This week I attended our Executive Discussion Evening (EDE) in London. The evening, titled 1+1=3: Co-Create to Innovate in the Digital Age, was all about the impact of digital disruption on our work, our personal lives and the world around us.
One message that came through crystal clear was this: the world is changing. Fast. And all of us – government, citizens, private sector firms and educational institutions – must come together if we’re to overcome the challenges lying ahead.
This echoes our own research into digital disruption, in which 52% of c-suite executives told us their organisation won’t exist in its current form within five years. 92% said their business needs to evolve to thrive in a digital world and 70% recognised the need to collaborate more strategically in order to succeed.
Here are some of my highlights from the evening…
The power of the private sector to prompt change
First up onstage after a brief intro from Fujitsu CEO Lucy Dimes was Lord Digby Jones.
Those of you familiar with Lord Jones will know he doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind. Alongside strongly worded opinions, though, his talk was packed with points to make you think.
He talked about how the private sector can and should drive positive change. Business, he argued, is the strongest force there is for driving prosperity throughout society.
“We’re on the cusp of major change across so many areas,” he said. “And business leaders are playing a huge role in supporting that.”
The scale of this change was something Lord Jones was keen to emphasise, calling it “the biggest we’ll see in our lifetime.”
For business leaders this is a chance to help shape the future, but that’s an enormous responsibility. How are they going to deal with it?
Lord Jones suggested the only way to succeed is to create change that works for everybody.
So where does digital come into all this? Quite simply, it is digital technology that accelerates the pace of change. And society has so far been ill-prepared for it. The digital revolution is putting a huge amount of stress on organisations.
The biggest challenge is around a lack of digital skills. Education can solve that in part, but employers also have a huge role in looking after employees and ensuring they have the skills they and the wider community need. We have to look at skills development as a lifelong process.
Supply chain collaboration will also become increasingly important, Lord Jones argued. He referred back to the early 80s when Japanese firms began to invest heavily in the UK automotive industry. While they taught us about quality and attention to detail, it was the focus on collaborating with supply chain partners that Lord Jones believes was most valuable.
It shouldn’t be about trying to get everything at the lowest possible cost, or forcing suppliers to offer discounts in return for large and regular orders. If a company is supplying you a part for the foreseeable future, you should want them to succeed with you. And that means treating them fairly.
It’s all about cultivating an environment in which everyone can grow, prosper and contribute to the wider success of society.
Unlocking innovation in a regulated industry
Next up was Financial Technology (Fintech) entrepreneur Alistair Lukies, who was there to discuss the enormous number of opportunities this area of digital growth holds for the UK.
He talked about how people want more control over their banking. Not necessarily more control over their personal data (our research last year found banking customers are actually happy to swap data for better services), but over the way they manage their money and interact with services.
Alistair also raised an interesting point: for decades now we’ve taken for granted the fact you can fly to the other side of the world, put your card and pin code into an ATM and get money out. In a way, then, the underlying infrastructure to support collaboration in financial services has always been there.
But, he argued, we’re only at the very beginning of what digital can achieve. Back in 2001, just one of the five biggest companies on the planet was a tech brand (Microsoft, in case you’re wondering). Today, all five of them are.
And while financial services have historically been protected from disruption due to operating in a highly regulated industry, that is about to change.
When disruption does come, it will be faster and harder due to a pent-up market appetite for change that has been building steadily over the years.
The focus for big banks, Alistair said, needs to be on genuinely innovative products and services. 0% balance transfers just won’t cut it anymore – customers want real control over their banking services and they want it now.
To come back to the collaboration point, Alistair stressed future Fintech start-ups will need to work with regulators to ensure they create the right ecosystem for success.
Let’s make sure we get this right
Overall the event left me feeling inspired by what’s to come in the digital space. What a time to be working in technology.
I’ll end by going back again to some of Lord Jones’s comments. He spoke about globalisation and how UK companies can compete with Asia and other rising economies in years to come.
If we’re to succeed, he argued, our approach needs to be more about collaboration than competition. How can we work with people across the globe to create new value, open up new markets and opportunities, and ultimately achieve a better world for everyone?
Get this right, he said, and future generations will have the pleasure of taking it for granted. Fail, however, and our grandchildren may never forgive us.
Download our ‘Fit for Digital: Co-creation in the Age of Disruption’ report for lots more insight on collaboration in a digital world.
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