What’s hot right now in the business world? Which companies are making the right moves in this age of disruption? How are incumbents responding to their more nimble rivals? We spoke with Robert Wollan, senior managing director for Accenture Strategy, Customer Insight & Growth to find out. We captured the results in one of our “Coffee Conversations,” a podcast series featuring our most senior people at Accenture.

We were lucky enough to cross paths with Robert Wollan. Anything remarkable happen during your week so far?

Robert Wollan: It’s been a week of contrasts: I started out in Silicon Valley talking to some clients who are the innovators everyone’s looking at. We talked about what’s next. Then I met some incumbent players who are anything but focused on the future. But need to be.

Which companies are getting it right in this era of disruption?

RW: There are legacy companies like Disney that continue to show they understand monetization. They have an ability to innovate and invest in the areas that can be turned into money, which I’ll happily pay for when I take my kids there.

We often talk about the Airbnbs of the world. But what’s interesting is how the incumbents are fighting back. Look at how Marriott Starwood is thinking about taking advantage of their global scale and size to go against a digital player. That’s what I call interesting. You can see the level of innovation on their website and their mobile apps. These are real investments.

There’s also a lot happening around subscription services. You have probably seen companies such as Trunk Club, Blue Apron or Home Fresh, or Birchbox. They have truly changed the cycle time and are winning the war of relevance. We’re paying a higher dollar value to have those things delivered to our homes and they are creating interesting cases for incumbents as well as new subscription players coming into the market.

If we look at the utility companies, the energy companies, the big heavy industry companies—how are they different compared with consumer—facing players?

RW: They are getting more and more like their B2C brethren. What do I mean by that? They are creating new capabilities and leveraging digital to nearly the same extent as the consumer-facing B2C players. And they’re talking about direct-to-consumer in a much more serious way than they ever have before. They want to create the same level of “friendliness” in B2B as consumers enjoy in B2C.

And so what kind of skillsets do the trail-blazers need to have?

RW: Two things: Universally they need an appreciation of data and the right amount of data to focus on. We’ve all been on that pendulum swing of looking for every piece of data that will give insight. And ignoring the data. I think that we’re settling in now, and the role of data has become a key differentiator between the players who are succeeding and the ones who are distracted.

The role of data has become a key differentiator between the players who are succeeding and the ones who are distracted.

The second thing: They appreciate where the disruptions in technology impact their business disproportionately. Everyone wants to have artificial intelligence, blockchain and cloud. Not everyone has a good grasp of exactly what proportion and at what speed each of those should be focused on. That’s really what a lot of us are talking to our clients about. Getting that balance right because that’s the sweet spot to drive new sources of growth. Because every industry has got a wolf at the door. Or at least a multitude of ants picking apart their business.

For next generation leaders, what’s their world going to look like in 10 years’ time?

RW: Well I mentioned earlier the subscription services. That to me is probably the best place to start if you want to look into a crystal ball. You need to look at the intersection of what’s real-time, subscription-based and convenient for the customer. That’s where the change will happen. We want to learn more about how it translates into disrupting industries. But I think if I were looking for a crystal ball, this is not a fad. This is essentially giving a little bit of a blueprint. And for companies who fairly evaluate what they do today, they might realize they’ve got a pretty big gap.

If you could tweet something inspirational to your clients, what would your message be?

RW: Don’t fall in love with cool. Fall in love with money. Because the options you can invest time and energy on are exploding exponentially. And there are more options that I would put in the “cool” category. The winners are the ones who can figure out which ones they can translate into money.

Here’s an example: I often say a connected car is a fantastic opportunity. I love it in my car. I can do so many more things because I’m connected. But if I’m not paying a higher price for that car or I’m not taking advantage of bringing more revenue to the company that provides it, it’s just an expensive product feature. And that erodes profitability. So, winners don’t fall in love with cool, they fall in love with money.

Robert Wollan

Senior Managing Director – Accenture Strategy


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