The pace of digital change is accelerating and businesses simply have to keep up, or risk becoming irrelevant in the changing market. This means that tomorrow's most successful businesses will be the ones that embrace a digital mindset and drive digital thinking throughout every aspect of their business.
In this changing world, companies that merely adopt technology without changing their thinking and behaviour will not prosper. In South Africa, we have already seen some brands, such as the more successful banks and retailers prosper after making the shift from analogue mode to operating digitally.
So, what does 'digital thinking' mean? For a start, the web and social media have given consumers a wealth of information about the brands they interact with, as well as a voice to influence how companies conduct business. It is something that we cannot change - and something that customer-centric companies will not want to change.
The best option is to embrace what this trend means for businesses.
Customers talk about brands, so brands should listen, learn, and take part in the conversation if and when it's appropriate to do so. Brands must accept that we live in a new world of accountability where ethics, corporate citizenship, service and the quality of their products are under constant scrutiny. Companies can no longer hide the dirty laundry behind a whitewashing press release.
In addition to transparency, digital technology brings a new need for responsiveness to company communications. Consumers who use social media to query something, or to complain, expect immediate responses - they expect brands to reply to a tweet or a Facebook post as quickly as one of their friends do.
So, herein lies an opportunity to showcase your customer service in public and forge close relationships with your customers in their own environment. FNB is a great example of a brand succeeding in this space.
Digital transformation is a trend that impacts more than PR and customer service departments - it touches product development, human resources, sales, and more. We're seeing new job roles coming to prominence as companies try to make sense of what digital technology means for each division of their business.
A few years ago, the role of the Community Manager and Data Scientist didn't exist. Organisations need to be thinking closely about what skills they need to cater for in a new world of digital technologies such as cloud computing, web services, big data, and social media.
Meanwhile, digital technology is also changing operating models. We're seeing innovative payment mechanisms and new ways of bundling products and services. Cellular networks are moving into the financial services industry, and banks are selling iPads. New technologies such as 3D printing mean that one day you could manufacture toys for your children at home, from a blueprint sent to you by a toy company.
Crowdsourcing, kick-starting, and online marketplaces have all changed the way the world works today. It has caused companies to open themselves up to new modes of partnership and collaboration, within and outside of their businesses, and with employees, customers, suppliers and business partners.
In my view, it's time to take a hammer to the silos that have traditionally separated departments within companies and industries in the wider sense.
We're seeing entrepreneurs entering the market rapidly with new products and services, thanks to the reusability and flexibility of open-source software, cloud services and affordable computing platforms. These technologies hold much potential for organisations that are nimble enough to exploit them. They are however evolving so fast that companies need to embrace a permanent beta mindset. A service or product is never complete. It can always be improved through real-life experience.
There are still many organisations that have not grasped the importance of digital transformation and the profound changes it means for their prosperity. They must be bolder and think about how they can grab hold of the opportunities digital technology and a digital mindset hold for their businesses, before others move ahead of them.