves, a new world, i.e., the digital business world, has come into existence.
New business designs that have caused the physical and digital worlds to blur have led to the creation of digital business. Existing business models, even those from the e-business and internet eras, are likely to be disrupted as a convergence of things, businesses and people takes place on an unprecedented scale because of digital.
The presence of intelligent and connected things and their integration with business and people distinguishes digital business from e-business. You could, for example, lessen the requirement for maintenance of aircraft by incorporating sensors and more intelligence into engines of jets and thereby improve performance.
Similarly, digital business could be used in retail to provide integration between the physical and digital to customers buying retail apparel. For instance, when the store systems know that a customer has tried on a coat, they can suggest accessories or alternatives while considering the customer’s price limits.
The reassessment of risk for a loan portfolio for a bank based on real time reporting from the physical assets financed can be another example. This could, for instance, happen during a road accident. Systems on the vehicle could let first responders as well as the bank know about the accident, making a real time assessment of the risk portfolio possible.
Digital business is not to be confused with the Internet of Things (IoT). While IoT has a crucial role to play in digital business, there is much more to digital business than IoT. According to Gartner, IoT comprises physical objects that are networked and interact and communicate with the external environment or their internal states through technology embedded within them.
Blurring of the digital and physical world through new business design creation is what digital business is all about. It is about the negotiation and interaction between things and business. We begin to see that we have entered a disruptive and wholly new world when things start negotiating with business and people as well as among themselves. In business earlier, proxies for things were people. In the times to come, the way in which business sees opportunities will shift as things will be agents for themselves.
To prevent disruption in their businesses, executives will have to think differently as digital business will affect all industries. Huge opportunities await those who can visualize the new world which makes earlier ones obsolete. Competitive advantage will come from the extremely quick development of new capabilities. The billions of businesses, humans and things connected to each other will need sophisticated orchestration, integration and engineering to keep the promise of a bright future for things, business and people.
Organizations that can become more sophisticated and capable technologically will excel in the digital economy.
How every business is now becoming a digital business
Transformation of business based on a digital model has begun. Organizations have begun their journey to become digital businesses in a world driven by technology. While some are still experimenting, others are committing to larger investments. However, all are betting on technology to drive growth in future. Larger enterprises, which some perceive to have lagged in converting to digital are now catching up. Whereas cloud, social, analytics and mobile are still at the forefront, the focus is shifting to newer ways to weave technology into next gen business strategies in all industries.
Enterprises are adopting technology not only for doing business, but also for creating new areas of revenue and growth, new products and new markets.
Companies from among the leading global 2000, such as GE, Procter & Gamble, Disney and Tesco are among those competing to become digital as early as possible. They aim to penetrate new markets and disrupt the existing ones they are part of by taking advantage of emerging technologies.
If the past ten years have seen digital startups such as Airbnb, Instagram, TripAdvisor, Twitter, YouTube and Zipcar emerge strongly, the coming ten years are likely to witness traditional companies emerge as digital leaders. They can employ their process discipline, huge scale and deep resources towards that end.
For example, the worldwide supermarket chain Tesco has not only developed grocery stores that are interactive but also ventured into new industries. It is on its way towards digital through offers of e-books, movie streaming and even a tablet computer.
Similarly, GE is exploring the industrial internet, developing services based on the cloud and using analytics to combine and collect equipment and industrial-machine data to arrive at insights to enhance performance in industries such as aviation and energy.
In B2C, Disney is bringing in tools such as a wristband for wireless tracking to provide personalized experiences to those who visit its amusement parks.
What strategic advantage does digital provide?
Through experimentation that has extended for several years, industrial leaders such as Shell, GE, Walmart, Disney, Tesco and P&G have steadily gained competencies and skills to move far ahead of their competitors, negating the advantages of the startups and proving that they can excel in digital business.
They are well aware of the strategic advantage that digital expertise can provide and are not in the game merely for good investor relations. They know that they can not only be the leaders in their own markets but also manage footholds in others to disrupt those markets and create new business opportunities. They often develop new market models during the process.
For instance, General Motors is disrupting the car rental business through its partnership with Turo, which is a startup that simplifies the process of ride sharing through its use of mobile phones. Similarly, AT&T lets customers control door locks to lights and alarms in their homes remotely through its Digital Life service and has disrupted the home security market in the process.
How the boundaries between physical and digital are blurring
An enormous shift is taking place. Boundaries are blurring between the suppliers, customers and other stakeholders of enterprises and the enterprises themselves, in addition to between leaders in IT and their colleagues in business, besides between physical resources and digital assets. Strategies for business and IT are not separate any longer and are almost inseparable. All over the digital spectrum, this is the type of mindset that is to be seen.
In a number of ways, digital is letting large companies connect again with what had earlier helped them become leaders of their respective industries. There is a wide range of opportunity before them. Just as technology had created a level field for newcomers in the past ten years, they can utilize the same digital forces of democratization to acquire leading places once again. All can benefit from the entry barriers now.
Many will utilize digital to reset the standards for interactions with consumers, for example, or for the effectiveness of the supply chain, or build new models for pricing.
How digital is leading to a world full of new user experiences
The manner in which people interact with their surroundings is undergoing change. New experiences related to decision making are now available on account of digital technologies. These could range from making critical decisions with respect to the maintenance of an oil pipeline to selecting a hotel in a new city. Users get real insights from these decision spaces and not simply information. So, users move a step closer to action on account of the valuable insights.
Smart devices such as drones, sensors, tablets, phones and signs, along with omnipresent network connectivity, have helped build platforms for enterprises to innovate on.
For example, consumer wearables like Fitbit, miCoach by Adidas and FuelBand by Nike track physical activity and let users get insights in real time regarding how they perform, so that they can decide on pushing harder or going for a few more laps or increasing the pace.
Such measurement devices are also being used for treating chronic patients through telemedicine from remote locations, which can help reduce recovery times, improve outcomes and lower costs.
Parking meters showing color coded maps depicting varying difficulty levels of parking and letting drivers extend meter times remotely through their smartphones are also among such examples.
Brick and mortar businesses, such as retailer Tesco, are delivering unique user experiences through in-store technology aligned with consumer lifestyles such as digital signage through face scanning to customize engaging content on-screen.
How traditional industries are refreshing their capabilities through digital
The industrial world has benefited from access to decisions that are actionable instantly. In the past 20 years, industrial companies have improved their efficiency radically through the integration of digital technologies in their operations. This ranges from remotely monitoring and controlling operations to robotics to RFID tags in supply chains.
The drastic improvements to operational efficiency and safety, along with the ability to scale in some cases, which manufacturers have made, are now expanding to all industries. The physical-digital systems of today include smart grids that recognize individual appliances and the energy they consume through smart meters which can read and analyze complex frequencies as well as robot chefs that serve customized food stuff.
Industrial equipment vendors, property managers and building owners benefit from the lower costs and greater capabilities of physical-digital systems to drive new experiences with operations. They make use of continuous commissioning systems based on sensors installed in the workspaces of a building, along with mechanical equipment that collects data with resolution accurate to the millisecond, among other integrated solutions.
Industries from agriculture to warehousing are witness to similar advancements. Warehouses require fewer employees to process more orders in lesser time than before using robotic order fulfillment systems. Similarly, autonomous drones are in use for disrupting various other industries. Infrared cameras are in use for pointing out crops that receive excessive or deficient water supply. Drones help monitor traffic congestion and road surfaces, besides helping find survivors of natural disasters and accidents, among other uses of the technology.
Efforts are on to develop robots for use in petrochemical, oil and gas industries so as to replace humans for tasks such as inspection of storage tanks and pressure vessels. The robots will help reduce exposure of workers to hazardous conditions and enhance economic development.
According to Accenture, the field service industry is expected to save a billion dollars per year by 2017 through the use of smartglasses such as those being developed in the form of Google Glass. The technicians will be able to diagnose and rectify problems faster and without having to bring other experts to sites where the problems occur.
Google Glass can also help doctors to look at the vital signs of a patient at the same time as carrying out surgical procedures, among other applications of the technology.
How industries are likely to be disrupted by physical-digital systems
Large companies can utilize physical-digital systems not only to disrupt their own industries, but other industries as well, based on their ability to scale and the sufficient resources they have. They have to rethink the experience provided by and the end to end delivery of the services and processes and not just find ways to improve those services and processes at present using physical-digital systems. This can help them explore new markets, besides disrupting existing industries.
The basic concept is that you can acquire, analyze and act upon data in real time.
For example, Ford Motor is using 3D printers to reduce iteration cycles in the process of design radically. It is saving production time of up to a month for new engine parts, on an average.
Driverless cars, when they are developed sufficiently for common use, are expected to make long term planning for other transportation systems easier, smoothen planning for subsequent road construction and maintenance, improve road use density and lessen road accidents, besides changing the experiences of commuters.
Such cars are likely to disrupt other industries such as mining, logistics and shipping, agriculture, fleet services, car rentals, taxi cabs and public transport. The market for insurance liability is also expected to witness radical changes because of the development of such cars.
How digital is expected to shape the behavior of consumers
Businesses can recognize and replicate productive behaviors directly using digital. It leads to the expectation that all experiences can be optimized and should be. So there seems to be plenty of potential to move employee behaviors away from planning for all permutations of experiences and towards creating new experiences. These experiences can provide greater cost efficiency to the enterprise and prove better for the end users.
You can use the way you present information to users to tune the capacity for shaping behavior. For instance, if there has to be a reduction in the amount of carbon emitted through various means by the residents of a city, the administration could provide an app for transit planning to offer guidance for route planning so that people can take the quickest route or the one which is least intense with respect to carbon emissions.
Employee engagement and consumer loyalty will come to those organizations which comprehend behavior shaping’s potential and respect its implications related to privacy. You should let individuals know about how you are monitoring their activities and provide them with the option of opting in. They should have the actionable information for making decisions.
What steps should businesses take to be in sync?
The number of consumers prepared to buy smart watches and Google Glass is on the rise. It is because there always are people who are keen to keep up with the latest technologies and to enjoy better user experiences.
Businesses, on the other hand, are likely to be more cautious about moving decisions to the cutting edge of technology. Accenture expects B2C organizations to be quicker to respond to the keenness of consumers to go for new experiences, providing newer ways to manage their health and new opportunities to access new mobile coupons, among others.
In the world of business, broadly, there are huge opportunities to shift the decisions of employees closer to points of action.
You will have to start with using digital to increase the efficiency of the way you do things currently. Then, you can use physical-digital systems to create disruptions in your industry. This will begin by altering the expectations of users regarding what is normal and acceptable. You can be a disrupter only if you proactively change user experiences. Finally, you will have to ask questions regarding how the expectations of your customers and other stakeholders and your interactions with them will change because of intelligent automation.
You could question yourself regarding the likely effect on opportunities for new business, productivity, the usage of resources and simplification of organization structure.
The businesses that achieve market-leading advantages will be the ones which have the best answers and leverage the strengths of people (decisions and insights) and machines (scale and precision) properly.
How digital is giving rise to the ‘information worker’
Until recently, investments in corporate technology have been focused on making knowledge workers (generally high-cost) more efficient. That is no longer the case. Workers at all levels are now safer, more productive and more efficient because low-cost intelligent devices are now available for them. Some of the technologies that help improve knowledge workers’ performance are now used by frontline workers, making them ‘information workers’.
The information workers make real time decisions based on the right information, often using mobile devices that interact with the IT systems of the organization.
For instance, paramedics use tablets or smartphones to find drug dosages and medical information and share their own insights with the hospital where they are taking a patient to. Earlier, this research could have taken place only when the paramedics and the patient reached a hospital. So, the research in real time can provide critical insights for real time decisions that can help save lives.
Also, when frontline workers make real time decisions based on the augmentation of their capabilities through digital technologies, their engagement with the organization improves. This drives growth in revenue and operating efficiency.
The benefits can go beyond quality and quantity of work output and contribute to decentralized decision making and flatter organizations.
How digital is creating enterprises without borders that crowdsource work
Collaboration, social and cloud technologies let organizations access vast resource pools globally, many of whom would like to help. It’s a challenge to drive business goals by channelizing such efforts, but the opportunity is huge. You can access an agile workforce that can not only help solve some problems you struggle with but do so for free in many cases.
Early adopters including enterprises such as GE and market disrupters such as Facebook are using crowdsourcing to solve some of their complex problems.
Mechanical Turk, Spigit and Crowdflower are among the collaboration platforms that are evolving quickly to enable efficient solutions. Similarly, shared interest communities are forming around nearly each idea, service and product.
Crowdsourcing solutions are appropriate for areas requiring highly specialized skills, innovation and market insight, which require fast deployment of new technology.
Even traditional organizations which initially didn’t adopt digital technologies to gain traction in their markets are now doing so to even disrupt other industries. Only those businesses which adopt digital are likely to gain competitive access in the future.
Is your organization already on the digital path? If so, how has your experience with digital been? Share with us in the comments section below.