“Digital Transformation is just the latest extension of human evolution in pursuit of higher productivity and augmented abilities.”
Grant Sullivan on Digital Transformation: Tips, Tricks, and Technologies to Watch
From Artificial Intelligence to Biotechnology to Industry 4.0, a convergence of digital forces is transforming our world. On November 30, 2017, Dalhousie’s Grant Sullivan, a long-time CFAME faculty member with extensive field expertise in the convergence of digital forces that are transforming our world, spoke to a Calgary audience on how to successfully navigate the changes in society, business and government. Over the course of the evening, Grant reviewed the most transformational technologies to watch in the years ahead. Now, for the benefit of those who could not attend the event, Grant has graciously provided a synopsis of his presentation in this post.
While Digital Transformation seems to be omnipresent within our economy, it has deep roots that began many years ago. Humans have evolved to prioritize cognition, social collaboration, and augmented capabilities through tools. While the legacy of this evolution leaves us with some quirky habits (like short-termism, tribal competition, and adaptive memories) we set ourselves on a journey of transformation many years ago.
I find Social Anthropology a fascinating subject that helps explain our world today. Consider the works of Yuval Harari and his recent book Sapiens as a good example. There are interesting and important stories to tell about our evolutional journey, but for this talk, we pick up the story around 1500AD at the Renaissance. Prior to this period humans learned to dominate the Earth but pretty much fell into a rut of repetition, longing for a golden age where the gods were favorable and much of life was spent in an agrarian economy serving the empire of the day.
The Renaissance was born from individuals who dared to, “wonder why”, consider new theories and approaches, and who made daring investments in pursuit of new knowledge and other riches. From this period, we saw the emergence of a robust scientific method grounded in experimentation and objective proof. We also saw the emergence of Intellectual Property rights and limited liability companies, paving the way for an explosion in investments and the rise of a “middle class”.
With the ability to invest, came the necessity for a return, and thus the pursuit of productivity tools to make the future more profitable than the past. Taming wind and steam power to automate factories and distribution gave rise to the first industrial revolution. This was followed by similar boosts from electricity, the assembly line, management science, and finally programmable logic controllers. We now see ourselves on the cusp of what many call the Fourth Industrial Revolution where flexible manufacturing meets electronic collaboration from people and machines around the globe.
But what makes the latest part of the journey so interesting is that the pace is exponential. Digital projects have no inventory or distribution cost, are built for integration, and are easier to design, test and simulate. More importantly, they are extensible. Digital projects in their first generation merely need to be comparable to current products. Once established as an alternative, they quickly adapt and improve to become far more than the original product and are easy to extend with other services to become even more valuable. Think about how digital photography has quickly become far more than a snapshot that you can send to your friends.
We are in an age today where five of the top six global firms are Digital providers of infrastructure and tools for our digital age. Many of our industry leaders have been displaced by digital firms that own the client digital experience rather than deriving their value from expertise in a specific industry – e.g. Uber in Taxis, AirBnB in Hotels, Amazon in Retail, etc. What is more, these firms don’t even own or manage the inventory that they sell.
Grant Sullivan’s Recommendations:
In his discussions, Grant recommended the following advice for firms considering their place in a more digital world:
- Our globally integrated trade network, relatively undisturbed by war in the past three generations and supported by a very efficient global supply chain, requires sustained productivity and innovation. Massive sums of money are available for investment in growth. Don’t rely on capital intensive barriers to entry.
- We have a mature technology sector horizontal that commoditizes the most complex and cost intensive components. Leverage this infrastructure in a Hybrid Cloud strategy
- We have an exponentially rising global middle class virtually unconstrained in their participation and collaboration within a digital economy. Consider new market strategies or partnerships for changing mass and niche markets alike.
- Management techniques and ecosystems such as Lean Startup and Innovation Hubs are incubating a variety of new formats at an increasing rate. Have a strategy for Innovation. Take some good bets.
- More and more industries are finding themselves “disrupted” by new entrants. These new entrants leverage new business formats either aided by technology innovations or by offering improved services through a digital channel. Think about how you would put yourself out of business. Someone else is already working on it.
This talk concluded with some technologies and industries to watch which generated some good discussion afterward. Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and CRISPR were discussed as each are likely to have far reaching effects on our lives and the shape of our economy in the future. We also discussed how all industries will be affected but specifically we can expect significant changes in Transportation, Medicine, Manufacturing, and Entertainment.
Grant has been a part time professor at Dalhousie for over 15 years teaching Project Management, Electronic Commerce, Marketing Informatics, and Information Systems. Currently, Grant leads a Federal Government program helping firms in Atlantic Canada improve and execute their Innovation Agenda. CFAME Connection is delighted to advise that Grant has graciously agreed to share his research in future posts