Surviving the digital disruption is about choice

October 21st, 2016 by Valter Adao | Around the OfficeDesignInnovationStrategy

 The conflicts between metered-taxi and Uber drivers might appear to have nothing to do with you or your business. After all, you are an executive at a company that has sizeable market share. The barriers to entry into your industry are also quite high. To you, the so-called ‘Uber wars’ might be at worst an inconvenience, if you are regular user of Uber’s driver-on-demand service.

But appearances can be deceiving. Uber’s disruption of the metered-taxi industry is a modern retelling of an old cautionary tale. The tale has been around from before the first steam-powered harvester replaced hundreds of farmhands during the First Industrial Revolution.

Today we stand on the threshold of what has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is being driven by new and exponential technologies. These technologies are blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds, with far-reaching and as-yet-unknown consequences for existing organisations. The fresh crop of start-ups powered by these technologies are giving you a glimpse of their disruptive potential. They are warning you that this latest industrial revolution, like those before it, will bring about the demise of established players and give rise to new, more agile businesses.

If you want to be counted among the survivors, you need to make choices.

Choices are synonymous with strategy, as renowned business thinker and author Roger Martin explained at a recent exclusive dinner for Deloitte clients. If you haven’t made any choices, you haven’t got a strategy. And if you haven’t got a strategy, you’re dead in the water.

In South Africa, metered-taxi companies have not made the choices that might set them apart from their peers. One company is virtually indistinguishable from the other, except for livery. They have also been blissfully unaware of the gathering storm of exponential technologies that would give rise to a competitor unlike any they’d encountered before.

Already we are seeing the early signs of disruption in other industries. Robotics, machine learning, near artificial intelligence and 3D printing are disrupting the healthcare sector. The internet of things is forcing security and logistics companies to think of themselves first and foremost as digital companies. And Blockchain, the technological innovation behind Bitcoin, has moved beyond cryptocurrencies and given rise to CEO-less autonomous organisations.

Exponential technologies like these have the far-reaching effects that they do because they drive innovation that breaks down the limitations of the physical world. They are why digital start-ups like Uber are disrupting established passenger-transport businesses without owning a fleet of vehicles. Or why AirBnB is disrupting established hoteling businesses without owning property.

Facebook has neither journalists on the ground nor newsrooms in the traditional sense, yet these technologies have allowed the social network to become the news source of choice for nearly half of Americans.

There is nothing stopping established businesses like yours from also using these technologies to adapt and become as agile. Nothing but choice, that is.

To survive, companies like yours need to first choose to put digital transformation at the heart of your strategy. That choice should cascade into the next set of more difficult choices that determine what your transformation means for your business and the context in which it operates. In the current environment, the alternative is almost assured to be decline if not outright corporate extinction in the not too distant future.

Valter Adão is the lead director/partner at Deloitte Digital Africa. Follow him on Twitter or on LinkedIn.