A frequent theme of this blog is my disdain for jargon, but sometimes one has to admit defeat. I battled for years against what today we call “outsourcing governance,” arguing it was not governance at all, and I had the dictionary definitions to prove it. I thought “cloud” was just a euphemism for the way companies could repackage existing assets, and that the only new capability it offered was dynamic provisioning. And don’t even get me started on what passes for “innovation” in the outsourcing industry.
And, yet, I am at a loss for words to describe the age upon us. I suppose most of the world has begun to call it “digital,” but, to my ear, this doesn’t fully capture it. Among friends, I’ve started calling it “the age of inter-everything,” enabled, of course, by the inter-net. In the end, it’s not the name that’s important. It’s the fact that most enterprises are missing the boat.
Here is my manifesto for how organizations will gain competitive advantage starting today:
The future is about connectivity. Most of the darlings of Wall Street and the business media own few assets. Instead, they make connections. You know the ones: Uber, Google, Apple, AirBnB, AliBaba. The companies that will win going forward will use technology and a deep understanding of human behavior, enabled by analytics, to constantly make new connections. These connections could be between systems in the traditional sense, but they also will be between people. They definitely will be between systems and people. They also will be between providers, companies, governments, regulators, communities and even competitors. These connections will be continually redefined; the ones that are made today may not be as valuable as the ones made tomorrow because, by their very nature, networks add value when they expand.
So the enterprises that win will be able to connect and disconnect with blazing speed. Most of us already understand the value of the inter-connected world, but many of us struggle to make and break those connections at the speed the market demands.
By connecting data, systems, analytics and human behavior, an agri-business enterprise will be able to offer a tailored seed solution for farmers to optimize their crops every year; oil and gas companies will be able to optimize production for demand in ways they haven’t been able to do before; a healthcare insurance company will be able to identify risks and illnesses even before their patients do; a chemicals business will be able to develop compounds their manufacturing customers don’t even know they need yet, and life sciences companies will be able to deliver safe, proven drugs to market far faster than they do today. Enterprises that want to be relevant tomorrow need to ask themselves: what new connections can we make?
Long before we had enabling technologies like the Internet of Things or machine learning, famous designer Charles Eames said, “Eventually everything connects—people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.” This idea will be the defining characteristic of our future.