Yamini Sequeira addresses the dire need for companies to undergo digital transformation

The Digital Transformation Forum 2017 lured attendees with some facts to stop them in their tracks. According to a recent Gartner survey, 20 percent of all market leaders will surrender their dominant positions to a company founded after the year 2000 by 2017 because of a lack of digital advantage. The forum questioned whether older companies were equipped to deliver in line with customers’ requirements that now favour digital innovation.

Indeed, digital transformation is no longer for the most daring of businesses. Those who fail to innovate and embrace the digital world will be left behind. Corporations are looking at ways to stay abreast of the fast-paced change in customer demands, the proliferation of new technology and how to bring about major changes within their organisations.

Surviving in the changing digital landscape is paramount. This clarion call was sufficient for those interested in converging on the venue in London between 20 and 22 February to learn how they can adapt, engage, disrupt and survive. The three-day event witnessed a slew of case studies, roundtables, panel discussions and networking with those who are tackling the challenge head-on.

Digital technologies are most certainly transforming the way people work and play. It’s evident that Sri Lanka, while it may be ahead in the region, is still streets behind the West in terms of digital adoption. In the West, almost every industry is in a process of disruption. In the fast-paced digital world, the speed of adoption needs to be even quicker.

The forum hosted several workshops that addressed questions that concern most business leaders. Understanding structural changes and business implications, and how organisations will capture value from digital transformation, are some of the curve balls being considered by leaders.

What are the key mechanisms to capture value from digital transformation? And what are the main pitfalls?

One workshop helped leaders find their way through the digital transformation maze while another provided participants with an introduction to the knowledge and tools needed to capture value from digital transformation.

In recent years, many organisations have been preoccupied with repeated efforts to upgrade to digital technologies, media and delivery channels. But digital transformation has also provided organisations with an opportunity to question major assumptions about their business models as well as the users being served, experiences offered to them and most efficient ways to deliver those experiences in a coordinated, consistent and cost-effective manner.

Consequently, real-world thinking and experiences in business model innovation have changed dramatically over the past few years. ‘Is your approach to business model innovation keeping pace?’ was a repeated question at the forum.

The Chief Digital Officer of Travelex Sean Cornwell explained that apart from simply driving existing online businesses and channels, identifying the big opportunities – given the changing digital world in which we live – and the potential growth engines for the business over a three to five-year period, as well as what we should be pursuing, are questions to which answers need to be found no matter the nature of your business.

He asserted that corporate leaders should understand that unleashing the digital transformation is an opportunity for companies to bring about business transformation in the true sense. “What you’re saying is digital needs to be at the heart of the business; it needs to be within the DNA of the business,” he explained. This will lead to a leaner and more efficient operation that’s in touch with its stakeholders.

A case study of McDonald’s was cited at the forum. The popular fast-food brand is facing increasing competition worldwide given the choices that customers now have – especially in Asia where competition is stiff. McDonald’s was once viewed as an old, stodgy brand where nothing changes. But to maintain its lead in the market, the brand became ‘mobile-ready.’

Today, it runs call centres, a website, a mobile website and an app. In less than 12 months, the number of orders placed through the mobile app jumped from three percent to around 50 percent. Therefore, the brand is using digital as an enabler to reach its customers and create engaging experiences.

Moreover, out-of-the-box digital innovations have become the new normal.

The first commercial self-driving car was rolled out by Tesla as were Uber’s driverless taxis; Amazon successfully delivered its inaugural Prime Air drone delivery to a customer in the UK; and Facebook (FAIR) and Google (TensorFlow) created open-source repositories to accelerate research into machine learning while radiologists used deep learning to improve the early identification of Parkinson’s disease in medical scans… The list is endless.

Sri Lanka’s homegrown corporates have been slow to embark on the digitalisation journey because while smartphone penetration may be high, internet usage has yet to gain ground. But it’s clear that new companies have a robust digital footprint from the day they’re launched. And apart from commercial prospects, the digital platform also provides a great opportunity for increased public-private partnerships (PPPs) in Sri Lanka.