Are You Ready to Thrive in the Age of Digital Business?
June 17, 2015
A brave new world is taking shape, one that is blurring the lines between the physical and digital realm. We have for a long time used the internet to conduct e-commerce and relied on e-marketing to promote products and services. However, these tools pale in comparison to the paradigm shift coming in the shape of digital business which opens a world of significantly bigger opportunities and challenges. A world with constant and real-time access to not just a lot of information but relevant and actionable information, where smart things are sensing their surroundings, making decisions, taking actions, and independently interacting with other things, and our immersion in technology is consistent. Our lives will be playing out on a seamless flowing fabric of people, things, and businesses which all effortlessly cross the border between real and virtual domains.
Wow…sounds a little grand? Not really. To be sure, we are still in the early stages but this is no longer the stuff of gadget gurus and technophiles; this is a new reality and it’s coming our way fast. Today there are an estimated 3 billion personal devices and 5 billion internet connected things, those numbers by the end of 2020 are expected to be 7 billion personal devices, and over 30 billion things. The number of smart homes in the US is expected to double from 10 million to well over 20 million between 2015 and 2017 alone. Smart devices are becoming ever more sophisticated and beachheads that are ready to serve as control point and personal platforms are forming rapidly including smart phones, cars, and home control systems such as thermostats. The emergence of what Gartner is calling the Nexus of Forces – the convergence of social, mobile, information, and cloud technologies –combined with the Internet of Things (IoT) is already disrupting business across the globe. All this is happening at an unprecedented rate and is directly affecting a large majority of the world’s population; nothing short of a global revolution.
From the perspective of individuals and consumers this is an exciting future full of possibilities but given the rapid advancement this same future can also be a bit intimidating from the view of the organizations vying for a chance to be the service providers and vendors. A world where the lines between physical and virtual realms are blurring will force new business models that are designed to capitalize on the fluid and unstructured nature this new world creates. Commerce will depend on finding and exploiting transient opportunities in the interactions between people, business, and things; the notion of “business moments”. These business moments are not theoretical moments where a specific business could fill a specific customer need but rather actual random moments in time that set off series of events across many diverse players and which require fundamental changes to enterprise technology, process, and governance. Business as usual is not going to be enough.
To illustrate, consider the following scenario. It’s late afternoon and a line of strong storms are moving through. The strong winds are finally too much for the old oak tree in your back yard and it crashes into the house making substantial damage. Luckily you just invested in a smart home which has sensed the crash and triggers several immediate actions:
– The risk for broken power lines and plumbing has been recognized and the breakers supplying power to the back of the house are triggered and the water main is turned off.
– The local fire department is notified, dispatched and given a one-time code to the front door.
– Your insurance company is notified and a claim is started.
– You are notified of the event and you receive available appointment times from pre-approved contractors.
These immediate actions triggered by your house in turn start a series of secondary actions. The contractors verify availability and prices of materials needed for repairs. Schedules are consulted and appointments made. The insurance company dispatches a drone to survey and document the damage. Once you approve the repair work using your smartphone the house now confirms appointments and provides additional one-time lock codes. Orders are placed with material suppliers, etc… All of this taking place with no or little human involvement. The smart house is a relatively simple example but the same changes will gradually affect all aspects of life – when driving your car, playing golf, watching TV, shopping, or simply walking down the street. The fundamental technologies are mostly already here, what is missing but taking shape is a mature ecosystem and our imagination how to use it.
Like rocks thrown in a pond these unstructured events create waves and all around other rocks are thrown in creating more patterns and interactions. It’s in this set of complex and very short-lived improvised interactions between businesses, people, and things that business takes place; concentrated in business moments. To thrive in this new world successful organizations must not only be able to identify these moments but must also be able to operate and deliver under a completely new paradigm. Gone are the days of engineering solutions defined by your enterprise, instead web-scale IT (and thinking) becomes a necessity; success now depends on integrating effectively into a global business and technical ecosystem. This creates challenges across the enterprise and is likely to prompt several fundamental adjustments. A few things to consider:
– Are you able to manage and more importantly understand very large amounts of data in real time?
– Can you control security and privacy while still being nimble enough to satisfy market demands?
– Are your software and technology architectures capable of accommodating the unprecedented need to scale and continually change?
– Do you have governance frameworks that support rapid and consumer centric development?
– Are your systems interacting with users on their terms?
– Are organizational structures, roles, and primary business procedures aligned both internally and with the demands of digital business?
I hope this article has left you with a few new insights or spurred ideas that you can apply to your own journey. This is different than the many technical advances we experienced in the past; this time the landscape itself is changing. History has shown time and again, in periods of great transformation those who adjust and adapt will thrive.