Having explored both the value of digital transformation to businesses recently and the process they will likely encounter on the way, I thought it would be useful to evaluate the moments later on in that journey where the inevitable rise of new technology begins to alter the path of digital transformation.
The exponential growth of smartphone usage - and with it the widespread availability of 4G (with 5G on the horizon) and ever improving levels of intelligence and usability within digital tools, mean that potential threats to traditional and even 21st Century born businesses are now abundant.
Here are just a few examples of how technology has changed whole industries for the better - always with great benefit to the consumer - whilst threatening a great number of existing businesses, some of whom will not be able to survive without rethinking whole swathes of their approach to digital:
And the most obvious place to start is with Apple Pay, Apple’s foray into the world of mobile payments.
Having recently launched in the UK, its focus is clear - to allow consumers to pay for goods without the need for cash or cards, but via NFC (Near Field Communications) on their mobile phone.
Expected to completely revolutionise the payment market, some experts already anticipate that our use of cash will be minimal by 2025 with industry body Payments UK expecting the use of cash to dip below 50% for the first time by the end of the year.
Perhaps what’s most interesting is that there are still a considerable number of organisations yet to adopt contactless card payments, potentially making the situation akin to that of the MiniDisc and the CD. MiniDisc famously had all the makings of being a fantastic music format but launched at the wrong time just as CD use was increasingly exponentially, and as a result it became nothing more than a niche option.
It will be fascinating to see whether Apple Pay and others crush contactless payments before they even truly take hold.
In a similar vein to Apple Pay, Airbnb is fast becoming one of the most well-known brands in the world, and they’re doing so by providing a service that goes far beyond what anyone in the hotel industry would consider to be ‘disruptive’.
Essentially allowing anyone with a home to rent it out to others in competition with hotels, the legalities of such an approach in certain places around the world have been discussed, but Airbnb are yet to face any major concerns. In fact, they’ve only recently announced a valuation of $24 billion, based on revenue of $900 million.
And what Airbnb have done isn’t particularly revolutionary. Nor is it something that others won’t have thought of before. All they have effectively done is monetise a very simple process that has been in use for centuries.
But in many ways, that’s all digital transformation is for some - taking something that’s happened perfectly well offline and moving it effectively into the digital age.
As easy as Airbnb may have made this shift in focus appear, the reality is it’s not often as straightforward as a process, and the media advertising arena is one where organisations have tried and tested various options recently but are yet to see any one model that appears to undoubtedly work.
Traditionally, the way we digested advertising was very linear. If we were watching commercial television, every 15 minutes or so we’d see three minutes of adverts. Every couple of pages throughout a newspaper or magazine there would be clear and obvious promotions of products. But now, as the way we digest media itself has changed, so has our digestion of advertising.
We don’t watch live TV as much as we did, meaning the value or potential of adverts in between programme segments has dramatically decreased. Similarly, newspaper and magazine readership levels have decreased, as we’re reading more online, which in turn makes those eye-catching one page adverts much less valuable.
Of course there are options available. The Daily Mail website is known for its varied use of different types of adverts while Channel 4 has taken the ‘advert break’ model online via its 4OD service. In addition, revenue generation is possible via other means, such as subscription models, but these only work in some instances - Netflix seem have got the price right for themselves, but there’s yet to be widespread uptake on paying for digital newspaper access for example.
At the other end of the scale, however, we have companies such as Uber who have not only disrupted and revolutionised an industry, but managed to make their audience aware of - and fully embrace - the numerous benefits.
Just a few years ago, it’s hard to imagine anyone would have thought the taxi industry could have been changed that much. It was a standard service, whereby you paid one person to take you from A to B. Yet Uber saw an opportunity and ruthlessly took it.
But importantly, Uber haven’t changed the actual base process. Instead, they’ve just done exactly what digital transformation is in a nutshell, and brought this traditionally standard process into the digital era, turning it into something new, exciting and interesting.
Staying on the topic of disruption and transformation within the vehicle industry, driverless cars are something I’ve spent a lot of time reading about recently and there's no doubt their potential is insurmountable.
It’s a very real possibility that we could - in the not too distant future - be living in a world where no one actually drives a car themselves. Perhaps not even a decade ago, that sounded too futuristic, too far fetched; an option that although likely at some point, seemed a century away.
Yet if we look back to the example of Apple Pay versus contactless payments, Uber are in a similar position with driverless cars - whilst many companies are only just discovering for the very first time the potential (or even the reality) of driverless cars, Uber are already investing R&D money into the technology.
A company thinking about digital transformation within an industry they’ve already transformed digitally? For me, this is exactly what I want to see - and which I’m sure will become the norm over time.
These examples help explain why digital transformation will never be a linear journey or one with a discernable end because of the iterative nature of both business and the technology that is central to so many industries these days.
While we digest all this news of new businesses storming ahead in digital terms, there is a glimmer of hope for those running businesses who are yet to embrace digital transformation. Burberry, once that most traditional of brands, has developed a digital strategy so rock solid that in 2014 it grew revenue to record levels even as in-store footfall actually fell.
Their approach - comprising comprehensive social media and customer data and analytics strategies alongside an elegant merging of on and offline experiences works brilliantly and should be an inspiration to many businesses, no matter where they are in their own digital transformation journey.