Three trends driving digital transformation in 2019

How can your company thrive rather than survive in this era of digital Darwinism?

After years playing around the edges of digital transformation, the world’s biggest companies are stepping up their game. Investment in digital technology is expected to reach an eye-watering $2 billion by 2022.

Standing still is not an option. Inertia leads to extinction. In this time of rapid, hyper-connected change, new questions need to be answered. How can your company thrive rather than survive in this era of digital Darwinism? Three emerging trends can help you unlock both value and human potential.

1. Embrace the evolution, not the end point

According to IDC, around a third of the world’s top companies are allocating at least 10 per cent of their revenue to digital strategies. But has anyone transformed yet?

The very phrase “digital transformation” suggests there’s a light at the end of the tunnel that will be reached after enough time, money and human capital has been expended on the journey. But digital transformation is not an A-to-B transition.

Truly digital organizations evolve every day. They embrace digital transformation not just to address technology challenges and opportunities, but culture, leadership, risk and investment ones too. They empower their people to experiment, they foster an innovation culture, and they invest in future possibilities, leveraging latent core strengths into new business models.

When it comes to digital transformation, culture is more important than technology. It needs a transformative mindset to orchestrate engagement and inspire innovation across co-workers, customers, stakeholders and into wider society. Why? Because if you don’t get that right, you can’t get anything done. You can hire the top design thinkers and install the latest technology, but if you can’t move with agility and innovate every day you will fail to keep up with the frenetic pace of change.

Leadership is also more important than technology. Many companies are weighed down by old-school thinking and age-old business practices. The board may call for visionary leadership, but the executive is hamstrung by the quarterly reporting cycle.

The message here is clear. You can’t “do digital”. The secret is to “be digital”. To do that, you must rethink your talent as much as your technology, and you must reimagine everything from business models to the makeup of the board.

2. Start with the how, not the what and why

Traditional consulting advice has always urged companies to understand the “what” (their strategy) and the “why” (the market, the context, the opportunity) and only then focus on the “how” (the culture, tools, technology and talent required to make it happen). But in our dynamic and disruptive world, setting a strategy – and sticking to it – is impossible because the future is unpredictable.

When Christopher Columbus set sail for the new world, he didn’t know where he was going or what he would find. But he knew he must have the right ship, supplies and crew. You may not be able to answer the “what” and the “why”, but you can develop the “how”. And that will help you to move faster and change direction.

So, forget the digital strategy. Instead build capability, develop an innovation culture, and prepare your people. Be lead by future-back innovation: planting your purpose in the future, articulating the opportunities and driving back into current action.

Then you’ll be ready for any future.

3. Rethink your revenue streams

The well paved mantra of the last five years has been “Data is the ‘new oil’ with new business models being driven around the potential to monetize customer data … but the pendulum is swinging quickly back.

Thanks to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, the world’s toughest privacy and security law, people now have the power to control where and how their personal information is used online.

The Democrat frontrunners in the 2020 presidential elections each have internet privacy, data and big tech squarely in their sights. Bernie Sanders has said his internet privacy policy is simple: “Our information belongs to us, not corporations”. Each candidate has promised, if elected, to break up the tech titans – just as previous governments did Standard Oil and AT&T – on the basis that the consumer has now become the product.

The father of the worldwide web is also worried. Thirty years after he invented the internet, Tim Berners-Lee is proposing a fresh set of rules that avoids some of the missteps of the last three decades. Future platforms and products “must be designed with privacy, diversity and security in mind,” Berners-Lee has said.

These signposts are all pointing in one direction. From a risk management perspective, it’s time to reconsider how we manage and monetize customers’ data.

When it comes to digital transformation, there’s never been a better time to take risks. The EY disruption readiness survey last year found that more than two-thirds of investors want companies to embrace disruptive innovation projects, even if they are risky and may not deliver short-term returns.

The message here is clear: doing anything is better than doing nothing. Driven by people, powered by technology, this is business transformation for a better working world.

Content adapted from “Three trends driving digital transformation in 2019” written by EY Global.
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