Dealing with digital disruption: how businesses can gain a competitive advantage

Considering the rapid developments of technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning, it should come as no surprise that the term ‘digital disruption’ is everywhere. But rather than just a buzzword with no real meaning to it, this innovative revolution is very real and foreshadows an intense— but manageable — shift in business logic everywhere.

With change being the only certainty in today’s digital era, it is often difficult for businesses to find the time to identify new customer trends to incorporate into their changing businesses models. But by failing to do so, they risk losing their position in the market to more adaptable and advanced competitors.  

As a result, it’s crucial for leaders to recognise the key trends most likely to affect businesses in 2019, so they can get ahead of the game and work with the flow rather than against it. Not only does this prevent the wave of digital disruption from washing away success, but it can also lead to further growth and new, beneficial opportunities for the business.

Placing people at the heart of innovation 

As technology has accustomed people to instant answers and instant service, businesses will need to keep up with changing consumer demands to gain a competitive advantage.  

In fact, according to the Vodafone 2019 Global Trends Barometer, almost all businesses surveyed agreed that customer expectations are increasing (93%) and that their needs are changing rapidly (85%), with 76% stating that customers have become more powerful than ever.

To be successful it’s not enough to be innovative for the sake of being innovative. Businesses need to take a people-centric approach to get ahead of changing customer needs in a market that is being reshaped by technology, and do so at speed. In other words, businesses need to understand what digital transformation means for both their employees and their customers. Only then can they ensure they are keeping up with the new pace of change demanded by the market.  

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Commercial success is linked in to ethics and trust 

With competition so fierce, it can become difficult for customers to distinguish between different companies with similar offerings. As a result, transparency and ethical business practices are becoming an important feature to help customers make a choice. It’s no longer just about the product specifications, customers are increasingly making their purchasing decisions based on social and ethical factors. In fact, 93% of businesses maintain that they are expected to act ethically by customers, and 83% believe by doing so, they will ultimately generate more revenue.  

This demonstrates the correlation between profit and purpose. A better motivation for inspiring ethical behaviour is the benefits it provides, both for the brand and financially. Besides feeling good about doing the right thing, principled business conduct can also be profitable; which mean ethical behaviour really is just good business.

The balance between human and machines 

When people initially think of machines in the workplace, it’s often associated with the thought of robots taking over jobs. But the reality of this is more positive than what people might first think. As workplace automation becomes more advanced, it is having a real impact on the future of work. It’s allowing companies to simplify a variety of tasks and helping them save, and providing a better experience for employees and a better service to customers. In our survey, 85% of business leaders surveyed agreed that humans will be soon required to work alongside AI systems, and 60% think this will help generate more jobs in the future. 83% also agree that they think jobs will become more productive.

This is an uplifting perspective for businesses wanting to champion a positive mindset towards change. The workplace becoming more automated doesn't eliminate the need for humans — it moves them forward. But what this also means is that enterprises need to act now to educate the workforce so that AI can continue to represent an opportunity. Business leaders need to develop a new workforce strategy that puts the development and growth of employees at the centre and find roles for those displaced by automation. Because after all, machines were invented to make human work easier.

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Preparing for the digital future

Digital disruption is impacting every facet of the business world. However, as this research highlights, businesses still need to be aware of the challenges they face in order to strategically plan for the road ahead. Now is the time for leaders to prioritise how they adapt to these changes by transforming their business models and values.

But although we face challenge and change, there is also a huge opportunity for businesses to grow, develop and succeed. By developing a new approach which looks to improve customer relationships, develop business ethics and to bring in machines to improve productivity, it will yield rewards in terms of revenue and employee retention. The connected future for businesses is something to be very excited about.

Erik Brenneis, CEO of Vodafone Global Enterprise

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