Fast, But Not Furious: The Speed You Need To Win In The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Who will win in the digital economy? It will come down to survival of the fastest. The pace of business change has intensified dramatically as the fruits of digital technologies expand beyond Silicon Valley to the entire economy in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the heart of this new digital world order is the unstoppable rise of automation, analytics and artificial intelligence (what we call the new machine), and with that comes unprecedented levels of speed – speed of 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 quickly.

As Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff rightly said, “Speed is the new currency of business. If you’re not going fast enough, someone else is.” 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, had 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. Our “The Work AHEAD” research shows that digital leaders hold a 139% advantage over stragglers in cost savings and revenue growth. If you think it will be another 10 years before AI need to be taken seriously, you’ve already lost.

Business leaders are already under tremendous pressure from inside and outside their organization to meet fomenting customer and market expectations. In addition, massive data volumes and the pressure to derive insights from it are creating a digital overload for many companies at a time when they need to accelerate the speed of decision-making in their organizations. In our recent survey of 500 IT Managers, the number one issue reported was that their businesses were too slow to effectively capitalize digital. The tension between the fast pace of change and the optimal rate for companies to respond and adapt is growing as the leadership, legacy systems, business strategies, supply chains, organizational structures, skills and cultures of many of these established companies are simply not equipped to cope with the speed of change.

But there’s a catch – 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. Business leaders often struggle is in setting the right pace for 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.

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,” “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.” Meanwhile, attempting to imitate one of the digital masters or unicorns is more often than not a misguided and even dangerous strategy. The chances are good that endeavoring 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. Organizations that pursue these “fake futures” are being furious and not fast in their transformation journey.

So what to do? How do you know whether your business is moving at the right pace? That’s what our speed framework is all about. The ultimate objective of this framework is to help organizations match the speed of disruption in the marketplace. The speed framework is an extension of our primary research, featured in our report series The Work Ahead, and our latest book, What To Do When Machines Do Everything. While the AHEAD model, as highlighted in the book, illuminates a path forward for achieving digital success, the speed framework will help organizations set the right pace. Our AHEAD speed framework consists of five approaches from speed context:

  • Speed to automation
  • Speed to monetize halos of information
  • Speed to enhance the workforce
  • Speed to abundance
  • Speed to discovery (innovation)

We developed the speed framework by speaking with C-level executives in multiple industries to determine their capabilities in each category of the categories above. By assessing their own characteristics with the ones detailed in the report, businesses can determine where they are in the digital journey and what they need to do to progress to the next level. Almost every C-level executive that we spoke to agreed that the speed of doing business is the new norm.

Get a copy of the report to figure out whether you are moving in a slow/ medium/ fast lane and the right speed you need in a world where time-to-everything matters more than any other strategic imperative.