We get bombarded with articles, interviews and even songs (OK, maybe just one from R.E.M. back in 1987) telling us that “digital” will disrupt everything you do, robots will take over etc.
If we look at history, we can firstly safely assume that we have learnt nothing from it, and secondly, that every industrial revolution has impacted us significantly – and more positively than we initially believed. They have not led to economic depression, which is where people lose jobs, and that is really what “society” cares about. It does not care about whether those jobs are specifically in your company.
Your shareholders do care though, and you are after all being paid to look after their interests, so you do need to pay attention.
And this is where “digital” is different to the previous technology shifts. The assembly line, the introduction of computers etc. all had significant impact on companies’ competitiveness and meant emergence of new companies and the disappearance of others. However, it still took time to transfer the physical technology/skills, which gave everyone some time to react. Of course, it also meant that you had more time to come up with excuses why reacting wasn’t necessary…
The difference in a digital world is the speed. Uber started in 2009. Amazon in 1994. The speed they have moved at is amazing, and how they have redefined business models – but we are still talking years and not months or days. So there should be time to react.
Especially the digital platforms have increased in importance, and whereas they may not have killed everyone off in the process, they have certainly outgrown them. This is based on the power of owning the customer interface combined with big data analytics, and digital platforms are starting to emerge in the B2B space. Slower than in the B2C space, but they are coming.
There are ways for incumbents to counter their industry’s Amazon or Alibaba equivalent through using SaaS solutions (e.g. IBM’s insurance platform or Tieto’s similar solution) and in the long run, blockchain technology will also create opportunities to interact directly with your customers. It is still 3-5 years away from being commercially viable, and will require a lot of “co-opetition” before the standards are agreed to that will allow it to really change an industry.
Whatever the response, it will mean a changed world. Dealing with customers, analysing costs, managing supply chains etc. will be done differently than today. Digital solutions will take over. It just won’t be as quick as you are led to believe, and you will have options, even if you are not the most cash rich player in your industry. You do need to prepare rather than looking for excuses to convince your shareholders that they should not be concerned.