Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Smart, fast, innovative and digital

The title of this post is the answer to the question:  what does my business need to look like in the future in order to be successful?  I think that increasingly we can make the assumption that the pace of change will remain about the same, the world and markets we participate in will remain volatile and the increasing effects of the digital transformation will only increase.  Therefore, slow, rigid, dumb companies that cannot evolve quickly, cannot become nimble and can't innovate are already dying a slow death.  I'm looking at you, Sears.

I think most people would agree that the factors I've listed in my post title are conditions for future success, but many might debate the depth of knowledge or engagement that is required to really succeed.  Further, it may be apparent that many of these attributes are desirable, but they may be addressed in a siloed or discrete manner, rather than with the understanding that these aren't discrete or standalone capabilities but are mutually reinforcing, and need to be continuous capabilities.  To compete effectively you can't simply make a one-time digital transformation and rest on that new infrastructure.  Digital will keep changing and your new platform will need to change with it.

The same is true with innovation. Your company might "become" innovative but once it has achieved this milestone it must continue to conduct and perfect its innovation chops.  There are no one time effects in the race to remain relevant.  These aren't throw away lines in a management report or one time showcase projects.  These are the new operating realities.

Digital and Smart

These two factors are a good case in point.  It is entirely possible to be digital - to have a lot of digital, automated processes and good data management and hygiene and to be relatively dumb.  Having a digital framework and good data management does not ensure the ability to act with insight and precision, to become a "smart" organization.  Even in companies that are making the digital transformation today, too much of the data remains uninterpreted and unused, and decisions are made without the benefit of good information and insight.  It's not enough to make a digital transformation, because no one really knows what that means.  It's more important to use digital techniques and tools to become smarter than your competition.

Digital and Fast

Again, two factors that could work together that are at risk of working in opposition.  Digital transformation means creating new processes, managing data more effectively, automating processes which should enable speed and agility, but in many cases simply reinforces the status quo and blocks agility and change.  Ask yourself - does our digital transformation work help us work faster, to become more nimble and agile, or does it simply create barriers to new change?

Being digital should enable a company to work at greater speed, to be able to anticipate course changes and move with agility.  So far many "digital transformations" I've seen do the opposite.

Digital and Innovative

Finally, we reach the culmination of the review.  Being digital does not ensure that your company will become more innovative.  In fact it could mean the exact opposite.  If you are doing digital transformation you are implementing machine learning or artificial intelligence, robotics or IoT.  You are improving your ability to gather, manage and use data.  In other words, your teams are using their engineering brains.  Are you at the same time using your creative brains to imagine new solutions, new ideas and discover new opportunities and problems?  More importantly, is your digital transformation guided by the need for efficiency or the quest for better innovation?

The key word is AND

Future competitive strength will reside in organizations that are smart, fast, digital and innovative.  As the subheading suggests, the key word is "AND".  These capabilities aren't mutually exclusive - they rely on each other for greater success, and can't be one time activities - they must become internal capabilities that are constantly evolving and improving.  When you stop working on one of these, all the rest will suffer.  We have to learn to think differently about our companies, their operating models and internal core competencies and capabilities and prepare them to work in a new way, where digital is a priority, where speed and innovation are paramount and where intelligence and insight guide every action.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:08 AM


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