Over the last few years, the people running traditional organisations have been bombarded with headlines telling them that they need to become a digital business, or that they need to undertake a digital transformation of their company to avoid being disrupted by the technology-enabled start-ups that are reinventing business models, products and services.
But what do those phrases actually mean? How do you become a digital business if your products and services are inherently physical? How does an organisation with assets, infrastructure, physical locations, etc. transform into a digital business?
Too often the content that follows such headlines focuses on a small, but well-known, number of start-ups that have successfully disrupted an industry. And so, the executives of traditional organisations are frequently told that, to digitally transform their businesses, they too need to embrace the cloud, be mobile first, use big data, invest in the Internet of Things and become a platform to avoid becoming the next victim of disruption. The implication of such advice is, therefore, that a digital transformation is a technology project; to transform into a digital business all you need to do is invest in these new technologies.
And some advice goes even further with the view that, to survive in the digital age, every business has to become a technology business. There are a number of variants to this theme such as “every business is a software business” and “every business is an API business” with the latter being a reference to an application programming interface, which is used to enable software applications to interact and share data.
But are these statements really true? Does every business need to become a technology, software or API business to survive in the digital age? It is certainly true to say that all three are becoming increasingly important to organisations of every size and across every industry. Digital business models, products and services are, after all, only possible because of technology.
Technology is changing the way we work, relax, shop, communicate, share and learn. It is changing what we do on a day-to-day basis, how we do it and even whom we do it with. And it is also changing how markets operate and creating a new style of doing business that requires new ways of working, new skills and new thinking in order to compete.
Yes, the well-known start-ups have used technology, software and APIs to enable new business models, products, services and experiences. But, just as importantly, they have also built a new type of business with skills and capabilities that enable them to succeed in the technology-enabled markets that are the real story of digital. Beyond the headlines, there is a lot more to digital than technology. And there is a lot more to learn from the well-known start-ups than just how they are using technology.
In my new book, Digital Uncovered, I cut through the hype and noise to explain what leaders of established businesses really need to know and do about digital. It is based on my experience working as an adviser to organisations that are transforming for digital, published data and studies, and my own research into digital markets and disruption, technology-based start-ups, and traditional organisations that are successfully embracing digital and building the capabilities required for the digital world.
By analysing the characteristics of technology-enabled markets I have identified seven capabilities that every organisation will need in order to compete in digital markets in the long-term. Establishing these new capabilities and embedding them throughout the business is likely to require significant changes for most organisations. This process of transforming for digital will take time – potentially years – to complete. But digital is happening now and disruption could happen at any time.
To address this dilemma I also recommend that organisations adopt a dual strategy that balances the short-term need to stay competitive and relevant in their markets with the long-term requirement of building an organisation that is fit for digital. The book provides clear and practical guidance for executing both strands of the dual approach and, through the use of case studies, demonstrates how small and large businesses from industries are already using this dual strategy to survive and thrive in the digital age.
Digital Uncovered is available from Amazon in print and Kindle formats. Country links are listed below: