Recommended Pre-read: This piece builds on concepts discussed in our POV "Five Lessons Learned in the First Wave of the 4IR."
The speed at which the second wave of the 4IR is enveloping global business is staggering in its scope and breadth. With such myriad forces at work, it is a challenge for any business to pinpoint those transformative elements that will exact the most impact over the coming years. We have chosen what we believe to be the top five imperatives that progressive companies simply cannot afford to ignore.
Today’s digital platforms have no regard for industry boundaries. Ecosystems that were unthinkable twenty years ago are creating value propositions that far surpass the traditional “best practices” of vertical markets. Global competitive pressure and commoditization means that increasingly platform-based or portfolio enterprises must focus on rapidly learning, assimilating, and adapting to market changes by employing transient advantage strategies, which support the premise that competitive advantage is not sustainable in today’s marketplace. This means adopting product life cycles of enormous scale, speed to market, cost supremacy, and product differentiation.
One survival mechanism is to create new products for markets that have established regulatory and other roadblocks to competitive intrusion. A second strategic approach is to become exceptional through both scale and costs by establishing and maintaining market share no matter what, provided that the growth rate exceeds the anticipated rate of return. Another strategy dictates being first to market with a high-quality, low-cost product. As growth potential is inextricably tied to digital technology during this second wave, the most successful companies may seek to adopt several of these transient advantage strategies simultaneously.
With the expansion of digital capabilities and mass automation, human resourcing will face unprecedented turmoil as repetitive and routine jobs vanish from the workplace and skills like adaptability, connectedness, open-mindedness, entrepreneurial outlook, and time management rise to prominence. Embracing this as an opportunity to nurture durable skills rather than as a conundrum that threatens the status quo is key to the survival of educational establishments and businesses alike. Along with essential technological know-how, businesses will embrace the need for human workers to display ever greater creativity and emotional intelligence, regardless of whether a worker is a gig economist or formally employed.
The customary degree-based approach to plotting a particular career path will become subordinated by a need for those who display the fluid intelligence that is needed in the 4IR. Employers will fill increasingly cerebral job roles as the digital economy expands. Tying the development of intellectual flexibility to the worker experience will enable individuals to flourish in the digital, social enterprise that is becoming a cornerstone of the second wave.
As vertical markets evolve into ecosystems and digitization transforms traditional ways of working, the traditional distinction between workers and customers is becoming increasingly blurred. In a burgeoning gig economy — an individual engaged by the company as a contractor through the partner of a supplier — is both a worker and a customer. Digital marketing, predictive analytics, omni-channel interactions, and other traditional customer-oriented initiatives are becoming an innate part of a business ecosystem that embraces both — and embraces them as one and the same.
Second-wave platforms (customer experience, worker experience, employee experience, etc.) will activate new complex business ecosystems and leverage technology to create frictionless interactions among workers, partners, suppliers, and customers. Forward-thinking organizations that equate the worker experience to that of the customer will drive collaboration across the entire business platform. As a result, governance structures will eradicate functional silos and support unified engagements that do not draw an intractable line between those who are paid to provide a product or service and those who are willing to pay.
Successful second-wave companies will have fundamentally different organizational structures than those with traditional business units and practices. The exponential and disruptive technological progress of the 4IR, along with reactive, ever more demanding markets, the rise of ecosystems, massive integration opportunities, increased data management risks, and competition for appropriate talent all demand a much more agile, connected, and innovative organizational structure.
In order to survive, businesses must move towards a flatter organizational structure. Contemporary organizational designs must embrace shared standardized processes across all business functions, regardless of whether these are operational, customer-facing, or back-office. These processes will no longer be siloed into functional hierarchies, but instead will be managed by technologically adept networks of teams whose mission is to work agnostically with sales, marketing, service, and operational assets, while also utilizing AI and ML in order to mine and leverage massive amounts of data.
Second-wave organizational structures must facilitate massive economies of scale from a technological viewpoint and also address any scarcity of talent, as every second-wave worker will need a broader, more entrepreneurial skillset that facilitates the successful integration of digital technologies into the business. Continuous learning will become a lynchpin of corporate success, while an overarching 4IR business strategy will encompass design thinking and the application of agile methodologies that promote product ownership and provide a direct line of sight from senior leadership to the front lines.
We live in an age of heightened sensitivity to matters of personal privacy and corporate integrity. This concern will only grow as the second wave gains momentum through advances in areas like robotics, IoT, big data analytics, quantum computing, AI, machine learning, and virtual and augmented reality. Companies must make themselves immune to criticism and intense public scrutiny by adopting a thoughtful technology governance strategy that encourages trust and places the “common good” in the front and center of all business practices. Regardless of whether a business engages in human genome research or consumer product marketing, it is imperative that the company adopts rules, procedures, and requirements that protect data privacy, human health, and the wellbeing of its employees and customers.
By examining the mistakes of comparable businesses and adopting governance measures to avoid those errors, companies can move forward with the implementation of emerging 4IR technologies without becoming immersed in the mistrust that others may have endured. Despite a company’s best efforts to exhibit transparency, they should aim for participation, communication, and contingency for every governance initiative.
We are at a crossroads: businesses have a unique opportunity to direct organizational transformation with a clear line of sight from people, to systems, to technology, to value. The second wave of digital will require profound investment in organizational capabilities to innovate, learn, and lead. At the same time, the experiences and mindsets of individuals will be more important than ever. Ultimately, the second digital wave will see a focus on people and the systems that enable them as the driving forces behind digital progress and unlocking new value.
To learn more about trends observed in the first 10 years of digital transformation, read:
Five Lessons Learned in the First Wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Logical Design Solutions (LDS) is a digital strategy and design consultancy to global enterprises. We create experiences that transform business and help people work successfully in the new digital organization. Clients come to LDS because of our reputation for intellectual rigor, our foundation in visionary experience strategy, and our commitment to enabling digital transformation inside the enterprise. Learn More about how LDS has dramatically improved the way that some of the largest corporations in the world do business.
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