Is a Disruptor Mentality the Key to Digital Transformation Success in 2021?

Following a C-Suite roundtable hosted by Adobe at the end of 2020, it became clear that a disruptor mentality is key to success among traditional companies this year…

Even before the 2020 pandemic, many organisations around the world were struggling to maintain competitiveness against the disruptor tech companies. But in an age of social distancing, remote working and lockdowns, these disruptors have continued to make unprecedented gains – and reinforce their market dominance. 

After losing their leverage, traditional companies are now fighting back. They have witnessed how well the disruptors have fared during the pandemic – Amazon enjoyed a record-breaking $96.15bn haul in Q3 2020 – and now fully appreciate the need to accelerate digital transformation. They see that to challenge the disruptors, they must become disruptors themselves. 

However, the urgent need to transform has raised two spectres that digital champions must overcome to achieve success. The first is the existing tech portfolio, which is often not fit for purpose and requires an extensive end-to-end transformation. But this raises the second spectre: that of cultural resistance. 

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If You Can’t Beat Them…

To combat the coronavirus pandemic, governments around the world asked vast swathes of the workforce to work from home, and for non-essential businesses to close their doors to the public. This was a game-changer for many businesses and employees – a whole new world to deal with. 

But for disruptors and digital-native businesses, the transition was seamless. Their workforces could continue operating from home right away. Meanwhile, digital companies were able to stay connected with their customers, and ecommerce platforms found themselves the only available channel for meeting consumer demand. 

As we highlighted earlier, this was great news for Amazon. It was a vindication of Amazon’s decades-long commitment to digitisation. The same story applies to relative newcomers Zoom as well as the Big Five (Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Microsoft). Each enjoyed major surges in stock valuation this year. 

For traditional companies like those in the FMCG sector, this turn of events was potentially catastrophic. A primary consumer channel – the high street shop – closed overnight. What was left was one channel to sell via: ecommerce, a channel dominated by the likes of Amazon. Unlike when they deal with more conventional retailers, FMCGs hold little leverage with the ecommerce giants, who can dictate terms rather than negotiate them. If an FMCG doesn’t like the terms, the ecommerce platforms don’t have to budge; they can simply choose and prioritise another provider.

However, efforts to wrest back leverage are now underway. The idea that traditional companies can become disruptors themselves lies at the heart of this battle, with companies embracing the technologies and processes of the disruptors. In the case of FMCGs, this has necessitated a complete end-to-end transformation to fuel a Direct-to-Consumer approach.  

Throughout Europe, companies and start-ups are now starting to beat disruptors like Amazon at their own game. They have updated their tech stacks and processes and embraced a disruptor mentality to outpace the disruptors. Nevertheless, not everyone is as open to this disruptor mentality as is needed… 

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Throughout Europe, companies and start-ups are now starting to beat disruptors like Amazon at their own game, and some are even starting to outpace the leading disruptors.

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Culture Is Holding Us Back

Technologists around the world are in agreement: to beat the disruptors, you’ve got to join them. But instigating the necessary organisation-wide transformation is harder than it seems. Especially when the existing workforce and senior decision makers can’t see what’s wrong with the current set up. 

Veteran staff, who are used to working in a certain way and making do with the systems they have, often don’t know what good looks like – or sometimes what the industry minimum is today. They’ve never seen it in action, so how could they? As a result, it’s difficult for them to understand why the company needs to change. It’s no wonder that a recent McKinsey survey found shortcomings in organisational culture are one of the main impediments to company success in the digital age. 

If the normal times had continued, this would still be the case. But the pandemic, while dreadful, has brought about the necessary wake-up call to many businesses. It has highlighted the need to integrate new technologies into the business, and those tech-resistant persons in the workforce have realised where their company’s shortcomings truly lie.  

Technologists have therefore found it easier to foster a complete mindset shift to fight off disruptors. Their business cases for transformation have found a warmer reception – especially as companies seek to encourage on-premises creativity and collaboration in the remote working era. 

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A Roadmap to Success

To capitalise on this opening, technologists are working quickly to roadmap a clear path forward. They are weighing what can and cannot be done to build better business cases and strategic approaches. 

In a recent virtual networking event, CEO.digital’s sister, Chief Wine Officer, partnered with Adobe to discuss how companies are developing superior digital experiences for the modern workplace. Throughout the discussion, we were interested in finding out how tech leaders have fuelled digital transformation this year – and how their workforces have responded. 

Focus centred on remote working, employee wellbeing, and collaboration. We also looked at the technological solutions being adopted, including Adobe Sign. What quickly became apparent was the efforts tech leaders are making to bring every employee along the digital transformation journey. 

Technologists understand that a digital transformation can only succeed if everyone is onboard. Now that traditional approachessuch as paper-based processes, are largely redundant in the modern office, it’s up to the CIO and tech leaders to implement and integrate new technologies and processes appropriate for the digital age. 

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An Opportunity for Change

Throughout history, crises have often acted as the catalysts of change. People have responded to extraordinary circumstances and found ways to the rise to the challenges they face. The coronavirus pandemic should be no different. 

This is the time for long-established and/or non-digital companies to embrace transformation. It is the perfect opportunity to foster a disruptor mentality by implementing new technologies to keep maintain operations. And then to train employees and bring them along the transformation journey. But they must do this before a new culture sets in, while people are pliant. Otherwise things will remain stagnant as people settle in to the old and familiar – and the disruptor mentality will never take hold. 

The time to act is now. 

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