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November 25, 2013
What it means to be digital
By: Mark McDonald

Charlene Tsang and Richard Amico work in Accenture’s High Performance Institute. We were having a conversation about digital a little while ago and shared the following thoughts.

As we get closer to 2014 and the launch of the next Accenture Technology Vision, we were looking back at the 2013 Technology Vision report and its premise that every business is a digital business. And we were left with a big question: what’s the difference between looking digital and being digital? Looking digital is easy: digitize existing processes. Being digital is harder to describe. We dug into the literature – popular and academic – to describe three “A’s” that summarize, for us, what the being a digital business means.

Always On

Being digital means being sentient: conscious and responsive without interruption, all the time. Never closed, because today’s digital consumers expect instant information anytime they want it. Never asleep because somebody in the world needs a decision and cannot wait for corporate HQ to wake up. Never inattentive because opportunity—a change in customer behavior or a disruptive new technology—doesn’t respect time zones, holidays or market hours.

Does this mean that being digital equals living a caffeinated, round-the-clock experience? No. Because businesses that are digital have something that pre-digital businesses don’t: smart tools and equipment that adapt and react just like humans. As such, they are merging employees and assets with algorithms in order to operate continuously and deliver a seamless user experience. The combination of sentient machinery and human ingenuity makes for an organization that is continuously thinking and doing—in other words always “on”. Always “on” businesses proactively capitalize on their digital assets to monitor and adjust to shifting circumstances, without ever missing a beat.

Anticipating Everything

Second, being digital means knowing what awaits you around the corner. Such clairvoyance comes from the ability to extract signals from the noise of Big Data and to simulate an extraordinary range of potential futures in a matter of minutes. Businesses that are digital have in their toolbox powerful number-crunching processors, models and algorithms to understand whatever may hit them.

But it’s not just about collecting as much data as possible. And it’s not about identifying every potential problem either because that would be impossible. It’s about preparing for the unknown. Businesses that are digital put themselves in a strong, ready position by using cloud, mobile, Big Data, embedded devices and social technologies to transform processes, business models and the customer experience. Ready to detect, analyze and act on changing circumstances, because the only thing they can be certain of is uncertainty. After all, we are entering a new phase of market convergence and technological disruption that is blurring traditional boundaries between industries and actors, creating new winners and losers overnight.

Being digital means anticipating everything so that insight can be applied at the right place and right time, through the right channel, when it matters most.

All In

Lastly, being digital means demanding connectivity among workgroups. Technology has allowed us to be more connected than ever before—to each other, to various devices, to the world around us. What’s exciting is that being digital enables connections that are infinitely elastic, where the collaborative effort of boundary-less teams stretch the traditional confines of the firm. Employees complete tasks by tapping into and synthesizing knowledge that exists inside and outside the organization, including customers and suppliers.

Connectivity promises tremendous new value, gained by the advantage of local context, collaborative intelligence and the extraction of previously unattainable insight from physical objects. At the same time, however, connectivity doesn’t come easily. To realize connectivity’s full potential, workgroups must break their habit of operating on separate islands. Consequently, organizations that are digital devise ways to incentivize workers to connect: paying people, incorporating collaboration into rewards programs, having contests and eventually establishing connectivity as standard practice.

Ultimately, getting people on board with one another serves one purpose: creating an “all in” culture. In “all in” businesses, sharing, collaborating with co-workers and machines and going beyond the organization for answers is not just a good idea, it’s second nature. The job of innovation belongs to everybody, because anyone or anything is capable of improving the work of others. Bringing everyone “all in”--channeling the collective efforts of all people and resources—is paramount to being digital.

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