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Three ways C-suite leaders can embrace technological confluence

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

Innovation has been the name of the game for the past decade. Forward-thinking companies began exploring artificial intelligence, robotech, blockchain, cloud services, and the Internet of Things years ago, knowing they were the way of the future. Even businesses that were slower to adapt acknowledged the coming automation wave and started thinking about digitalization strategies.

Now we’re approaching the next stage in technology, which is the combinatorial era. Sure, technologies such as AI, blockchain, and other innovations are remarkable on their own. But their true potential can only be unleashed when combined. Businesses that use these tools to complement one another will be the ones to harness the true power of tech disruption.

The combinatorial approach requires an entirely new way of thinking. Business leaders need to mix and match the right tools for their specific needs, which requires complex but efficient mapping. The last thing you want your map to look like is a spaghetti pile of ideas and connections that are difficult to parse and don’t work in practice. The C-suite must master the confluence and interoperability of disruptive technologies to steer their companies into the future.

Do you have the courage to digitalize?

Most companies have begun some form of digital transformation, but for too many, that process hasn't or won't bear fruit. McKinsey surveyed more than 1,700 C-suite executives and found that companies that undergo digital transformation to embrace advanced technology have a 45 percent chance of falling short of profit expectations. Only 1 in 10 companies was expected to exceed profit goals.

Leaders know that digital transformation is vital to their businesses’ success, so why have so many failed to prioritize it? Two of the most concerning are the lack of flexibility in existing technology structures and a culture of risk aversion.

I say "concerning" because digital transformation cannot take place as long as these barriers exist. But the reticence is also understandable. Tech solutions such as blockchain programs, AI systems, or IoT sensors are not one-size-fits-all, out-of-the-box solutions. They’re complicated, and they require substantial training to maximize their value within the organization. Combining them in a dynamic, complementary strategy that isn’t slowed down by redundancies is even more challenging.

Yet achieving this balance should be business leaders' highest priorities. Yes, there is uncertainty. Yes, disruptive technologies could evolve quickly, which demands a dynamic, iterative mindset. And yes, that is the opposite of what most C-suite colleagues want to hear. They would prefer stable, proven technologies over risky and cutting-edge. But disruptive technologies of the future demand innovative, combinatorial approaches — and the courage to implement them.

After all, the rest of the world is marching toward potentially explosive digitalization: Manufacturing is embracing Industry 4.0 with smart, connected, automated fabrication. The auto industry is rapidly approaching autonomous cars, which will likely result in consumers expecting a more connected experience across the board. Many industries will have a more diversified portfolio of technologies to play with, and that means more opportunities to innovate. It's up to each company to take deliberate action to harness the power of these technologies and use them together to achieve optimum results.

Overcoming barriers to change

Every company must deal with its specific challenges on its journey to digital transformation in order to truly embrace the powers of conflating technology. If the impetus comes from the C-suite, you'll be two steps ahead in terms of moving the cultural needle. No matter what your obstacles will be, there are a few basic steps you can take to anticipate and overcome them:

1. Develop a change management plan.

Advanced digitalization isn’t just about choosing the right technologies and playing them off each other. To implement tools such as AI, blockchain, and cloud databases, you need a workforce who knows how to use them — and how to use them creatively with other technologies. That will likely require additional training, upskilling, or even talent onboarding. Before pitching the executive team on a new strategy, come up with a road map for training and upskilling employees in a way that makes them take ownership of these systems. People fear change, so you need an approach that inspires excitement rather than intimidation.

Extend your plan to end users as well. Before clients and customers embrace new processes, they need to know why you’re asking them to change and whether their data will be safe. You might need to educate customers, for example, about why using blockchain with a cloud-connected device will add additional layers of security. Your change management plan for technology implementation and digitalization should include educational campaigns, town halls, and other methods of dialoguing with everyone affected by the transformation.

2. Map out a new ecosystem.

When thinking about disruptive technologies for digitalization, you need to see how they fit into the broader ecosystem at your company. Replacing one legacy system could adversely affect another, forcing you to overhaul more processes than expected. Now consider how adopting conflating technologies will change your ecosystem — it will require more infrastructure change than ever.

The goal is to develop a resilient, scalable ecosystem that uses technologies to enhance each other's power. That means you must reevaluate your network of partners, service providers, and maintenance teams. Then look at how the technological advancements you make today will impact your clients going forward. What types of support should be in place as they adjust to the new systems? You’ll need to build that into your infrastructure, as well.

3. Work backward from your goals.

Identify the processes that can be enhanced or nullified by technology confluence by talking with engineers, analysts, salespeople, and other team members who will be affected by the change. Find out what’s working right now and what’s not, and then ask them to creatively problem-solve solutions.

For instance, blockchain might sound like it will solve your supply chain issues, but you need to run that experiment before porting your workflows to an unproven system. Start with your desired outcomes and work backward to the tech that will help you get there.

Companies prioritize digital transformation to embrace technology confluence for a number of reasons, but two stand out to me in particular: One is pursuing new growth opportunities; the other is competitive pressure. The most successful businesses will go after both goals at once. Your job is to drive these changes in your organization and to know that disruptive technology will always be evolving — and that means your company should be, too.

K.R. Sanjiv, Chief Technology Officer, Wipro Limited