A Digital-First World

Posted on Thu, October 13, 2016 in Greatest Hits, Business Strategy, by Paul Weinert

My favorite podcast is Exponent, an in-depth topical business discussion between two wise technology and strategy business gurus, Ben Thompson and James Allworth. It’s a great listen every week as they look at various tech industry actions from the previous week and break down the strategic impact on various companies.

The podcast that Exponent released a few weeks ago, Move on From the 80’s is a lengthy discussion on Oracle’s new positioning from a traditional software product to a software as a services company. In it, Ben succinctly summarized one of my core beliefs about the current changes in our business environment. I’ve transcribed the relevant clip below. (Note that this is a transcription of their spoken words, so I’ve cleaned up the text slightly to remove unclear direct objects, and sentence fragments. Emphasis added is my own.)

26:24 (Ben) - “You think about the companies of the future, and by future — a lot of large companies today — they are [now] tech companies. And remember tech companies are not just necessarily hardcore technology companies, we talk about the “Tech Industry” — Is Uber a tech company? Is AirBnB a tech company? Is Dollar Shave Club (which Unilever acquired) a tech company? We cover them. We write about them. The news about them is on techMeme, but Dollar Shave Club, is that a tech company?

26:52 (James) Yeah, it’s a good question.

26:56 (Ben). Well, it’s becoming a meaningless question. Because the reality is that all companies will be tech companies. Because everything is going to have to work with our phones, with ecommerce, and with the world around them. The very way society works and how we interact with everything is changing with technology as the air we breathe. And you aren’t going to build a company without air. And so you have these completely new kind of companies that are growing up with [technology as their air].

27:41 (Ben) You think about it. What’s the big advantage of software? Software can be anything you want it to be. It’s infinitely malleable, and it’s what makes it so powerful… And if you are starting a company, why would you not want systems and processes that are not supporting your companies, but are the very fabric of your company — why would you not want [your technology] perfectly created and attuned for you and for your needs. Are you going to want to go to Oracle and pick one of their [new] 30 [cloud-based] applications where they already pre-decided all these things for you? No! You’ll want to have what works and is EXACTLY right for you. And is that hard? Is that slow and buggy in the beginning? Is it hard today to build out your own infrastructure? Of course it is — but what’s the trend?… In the long-run it will be the only way to build a successful company. 

I agree with Ben’s comments 100%, and appreciate the articulation of the argument. It furthers a fundamental concept upon which GRAYBOX is based — the world is evolving around digital technologies and businesses must adapt to these changes in order to stay competitive. We are currently in a sea of change wherein interconnected, digital technologies are replacing and obsoleting the old ways of doing business.

“Technology” is not just an industry, it is becoming the baseline foundation upon which all industries must operate. The foundational requirements of technical fluency within each industry may vary, but the trend is clear — a company without the correct foundation can’t keep up and ultimately can’t compete. A healthcare company without electronic medical records will fail, a hospitality company without online bookings will fail, product manufacturers now need a presence in multiple marketplaces and sales channels, B2B companies need a robust and powerful CRM, and on and on for every industry.

Great technology is now table stakes.

Every industry now has some technology that is critical to their success and in the future “every company will be a tech company”. I think about how already technology has transformed traditionally non-technical industries like transportation, warehousing, agriculture and fitness (among other industries). Perhaps more importantly, what’s yet to come? I don’t think we understand enough how much today our lives are impacted by technological improvements and the disruption of traditional processes. Most businesses haven’t yet caught up to the technologies available today, and already you can see the seeds of the next epoch of technology in our lives; virtual reality, augmented reality, self-driving cars, wearables & pervasive trackers, the connected home, internet of things, and dynamic content personalization (among others) are all going to change everything yet again.

So, the big question to ask yourself, Is your business aligned with the new reality? To succeed in the digital-first world, most importantly, you’ll need a new way of thinking and a willingness to adapt to a new market. You’ll need flexible and optimized software systems, good data and robust analytics, a keen understanding of your customers and what they care about, a deep care for usability and design, and the technical aptitude to keep your business systems modern, fast and secure. That’s a tall order, especially for the non-technical.

For GRAYBOX, our core promise is that we are your partners in a digital-first world. We’re helpful, collaborative, responsible, dependable, experienced, thorough and effective. We have a deep experience in technology and know how to apply these technologies to transform your business. We’ll help you modernize your business and be partners in your future digital success.

Don’t let the future pass you by. The changes we are seeing will be as vast and consequential as the industrial revolution — everything is changing and it’s changing fast — we can help.

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