From May 14 – 15, leaders in technology and executives working on digital transformation strategies attended the Forrester Digital Transformation & Innovation 2019 conference in Chicago, Illinois. The conference attracted employees of both start-ups and enterprise organizations alike to discuss trends in digital transformation and disruption, both for the present and the future.
The conference schedule contained several sessions grouped into three tracks: Core Transformational Technology, Emerging Technology, and the Future of Work. Between, keynote sessions for all attendees addressed high-level themes, such as Rethinking the Possible and The Next Wave of Change. While the subtopics varied, three themes consistently emerged throughout several sessions. Below are our top 3 insights:
1) Replace Transformation With Differentiation
Matt Guarini, VP, Research Director at Forrester, opened his keynote by posing the question: is digital delivering? He went on to detail how companies today are all solving the same problems as their competitors, using the same partners and similar tech stacks. This is contributing to what he called, “digital sameness,” in which companies are undergoing digital transformation journeys but landing up in the same spot as their competitors in the end.
So how can companies stand out from the crowd? Guarini pointed out that the current leaders in innovation aren’t solving today’s problems. Instead, they’re looking ahead to customers’ future problems and addressing those. He said that technology-driven innovators see returns three times to four times greater than their industry average. The catch is: if you can’t differentiate from others in your space, then you can’t see returns greater than your peers.
This idea was echoed by later speakers in the keynote. Mark McGregor, Strategist at LeanIX, succinctly explained that when thinking about going through a digital change, “you can replace transformation with differentiation.”
To achieve this, “companies need to worry about the business objectives and think about what they’re going to stop doing in the future,” McGregor said. He gave the example of companies in the automotive industry that might be looking at developing Diesel engines. He pointed out that there are new regulations in the European Union that require this type of engine to be phased out, so businesses should look ahead and realize they won’t be able to use these engines in European cars. They should instead focus on developing batteries and electric engines, which will require them to focus their attention on building a different supply chain.
2) Disruption Differs By Industry
Going hand-in-hand with differentiation in the digital age is finding a way to disrupt the status quo. Often, when discussing digital transformation and disruption, companies like Uber come to mind for upending the transportation industry. But every industry is fundamentally different and therefore also can be disrupted in different ways. One keynote featured two start-up founders who explained their disruptive moves in the independent farming and trucking industries.
Charles Baron, Co-Founder, Farmers Business Network (FBN), explained that the independent farming industry is one in which farmers tend to have one-to-one relationships with vendors of seeds, fertilizer, and equipment. This means that each farmer will negotiate their own prices with the vendor, and overall prices are not published anywhere. So, when his company started putting the price of products online, it was “rudimentary, but totally disruptive.”
Drew McElvoy, Co-founder and CEO at Transfix, explained that trucking is traditionally a very wasteful business because little intelligence is typically put into matching the truck and load. This means that trucks are often driving around empty. His company created a mobile application using artificial intelligence and machine learning to match trucks with load, which creates value through the elimination of waste. To disrupt, McElvoy suggested companies, “automate things that humans shouldn’t be doing that machines can do much more effectively and therefore create value.”
Likewise, Rebecca Loevenguth, Vice President of Transformation at Western Union, took the stage to explain how their over 100-year-old company is innovating through a partnership with Amazon. They are enabling customers in the Philippines to pay for online purchases using cash at Western Union locations by scanning a QR code. In this case, the disruption came about by pivoting their strategy from focusing on their own customers to offering their services to not only their partners but also to their partners’ customers.
3) Enterprises Can Be Digital Disruptors
Historically, start-ups are thought of as the big disruptors, but Scott Snyder, Partner, Digital Transformation and Innovation at Heidrick & Struggles, took the stage to explain how enterprise companies can compete in that space. He is the author of a book, “Goliath’s Revenge: How Established Companies Turn the Tables on Digital Disruptors.” He discussed some of the rules of innovation laid out in the book that came from telling several enterprise transformation stories.
He said that for traditional companies, being an incumbent used to mean they were slow and waiting to be disrupted, but that is no longer the case. In fact, established enterprises have a leg up if they’re willing to take advantage of their resources. For one, start-up leaders spend one-third of their time raising capital while larger companies already have cash flow.
Going even further, he said that if enterprises examine their “data balance sheet,” they will see that they are sitting on huge amounts of untapped assets, as 80% of data is dark in most companies. This presents a huge opportunity to use that data to create better experiences for customers. Specifically, large enterprises have the ability to experiment on how their customer base reacts to changes in small geographic areas or small stores before rolling out changes company-wide.
Is your company starting on a digital transformation journey but struggling with how to differentiate? Maven Wave helps leading companies make the shift to digital with solutions that are agile, rooted in analytics, and built in the cloud. Contact us today to set up a time to speak with our experts.
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