e-commerce

B2B E-Commerce – 9 of the Best Practices for a Great User Experience

With the expectations of B2B buyers increasingly shaped by their consumer behavior in the B2C realm, it’s time for B2B businesses to take a closer look at the kind of user experience they’re delivering online. The fact is that B2B businesses can no longer afford to fall short when it comes to the user experience. Sophisticated B2B buyers will simply take their custom elsewhere if a B2B seller – or, more specifically, their online e-commerce platform – does not measure up to the customer-centric standards that major B2C sellers like Amazon have mastered.

So how can B2B businesses capitalize on this opportunity to better serve their customers by designing and delivering a quality user experience? Keeping these nine best practices in mind is a great place to start.

  1. Ease of navigation

website 3-commerce

Businesses might be tempted to get fancy with a website’s appearance or features. However, it’s vital not to overlook the main reason why buyers have come to the site in the first place: to find or research a particular product or service. That means that the top priority for a B2B e-commerce site is to make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for. Navigation features like hierarchical product categories and product filters are obvious but essential elements here.

  1. Intuitive search features

Another user-friendly element that makes it even easier for visitors to navigate a B2B website is the use of intuitive search features. Autocompletion can increase the power of a user’s search significantly. Incorporating common product synonyms in descriptions ensures that no search falls short because of language differences. Ranking results by popularity helps deliver the most relevant information quickly.

  1. Superior product images

B2B buyers not only want to find what they’re looking for easily, they want to see it as well, preferably in a manner that’s as representative of real life as possible. This not only means ensuring that users can zoom in on product photos and view multiple images of the product from a variety of angles, it also means including images of the product in real-world settings to provide much-needed context.

  1. A variety of shipping options

Despite the fact that shipping is a key determination in the success of a B2B transaction, it’s an element that many B2B businesses tend to overlook. The most important best practice here is to offer numerous options to satisfy different customer needs.

package delivery

Some customers will prioritize discounted or free shipping (particularly once a certain spend threshold is reached). Others are prepared to pay extra if that means they will receive their product faster. Still others focus on shipping options that give the customer added control, like the possibility for deliveries after business hours.

  1. Real-time product availability

Timing plays a major role in B2B e-commerce transactions. Seeing that product stock is down to its last few items increases the customer’s sense of urgency and reduces decision-making delays. Simultaneously, it helps manage customer expectations and increase communication and transparency.

Even when products are out of stock, it’s still possible to deliver a great user experience. For example, try allowing users to sign up for an automatic notification that will alert them when the desired product is back in stock.

  1. Flexible payment options

B2B businesses can greatly increase their chances of making a sale – and help make things easier for their buyers – by offering numerous options for accepting payments. This is especially important in the B2B realm, as B2B buyers often require purchase approval from more than one source and may be making purchases from multiple accounts.

B2B e-commerce sites need to be able to easily provide invoices and purchase orders, and to accept payment via check, credit card, or third-party options like PayPal or Google Wallet. It can also be useful to provide regular clients with a corporate account.

  1. Wholesale pricing

Given the varying needs of B2B buyers, having a back-end that is optimized for transactions at both the retail and the wholesale level is an absolute must for B2B e-commerce platforms. Some of the most important features to include here are personalized pricing options according to sales volume as well as custom logins for buyers and pricing options based on those logins.

  1. Custom discounts

According to research from Bain & Company, pricing is the single most important factor in determining a B2B company’s profits. As a result, B2B businesses need to pay careful attention to the complex issue of how their products are priced for each customer.

discounts

Custom discounts can make an important contribution to a B2B business’ bottom line. Try including introductory pricing for new clients, volume discounts that incentivize large purchases, and legacy pricing to reward and retain long-term customers.

  1. The human touch

B2B buyers don’t want to make purchases from a faceless corporation, they want to feel like they are buying products from real people. To bring this element of human connection to the B2B space, B2B businesses need to be very deliberate in how they communicate with their customers. Reducing the use of jargon and replacing it with genuine messaging can go a long way in helping B2B buyers feel like they’re dealing with people and not a robot.

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human resources

What You Need to Know about HR Trends in the Digital Age – Part 2

Our exploration of how the rules of HR are changing in the digital age continues with six more trends from Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report and survey.

  1. Performance management.

What’s it about?—It’s a simple truth that as the nature of work shifts, so should the way we measure and evaluate it. In recent years, companies have been experimenting more with performance management approaches that turn away from simple appraisals in favor of continuous feedback and coaching. This year, according to the Deloitte survey, companies are finishing their experiments and moving toward the deployment of new performance management models on a wide scale. So far, these changes are greatly helping to increase productivity and shift corporate culture.

business management

Where can businesses start?—Though more and more businesses are changing how they measure, evaluate, and recognize employee performance, new tools are not yet in place at every organization. Companies looking to capitalize on this trend should clearly designate a strategy and philosophy for performance management; look to their peers to see new techniques in action; and focus on providing training to managers in coaching and continuous feedback.

  1. Pushing the boundaries of leadership.

What’s it about?—Today’s rapidly transforming companies need strong leaders more than ever, and yet most organizations are having difficulty moving quickly enough to develop digital leaders with the necessary skills and expertise, let alone build completely new leadership models. As a result, the boundaries of traditional leadership hierarchies are being dramatically disrupted, and more agile, diverse, and younger leaders are emerging—sometimes from unexpected places—to take the reins at their companies.

Where can businesses start?—Challenges to the leadership model can be stressful for long-established organizations, but it’s important for companies to embrace this new direction in order to move forward. Businesses should be bold in coming up with a new vision for the organization’s leadership model. In addition, they should not be afraid of identifying prospective digital leaders within the company and promoting younger or newer workers into leadership positions quickly.

  1. Digital HR.

What’s it about?—No longer a siloed support function focused on delivering employee services, HR is, in many organizations, at the forefront of digital transformation. The push to “be digital” rather than just to “do digital” is driving the development of a new digital workforce, a more effectively designed digital workplace, and a digital HR function that not only delivers solutions, but continuously experiments and innovates. In other words, it’s not simply a question of digitizing HR platforms—rather, it’s about helping change how people work and how they interact with each other in the workplace.

Where can businesses start?—Fortunately, the path to digital HR is rapidly becoming clearer as expanded options and new platforms and tools gain a greater hold in the business world. Organizations can start down this path by upgrading core technology; developing a multi-year HR technology strategy and building a dedicated digital HR team; and prioritizing innovation as a core strategy within HR.

  1. People analytics.

What’s it about?—Data about people at work is of vital importance today, and not just to specialized technical data scientists, but as a step to achieving broad business objectives and efficiencies. When used properly, people analytics can impact everything from operations and management to financial performance. However, many businesses lack the readiness and expertise to optimize the use of this data and transform it into actionable insights.

analytics personnel

Where can businesses start?—Clear leadership and targeted investment can help businesses make a successful people analytics program part of their operations. Making a two- to three-year roadmap for analytics program investment is a good place to start, as is the establishment of a multidisciplinary group from across the organization to outline and understand the broadest possible uses of people data.

  1. Diversity and inclusion.

What’s it about?—All around the world, diversity and inclusion are now CEO-level issues. No longer a “check the box” initiative driven by HR, diversity is an essential element to the digital organization of today, which thrives on open dialogue, collaboration, and complementary working styles. To be most effective, diversity and inclusion should be a comprehensive strategy woven into the very fabric of the talent life cycle, where it can enhance employee engagement, boost the brand, and drive performance improvements.

Where can businesses start?—There is still a “reality gap” between the importance that organizations place on diversity and inclusion, and what’s happening on the ground. Businesses can shrink this gap by leveraging data to look at the facts, identify problems, and measure progress, as well as by providing education initiatives like unconscious bias training. The goal is to build an awareness of diversity into the entire workforce, including management.

  1. The augmented workforce.

What’s it about?—AI systems, robotics, and other cognitive tools and technology are reinventing almost every job, a process that is leading to something that has been dubbed the “augmented workforce.” As this trend picks up speed, organizations must consider how they will design jobs and organize work in the future with people and robots working side by side. The days of considering the workforce to be only those employees on the balance sheet are over.

Where can businesses start?—To understand how new cognitive technologies could change the fabric of their workforce, companies must have a clear and comprehensive understanding of what the picture looks like now. Essential tasks for companies to complete include closely examining how core work actually gets done; identifying all human workforce segments within the company; looking at all types of nonhuman workforces currently in play; and determining what human skills will be critical for the future workforce.

human resources

What You Need to Know about HR Trends in the Digital Age – Part 1

It won’t come as a surprise to today’s business and HR leaders that the title of Deloitte’s recently released, fifth annual Global Human Capital Trends report and survey is “Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age.” As the report highlights, the present-day workforce is undergoing a seismic shift as a result of dramatic advances in digital technology. This shift has called into question the hows and whys of almost every organizational practice. As a result, business and HR leaders all over the world are having to look beyond old operational paradigms and embrace bold new ways of thinking about their organizations, their people, and their role in the global economy.

For HR leaders struggling with how best to adapt to this dramatically changing landscape, the Deloitte report is an instructive read. Full of insights gathered from more than 10,000 survey respondents in 140 countries, the report presents 10 of the most important trends impacting HR in the digital age, and offers helpful suggestions for leaders on how to incorporate these trends into their workplaces. Read on for a look at the top four of these trends.

  1. Building the organization of the future.

What’s it about?—The question of how to build the organization of the future has topped Deloitte’s list of trends for the past two years. This year, nearly 90% of all survey respondents rated this issue as “important” or “very important.” It’s easy to understand why this is such a priority when we consider not only that today’s high-performing organizations operate very differently than they did even just a decade earlier, but also that many organizations still operate based on industrial-age models that were developed a century or more ago. Consequently, abandoning cumbersome legacy systems and practices is a pressing concern for most businesses today, especially given the rapid pace of transformation and adaptation in the digital change.

organization chart

Where can businesses start?—There are a number of early steps that businesses can take to start down the road of building the organization of the future. These include making talent mobility a core value, which can be accomplished by moving executives from function to function so that they gain a deeper understanding of a more agile career model. Other strategies involve forming an organizational performance group to interview and study how high-performing teams and programs work, and leveraging new workplace communication tools like Slack or Basecamp to foster greater collaboration and exchange.

  1. Careers and learning.

What’s it about?—The very notion of what a “career” is has changed significantly in recent years. Today, the career of the average worker could span up to 60 years, with the average stay in a single job or role lasting between four and five years. In other words, today’s workers will be looking to continually reinvent themselves, move from role to role, and find or transform their calling over time. If businesses want to make the most of their employees’ skills, they are going to have to support them through this ongoing process by delivering continuous learning opportunities and a business culture that deeply values long-term development.

Where can businesses start?—HR leaders looking to revamp learning and development (L&D) within their organizations have a challenging task ahead, but small initial actions can help pave the way. First, it’s helpful to evaluate internal mobility to ensure that employees have frequent access to new opportunities. Hiring from within is also important, as is bringing back the idea of the “corporate university” where people can come together for cross-functional, interdisciplinary programs and learning experiences.

  1. Talent acquisition.

personnel hiring

What’s it about?—Identified as an important or very important issue by 81% of Deloitte survey respondents, talent acquisition is a challenging and contentious area in this age of talent and skill shortages. Interestingly, it has become so important for companies to find the right people for the job that attracting skilled resources is no longer the responsibility of HR alone. Instead, all managers and C-level executives are now realizing the importance of, and their role in, sourcing top talent.

Where can businesses start?—One of the most important ways that businesses can change their approach to talent acquisition is by changing the tools they use to find and connect with candidates. Recruiting today is a sophisticated digital experience, requiring businesses to explore a range of approaches, including social networks, cognitive tools, and video and gaming, in their hunt for great people.

  1. The employee experience.

What’s it about?—Just as digital-age customers have come to expect a different level of experience from the organizations they buy products and services from, employees have come to expect a different kind of workplace experience during their tenure with a company. As a result, more and more businesses are focusing on long-term employee journeys, looking at the needs of their workforce from the first pre-interview contact through retirement and beyond. These companies are finding new ways to reshape the employee experience through broad culture and engagement initiatives.

Where can businesses start?—A holistic approach is needed when it comes to revamping the employee experience. Businesses can start by recognizing that the employee experience is as valuable and can make as much of an impact as the customer experience. Then, they can move on to specific strategies like finding ways to simplify work and improve productivity; visiting peer companies to gain inspiration and discover successful and unsuccessful techniques; and gaining critical buy-in from the C-suite.

cyber security

What Trends Will Shape Cybersecurity in the Coming Year?

Leading research and advisory company Gartner recently wrapped up its 2017 Security and Risk Management Summit. A premier gathering of leaders and executives in the fields of security, risk management, and business continuity management, the annual summit focuses on helping businesses reinvent and refine their thinking on how to handle security and risk in the digital age.

In this era of ransomware attacks and privacy breaches, the issue of cybersecurity was unsurprisingly one of the defining themes of this year’s summit. In a presentation given on the summit’s first day, Gartner analyst and research vice president Earl Perkins outlined five key trends that are expected to shape the cybersecurity landscape in 2017 and 2018.

  1. Changing skills and organizational requirements

online securityCybersecurity already has a zero percent unemployment rate, and that talent shortage is only expected to grow as the field evolves and the need for new skill sets arises. Data management in particular will become a significant challenge. The next three to five years alone will see organizations generating more data than they ever have before, and that unprecedented volume of information will require highly specialized handling. The need for new skills in data science and analytics will continue to grow, and the industry’s major concerns will include areas like data classes, data governance, and artificial security intelligence. To keep pace with this next phase of cybersecurity, adaptability will be essential, both for organizations and for individuals.

  1. Cloud security as a top priority

Now that cloud computing has become a mainstream activity and the cloud environment is reaching maturity, the cloud is becoming a valuable—and potentially vulnerable—security target. The entire industry will need to work together to prevent a tragedy of the commons in which the stability and security of a shared cloud service is threatened by too many demands from too many different companies, without the corresponding sharing of responsibility for its upkeep. In addition, to keep data safe in the cloud environment, companies will need to make difficult decisions about who they can and cannot trust. Therefore, they should develop rigorous security guidelines for both private and public cloud use, and put in place a model to drive informed decisions concerning cloud risk.

  1. Shifting focus away from protection and prevention

One of the biggest cybersecurity trends discussed at the Gartner summit is one that may be the most difficult for security professionals to accept: the idea that it simply isn’t possible to stop every threat. Executives need to accept that fact and focus their resources on what they can actually accomplish. As Earl Perkins argued in his presentation, it is very difficult to stop a dedicated, well-financed actor who is after something specific in an organization from getting what they want, especially as they can always resort to a company’s weakest link: people. Instead, enterprises should adapt their security setup to focus not on protection, but on detection, response, and remediation, which Perkins described as the new frontier for today’s cybersecurity fight. Indeed, as technology evolves further, we can even expect to see the focus shift yet again from detection and response to prediction, i.e., heading off threats before they even happen.

  1. The development operations center as the leader of application and data security

business

Despite the fact that there is a new window of opportunity in application security, the associated expense makes most enterprises reluctant to take advantage of it. However, there’s never been a better time to bring together development and operations, and to figure out the best way not only of evaluating the value of security, but of explaining that value to the business. The anticipated result is a necessary shift from DevOps to DevSecOps. Now that an almost endless connection between development and operations is possible due to the drastically shortened time to market, focusing on security within the DevOps context, rather than running each element as an isolated unit, is the essential next step. If enterprises are not working with an internal DevOps team, it’s critical to have a conversation with their service provider about the kind of security they offer.

  1. Digital ecosystems and next-generation security

Safety, reliability, and privacy are the key tenets of cybersecurity, but the interesting thing happening now is that these issues are no longer confined solely to the digital realm. As a result of the rapid rise of the Internet of Things and its millions of connected devices, cybersecurity is now directly linked to the physical safety of people and environments. Bluntly put, when you’re talking about things like self-driving cars or sensors that monitor health conditions and give alerts when it’s time to take medication, enterprises that don’t have a sufficient handle on cybersecurity may be putting people’s lives at risk. Therefore, the next generation of cybersecurity won’t just be about the digital world, but the physical one as well.

technology

How to Get to a Next-Generation Operating Model

Companies today are faced with a tough challenge: how to build value and provide compelling and responsive customer experiences while cutting costs and inefficiencies at the same time. Leveraging new digital technologies seems to be the obvious answer, but, as a recent article from McKinsey & Company argues, technology itself is only part of the solution. What companies need to do is let go of the way they’ve always done things and commit to a next-generation operating model; that is, a way of running the business that brings together digital technologies and operations capabilities in an integrated, holistic, and well-sequenced way.

A shift in approach.

For most companies, adopting such a model requires two big shifts in their established operational approach. The first is to use customer journeys as the organizing principle for improvement efforts, rather than to run uncoordinated efforts within conventional departmental siloes. In other words, this shift involves breaking down traditional business units and instead thinking holistically about customer journeys and the internal processes that support them. For example, in the case of a customer wanting to open a bank account, rather than focusing on the individual units involved (operations, marketing, credit, and IT) it’s preferable to look at that journey as a single, end-to-end element which should be handled as a whole and not broken down by department.

online banking

The second major shift is to move away from employing individual technologies or capabilities in a piecemeal way, and instead focus on working with multiple capabilities in a strategic sequence to compound the impact and achieve maximum results. The McKinsey article calls these capabilities “levers,” and provides a breakdown of the five most important levers that organizations typically use in improving the operations and processes that support customer journeys. Read on for an overview of the five levers.

  1. Digitization

Broadly speaking, digitization refers to the process of using digital tools and technologies to improve journeys. These tools can have a powerfully transformative impact on customer-facing journeys, notably by providing options for self-service and thus giving customers independence and autonomy in their interactions with companies. Digitization can also streamline time-consuming manual and transactional tasks, thus speeding up responsiveness.

  1. Advanced analytics

An increasingly critical component of business decision-making today, advanced analytics involves using sophisticated, autonomous tools to process data and uncover patterns and insights from which actionable recommendations can be made. The intelligence that analytics provides can greatly enhance journeys that require non-linear thinking; for example, insurers with advanced analytics capabilities in place are seeing huge improvements in areas like fraud management and smart claims triage.

  1. Intelligent process automation (IPA)

This emerging set of new technologies brings together robotic process automation and machine learning to trigger fundamental process redesign. In other words, for processes that involve data aggregation from multiple systems or standardized data input, IPA can take the place of human effort.

  1. Business process outsourcing (BPO)

outsourcing

The practice of using resources outside the main business to fulfill specific tasks and functions (for example, back-office document processing) has become a popular one in recent years. Often a useful measure for improving cost efficiency, BPO is typically best when used for manual processes that are not primarily customer-facing and do not have an impact on strategic choices or value propositions.

  1. Lean process redesign

This versatile methodology helps companies streamline processes, create a culture of continuous improvement, and eliminate waste, redundancies, and inefficiencies. It applies well to almost all processes, including short- and long-cycle, transactional and judgement-based, and client-facing and internal.

How should companies implement these levers?

The McKinsey article offers three important design guidelines companies should keep in mind when thinking about how and when to use the above levers:

  1. Each lever should be used to maximum effect.

For companies to reap the rewards of the next-generation operating model, they must be willing to push the limits. Too often, companies think they are applying capabilities to the fullest, but they are actually falling short of their true potential. Leveraging a few predictive models, for example, is not the same as truly harnessing the power of analytics. Companies, and their executives in particular, must be vigilant in monitoring the use of levers, and they must be prepared to challenge teams who are complacent in the belief that they are “doing all they can.”

  1. Each lever must be implemented in the right sequence.

So many variables are involved that it’s virtually impossible to build a “universal recipe” for sequencing these levers, but companies should know that the best results can be achieved when the levers are able to build on each other. Systematic analysis, which is looking at the opportunity to apply remaining levers in turn and the resulting impact, can help companies figure out which levers depend on the successful implementation of others to be most effective.

  1. The levers should interact with each other to achieve a compound effect.

Just as levers need to be applied in the right sequence, they also need to work in tandem to be most successful; that is, it’s not simply a case of one lever picking up where another leaves off. Some companies have adopted “heat maps,” which offer an organization-wide perspective on how each lever will impact each journey, as a tool to help in looking at the levers and their effects holistically.

technology

A Look at Today’s Most Important Emerging Technologies

In today’s rapidly shifting digital landscape, it’s more important than ever for companies to stay on top of emerging technology trends. To help businesses keep pace with the latest technological changes, Forrester recently published a new report on “The Top Emerging Technologies for Digital Predators,” which includes a wealth of information relevant to companies regardless of where they sit on the digital transformation spectrum. Read on for a closer look at some key takeaways from the report.

What is a digital predator?

According to Forrester analyst and report co-author Nigel Fenwick, today’s companies tend to fall into one of three categories:

Digital dinosaurs—These incumbents struggle to shed their old business models and reinvent themselves for the digital economy. Their slow rate of change results from a number of different factors, including the power many feel from holding a near monopoly position, the need to defend large P&Ls (profit and loss), or simply a failure to see either the opportunity or the threat that digitization represents. Many retailers as well as manufacturing and construction firms belong to this group.

businessDigital transformers—These traditional businesses have successfully evolved to take advantage of emerging technologies; for the most part, they are creating new sources of value for their customers and are implementing competitive strategies that may take them beyond conventional industry boundaries. Companies like Burberry, L’Oréal, and Ford are good examples of digital transformers.

Digital predators—The third category of businesses is startup territory. These digital predators successfully leverage emerging digital technologies to challenge traditional incumbent companies for market share, frequently displacing them in the process. The names of some of the biggest digital predators won’t surprise anyone: Amazon, Airbnb, and Netflix, for starters.

What emerging technologies are having a significant business impact?

Fenwick argues that, regardless of whether a company is a digital dinosaur, transformer, or predator, every company needs to understand how emerging technologies are impacting the business landscape and, consequently, what role they might have to play in the company’s own digital transformation. This understanding can help executives like CIOs, CTOs, and CDOs ensure that their technology portfolios blend mature technologies that support current operations with emerging technologies that will help to serve future customers.

According to the Forrester report, some of the most critical emerging technologies that companies need to know about—that is, those technologies that have the highest potential to bring a competitive advantage, influence markets, or shift the business landscape altogether—include:

Intelligent agents—These are artificial intelligence solutions that have the capacity to not only interact with their users, but to learn their behavior and understand their needs, and eventually even to make decisions on their behalf through predictive analytics. The idea behind intelligent agents is to improve productivity, optimize a variety of business activities, and reduce costs. Equally important is the goal to increase customer loyalty by offering a personalized, high-quality experience. Some of the best-known intelligent agents at present include prototypes like Apple’s Siri or Google Now, but more chatbots, virtual agents, and robotic process automation services are being added to the landscape every day.

virtual realityAugmented and virtual reality—Augmented reality (AR) is a process by which digital information and experiences are layered on top of the physical world, while virtual reality (VR) goes one step further, creating a completely new, interactive digital environment. AR in particular has strong potential to dramatically alter the customer experience, especially in retail environments. For example, the home improvement retail chain Lowe’s recently released an AR “mapping” app that helps customers search for products, add them to a shopping list, and then easily navigate their way through the store to find and collect the items.

Internet of Things solutions—Smart devices and sensors connected to the Internet are providing companies with a new level of insight into how customers are using their products and how their systems are operating. The Forrester report makes the case that using a digital model to map the physical world will become a defining feature of business over the next decade, and that the Internet of Things (IoT) will simply become the business standard for companies dealing with physical assets.

Cognitive technology—Advanced machine learning has the power to mimic natural human cognitive functions, thus opening up the possibility for new data insights and suggested actions. Emerging technologies in this category include developments like natural language processing, which can personalize and differentiate the customer experience, as well as dramatically improve internal processes.

Hybrid wireless technologies—A new communications infrastructure could be on the rise given the advances in interfaces and software that allow devices to use and to translate between at least two different wireless providers, protocols, and frequency bands (such as radio, cellular, and Wi-Fi). These developments are likely to drive new applications that anticipate and meet customer demands in a whole new way.

server room

How to Thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – 9 Principles

One of the biggest effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been the erosion of conventional boundaries between industries. As a host of emerging and mutually reinforcing technologies (like the Internet of Things, data analytics, and machine learning) have opened up a vast array of new opportunities for business, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see the difference between, for example, a retail store and a retail bank, or an entertainment production company and a telecommunications provider. In addition, the relationships among consumers, suppliers, and producers are similarly blurring as a result of digital technology’s power to enable individuals to connect outside of the traditional value chain.

In such a confused environment, full of ever-shifting lines in the sand, how can a business differentiate itself from its competitors (who may not even be in the same industry), build digital prowess, and play a pivotal role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? A recent article from Strategy & Business magazine offers the following nine principles as a guide:

  1. Rethink the business model.

organization chart

Today’s digital landscape is full of cautionary examples of incumbents who clung to outdated business models, only to lose ground to startups that leveraged flexibility and innovation to introduce new products and services at significantly lower prices. Businesses today need to realize that traditional industries have changed forever, and paths to profitability have changed accordingly. As a result, it’s time to take a fresh look at long-established assumptions about doing business, and develop a new business model that’s a more appropriate fit for this new era.

  1. Build a platform-based strategy.

The value chain was the backbone of the old industrial system; in the new system, that backbone is the platform. A system that brings a range of vendors and customers together on a plug-and-play technological base, the platform has become widely recognized as one of the main driving forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Companies must take steps to determine what role they will be able to play in a platform-based economy, such as a builder of platforms, an engager using platforms to provide products and services, or a developer of new technologies to serve existing platforms.

  1. Design for customers.

The new infrastructure of the Fourth Industrial Revolution may be a web of digital connections, but it’s important to remember that there are still real-life people at the end of those connections. Today, digital technology has given businesses the opportunity to be closer than ever to their customers, and to discover (and fulfill) what those customers genuinely want and need. A customer-centric approach to design has therefore become vitally important.

  1. Boost technological acumen.

business

Today, regardless of industry, software is the key to competitiveness. Over the next few years, every company, even born-digital startups, will need to improve its technological acumen in order to keep up with the pace of change and remain a competitive market force. This not only means recruiting software experts, it also means making training in digital tools and insight a key development focus for every single worker.

  1. Innovate quickly and openly.

Large-scale disruptive innovation has garnered the lion’s share of attention in the digital revolution, but many companies are finding that a steady stream of smaller, incremental innovations is just as effective, in terms of both profit and feasibility. Today’s digital tools allow smaller innovations like new products to be prototyped, manufactured in small batches, and tested in the market within a greatly reduced timeframe; this is a huge advantage in helping companies understand how real-world customers will respond.

  1. Leverage data.

Most companies are well versed in gathering data. However, the next step is to ensure that they properly analyze the data for important patterns, which can lead to critical insights and actionable decisions. For maximum effectiveness, companies should ensure that their analytics teams are integrated, and that there are regular discussions across the company about what findings are coming to light and how this information could affect the business.

  1. Embrace new financing models.

financing

The old ways of raising money are having a harder time delivering when it comes to financing new large-scale technologies. Instead, financing is seeing the same kind of shift that cloud computing brought to software—that is, a pay-as-you-go model that emphasizes smaller but more frequent payments in exchange for more flexible installations.

  1. Emphasize purpose over products.

Purpose is taking over from product as the main factor that differentiates one company from another. A clear value proposition, applied to everything a company does, is a must-have for anyone doing business in the digital age; consumers today want to know not only what a company provides, but why they provide it and towards what outcome.

  1. Handle data responsibly.

Even small companies are now collecting vast amounts of data, and customers need to know that companies can be trusted with their sensitive personal information. This not only means that companies must maintain secure privacy safeguards to prevent unauthorized data access, but it also means that they must handle data ethically and transparently to avoid betraying consumer trust.