In The Digital Economy, Winners Will Place People First

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At the recent annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Fourth Industrial Revolution was one of the most-discussed topics by CEOs and heads of state who see the tremendous potential for digital technologies to add real value to industry and society. According to a WEF report, the cumulative value of digitization could reach $100 trillion over the next 10 years, underscoring the opportunity to create a promising future workforce where people and intelligent machines work together to improve how the world works and lives.

While there is much excitement about the opportunity, there is also a realization that all organizations are facing digital disruption and many are experiencing what we call a state of “digital culture shock.”  Many are overwhelmed by the pace and scale of digital disruption, and are unsure how to move ahead.  The secret ingredient is actually literally sitting within their organization – it’s their people.

By taking a people first approach, organizations can embrace disruption by empowering their people to continuously learn new skills and do more with technology, which can help improve how people work and create bigger and better outcomes for individuals, organizations and society at large.  This people first approach will give businesses unmatched capabilities to create fresh ideas, develop cutting-edge products and services, disrupt the status quo—and position themselves to win in the digital economy.

In our just-released annual forecast of global technology trends—Accenture Technology Vision 2016— we’ve identified five trends fueled by the people first approach that provide a roadmap to digital success:

Intelligent automation. Leaders are embracing automation—powered by artificial intelligence, robotics and augmented reality—to fundamentally change the way their business operates and drive a new, more productive relationship between people and machines. Intelligent automation offers strengths and capabilities—scale, speed and the ability to cut through complexity—that are different from, but crucially complementary to, human skills.  Far from killing jobs and creating a dehumanized future, intelligent automation is being used by pioneering companies to drive a new—and more-productive—relationship between people and machines.  It’s a key enabler of the changes that businesses must make to keep pace with and compete in the new digital economy.

Liquid workforce. By exploiting technology to enable workforce transformation, leading companies can create highly adaptable and change-ready enterprise environments that are able to meet today’s dynamic digital demands. The competitive advantage of this “liquid workforce,” as we call it, is clear: IT and business executives we surveyed in conjunction with Accenture Tech Vision 2016 reported that “deep expertise for the specialized task at hand” was only the fifth-most-important characteristic they required for employees to perform well in a digital work environment, behind qualities such as the ability to quickly learn or shift gears— indicating that leaders place a premium on candidates they believe will evolve with their business.

Platform economy. Industry leaders are unleashing technology’s power by developing platform-based business models and strategies to capture new growth opportunities, driving the most profound change in the global macroeconomic environment since the First Industrial Revolution. In fact, four out of five respondents we surveyed said that platform-based business models will become part of their organization’s core growth strategy within three years.  And while these models are driving a major macroeconomic shift, adopting them does not mean giving up on existing business—i.e., value chain—models, which will often provide the new platform’s foundational strength.

Predictable disruption. Fast-emerging digital ecosystems—think precision agriculture, the Industrial Internet or smart cities—are creating the foundation for the next big wave of enterprise disruptions by straddling markets and blurring industry boundaries; four out of five of our survey respondents said that they are already seeing this in their industries. Forward-thinking leaders can proactively predict these ecosystem trajectories to gain a competitive advantage, developing their own ecosystem strategies and riding the results into new markets—but they must start now.

Digital Trust. Trust is a cornerstone of the digital economy; without it, digital businesses can’t use and share the data that underpins their operations. But better security, on its own, won’t be enough. To gain the trust of individuals, ecosystems and regulators in this new landscape, businesses must focus on digital ethics as a core strategy, with strong security and ethics at each stage of the customer journey.  Businesses that get this right will enjoy such high levels of trust that their customers will look to them as guides for the digital future.

Succeeding in today’s digital world is a challenge that can’t be solved simply by consuming more and more technology; rather, it must focus on people. And one the digital journey can’t be just delegated to a chief digital or technology officer; it must be driven from the top, with the CEO and other top leaders embracing digital change.  This point was evident in discussions at Davos and is resonating in boardrooms around the world.  Companies that understand that the digital revolution is as much about people as it is about technology will be able to develop the capabilities needed to adapt and succeed.

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