The revolution will be digitized

Digital questions

The digital revolution is upon us, and, as in any revolution, chaos will precede order – and completely new opportunities.

Adam Hassan, the business director for international design-bureau Designit, frequently uses the word ‘digital’ in his daily work. However, he admits the term is actually quite imprecise. It can refer to everything from a connected digital-world to smart phones and tablets, right through to “The Internet of Things” – the idea that any object, animal or person can connect to the internet and communicate.

Hassan’s business helps companies to grow and create business value through strategic design. He says many companies, primarily those in the industrial sector, are having a hard time defining their digital identity. “For some reason, these particular companies are finding it difficult to get started,” he says. “Those that try often project a rather clumsy impression.”

Part of Hassan’s job is to get business leaders to understand the value of Internet-based services and possibilities. But does everyone have to jump aboard the Internet bandwagon?

“Yes, at least those that want to survive,” Hassan says. “Not utilizing the opportunities that digital channels provide is like driving a horse-drawn wagon when everyone else is driving a car. The ongoing digital-revolution is the new industrialization. Roles and tasks are disappearing while new ones are being created and society is undergoing radical change.”

The advantages of “driving the digital sports car” can be boiled down to three elements: knowledge, presence and service. Let’s take knowledge first. Big data* and the possibilities for measurement and analysis provided by the Internet enable the gathering of information and data about markets, customers and prospective customers, as well as about their needs and behaviour. A company with this knowledge also understands how to create increased interest in its products and services.

With regard to presence, Hassan thinks it means being where the target group is. “At the moment, you may have customers who are not active on the Internet but it won’t always be that way,” he says. “Most people born after 1970 have a natural relationship to the Internet and digital services.”

And then there’s service. Over the last century, competitive tools in many industries have developed from focusing on range (supplying most extensive range of goods wins) to quality (the supplier of the best goods wins) and service.

“The digital space is already playing a decisive role in this area,” Hassan says. “When the goods or services you sell are not clearly differentiated from those of your competitors, you have to develop and refine your service and the customer experience. Digital and net-based services often dramatically boost the service experience.”

But how does one go about it? How does a company change from being traditional and analog to a credible digital player?

“Many companies start at the wrong end of the stick asking, ‘What will we get out of this?’” Hassan says. “Instead, I recommend investigating how digitalization can enhance efficiency in the organization of these companies. How can you save money and time as well as make things easier for yourselves? Start from the inside by making life easier for employees and thereby acclimating people to working digitally and creating positive conditions. From there you can progress and investigate what you can do for your customers.”

Hassan says in many cases this means changing a corporate structure from the ground up. “The classic corporate structure with one leader at the top and a pyramid of employees below does not function that well anymore,” he says. “Many business leaders do not understand how changeable the new digital climate is. They try to squeeze new opportunities and methods into old paradigms.”

Instead, organizations need to become flatter. Ideas and knowledge at the furthest reaches of the company must be cultivated, where they must be taken seriously and allowed to develop. A suggestion box in the lunch room will just not cut it. Faster decision paths and greater freedom for employees at the base of the pyramid are often necessary.

“Making such a change is not easy,” Hassan says. “First there will be chaos and then things will fall into place. This may sound off-putting – but then again, it’s called a revolution for a reason.”

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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