This post is part of Altimeter’s Trends to Watch in 2014.
To kick off the new year, here are seven trends I’m following closely in my research at Altimeter, inspired by my conversations with clients, keynote audiences, social media communities, and very generous thought leaders. The list is not exhaustive of what is important, but these are the key issues I’ll be digging into in 2014. For each trend, I also include a few thoughts on the implications for organizations — and what actions they should take.
The Imperative for Strategic Disruption
Innovation is hot, hot, hot. I’m constantly asked how companies can use digital and social tools to capture and develop more innovation that leads to strategic growth. These executives want to develop a strategy that builds innovation into the DNA of the organization, with strategy, organizational structure, and processes to make innovation the job of every single person. But I don’t think it’s enough. Given the pace of change, I’m hearing from executives about the need to set a goal of becoming disruptive, because innovation won’t be enough to keep startups and competitors intent on disruption at bay. The key difference is that disruption involves conflict and friction, the dilemma that Clayton Christensen says is the bane of innovators within organizations.
But there’s a key difference today, in that new technologies and management approaches like agile development create organizations that can sit on that knife’s edge between managing strategic disruption and crumbling apart in chaos. The implication for organizations is how will you create the strategic imperative to build resilience and adaptability into the organization so that you can disrupt yourself and your industry — rather than be disrupted. I’ll be researching how organizations create a strategy to become a disruptive organization, one that can identify and capitalize on The Disruptor, that unique leader who can identify a disruptive opportunity and pull the resources, people, processes, and most importantly, culture, into a coherent strategy.
The Rise of the Digital Executive
The year 2014 will mark the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web. This means that people entering their forties — the time when they come into positions of power and responsibilities in organization — have spent their entire professional career with the Internet. They will think digital first, integrating mobile and social holistically into the strategies that they develop for their departments and, eventually, companies. The implications for companies is that this is going to inevitably set up conflicts in executive board rooms. If these up-and-coming Digital Executives are not given the support and latitude they need to fulfill their vision, they will leave. And their mindsets will set the directions.
Implications: Clash of the board room as senior board members who are not digital natives will have to align with the strategies being created by a digitally-minded executive team.
Social Goes Mainstream — and Gets A New Name
At the end of 2013, Pew Internet Research released a report which showed that every demographic group in the US had the majority of people online using social networking sites. And the Seniors — those aged 65 or more — were not far behind, with 43% of those who are Internet users using social networking sites. Overall, 72% of all Internet users are social. So if you think “social” is still something that is done only by the young, you need to get your facts straight. The implications are that your customers and your employees are social in their personal lives — and you’re missing out on precious relationship-building opportunities if you don’t respect this medium. That said, there is almost an allergic reaction to “social” in some enterprises, especially when it comes its internal use. So we’ll see a gradual usurping of social initiatives into overall digital strategies — which should be the case as it becomes more integrated and feature, rather than a destination.
Increasing Privacy Concerns
The recent NSA data collection revelations, and security breaches at Target and SnapChat, have people more on edge than ever about the collection and use of their personal data. Add to that the potential of big data being used by companies — Facebook, Google and Apple tracking your every move — and it’s no wonder people are concerned. The data supports this feeling: GlobalWebIndex found that in the US, the percent of people who say they are concerned that the Internet is eroding their privacy increased from 47% in September 2010 to 57% in Q3 2013, a 21% increase over three years. Similar trends exist in other countries, except, curiously, in China where it’s been dropping slightly over the past year.
The implications are that organizations that hope to tap the promise of big data will need to begin now to clarify what data they are collecting, how they are using it, and how they will secure it. And this can’t be buried in the user agreements — it needs to be front and center as part of the relationship definition with customers. The key — developing trust so that when you collect and use the data, it makes sense in the context of the growing relationship.
Holistic Approaches to Building the Future of Work
The seminal research being done by Lynda Gratton at London Business School on the Future of Work points out how the realities of technology, globalization, demographics, social, and energy resource changes means that organizations will have to rethink how work gets done. In response, organizations are starting to make strategic preparations — Dell recently announced a goal that by 2020, 50% of its workforce will have some sort of flexibility work arrangement. This is much more than simply deploying an enterprise mobility platform or having a BYOD policy. I recently moderated an Evolving Workforce Roundtable at Dell where a key takeaway is that the CIO will need to be much more focused on the overall experience of not only employees but also customers. That “experience-first” mindset will be needed to shepherd in a new era of employer/employee relationships. In this holistic approach, culture and leadership will provide the guiding principles and strategy, while technology will become the means, not the ends.
Engaging Empowered Employees
In speaking with HR professionals over the past decade, one of the biggest things keeping them up at night is how to tap into and engage what they perceive as their biggest assets — employees. What’s changed over the past year is that it’s now also the concern of business line leaders as well as the rest of the C-Suite. They all see that engaging and involving the workforce from anything from driving innovation to engaging directly with customers can create a powerful and sustainable competitive advantage. But here’s the rub — most companies lack the culture and leadership mindset to do this. My research in this area is closely linked to the Future of Work research, but looks at how the combination of strategy and technology creates engaged and empowered employees. I’ll be looking at how collaborative and social platforms are merging, and which day-to-day activities make the most sense tackle first.
One company I spoke with was highly discouraged because an early experiment in employee engagement went nowhere. When I dug deeper into the situation, we discovered that the company decided to focus their enterprise social network primarily on upcoming labor negotiations — talk about jumping into the deep end! Their hope that the ESN would help foster conversation and engagement left out a key component — the relationship between management and union members simply wasn’t there to be able to allow the conversation to take place face-to-face, let alone in a digital environment. The implications for organizations is that you need to have an employee engagement strategy that takes into account how technology will — and won’t — be used.
Customizing Enterprise Platforms to Increase Productivity
Improving productivity with technology continues to be a priority for many companies, but is becoming harder to do as most firms have already realized initial gains. One emerging area is the customization of enterprise applications. Most of the work to date has been around integrating your favorite platforms so that they work well together (e.g. Salesforce + Box, Exchange + Facebook); but an emerging trend is moving beyond the traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach and customizing enterprise apps for each employee.
The email inbox is a great example — we all use the inbox in different ways, some of us keeping emails in there as a to-do list, with others living by the Zero Inbox rule and creating specific task lists elsewhere. The adoption of new productivity tools in the consumer space, such as LinkedIn Intro and the Mailbox phone app, mean that these or similar offerings will shortly grow legs and walk into the enterprise through the back door. CIOs should look for ways to reflect the flexibility of these productivity tools in the way traditional enterprise and collaboration platforms are used.
If you have ideas, suggestions, or examples of how your organization is addressing one or more of these trends, I’d love to hear from you. Please add to the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.