The Digital Enterprise in 2015 : where are we headed ?

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December is usually predictions time. Some happen to be right, many will only happen in 2 or 3 years and some are irrelevant because we may lack lucidity and mistake what we would like to see and what is really likely to happen. However it’s a quite interesting work because it helps to assess the state of the art and, without claiming to know the absolute truth, to propose a credible mid-term roadmap.

Trends for the digital enterprise in 2015 ? Let’s go !

Digital is the new social but results are uneven

We had the “2.0” era, then the “social” one. In 2015 like in 2014 the buzzword will be “digital”. But is it a change or just an umpteenth rebranding to hide a failure ? From a conceptual standpoint it shows a better understanding of the matter. We’re leaving the “micro” field (technologies and how they’re used) to move to a “macro” one (business models and organization). Digital is more than a technology, it’s a way of thinking, of doing things, no matter technology is involved or not. So, yes, from this perspective it’s a game changer.

On the other hand I don’t expect things to change evenly.On the “digital customer” side it’s clear that we’re moving to new relationship models, than usage and experience prevail over technology. On the “digital employee” side I thing we’ll be stuck in technology-centric approaches for a long time and continue to try to make people adopt technology in a context that’s not relevant to it. Doomed to fail. The internal side of digital is clearly one step behind the external one and it’s a long term trend.

The era of passive participation and the decline of collaboration

We were already in but some just did not see it, and it’s going to get bigger over time. Until now everything used to rely on this equation : web = social = what people do together. What’s new with digital is that we can now do things for people without needing them to participate. Anything we do, either online or in the physical world now contributes to a kind of digital intelligence that helps to design and deliver new services and solutions, even if our contribution is not done in purpose.

The consequence of these smarter models ? The decline of collaboration. If it’s possible to do as much, or even better, with the traces we leave everyday than with trying to make people collaborate (what has been constantly failing for 50 years, whatever the technology), then a major trend will arise and collaboration won’t be more than a sub-discipline among other while it’s been a founding block of the web culture from the very beginning. But as digital digital becomes emancipated from the web, we’ll focus on innovation, experience, discovery, realizing that collaboration is not the only way to get there anymore.

CIOs and CMOs seize power

Consequence of what I stated above, CIOs and CMOs will reinforce their leadership on digital matters, only leaving scraps to others. Which of them will win ? It will depend on the company. Nothing new but the risk that the inaction of others becomes more and more visible and that boards start to question their role will become higher over time. Starting with HR.

I’m no saying this situation is desirable but that is what is currently happening. And I see no signal making me say that it may change over time.

There are people missing

Digital is a transverse project, everyone knows it. A corporate-class project. But as I stated above, there are people missing  around the table and I see no reason for this to change in the mid-term. But it’s coming with a price. Digital will be more and more about marketing but it’s internal side will remain a matter of political squabbling. “I’m in charge of digital transformation”. “Ok but I’m in charge of leadership programs”. “And I have the intranet”. “Hey guys, internal communication is my field”. “And what the  CEO thinks about that ?”.”Nothing…he does not care as long as marketing is bringing new customers”. It can’t work this way anymore. Some businesses have been doing things that way for years but, for some, 2015 will be the year of collapse. The others will wait until 2016.

The businesses that change better and faster than others will be those that manage to bring everyone around the table, on a common project each one owns a part of, a part he won’t achieve without and against the others. The most successful businesses regarding to digital will have a digital mindset, practices and will be strongly collaborative at their top.

The chief digital officer : a strong but not perennial trend

To fix the political squabbling issues, some businesses established a Chief Digital Officer. It’s either the winner of the CIO/CMO war or a neutral person appointed to fix the issue once for call. Like in 2014, CDOs will be very trendy in 2015 but I think the trend will reach its top and decline. Digital transformation is everybody’s matter and in business like in governments, the best way to bury something is to put a state secretary or and adhoc commission in charge. In the middle term, digital will become a distributed responsibility (what does not mean without leader) and creating an adhoc department raises the risk of building one more silo and add a competitor in the existing political games.

Some businesses don’t have a chief digital officer but a chief transformation officer. I think it’s a better way and it’s going to prevail over time.

Enterprise Social Networks will stagnate

There’s something wrong with collaboration and enterprise social networks and we’re not close to fix this. The value proposition is clear and is not questionable, however, its implementation raises many questions. The value of an enterprise social network is to make social meet business, what is seldom the case. The about-turn of socialized business applications has been a failure until now and, consequently, it’s up to end users to bridge the cap between both dimensions, what is a real issue. Why is it a failure ? In the one hand businesses can have socialized business applications but it breaks the unity of the social workplace, on the other it’s possible to integrate existing business applications with enterprise social networks but it’s something only few dare doing. So we’re left in grey and not very productive zone and businesses are questioning their initiatives.

Knowing the time needed for internal change (and the lack of will regarding to profound and structuring transformation programs compared to window-dressing approaches) we can expect wait-and-see policies on the matter.

Furthermore, the question of the business model of enterprise social networks is still open. As I wrote (and we’ll go deeper in some future posts), the intrinsic value of an ESN is poor if not connected to business applications or without machine-based intelligence. The point is to pay for value and no technology. Thinking that the wait-and-see policy won’t end until vendors change their business model and turn it into a free offer completed by paid added-values options can make sense. Take a minute and think about what vendors are really making money with their enterprise social network activity…and you’ll know why things must change.

But the social side of work is not dead, it’s still a matter. In 2015 it’s going to move to…the email client. More in a future post.

Experience is the new Grail

I won’t elaborate more on this matter because I have a series of posts coming, but the big buzzword in 2015 will be experience. It’s, from my perspective, the only way to build and unified internal/external approach, to reconcile the soft (values, people, culture) and the hard (process and technologies). More to come soon.

Data everywhere and cognitization replacing digitization

The web is user-centric, digital will be data-centric. It’s quite the same (it’s the people that create the data) but it will help to address, mobilize and service more people without having to deal with participation and engagement issues. No need for participation to fuel and run the engine anymore.

More broadly, I think that the digitization of economy and businesses has no more than 2 years of life-expectancy. The next step will be cognitization.

Connected objects looking for associated services

There’s no doubt the internet of things will be booming soon. Meanwhile we’re in an intermediate stage. People won’t  buy connected objects for the sake of connected objects but for the services that come with. If some are easy to imagine right know we’ll still need a business model revolution based on the building of new experiences to make sense of connected objects and see their (added) value. Until then it will be a “pioneers marker” (what does not mean a niche market).

Machines vs public authorities

Machines are and will be more and more everywhere. It’s a no-brainer. But, behind the blissful positivism coming with the ongoing transformations, we’ll see the society related issues raising. A debate that will become bigger and bigger in the upcoming month. If it won’t stop an unescapable trend it will help to build a model of society aligned with what we’re building. If not the risk of a social explosion is high. The problem is that, regarding to this point, the public authorities “mental software” is still stuck in the 80s and I see no leader aware enough of this matter and taking a credible stand.

The beginning of the end of the web

Digital is everywhere, mobile is everywhere, data and machines are at the heart of tomorrow’s models. We’re about to build the end of the web. The web, not the internet. Of course, the ability to connect will remain – as an infrastructure – but the way we’ll access it will dramatically change to such an extend that we won’t need an interface between people and the network, the “intelligence” of the system taking care of everything. That’s already an ongoig trend but it’s going to accelerate.

The first falls

What’s peculiar to the digital economy, most of all for services, is that it’s a “winner takes it all system” that only leaves scraps to competitors. As the efforts of leaders in digital transformation will start to bear fruits, laggards will start to fall. I’m not talking of being late at digital transformation but of behind dead or alive. First victims in 2015 ? No doubt.

The dawn of social ethics

From my point of view, there’s no digital economy without experience economy, no experience economy without data economy, no data economy without ethics. And we’re far from being ready.

In 2015, ethics will become a major issue, a major matter of discussion as people will become aware of what’s happening. Both at the economic and social level.

Bottom line ? Nothing really new in 2015. Only the amplification and acceleration of things most of us already know and have been observing in the last months or even years. The social web that used to be a smoke screen in the last years is going away and we’re seeing how profound are the ongoing changes and what’s at stake.

Image Credit : Binoclars via Shutterstock