Digital acceleration is fueling growth across the global economy, which is fundamentally reshaping customer behavior, individual companies, and even entire industries.
To keep up in this shifting environment, organizations must plan carefully and act quickly – and those that do not risk getting left behind.
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In this guide, we’ll cover digital acceleration inside and out, exploring its basic meaning, why it matters, and how to prepare for the digital future.
Digital Acceleration: What It Is and Why It Matters
Digital technology has exerted an enormous influence on the way we live, interact, and conduct business.
Technologies such as the internet and mobile devices, for instance, have revolutionized every area of our lives.
The digital revolution has yet to end, however, and we can expect to see many more technological developments in the years to come.
In fact, technological advancements have been proceeding rapidly over the past several years, and some argue that they are even speeding up.
Definitions and Key Ideas
Digital acceleration is a term often used synonymously with terms such as digital transformation and digital change.
Here are a few important ideas that can offer insight into these digital trends:
- Digital transformation refers to the use of digital technology to transform an organization, its business model, its strategy, its customer experience, and other areas of the business. Many companies have realized that digital transformation is an imperative in the modern era, since those that cannot successfully adopt technology cannot keep up in the current economy.
- Digital adoption is the implementation, integration, and full utilization of technology. In an enterprise setting, for instance, digital adoption not only embraces software implementation, but activities required to maximize the ROI of that software, such as user onboarding and training.
- Digital acceleration often carries the same meaning as digital transformation. The inclusion of the term “acceleration,” however, places a greater emphasis on the idea of speed – and speed is certainly an essential characteristic that defines the current digital revolution.
In short, digital acceleration cannot be understood without understanding how and why digital technology is driving change in the modern economy.
How Digital Acceleration Impacts the Business World
Digital acceleration is having an extensive impact on the modern business world, so it pays to understand its effects in-depth.
These are a few of the most important areas to pay attention to:
- Profit. Digital acceleration offers significant advantages, such as improved organizational resilience, performance, effectiveness, and efficiency. Companies that can exploit digital technology to its fullest extent, therefore, will often generate significantly higher profit margins than digital laggards.
- Customer continuity. New technology generates new ways of interacting with customers, as well as new forms of customer value. Mobile technology, for example, gave rise to mobile apps, mobile marketing, and many other mobile trends. Those, in turn, opened up completely new standards and methods of customer acquisition and retention.
- The digital workplace. The workplace itself has evolved radically over the past several decades. Typewriters and fax machines gave way to desktop computers, which were then augmented by laptops, mobile devices, and more. Today, for instance, technology allows employees or even entire offices to work remotely.
These are just a few of the many ways that digital acceleration has changed the modern business world.
In the future, we can expect to see even more changes at an even more accelerated pace, so it is important to plan ahead and act early.
To better understand what lies in store, it is important to examine the underlying trends that are shaping today’s digital business world.
Trends Driving Digital Acceleration in Today’s Economy
A few of the biggest trends driving digital acceleration include:
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Technological advancements open up the door to new products and services.
Innovative companies that push these innovative products to market can then capture market share, gain a competitive advantage, and disrupt other businesses, if not entire industries.
Those innovations, in turn, force companies to either respond in kind or get left behind.
A few examples of disruptive technology include:
- The internet. The internet, as everyone knows, has completely reshaped the way people interact and conduct business. It has also fueled the growth of today’s largest companies, such as Google and Amazon.
- Cloud computing. Cloud computing provides organizations with remote, scalable computing power. Among other things, cloud computing enables remote working, a capability which became essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Mobile technology. Mobile phones took the internet and transferred it onto handheld devices, and, more recently, onto wearable devices. This new channel further reshaped the way people interact with one another and with businesses.
The introduction of each of these technologies has significantly altered the way businesses operate, and in the years ahead, we can expect to see similar disruptions from emerging technologies.
Many have called COVID-19 the great accelerator, and for good reason.
The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the growth – or death – of many businesses, industries, and technologies.
For instance, while airline companies have plummeted in value, the use of remote working software has skyrocketed.
Here are a few more technologies that have seen growth during the pandemic:
- Robotics. During the pandemic, robots found many use cases, from street cleaning to meat packing to remote surgery. In the years ahead, we can expect to see even more growth in this area.
- Video streaming platforms. Since so many people spent more time at home during the pandemic, it should come as no surprise that video streaming services became more popular. Though that growth may dissipate after the pandemic, it demonstrates that the future of video is on-demand.
- Video games. Video games and esports also grew in popularity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though some of that interest will disappear after the pandemic ends, the current popularity spike will undoubtedly bolster the industry for several years.
In the post-COVID era, we can expect to see continued growth in these areas, as well as in emerging technologies such as virtual reality.
Changes in customer demand drive changes in customer behavior, preferences, spending habits, and more.
There are several forces that drive these changes, such as:
- Natural forces, such as the passage of time and cultural shifts. Customer demand evolves naturally over the course of time. There are many causes for this, such as generational divides and cultural change, all of which contribute to shifts in customer demand and behavior.
- The invention of new technologies. New technology introduces new forms of value into the marketplace, which then influences customer expectations. Smartphones, for instance, introduced new modes of communication, mobile apps, and more. Those new possibilities, in turn, affected customer demand.
- Crises and major events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic, as discussed below, has accelerated change in many areas of society. Customer demand will also shift as a result of the pandemic, resulting in, for instance, an increased demand for virtual and health-related products.
Trends such as these all impact how customers interact with brands, their expectations around technology, and how brands use technology to connect with their audience.
For instance, as mentioned above, the implementation of mobile technology meant that most customers expected brands to use mobile to communicate to their audiences. As a result, brands were compelled to adopt mobile-first strategies or lose ground to companies that did.
Digital Acceleration Is the Future
Since the digital revolution is ongoing, digital acceleration will continue to reshape the economy for the foreseeable future.
In the years ahead, business leaders can expect to see major influences from trends such as:
- Artificial intelligence (AI). Artificial intelligence is still in its early stages, but it has already demonstrated significant potential. Google, for instance, used deep learning to reduce data center cooling bills by around 40%. In the coming years, this technology promises to revolutionize many areas in business, from the workplace to the customer experience.
- The Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things refers to the connection of sensors and everyday devices to the internet. These devices can include everything from wearable devices to home appliances to sensors in the supply chain. Real-time data from those sensors can then provide insight, automate certain functions, and more.
- Remote working. During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working became common around the world. To ensure employees’ safety, organizations implemented telecommuting policies almost overnight, accelerating the adoption of remote working technology and processes. In the years ahead, we can expect to see more remote working arrangements, which will in turn fuel the acceleration of digital workflows, remote working software, and other business processes that depend on telecommuting.
- Digital adoption. The process of digital adoption is central to digital acceleration and transformation. In order to become more digitally mature, after all, companies must implement and fully adopt new digital tools and IT systems.
Forecasting and planning for the digital future may not be easy, but it will be essential for survival in post-COVID next normal, an era which will be more digital, more fast-paced, and more volatile.
How to Plan for the Digital Future: A Step-by-Step Guide
The digital future is accelerating towards us at an ever-more-rapid pace, and companies should plan ahead if they want to survive and succeed in the years ahead.
Below is a step-by-step roadmap that can be used to accelerate their own digital transformation agendas:
Assessments and analyses will precede and inform the planning stage. Information gathered during these assessments will offer insight into the current state of the organization, its digital capabilities, its needs, and potential strategies.
These assessments should cover areas such as:
- Digital readiness. When assessing digital readiness, it is important to examine several areas, such as workforce skills, the existing IT systems, and their digital savviness. That information will then help managers determine a plan of action, which tools to adopt, and other key elements of the digital transformation strategy.
- Digital maturity. Digital maturity refers to the organization’s overall digital capabilities. Naturally, digital capabilities depend in part on the organization’s existing IT systems and digital tools. Yet employees’ digital skills also play an important role, since organizations can only make use of tools if employees know how to use those tools.
- The workforce and the workplace. Business processes, workflows, employee skills, and the state of the workplace all affect an organization’s ability to implement change. It is important to assess these areas since they will affect the change plan’s communication strategies, training strategies, and so forth.
- Change readiness. Change readiness refers to how ready a company is to implement an organizational change. As with digital readiness, there are several factors that determine change readiness, including people, processes, and systems. The more ready an organization is to change, the easier it is to change.
With that information in hand, decision makers will be better prepared to develop a strategy and an action plan.
A project roadmap will define the actual activities to be undertaken.
Though the format can be customized to suit one’s own preferences, it is important to include certain key elements, such as:
- Overarching goals. An overarching goal is a strategic aim that defines the direction of the plan and its main purpose. Improving employees’ digital savviness in order to streamline digital adoption, for instance, would be one example of a goal. Defining that goal, however, is only the first step – in order to measure progress, it is important to be able to measure those goals.
- Team members. Another purpose of planning is to delegate team members’ responsibilities. Providing that information to teams will ensure that each member understands the roles of every other person involved in the project. Clearly defining those responsibilities will significantly improve teamwork and communication, while reducing miscommunication and inefficiencies.
- Measurable objectives. Unlike goals, objectives are measurable. For example, a sales department may set the goal of improving sales productivity, while an objective would define specific performance targets, such as increasing sales calls by 10% during the next month.
- A timeline of events. Like all business projects, digital transformation initiatives should include a detailed timeline of events. That timeline should include objectives, deadlines, descriptions of each stage of the project, and any other relevant details. This timeline can then be used as a communication tool that helps ensure team members can all stay on the same page.
This document can then be shared with other stakeholders and help them to better understand their roles, the timeline, and so forth.
A clearly documented plan of action can also act as a reference tool and a communication device, keeping everyone on the same page and reducing inefficiencies.
3. Pivot and take action
After the plan has been developed and distributed, it is time to actually implement it.
Here are a few points to keep in mind when executing the plan:
- Prepare the workforce for change. Employee resistance is one of the most common obstacles to any organizational transformation initiative. In many cases, this resistance can be mitigated or prevented by properly preparing employees. This means explaining what the change is, why it is happening, and how it will occur.
- Provide employees with the tools and skills they need. Unless employees are given the proper skills and tools, they will not actually be able to implement the change project. Effective employee training, therefore, is just as necessary as having the proper software and tools.
- Roll out the project in phases or all at once. A phased rollout begins by testing the change with a single group, team, or department. Rolling out the entire change all at once, however, transitions the entire organization at the same time. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages – phased rollouts, for instance, are more suited to larger organizational changes.
As with any other business initiative, digital transformation agendas often involve a significant amount of change.
For that reason, it is important to implement a formal change model when initiating any organizational change project, including digital transformation programs.
4. Monitor and adjust
No program will run perfectly right out of the gate. Some may perform better than others at the outset, but it is always important to monitor and adjust the program as it moves forward.
Here are a few ways to make the most of the project as it goes forward:
- Collect feedback. Feedback should be collected by everyone impacted by the change program, including employees and customers. Employee surveys, for example, can be used to gather new ideas, gain insight into employee performance, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the program.
- Monitor data and analytics. Feedback can be useful, but data offers a more objective perspective. Data, such as software usage statistics and employee productivity metrics, provides hard numbers, whereas feedback provides subjective views. Both are useful for improving insight.
- Measure against performance targets. As mentioned above, it is important to define measurable objectives, or targets, before implementing any organizational transformation program. Measurement against those benchmarks will offer insights into the health, strengths, and weaknesses of the change effort.
- Adjust as necessary. When necessary, tweaks should be made to fix or redirect efforts. This process of refinement should be continued throughout the duration of the program, since it can significantly improve the project’s outcomes.
The more flexible and responsive that managers and teams can be, the more improvements they can make to the initiative as it is being implemented.
As we’ll see later, agility is one of the most important traits to cultivate in a business process or project.
5. Review and reinforce
Digital transformation programs should be reviewed after completion.
Post-implementation reviews are designed to accomplish several aims, including:
- Assessing which objectives were met and which were not
- Determining the effectiveness of the strategy and the program’s execution
- Learning lessons that can be applied in future projects
Though many effects of a business project will take time to unfold, reviews can provide preliminary insights into the project’s impact.
Another important post-implementation task to undertake is the reinforcement of any changes.
A standard practice in change management, reinforcement is designed to ensure that new processes, behaviors, and attitudes stick.
Reinforcement is often necessary, especially after major organizational changes, since employees can easily revert to old habits and behaviors.
Digital Acceleration Plans: Best Practices, Do’s, and Don’ts
Next, we’ll look at a few tips and best practices that can enhance digital acceleration efforts:
Agile is a way of thinking, a methodology, and an approach to business.
The idea behind this business approach is to focus on responsiveness and functionality, rather than elements less relevant to the end user, such as static plans and documentation.
Though this approach originated in software development, it has spread widely into many other business disciplines, giving rise to business functions such as agile manufacturing and agile change management.
When implementing a digital transformation program, therefore, it is important to ensure that the project is:
- Responsive. Responsive means being able to react to and follow real-world conditions. Having that flexibility is paramount, especially in today’s fast-moving economy.
- User-centered. Digital transformation programs always support a strategic agenda, such as improving organizational performance or improving the customer experience. Regardless of the nature of the program, however, plans should stay centered around the main stakeholders. A user-centered approach will be more valuable, relevant, and ultimately more profitable.
- Incremental. Business approaches such as agile and lean advocate an incremental approach to process implementations.
- Collaborative. Organizational communication depends on effective collaboration. Good communication, after all, offers many benefits, from improved employee productivity to an improved work environment.
The more flexible and agile that managers can be when implementing a plan, the easier it will be to make changes, adapt to unexpected events or challenges, and make improvements.
Put customers in the driver’s seat
User-centered design is a discipline that incorporates users’ needs and their environment into every step of the design process.
Using tools such as user journey maps and frameworks specifically built around the user, user-centered design generates more relevant, usable, and useful products and services.
Regardless of the focus of a digital transformation initiative, these principles can be used to generate better results.
For instance, user-centered design can be applied when improving:
- Products and services
- The employee experience
- The customer experience
The key is to understand that the “user” is really the person, or stakeholder, who lies at the center of any change project.
When making improvements to the marketing funnel, for instance, user-centered design naturally revolves around the customer. Digital change projects aimed at improving the digital workplace, on the other hand, the employee could be considered the “user.”
Many business leaders hesitate when it comes to implementing major organizational changes.
That hesitation is understandable, since bigger changes often involve larger risk.
However, it is important to note that the digital economy will inevitably change, whether we change with it or not.
Not changing, in other words, may be riskier than changing.
Companies that fail to accelerate their digital growth run multiple risks:
- Competitors may adopt technology more quickly and capture market share
- Customer preferences may change, causing them to seek out better products and services
- Legacy technology can become too obsolete, making it impossible for an organization to participate in the business ecosystem
As mentioned above, today’s business world is advancing rapidly and the world’s most successful companies are those who can innovate, adopt early, and lead in the digital realm.
Take a structured approach to change management
Change management is a management discipline that oversees, executes, and coordinates organizational change projects.
There are several advantages to implementing a structured approach to change management, including:
- Improved project outcomes
- Decreased costs and inefficiencies
- Greater engagement and support from employees
- Less employee resistance
Change management can be applied to virtually any type of organizational change, including digital transformation programs.
Since change programs are not easy – and since success is not guaranteed – it is important to do everything possible to improve the chances of success, improve project results, and boost returns.
Digital Acceleration: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Let’s dive a bit deeper by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about digital acceleration.
What are the most important technologies to invest in?
The answer to this question will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- The nature of the business. Many types of software are used widely across many industries. HCM platforms, for instance, are used by many large enterprises, regardless of which sector they operate in.
- The industry. Certain types of tools are industry-specific. There are, for instance, specific software platforms designed for designers, architects, farmers, and so on.
- Customer sentiment and behavior. In some cases, customer needs and behavior should drive the adoption of new technology. Since most customers prefer mobile interactions, for instance, companies interacting with consumers should strive to deliver a mobile-friendly experience.
- Competitor behavior. Companies who adopt technology early on stand to gain an advantage over their competitors. When one company adopts a new technology or a digital strategy, it will often act as a catalyst that drives competitors to follow suit.
- The organization’s strategy. Another factor that will determine the “best” technologies to invest in will be the organization’s strategic agenda. A company that wants to create a digitally savvy workforce, for instance, would invest in tools that help achieve that aim, such as digital adoption platforms.
For instance, organizations that want to become leaders in their space should adopt new technology early, invest in research and development, and aggressively test new innovations.
Organizations with smaller budgets or smaller appetites for risk, however, should wait until technology becomes more mainstream before investing.
That being said, it is important to reiterate that digitization is ongoing and every company should plan now for a future economy that is highly digital.
What role does culture play in digital acceleration?
Organizational culture affects every aspect of the business, from employee performance to organizational resilience.
Though there is no such thing as a perfect company culture, there are certain traits that are beneficial in the modern workplace.
For instance, it can be useful to cultivate cultures that are:
- Open to change. One of the best ways to minimize resistance to change is to create a culture that is open to new ideas and new ways of working.
- Digital-first. A digital culture prioritizes digital technology and embeds that technology into every aspect of the workplace. The more that digital technology permeates the work culture, the easier it will be to adopt new tools, implement digital workflows, and engage in digital transformation efforts.
- Data-driven. In the same way that digital cultures prioritize digital technology, data cultures prioritize the use of data. Proactively cultivating a data-centric culture will help ensure that data is integrated into business processes across the organization.
- Pro-learning. To keep up with the changing digital ecosystem, employees must become perpetual learners. It is useful, therefore, to not only provide training to the workforce, but to go further by promoting a pro-learning culture.
Traits such as these can significantly improve an organization’s ability to implement and fully adopt new technology.
How should companies change digital strategies in light of COVID-19?
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a massive financial depression, as mentioned earlier.
Some have even called it “the great accelerator,” which means that it has accelerated change in general, regardless of the topic being discussed.
For businesses, this means that COVID-19 may accelerate:
- The adoption of digital technology
- Natural trends in customer behavior and sentiment
- Economic and geopolitical events
Though these generalizations do not apply equally to every business or market, this idea can be a useful lens through which we can view the effects of COVID-19.
With that concept in mind, businesses should examine how their existing plans are being accelerated by the pandemic, then shorten timelines accordingly. Organizations such as Accenture, for instance, has chosen to compact three years of transformation into three months.
Not many organizations have that appetite or that capability, but it can be useful to learn from their example.
Conclusion: Digital Acceleration Is a Necessity in the Modern Era
Even before the pandemic, the modern economy was changing quickly.
After 2020, however, we may expect to see an even faster rate of change, driven not only by natural trends, but also by the pandemic itself.
We cannot know precisely what the future holds, but the general trends are clear: the future will be very digital, and that digital world could arrive sooner than most of us think.
Business strategies, therefore, should pivot quickly and companies should begin preparing now for tomorrow’s digital, technology-driven era.