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Digital Transformation 2019

Moving from experimentation to transformation


Richard Webster

Partner – London, Bain & Company

The profound changes that today’s UK and global business leaders live with, day in and day out, are made possible first by digital technology. But just as important is how people interact with technology – often, they do so in surprising and unexpected ways.

The connection between people and tech highlights the need to get technologists and experts with deep customer empathy in the same room, working on the same problems. Digital transformation is technology and people, innovation and disruption, offense and defense, each in equal measure.

Riding in a stranger’s car

Look at the rapid global spread of ride hailing. Digital technology made it possible for Uber and Didi Chuxing to match riders with drivers efficiently, inexpensively and on a massive scale. But what was harder to predict was customers’ embrace of the service, their willingness to jump into the cars of total strangers. That is what made it possible for those companies to redefine transportation.

Airbnb wouldn’t have been valued at $31 billion just nine years after its founding if customers hadn’t quickly become comfortable sleeping in someone else’s house. In retail, the willingness of consumers to trust the product reviews of 1,000 online strangers, and write paragraphs of detailed description of their own, moved e-commerce from a digitised catalogue to a true substitute for the trusted shop owner.

Managing the complexity of digital strategy

Today, and as Britain is looking to maintain its foothold of digital innovation, one of the challenges business leaders will have to face is prioritising the ever-multiplying possible applications of digital technologies.

Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and more each have different applications and impact across different sectors of the economy. That adds complexity for those trying to set digital strategy and fuels more than a little frustration.

A roadmap for digital transformation  

To help executives envision, structure and sequence a successful digital transformation, Bain & Company partnered with the World Economic Forum to convene a group of senior executives from 40 global companies. The group, all engaged in digital transformations at their companies, represent businesses from a cross-section of industries and include both incumbents and digital leaders.

One year of discussion, debate and experience sharing helped to shape a framework for digital transformation that focuses leadership teams on four critical elements: digital strategy, business model, enablers and orchestration.

Of course, each company will have its own distinctive plan for integrating these four elements into its business. And like everything digital, the framework must evolve to remain relevant, practical and forward-looking. Still, these elements provide valuable structure to what has been a chaotic and even damaging swirl of activities for many businesses trying to adapt.

It’s been said before that, while the current pace of change is fast, it’s probably the slowest we’ll experience for the balance of our lifetimes. With the UK set out to strengthen its position as a world-leading digital economy, what company can afford not to work on digital transformation now?

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