In the 'post-digital' era, disruptive technologies are must-haves for survival

Call it the post-digital era. That’s the era that many organizations have now entered – the era in which advanced digital technologies are must-haves in order to stay competitive in their markets. At least, that is the way that Accenture sees it.

The research and consulting firm has recently published its annual Technology Vision report, looking at where organizations have been putting their technology investments, and which tools and trends they see as top priorities in the next year.

Information Management spoke with Michael Biltz, who heads the research for the annual study, about what this year’s study revealed and what lessons it holds for software professionals and data scientists.

Information Management: In your recent Technology Vision report, what are the most significant findings of interest to data scientists and data analysts?

Michael Biltz: The overarching takeaway from the 2019 Accenture Technology Vision report is that we’re entering a “post-digital” era in which digital technologies are no longer a competitive advantage – they’re the price of admission. This is supported by our research, which found that over 90 percent of companies invested in digital transformation in 2018, with collective spend reaching approximately $1.1 trillion. This indicates that we’re now at a point where practically every company is driving its business with digital capabilities – and at a faster rate than most people have anticipated.

This new environment necessitates new rules for business; what got your company to where it is today will not be enough to succeed in the new post-digital era.

For example, technology is creating a world of intensely customized and on-demand experiences, where every moment will become a potential market – what we call “momentary markets.” Already, 85 percent of those surveyed believe that customer demands are moving their organizations toward individualized and on-demand delivery models, and that the integration of these two capabilities represents the next big wave of competitive advantage.

In other words, success will be judged by companies’ ability to combine deep understanding of its customers with individualized services delivered at just the right moment.

IM: How do those findings compare with the results of similar previous studies by Accenture?

Biltz: One of the great things about publishing this report annually is that we can observe how the trends evolve year-over-year, with the latest report drawing on insights from earlier editions. The 2019 report builds on last year’s theme of ‘Intelligent Enterprise Unleashed: Redefine Your Company Based on the Company You Keep,’ which focused on how rapid advancements in technologies—including artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics and the cloud—are accelerating the creation of intelligent enterprises and enabling companies to integrate themselves into people’s lives, changing the way people work and live.

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Expanding on last year’s theme, the 2019 report discusses how the digital enterprise is at a turning point, with businesses progressing on their digital journeys. But digital is no longer a differentiating advantage—it’s now the price of admission. In this emerging “post-digital” world, in which new technologies are rapidly evolving people’s expectations and behavior, success will be based on an organization’s ability to deliver personalized “realities” for customers, employees and business partners. This will require understanding people at a holistic level and recognizing that their outlooks and needs change at a moment’s notice.

IM: Were you surprised by any of these findings, and why so or why not?

Biltz: We were surprised to see that on the one hand, companies are investing time and money into transforming their services and job functions, yet commitment to transforming and reskilling their workforces largely hasn’t kept pace. And when new roles and capabilities are created, many organizations still try to apply traditional (but increasingly outdated) tools, organization structures, training and incentives to support them. This is creating what we call a “Digital Divide,” between companies and their employees.

IM: What are the data-related themes and technologies that will be of greatest interest to organizations over the next three years?

Biltz: While all of the themes described in my response to the first question are relevant to forward-looking organizations, the first trend, ‘DARQ Power: Understanding the DNA of DARQ,’ highlights four emerging technologies that companies should explore in order to remain competitive. These are distributed ledger technology (DLT), artificial intelligence (AI), extended reality (XR) and quantum computing (Q).

While these technologies are at various phases of maturity and application, each represents opportunities for businesses to stay ahead of the curve, differentiate themselves and vastly improve products and services.

IM: Did your study shed any light on how prepared organizations are to adopt these technologies and get expected value from them?

Biltz: Yes, our research into the development and application of DARQ technologies was quite revealing. Our research found that 89 percent of businesses are already experimenting with one or more of these technologies, expecting them to be key differentiators. However, the rate of adoption varies between the four technologies, as they’re currently at varying stages of maturity.

Here are a few specifics for each of DARQ capability:

  • Distributed Ledger Technologies: 65 percent of executives surveyed reported that their companies are currently piloting or have adopted distributed ledger technologies into their business; 23 percent are planning to pilot this kind of technology in the future.
  • Artificial Intelligence: When asked to rank which of the DARQ technologies will have the greatest impact on their organization over the next three years, 41 percent listed AI as number one. Already, 67 percent are piloting AI solutions, or have already adopted AI across one or more business units.
  • Extended Reality: 62 percent are leveraging XR technologies, and this percentage is set to increase, with 24 percent evaluating how to use XR in the future.
  • Quantum Computing: Although quantum computing is the furthest of the DARQ technologies from full maturity, we’re seeing rapid advances in this area. Consider this: it took 19 years to get from a chip with two qubits (the quantum equivalent of a traditional computer’s bit) to one with 17; within two years of that Google unveiled a 72-qubit chip. And the technology is becoming more readily available, with software companies releasing platforms that allow organizations that don’t have their own quantum computers to use the former’s quantum computers via the cloud.

IM: What is your advice on how IT leaders can best educate the C-suite on which so-called disruptive technologies are worth investing in and which aren’t a good match?

Biltz: It's important to first focus on your long-term vision and strategy for the company, asking questions such as, “Who do we as a company want to be in 5-10 years? What markets will we target? And what role do we want to play in the emerging digital ecosystems?”

Once you understand the answers to these questions, not only do the specific technologies fall into place, they also tend drive a level of innovation that are usually only expected from likes of the technology giants.

IM: What industries or types of organizations are the leaders with cutting-edge and disruptive technologies that other organizations can learn from?

Biltz: I think organizations can best learn from companies – regardless of industry – that are exploring leveraging more than one DARQ capability to unlock value. This is where true disruption lies: those exploring how to integrate these seemingly standalone technologies together will be better positioned to reimagine their organizations and set new standards for differentiation within their industries.

Volkswagen is an excellent example. The company is using quantum computing to test traffic flow optimization, as well as to simulate the chemical structure of batteries to accelerate development. To further bolster the results from quantum computing, the company is teaming up with Nvidia to add AI capabilities to future models.

Volkswagen is also testing distributed ledgers to protect cars from hackers, facilitate automatic payments at gas stations, create tamper-proof odometers, and more. And the company is using augmented reality to provide step-by-step instructions to help its employes service cars.

IM: Did any best practices emerge from your study in terms of how to achieve best success with disruptive technologies?

Biltz: In examining how organizations leverage disruptive technologies, a few guideposts for success emerged:

  • Move focus to the end: As companies begin to understand instant demand and supply options expand, they will have more opportunities than they can pursue. Success lies in carefully choosing the specific opportunities companies want to target—and just as important, the ones not to target—then working backward to determine how they will get there.
  • Define what it means for your business to be post-digital within its ecosystem: As companies settle on their new goals and the pathways they will take to reach them, they must also determine which ecosystem partners they need and where their own place in the ecosystem should be.
  • Master SMAC as a core competency to help pave the way for what’s next. In recent years, social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) have driven the most impactful enterprise transformations. We’re at a point, however where SMAC is not a source of disruption; instead SMAC is a critical foundation that enables organizations to focus on bolstering capabilities with DARQ technologies.

Companies that heed these guidelines will be best prepared to incorporate and innovate with the latest disruptive technologies.

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