The Digital Transformation or, as the WEF (World Economic Forum) calls it, the 4th Industrial Revolution, is changing the world in ways last seen with the arrival of electricity or the automobile. It is a new epoch, but complexity and an underbelly of marketing noise makes it difficult for companies to get onboard. It isn’t as simple as signing a cheque for updated software. New digital technologies are altering business processes and thinking down to the root.
As EMEA CTO of CPSD – The Converged Platform and Solutions Division of DellEMC, Nigel Moulton sees these challenges every day, both inside his organisation and among the many customers it serves. Through collaboration with his industry peers and observers Moulton lays down Six Principles of Disruption that every business leader – technologically literate or not – should absorb. Speaking at the recent Dell EMC Forum, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, he explained these:
1. The interface is everywhere
The speed and impact of new interfaces should not to be dismissed. Raising the example of voice interfaces on phones and inside gadgets, Moulton said: “Eighteen months ago I spoke to one device (Siri on Apple devices). Now I can speak to at least five devices through voice interfaces : Cortana, Alexa etc. What used to seem like science fiction is now right in front of us”
The point is that interfaces are the shortest route between a user and your service, be it a provisioning portal, a banking app, information on a website or how fast accounts can process invoices. Just look at how scanning barcodes improve delivery times. New interfaces can deliver big improvements and efficiencies. It’s a significant shift that companies must keep a close eye on.
2. Remove the friction
“As a general rule, some companies feel threatened in this digital era, because their competitors are easier to do business with than they are. Their competitors have done a better job at removing the friction between the consumer and the service being offered. As a principle, we should remove friction every opportunity we get. If it takes ten steps to accomplish something, try to make it nine, eight, and so on,” said Moulton.
By using new technologies, companies can fine-tune their offerings. For example, they can use analytics to study user behaviour and identify bottlenecks. A given interface may be the best way to deliver value to users. But can it be improved? Digital systems have opened the doors to a host of new possibilities in how to get things done.
3. Embrace Non-Linearity
This is the most abstract principle, yet also perhaps the most important. Non-linearity is hard to grasp, though, because it’s not how we think, said Moulton: “We (humans) are very good at thinking in straight lines, we don’t deal well with exponential outcomes”
It is a traitproblem defined and further explored in Dr Salim Ismail’s popular book “Exponential Organisations.”
Cloud computing is the service that is a direct result of creating massive amounts of compute and storage that can be made globally available on demand. As the price drops, the value increases, but the increase is exponential. This is what will power the world of IoT and Big Data. However, the devices connected in this way will generate a significant amount of “noise” : the true value of Big Data and Analytics is to be able to detect the signal that is buried in the noise, and to deliver an outcome. This is a process best left to Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence technologies, as they can be programmed to “think” in non-linear ways and not be constrained by linear inputs.
4. Prepare for Abundance
We rely more on the search engines inside our email clients, collaboration suites, accounting services and maps. This is due to digital abundance. Consider Photography. With digital photography the marginal cost of taking a photograph is zero i.e. it costs the same to take one picture as it does to take one thousand pictures. So the problem in photography is no longer the quality of the image (there will be a good one in there somewhere!) it becomes one of finding the image. Historically, the challenge was the quality of the image, because the marginal cost was not zero, and when we created a good image we had a simple and effective way of indexing that image (a photo album). When you digitize something, you fundamentally change the nature of it, and things that you used to consider as scarce become abundant. Look at the environments of power generation with the advent of lower cost solar technology. Further out, look at the future of the car with both new drivetrains and an autonomous driving capability. We will fundamentally change the nature of those industries.
5. Be Honest
No ambiguity required, as this is exactly what it says on the tin. We live in a world of no secrets, where bad practices can quickly and easily be exposed by any number of different actors – from altruistic hackers to disgruntled employees to cybercriminals. Governance and transparency are more important than ever before.
6. Be Curious
The final principle is also the simplest. Just be curious. This is not a time to delegate important technology decisions to someone else. Look at what your sector and competitors are doing. Look at what new technologies could offer. Above all, don’t be afraid to learn more. Chances are that if radical changes hit your industry, it will come from an outside competitor. The only way to stay on top of change is to learn about it.
“Educate yourself on macro-level trends,” said Moulton. “Digital disruption is an opportunity, but only if we look at it in the right way. And you won’t see that way without being curious.”