Fast, but not furious: The key to winning the digital game

By Manish Bahl, Senior Director – Centre for the Future of Work, Cognizant

Survival in the digital economy will depend on speed. The pace of business change has intensified dramatically as the fruits of digital technology expand to the entire world economy.

Manish Bahl, Senior Director, Cognizant
At the heart of the new digital world order is the unstoppable rise of automation, analytics and artificial intelligence (what we call the new machine), and with that comes an unprecedented level of speed — in doing business, generating value, making decisions, meeting customer expectations, and getting products and services to market. The stakes are even higher because the goal posts are now moving so fast.

In an age when a start-up can reshape an entire industry overnight, businesses must be on their A-game. For instance, Alipay, the world’s biggest payment company, hit $100 billion in transactions in less than a year with zero branches. Great businesses built over decades and even centuries will be for naught if they cannot operate quickly enough. In short, it is speed that determines whether you disrupt or are disrupted.

Cognizant’s research shows that digital leaders hold a 139% advantage over stragglers in cost savings and revenue growth. For example, if you think it will be another 10 years before AI needs to be taken seriously, you’ve already lost.

Business leaders are already under tremendous pressure from inside and outside their organisations to meet customer and market expectations, and accelerate decision-making. However, not every company can move at the same pace because each firm has its own ambitions and priorities in the new machine age. What might be a good compromise for one may be unfeasible or even unacceptable to another.

Businesses need ambitious goals, but overblown promises and expectations will only lead to disappointment. Scattershot initiatives or overly general bromides to “Just do AI,” “Just do big data,” or “Just do every new shiny technology” invariably backfire because those left to carry out the order don’t know the difference between “fast” and “far.”

Leaders also often struggle to set the right pace in their digital transformation journey: fast enough to build the business of the future, but not so furious that they lose control. Trying to do too much too fast is often a recipe for disaster.

Meanwhile, attempting to imitate one of the digital masters or unicorns is often a misguided or even dangerous strategy. The chances are good that endeavouring to become “the Amazon of our space” will destroy more business value than it creates. Traditional companies have a base of existing processes, products and culture with roots in the industrial era. Perhaps more pertinently, their end goal is different. Organisations that pursue these “fake futures” are being furious and not fast in their transformation journey.

So, how do you know whether your business is moving at the right pace?

Companies can tackle the challenge by using the speed framework, which allows executives across industries to determine their capabilities and how to progress to the next level. The ultimate objective of this framework is to help organisations match the speed of disruption in the marketplace.

The speed framework urges companies to approach digital transformation from a point of view of speed in five areas. Setting targets within these areas will help companies tackle the speed imperative:
  • Speed to automation or how fast companies leverage software bots for automating human-based processes to get on a high-growth path,
  • Speed to monetise halos of information or how quickly companies start to understand and drive value from their data,
  • Speed to enhance the workforce or how effectively companies can upskill their workforce to improve productivity and improve employees’ strategic value-add,
  • Speed to abundance or how fast companies can create high-volume markets by leveraging AI, analytics and automation to drive down the price point of products, and
  • Speed to discovery or how quickly companies innovate and disrupt the market of their own accord

As CEO Marc Benioff once said, “Speed is the new currency of business. If you’re not going fast enough, someone else is.” It is time for companies in Asia-Pacific to step on the gas, but without overheating engines.