As enterprises around the world attempt to chart a course for the post-COVID environment, one thing is clear. Digital competency is the primary competency – for individuals and organisations – moving forward.
We hold these digital truths to be self-evident
Since 2016, the NASDAQ index has tripled; by contrast, the S&P 500 is up by over 100%. Digital has clearly won on the only score sheets that really matter.
Organisations, and countries, that rode the wave have done well, while those that didn’t fell behind. Today, digital is no longer a nice-to-have, an interesting adjunct to your main area of operation. A fully developed, sophisticated and hyper-scale digital platform is the only means to ensure any relevance and future in the next decade.
As 2020 began, this truth was obvious to some, but not all; and as we reach summer 2021, it’s completely self-evident. COVID-19 has exposed the pre-existing condition of many organisations around the world: that they were pre-digital enterprises. Not only were they unfit for purpose in the modern world, but also holding on (just) through custom and inertia – their own, customers’ and citizens’. As the world migrated online (in many aspects, permanently) during spring and summer last year, those that had laid the foundations for a fully digital future saw these investments pay off. Those who had hemmed and hawed saw their indecision become final.
As organisations and countries attempt to chart a course for the post-COVID environment, one thing is clear: digital competency is the primary competency for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The next few years will see wholescale transformation of the major pillars of society – how we learn, how we govern ourselves, how we heal, how we ensure financial security, how we protect ourselves, how we spread opportunity.
Consequently, there are five key themes that leaders of any stripe should be paying attention to:
1.Software isn’t just eating the world; it’s already doing the washing up.
This famous quote from Marc Andreessen is now 10 years old – and he’s still right. Many organisations understand the reality of this statement, but there are still holdouts – in surprisingly large numbers – who think if they hunker down for long enough the digital wars will end, and they will be able to emerge from their hiding places and go back to business as usual.
2.Artificial intelligence (as the engine) and data (as the fuel) are propelling enterprises to the next stage of their digital journey. Amid all the hype, AI is the great story of our time. Ranked by respondents in a recent Cognizant survey as having the greatest impact on work over the next three years, AI mastery is pivotal to becoming a modern organisation. By 2023, those that have acquired deep skills and expertise in deploying AI into mission-critical areas of their operations will be well positioned, while those still struggling to make meaningful progress will be also-rans.
3.Leaders are redesigning business processes for human/machine teaming, taking on challenges that each could not do effectively alone. While many still fear AI and automation as “job destroyers”, a more nuanced (and accurate) view has emerged – that this is the route to achieving higher level human performance. The business leaders that we work with see AI as human augmentation rather than substitution, and that humans and machines combined will reach new value thresholds, unobtainable in isolation. By making technology a partner in work, organisations can fundamentally reshape how the business operates, from customer and employee experience to risk management, brand reputation, sales and innovation.
4.A simplistic view of employees as mere labour “resources” is giving way to a richer, more complex vision of their value. One of the most significant developments in business and society in the lead up to the pandemic, and since, has been the growing discussion of the role “purpose” should play in business activity and the need to transition from “shareholder” to “stakeholder” capitalism. More and more organisations have the view that they need to tune into demands for greater inclusion in the workplace, and prevent powerful companies from using technology to consolidate the rewards of work into the hands of a few.
5.We are entering a new stage in our relationship with technology, with a tempered appreciation of its impact on work and society. A decade into the era of digital transformation, leading organisations (both private and public) voice a greater appreciation for the promise and peril inherent in modern technology. Fewer think that killer robots will overwhelm mankind, and fewer view digital technology as a silver bullet. Rather, leaders more fully understand not only the power of the tools in their hands, but also the hard work ahead for those hands. People are very much in the loop – those who are skilled and qualified to participate in the next evolutionary stage of our economies and our world.
The era of “digital as theory” is over, and we are now deep in the era of “digital in practice”. It is now patently clear that for the core tools and techniques of digital transformation, some of which are now 20 years old (i.e., cloud computing), it’s irrelevant to debate their relevance. The work ahead is clear; fine-tuning comes next, which will provide an incredible opportunity for countries and organisations in the post-pandemic era.