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Winning in the digital era

Blog

The world is evolving fast.

Back in 1970’s it took 38 years for the phone to reach 10m users. In the past decades we saw the speed of adoption constantly increasing, with television taking 25 years, fax 22, mobile phones 9 and Facebook just 2 years to reach the same level of users.

Not only is the speed of adoption increasing but also the rate at which new technologies are emerging. Companies have not yet finished thinking about their big data strategy when robotics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and Blockchain are already on the C-Suite’s table for consideration.

This is compounded by the reality that it is generally difficult to predict what the next big thing will be. Recent tech history is full of remarkable examples of companies that failed to see the next big thing coming. For instance, in a 1998 interview Bill Gates admitted that “when the Internet came along, we had it as a fifth or sixth priority”.

Some companies committed fatal errors in not seeing the potential of new technologies arising. A good example is Blockbuster. They did not foresee the digitalisation of home video when the first Streaming disruptor got to market. This led to them ultimately filing for bankruptcy in 2010 and closing their last shop in the summer this year.

Today companies like Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services are starting to change the dynamics of the whole value chain of media and entertainment by producing their own TV series and movies, ultimately moving up the value-chain and attacking production houses that for long time believed to be able to impose their rules to the industry.

So the question is, how to win in the digital era?

First of all do not bet all on a single technology.

Make conscious decisions on which technology trends you would like to focus on and which not. For each trend decide what your strategic position is; would you like to be the first mover, fast follower or rather an opportunistic adopter once the technology is established?

First movers often face higher investments but can accumulate a decisive advantage. See for instance Facebook and Google’s attempts to compete in the social space. Fast followers monitor carefully adjacent industries or markets and implement tested innovations. Whereas opportunistic adopters are the slowest in adopting new innovations. Companies can mix and match their investment portfolio to ensure that returns are maximized in multiple scenarios

Second: ensure a flexible and open technology environment to integrate new technologies quickly.

There are a number of proven techniques like design thinking, agile or open architectures that allow companies to retain flexibility and enable rapid deployment. This empowers testing new ideas to validate if they would work before having committed significant budgets. To this end it is important that companies establish the appropriate culture that empowers people, fosters experimenting, and recognizes the value of failure.

Lastly, to use a technology parallel, if the previous point was about software, this is about hardware: the people.

The methodologies above only work with the right people and culture. For this reason it is important to attract, retain and develop the right people that have both a technical understanding as well as business knowhow. Clearly the rise of new technologies like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data capturing sensors increases the need for specialized skills. This has ripple effects in the educational system that needs to prepare students for jobs that do not yet exists and master technologies that have not yet been invented.

Technology is expanding our toolbox every day. And in order to be successful, one needs to look further, retaining the customer focus and using technology to ultimately make people’s life easier. Did you know that it is demonstrated that good design and usability plays a bigger role than functionality in predicting the success of a new product?

So remember, technology is a business enabler, don’t just use it for the sake of it!