This article originally appeared on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda.
“Digital will be like air.” This statement came from one executive at a recent workshop on digital strategy organized by the World Economic Forum, but it could have been said by almost anyone there that day.
In November, approximately 20 global executives from across industries met in London to discuss how to become a digital enterprise, as well as the challenges faced and lessons learned along the way.
The group agreed that Step 1 on that journey is establishing a digital strategy. This requires understanding your point of departure, the direction your industry is headed in and the role your company should play in that digital future, and then articulating the path forward for the organization.
Yes, these are challenges executives have faced for decades, but getting to the right answer feels harder today, the group agreed. The pace of change is faster and more relentless, the level of uncertainty higher and the degree of complexity greater than it has ever been. In addition, digital natives appear to be playing by different rules—and winning.
What does my industry look like in 5, 10, 20 years?
Imagining the future is not straightforward. Customers can’t tell you what they want when the technology hasn’t been invented yet. Global footprints create vastly different starting points and trajectories. Can there be one industry direction when part of the business is in a Western market with near universal high-speed Internet access and another part is in a developing market with daily power outages? Further, digital natives tend to disregard traditional business boundaries, making it extraordinarily hard to know who your future competitors will be and what will be required to win. Today Amazon, for example, has extended from dozens of retail markets to media, cloud storage and business-to-business services.
Yet, after discussion, the group agreed that the future is more knowable than it might seem. A general sense of direction is discernible if you ask the right questions. For example:
• If you had a movie of your customers purchasing and interacting with your products and services in 10 years, what would you see?
• What are the most hated parts of your industry, and how could they be disrupted?
• Who are your partners today, and which of them could be competitors in the future?
• How could someone take out 50% of the costs in your industry using digital technologies?