Mapping the Real State of Digital

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It’s time to end the hype and get real about the evolving world of digital! Later this month, I’ll be sending out Requests for Information for our forthcoming HfS Digital Blueprint where we will truly flesh out where this market is today, and the path we need to take to close the gap between Digital potential and the ability for ambitious organizations to achieve it. 

‘Digital’ is a word which has been hopelessly mangled by market forces. The huge societal change wrought over the last eight years by the advent of the iPhone and Android and improved connectivity – the prime as catalysts for the proliferation of social network connections, conversations and data, has created havoc for the vast majority of companies, still firmly anchored in previous generations of technologies. Digital marketing has evolved very quickly to allow the positioning of products, services, buying opportunities, customer support and feedback, and digital marketing budgets have exploded in so many ambitous organizations eager to hop on this “bandwagon”.

Marketing, by its very nature, evolves and changes constantly to seek competitive advantages and differentiation, and these techniques have also been used to position countless companies as ‘digital’, much as previous generations added an ‘e’ prefix to everything (or Apple’s ‘i’ prefix)- so we had eShopping, eCommerce etc etc. In most cases, this posturing was to cover up the fact that the ‘e’ suffix was being added to tart up legacy offerings as market repositioning, and this is often the case today with ‘digital’.

While these digital branding activities can be highly effective for specific sales motions and targeting, it has arguably hurt broader digital evolution, creating mass confusion about what ‘digital’ actually is beyond marketing speak. A few years ago ‘SSMAC’ – Security, Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud – were considered core components of ‘digital’,  floating offshore from IT on a sea of ever more valuable Data. Since then, legacy IT has soldiered on in a business climate made ever more complex by digital and budget pressures, while ‘digital’ has grown to become ever more ubiquitous. 

Bymid-2016, and moving forward, many firms have high level ‘digital first’ imperatives in place, and some understanding of strategic goals and threats. What’s problematic is all those pesky legacy ways of doing things – the workflows, ring binders, filing cabinets/ Sharepoint, technologies and relationships that choke any sort of change management. Like ivy in a garden, the old ‘we know how to do this’ culture grows back fast. Add to this the reality of multiple vertical budget P&L’s, organizational politics and rivalries along with a percentage of management and most of HR sleeping on digital opportunities and threats, and we have a growing vacuum.

Fortunately, enterprise service providers have been tireless in creating and learning new ways of doing things in a digital world, having  seen the threat to their livelihoods in continuing to merely servicing last century IT and associated business processes. Where a couple of years ago it was quite challenging to find scale resources to execute digital initiatives, today there is an appetite to help businesses compete in the ever more data and collaboration driven world. 

I’m right in the middle of briefings with both providers and buyers of services for our upcoming ‘internet of things’ (‘IoT’) blueprint and having a fascinating time discussing approaches, projects, methodologies and business outcomes with scale vendors. Sensor-driven data flows are a critical dimension of digital, from real time industrial machine intelligence feedback (‘I’m going to need a new solenoid soon’) all the way to smart factories creating smart products that communicate regularly throughout their life, to both the seller, owner and manufacturer to be as efficient as possible. 

During the coming months I’ll be meeting various industry luminaries to discuss the state of ‘digital’ – perceptions of opportunities, stresses and pressures, and what it takes for companies to take the leap and place big bets on a holistic, ultra interconnected digital framework to replace the fragmented, heterogeneous environment most IT infrastructure evolution grapples with. This takes vision,  confidence and courage to achieve in mature companies, but the reality is that failure to grasp this opportunity will result in modern ‘full stack’ digital startups, rapidly superseding legacy firms and taking their markets.

Interesting times and this is going to be an interesting, timely piece of research in a fast moving world…

Posted in : Digital Transformation

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