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Data, Innovation & Mindset Changes: The Real Drivers To Becoming A Digital Business

By now, we know that a key driver of this change is due to technology. Whether you think this is good, bad or undecided, change is happening whether you like it or not.

Everything is changing.

By now, we know that a key driver of this change is due to technology. Whether you think this is good, bad or undecided, change is happening whether you like it or not. With that in mind, should we not consider new ways of operating, if technology is forcing us to change anyway?

With the invention of new technologies, there will always be the first adopters: those people who want to have the latest and newest shiny new object. There is often huge pride amongst the loyal followers who shell out (sometimes) serious sums of money, to have the “I owned one first” bragging rights. Just think of the queues outside Apple Stores for each iPhone release…!

However, this mentality can be expensive. Really expensive.

It is not merely the spending of cash that I would class as expensive, but the fact that this ‘gadget’ will turn “old news” staggeringly quickly. Samsung and Apple have fought each other years, with each new phone challenged and periodically replaced by a ‘newer, better competitor’. Remember each iPhone is effectively replaced every 12 months!

Let’s consider Tesla for a moment. There is no doubt that Elon Musk and his car project is pushing the boundaries of what is considered mainstream and ultimately possible. I like the car and think it’s great but would I buy one? No.

The moment I drive it off the forecourt, it will lose value and soon be yesterdays technology. If I had to own one, I would lease one for a while, to test the technology and see if I like it? If so, I can then decide which parts I like and then change model/car company when I want to.

Why lock yourself in to something which loses value and is no longer cutting edge?

But what about disruption in the world of real estate?

I’ve been immersed in the real estate world for the last few years, and I believe this area is no different to the mobile phone market described above.

In previous years, companies would focus on finding the best deal possible for their offices in terms of size and location. This would involve locking in significant costs over many multiple years. I’ve seen one recently, which was signed for 35 years!

But a question raised now is, why would you commit thousands (or millions) to 5+ years for a new office, when you can retain flexibility through month-to-month workspaces?

Organisations such as WeWork and The Office Group provide flexible office and co-working spaces, which can grow or shrink as driven by your business needs. The rise of the gig economy worker, it is becoming increasingly difficult to plan for the future. With that in mind, why limit your business to significant long-term obligations rather retain flexibility to pivot, change and evolve as you require?

There is obviously a cost implication associated with having this flexibility.

How does this apply to becoming a ‘digital’ business?

The desire become a digital business has been prevalent for years. Nigel Fenwick wrote about the rise of digital business at the end of 2012, here, stating that 2013 would be the break out year for digital businesses. But did this actually happen?

Firstly, let’s consider what we really mean by a ‘digital business’? As with big data, it can mean many things to many people.

“A Digital business is the creation of new business designs which blur the digital and physical worlds,” according to Gartner.

The research giant also stated: “Digital business promises to usher in an unprecedented convergence of people, business, and things that disrupts existing business models”.

A strong argument could be made here, that becoming a digital business still has not occurred. A great deal of noise was created and while some innovative companies did move, many did not. But why was the uptake not as expected?

In the drive to become digital, people & data are core components.

To change a business requires cohesion and collaboration at all levels. A significant number of issues faced by organisations can be attributed to disparate and siloed departments, resulting from a lack of oversight. A Chief Data Officer will help address this issues, but is not the point I’m trying to make here.

Many business models employed are leveraging traditional thinking. The evidence is all around us:

  • Implementing infrastructure heavy setups,
  • legacy systems which do not “talk” to new systems, and
  • the employment of costly specialised people.

I fully appreciate businesses can not change overnight and there are many elements which require consideration. There is still a reluctance to change, as many senior leaders maintain the adage of “20+ years of experience” knows best. Well, I would challenge that, remaining as-is actually means standing still.

In order to become a digital business, data should flow freely throughout the organisation. Data should be shared not kept a secret. Sadly, this is far from reality.

Certain initiatives need to be driven top down and becoming digital, or data driven, is one of those. A mindset shift is required, and not all existing management is capable of leading the charge.

A digital business realises the benefit of forward thinking. Incorporating new approaches and challenging the status quo is synonymous with digital disruption. Think about it:

  • Our workforce is being disrupted by the gig economy.
  • Our offices are being disrupted by co-working spaces and agile workers.
  • Our technology setup is being disrupted by the cloud & innovative new methods.

If the impact of technology is causing change and carrying on as normal is no longer an option, what is the alternative?

A Managed Service: The Digital SWAT Team

If your business is growing quickly, facing considerable challenges or needing to change direction, how do you retain flexibility in your operations? It is highly likely that a number of significant challenges will be encountered at some stage. Do you, as a result, have the skills and resources to address these?

Don’t forget, these challenges will be IN ADDITION TO the day job for your staff, not instead of.

Let’s work it through…

A senior leader decides that the best way to become “more digital” is to ‘throw money at the problem’ and employ an ‘expert’. This is all good and well, but this is just one person. More than likely, because digital and data problems are not singular, another problem will arise.

A subsequent question then arises; is the person recently employed the best to tackle the new problem?
I’m not suggesting they are not capable, but with a constantly changing environment, why limit yourself to a single solution. Would it not be more innovative and radical to say, each time we have a demand to drive our digital transformation, why not outsource this to the experts?

You are no longer locking yourself in to long employee contracts but retaining control and flexibility. Yes, you will need someone to coordinate and lead from a business perspective, but means you can address any challenge when it arises.

The essence of the managed service revolves around building a freelance collective – defined as ‘activities performed by people as a group’. With the rise of the mobile workforce, the ability to “tap” into the rich expertise and resources in the freelance market, is a potentially huge competitive advantage.

The company desiring change would employ the collective to deliver the task based solutions, inline with their requirements. As more problems are highlighted, the team and skills available rises; as issues reduce, the team scale down.

The benefits of this model means as the business requirements ebb and flow, the people demands can move in harmony.

I will delve further into my vision for establishing digital SWAT teams in a future article.

But for now, what are the takeaways in becoming a digital business?

As a Business, there is a key decision point approaching fast (if not here already!),

“are you going to evolve and move with the times to remain competitive, or bury your head in the sand and ignore it?”

It is painfully obvious to me, that the latter is not an option. Just think back to Blockbuster Video…

However, the speed at which a business moves to becoming digital is down to the drive and desire of senior leadership. It is all good and well to talk a good game, but actions speak louder than words. If senior leadership only pay digitisation lip-service, the change will never happen.

The same could be said of it’s people.

With a growth in the mobile workforce, should the business take advantage? If so, what is the best approach?

Attracting and retaining talented individuals is becoming increasingly difficult, as a focus shifts to a better work/life balance, more rewarding work and increased social enterprise. Businesses are very good at telling you their people are the most important asset, while few actually come good on their promises.

If the leaders of the future are the younger generations, why not tap into this skilled and new resource/knowledge base now? Having insight and access to it, means you can create competitive advantage without restricting yourself in terms of flexibility going forwards.

To be a lean, agile and forward thinking business in this day and age, things need to change.

The location of your people, the makeup of your workforce and the attitudes of your leaders all need to shift. Therefore, in the pursuit of becoming a digital business, why not use this opportunity to refine your business model and harness the skills/capabilities in the marketplace without restricting yourself?

The world is being disrupted by technology whether you like it or not, the question is will you embrace it or fight it?

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