Last week more than 14,000 people descended on the ICM Centre in Munich for Fujitsu Forum 2016.
The theme of the event? Driving digital transformation.
But another word seemed to pop up in almost every talk I attended throughout the event – one intrinsically linked with digital transformation: disruption.
Digital disruption is a phrase we’ve heard used with increasing frequency over the past year or two, and with good reason. Companies are fast realising (some more quickly than others) that when it comes to digital transformation you either get on board or risk being disrupted yourself.
In short, digital is no longer an optional extra.
Never has that fact been made clearer than when walking around the ICM Centre listening to people talk about how digital technology has been transforming the way they do business.
Here are some of the things that stuck with me most…
1. We’re at the beginning of a tech revolution
The single biggest stand-out feeling across the event was that the technology sector is going through the most exciting period in its history.
Never has tech been so deeply embedded into our everyday lives and the way we work. And never have things developed at such speed.
“Everywhere you go now you hear this phrase: digital disruption,” Duncan Tait said in his keynote talk. “It makes many people feel anxious, but it’s not a negative force.
“For people with enough energy, ambition and imagination this is the golden age of innovation and value creation. In industry after industry the walls are coming down and the lines are being blurred as people realise the benefits of a hyperconnected world.”
Fujitsu’s Mark Phillips echoed that sentiment in his talk about digitalising with confidence.
“I’ve been in this industry 25 years and it’s easy to get cynical after all that time, but I’m incredibly optimistic – I’ve never been more excited about tech’s ability to improve the world we live in.”
Speaking before the panel he hosted about hyperconnectivity, Fujitsu’s David Rosewell said the internet of things (IoT) is “fundamentally impacting the way companies interact with customers and employees.
“Brands are able to optimise their businesses in ways they simply couldn’t do before,” he added.
Fujitsu’s Mike Sewart managed to summarise exactly why many organisations have struggled to keep up with digital transformation in recent years:
“We’re at the stage now where the pace of change is far greater than the speed of learning.”
2. Digital is no longer an optional extra
Another key theme from Fujitsu Forum 2016 was that digital transformation is no longer something organisations can choose to embark on or not.
This is largely due to the how quickly the commercial world around us now evolves from one year to the next. Only with the right digital technology in place can companies possibly hope to keep up.
As DHL’s Dr Markus Voss put it: “The speed of change we’re seeing is staggering. What used to take months or even years to introduce can now be done in a matter of hours.
“We are facing a kind of digital Darwinism,” he added. “Do or die. We need to be quick or be left behind.”
While statements like these might make some business leaders feel somewhat uneasy, Duncan Tait had some reassuring words during his keynote talk.
“(Digital transformation) is unstoppable, but only those who ignore it need fear it.”
3. You have to digitise for the right reasons
Everyone wants to be the next ‘disruptive’ brand. But just because a buzzword sounds good, that doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do.
“There are two types of digital disruption,” DHL’s Paul Richardson argued during a roundtable discussion on day one.
“Pure disruption, where you’re talking about completely new products or markets. Or sustained disruption, where you improve what you’re already doing.”
Knowing the best route for your organisation, he said, is critical.
During the same roundtable, Fujitsu’s Regina Moran argued that digital technology should be applied only where it can genuinely make a difference.
“Just because you can put a sensor on something,” she said, “that doesn’t always mean you should.”
“You could digitise everything in this room. But it has to be relevant to your industry or business. Which parts of the value chain do you digitise and which parts should still be delivered by a human?”
4. Co-creation is the key to digital success
Two heads are better than one, so the saying goes. And in the case of digital transformation, two or more businesses working together have the power to innovate in ways they simply couldn’t by working alone.
“In an age of digital transformation, winning is all about relationships and ideas,” Duncan Tait said in his keynote talk.
“Organisations that partner realise value faster. When we spoke to leaders they said their confidence to thrive in a digital world was high but they could not do it alone.
“Half said finding the right technology partner would help them go further, 67% said in order for them to thrive they’ll have to partner with technology experts, and 72% know they need to collaborate more strategically with partners that can help with digital disruption.”
Watch Duncan’s full talk in the video below…
And the key to co-creation success? According to Mike Sewart, it all comes down to trust.
“10 or 15 years ago companies protected themselves with very strict contracts,” he said. “There used to be a lack of trust between different organisations, but now they’re much more open.”
5. Culture matters
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
These were some of the first words from the mouth of Fujitsu’s Jat Sahi as he addressed a packed and attentive room (despite him landing the very last talk of the event on the second day!).
“Whatever your strategy is,” he argued, “if people don’t really believe in it then nothing matters.” That’s what digital culture means.
He discussed the difference between the traditional way of doing business and the digital methods of today, saying the old ways of desperately trying to avoid failure don’t apply to the modern world.
“Organisations historically defined excellence as avoiding failure at all costs,” he said. “But you demand excellence by learning and making mistakes along the way.”
He also argued that companies should have a purpose, not a vision, the latter of which is not applicable to the fast-moving digital landscape.
“Purpose is about what you’re going to do,” he explained. “It has no end state. It’s ongoing, it’s there every day. And that drives different behaviours.”
He used the example of a car manufacturer, where its vision might be to be the biggest motor company on the planet while its mission could simply be to help people travel the world.
6. Responsibility is critical
With any technological revolution comes the fear of its impact on society, so naturally many people at Fujitsu Forum 2016 had questions about jobs and sustainability and security. Of course businesses need to behave responsibly as technology grows.
Markus Voss agreed that data security is a genuine concern with the rise of interconnected technology across the world.
“We have to be careful in terms of how we deal with it,” he said, “or we risk destroying more than we create.”
“When it comes to connecting everything, just one little piece missing in the puzzle could cause chaos. Traditionally we would put a firewall around things, but now we really have to open ourselves up to completely new security strategies.”
In his media Q&A session on day zero, Dr Joseph Reger discussed the idea of jobs being displaced by advances in technology such as artificial intelligence.
“There will be jobs that can only be done by humans for a long time yet,” he said. “But we need to at least have a debate about this. We need to think hard about how to address a potential loss of jobs.”
He suggested, only half-jokingly, that we might one day see two types of job ad: “Only humans need apply” or “Humans need not apply.”
But ultimately, he argued, it comes down to training people with the skills fit for this new technology-driven world – skills that can’t be mimicked by a robot.
Regina Moran made a similar suggestion during the roundtable discussion she took part in, arguing that adaptability is the single most valuable thing we can help people learn.
“You’ll never be able to train everyone with all the right skills at the right time,” she said. “The pace of change makes it impossible.
“But the people who do best in their careers will be the ones most resilient to change.”
What were your highlights from the event (not counting the fantastic Oktoberfest celebrations, of course!)? And what did you learn about digital transformation along the way?
Keep your eye on this blog over the next few days as we’ll be publishing plenty more Forum-inspired content.
Or check out the Fujitsu Forum 2016 website for more information about the event.
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