Opportunity and Threat
If we accept the premise that “business at the speed of light” offers up a vast array of business possibilities, we also need to acknowledge that the failure to grasp these opportunities – the potential failure of UK Plc to exploit the possibilities afforded by fast fibre broadband – represents a very real threat to businesses.
One only has to look at the decimation of the high street – faced with the twin threats of online and out of town shopping (and superbly articulated in the final part of Robert Peston’s BBC2 series “Robert Peston goes shopping”) – to appreciate the real and present danger to businesses which fail to exploit the opportunities afforded by fast fibre broadband; put simply, those business will largely cease to exist. Across the globe, at a conference in Sydney, Gartner analyst Janelle Hall summed up the situation businesses face succinctly “Every industry will be digitally re-mastered. It is not optional. It will happen to you whether you like it or not, so your opportunity is to lead it or fall behind. You cannot escape. This is not something you have a choice about.” Business Leaders need to start drawing up their business exploitation plans “at the speed of light” to ensure their very survival.
The most recently published statistics (source: “Eurostat Digital economy and society statistics – households and individuals, 2019) provide firm evidence that UK consumers are leading the rest of Europe in respect of their desire to transact online. The report showed that the UK comes out best of the EU “G5” (which also includes Germany, France, Spain, and Italy) in almost every online usage metric:
- Percentage of individuals accessing the internet on a daily basis – UK is top with 91% (Germany 2nd with 84%)
- Percentage of individuals who bought or ordered goods or services online in the last 12 months – the UK is top with 83% (Germany 2nd with 77%)
- Percentage of individuals who use the internet for social networking – the UK is top with 70% (Spain 2nd with 58%)
The European Commission’s executive vice president for digital, Margrethe Vestager, recently stated “Digital technology won’t just transform our society. It will revolutionise our economy. We may not have a tech giant like Facebook or Google in Europe. But we do have thousands of world-leading companies. Europe’s 25 million small and medium-sized businesses make our economy tick. They account for more than half of our GDP, and two-thirds of our business jobs. Digitisation can bring challenges for them – only one in six SMEs in Europe is highly digitised. But it also has enormous opportunities to offer.”
The opportunities and threats of “business at the speed of light” are therefore clear to see: embrace the opportunities for innovation afforded by technology or get left behind as rivals exploit digitisation to disrupt the marketplace.
Into the Light
In his seminal trilogy, “The Baroque Cycle”, author Neal Stephenson writes of the period in world history between the late 17th century and early 18th century which became defined as the dawn of the age of scientific enlightenment. As they were then termed, “Natural Philosophers” such as Sir Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle (one of the founding fathers of the Royal Society), Christiaan Huygens and Gottfried Leibniz strode the world stage and civilisation moved out of the Dark Ages of witch trials and alchemy and into the light of scientific reasoning.
It was research undertaken by both Huygens and Newton during this period, underpinned by Newton’s epic work “The Principia Mathematica”, which provided the foundations for Einstein’s subsequent special theory of relativity – the definition of the speed of light.
Today we bear witness to a new dawn: in the early 21st century we are at the beginning of the age of working, living, playing, and learning “at the speed of light”. The crucial question for businesses is: “are you ready to grasp the opportunities for disruptive and radical business innovation that fast fibre broadband presents… are you ready to start earning at the speed of light?”
Fast forwarding the 6 years since this article was originally written, what now are the opportunities for digital transformation, underpinned by the near ubiquitous availability of superfast fibre broadband and the growing availability of ultrafast broadband services? Put simply, the answer is that they are almost limitless in their scope, however I believe they will revolve around 4 fundamental concepts:
- Collaboration – the new normal will involve a gradual sunsetting of the large corporate business model – this isn’t going to happen overnight, it may take many decades, but it will happen, and in its place will rise an eco-system of interconnected small to medium-size businesses collaborating to generate or outstrip the productivity, gross value add and innovation capabilities of larger enterprises. This model will be fundamentally underpinned by the ubiquitous availability of ultrafast broadband services.
- Change – business leaders looking to innovate and disrupt, will first need to closely assess their organisations’ capacity for change. For example, if the business capacity for change only affords for 2 major changes per year and the new strategy calls for 5 changes per quarter, there will be trouble in store…the adoption of digital transformation across organisations, enabled by ultrafast broadband, will help businesses to grow their change capacity, but in the short to medium term, will also place great stress on that change capacity.
- C-suite to shop floor – going forward as others innovate and disrupt, business leaders will come to realise that they will only get one chance to execute correctly on their new strategies. Simply put, they will not be afforded the luxury of time to go back and try again, if the first attempt at execution of the strategy fails. Therefore, executives will need to put in place mechanisms to closely monitor the “golden thread” between the board level vision and the operational implementation of that vision. In the new normal, where the workforce may be agile and highly distributed, rather than centralised and tightly coupled, business leaders will need to consider how to digitise monitoring of the golden thread.
- Communication – The way in which some organisations and individuals have excelled in terms of communication, whilst others have closed down channels of communication is an interesting phenomenon, which may well be linked to the fundamental psychological “fight or flight” reaction to crisis. What is for sure is that going forward, the old phrase of my mentor “communicate until your gums bleed”, will ring truer than ever. For example, and to the points above, when business leaders are trying to understand the impact assessment of change, they will need to pay close attention to the stakeholders involved in operationalising that change, particularly when they may no longer be in line of sight. Needless to say, great intra-company collaboration processes and systems will need to be embedded in organisations, and needless to say, this will be underpinned “at the speed of light” by ultrafast fibre broadband.