Digital Decision Point: Preparing for the Future Today

Digital Decision Point: Preparing for the Future Today
By Andrew Stevens, Managing Director, IBM Australia and New Zealand

This week I spoke to about 90 business decision makers in Sydney on the urgent need for Australian organisations – private and government – to transform their organisations for the digital era. This is a topic close to my heart because it affects Australia’s prosperity, competitiveness and ultimately our future place in the world.

Addressing an American Chamber of Commerce lunch, I asked the executives to reimagine their businesses. I wanted them to leave with the idea that we were at a digital decision point and that there is no time to waste because change is happening all around us.

Digital transformation occurs when businesses seize high-speed broadband, big data and analytics, mobility and emerging technologies such as cloud to fundamentally alter the value they bring to partners and customers.

It’s more than simply making a business more efficient, which technology definitely does. It’s about preparing for a smarter world where the modes of business look very different to what we’ve become accustomed to.

It could be the likes of publisher Fairfax, which this week launched a compact print version of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in response to changing business conditions and consumer appetites. This follows many other innovations, such as creating its top-ranking websites and mobile apps, and using data analytics to improve value to readers and advertisers.

Or it could be the case of Sabre (US), which was founded in the 1950s using IBM flight reservations technology and now helps thousands of businesses and millions of people meet and connect every year, now through the cloud as much as in the clouds. It does that still by reserving seats on planes, but now it also schedules meetings and provides the e-commerce system for other businesses so they can add value for their customers.

By digitising what they do, businesses like Fairfax and Sabre are changing the very value of what it is they produce. The value-add is becoming the value itself.

There is not a lot of time for Australian businesses to act because these changes to a data-drenched, hyper-connected and broadband world are global – and the plates are shifting under our feet. It is my view that those who leave it until 2015 to act will have left it too late.

It was a comment from the floor on skills shortages that crystallised this chicken-and-egg scenario. An audience participant lamented that there were so few people with digital skills that is was hard to see how Australian organisations wouldn’t fall behind.

I’d echo her concern. Enrolments in science, technology, engineering and maths courses, the raw materials of this digital business transformation, are declining just as they are most needed for success in this new operating environment.

It would be great to see organisations say, “We've seen enough to prove that digital transformation is real and we need to get on and do it.” If they do, then the pieces will fall into place.