Everyone wants to explore and go Digital – again! I say ‘again,’ as I have seen this trend in the late ’90s during the first dotcom era! So, how is it different now? Or is it really that different?

For starters, the definition of ‘Digital’ has not changed significantly between then and now. McKinsey defines it best as a combination of three attributes:

Creating Value at New Frontiers: Re-examining the entire way of doing business and understanding where the new frontiers of value are.

Creating Value in Core Businesses: Re-thinking how to use new capabilities to improve the way customers are served.

Building Foundational Digital Capabilities: Re-inventing the technological and organizational processes that allow an enterprise to be agile and fast.

The core skills required to deliver these solutions have also not changed considerably.

To deliver Digital solutions in the late ’90s, a new breed of Internet consulting firms were formed that classified themselves as ‘Interactive Architects.’ Remember Scient, Viant, NetAcross, marchFIRST and many more? Their go-to-market strategy was that they brought about the convergence of:

  • Strategy consulting to help their clients address the opportunities around ‘creating value at new frontiers’ and ‘creating value in core businesses’

  • Technology consulting and implementation to address the agility required to deploy Digital solutions while using the advances in Internet technology

  • Visual design, graphics consulting and implementation to address the aesthetics, visual design and branding of the Digital solutions

Many of these companies folded or were sold off during the dotcom bust in 2001.

Now, we see a number of consulting firms trying to address the above capabilities and issues with their Digital Practices. Some technology companies are morphing their positioning by addressing strategy, visual design and branding capabilities.

Hence, if everything seems to be the same, what actually has changed?

To me, the following factors have changed the landscape dramatically, and are probably helping current Digital solutions be more impactful than ever:

Social Media: The late ’90s lacked a social media environment. Most of the Digital solutions rolled out during this time were ‘one-to-many’ without the necessity or requirement of addressing ‘many-to-many’ business models. Social media platforms were at best threaded discussion forums that lacked the capability to enable and influence commerce.

However, today’s social media platforms are not only catalysts that drive commerce, they are a strong channel for addressing customer interactions as well. Businesses have the opportunity of managing their products, services and brand in an open, non-moderated, real-time and agile format.

Mobile Technologies and Apps: GPRS became available in 2000 as a packet-switched data service embedded to the channel-switched cellular network GSM. GPRS extended the reach of the fixed Internet by connecting mobile devices. But can we imagine conducting business on a traditional mobile device with WAP interfaces and at the data bandwidth supported by GPRS those days?

This has changed with new advances in mobile technologies such as smartphones, tablets, high-speed mobile networks and an ever-growing inventory of native apps. These advancements are helping commerce and enabling companies to use Digital to conduct commerce successfully.

There is a significant shift to mobile web access since 2007 with the rise of larger multitouch smartphones, and since 2010, multitouch tablets. These platforms provide better Internet access, screens and mobile browsers or app-based user web experiences, compared to previous generations of mobile devices.

Faster speed, smaller, feature-rich devices, and a multitude of apps continue to drive commerce, multimedia applications and the explosive growth of mobile Digital solutions.

Cloud-based Infrastructure: One of the biggest issues while deploying Digital solutions in the late ’90s was the lack of stable, scalable, highly-available and OPEX-pricing based cloud infrastructure thus requiring significant upfront CAPEX. This put pressure on the funding of such programs and the return on investment could not be justified if we consider the challenges associated with access to clients (no mobile Internet, apps or social media).

However, all this has changed today. With the availability of cloud-based infrastructure that can be commissioned in an ‘As-A-Service’ model on OPEX-based investments, new asset-light business models are being deployed. People and companies are exploring new ways of servicing the stated requirements of clients while creating new requirements for services and business models that never existed or were unstated.

Embedded Analytics and Big Data: With the availability of scalable and embedded analytical models that use all forms of data — structured, unstructured, virtualized, big data — businesses are improving their ability to make real-time and proactive decisions. These decisions are based on intelligence, and deliver content, experiences and services that are personalized and relevant to the customer. And remember, these customers have fast-changing requirements, are mobile, use social media and do not care about how the services are delivered as long as it’s done according to their satisfaction.

Analytics and real-time automation are helping businesses analyze how a customer is interacting with them, and modifying those interactions and offering appropriate channels to improve the customer experience throughout the customer journey.

So yes, the word Digital was coined years ago with relevant solutions deployed then. However, the shape and form of what Digital is delivering today have changed significantly as I have highlighted above. These solutions are more impactful than before because the ecosystem has changed dramatically. The Digital of today is fueling business growth and helping organizations to explore value creation for their core and also explore new frontiers! These catalysts are driving Digital to focus on new-age business models and opportunities to conduct commerce with a large set of new customers.

What’s in store for the future? I believe with the advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain, we are at the beginning of the next revolution in Digital. Businesses across the globe will rapidly leverage AI, IoT and blockchain to create new products and services. These will open new business opportunities, and pave the way for new customer bases and business models. The resulting transformation will herald a new era of how businesses run their operations and engage with customers – and truly go Digital!

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