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Constellation Connected Enterprise 2015, Day One: Digital Evolution Begins at the Top
Speakers stress the importance of getting higher-ups on board with digital projects.
Posted Nov 5, 2015
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Half Moon Bay, CA — On day one of Constellation Research's Connected Enterprise conference, speakers agreed that while digital investments may be worth the risk and effort, leaders must craft compelling arguments for why that is the case.

In his opening remarks, Ray Wang, principal analyst, founder, and chairman of Constellation Research, emphasized that for large companies, rapid adoption of technology is more vital than ever before. "Digital Darwinism is unkind to those who wait," he reminded attendees, and while companies may have once had some breathing room in this regard, that luxury is quickly disappearing. According to a study by Yale professor Richard Foster, Wang pointed out, the average age of a firm in the S&P 500 is 15, and will be reduced to 12 by 2020. (In the 1920s, the average age of a company in the S&P 500 was 67.)

Don Tapscott, author of The Digital Economy, reinforced Wang's message in his keynote. "We're moving into a period where there's a burning platform for change," Tapscott said. Companies now must innovate, despite the uncertainty they may face in doing so, because the costs of staying put are much greater than the costs of taking the leap. "Tinkering is no longer going to work," Tapscott said.

It's no secret that in recent years, young companies have been making a tremendous impact on traditional industries. Yet many digital executives still struggle to communicate the potential threats of disruption in their own lines of business. In his keynote, author Ram Charan challenged attendees to better understand the psychology of decision makers, and figure out how to get them on board with quick evolution. According to Charan, companies often operate according to the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" adage, though they should be doing just the opposite. "You need to break [things]," Charan encouraged, and actively seek ways to digitize any processes that can be. He urged attendees to draw up clear and compelling cases for investing in technology. The key to communicating the benefits successfully often lies in linking their outcomes to tangible results, such as added revenue.  

The conversation was similar in a panel led by George Westerman, principal research scientist of MIT’s Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy. Panelists agreed that pushing toward the cutting edge has been instrumental insofar as it enables customers to connect with companies in ways that are most convenient to them, and in turn accelerate their experiences with a brand. Executives from several industries, including the healthcare, education, and technology arenas, shared examples of how they’ve convinced leaders to recognize the value of digital transformation.

Representing education, Perry Hewitt, chief digital officer at Harvard University, said that understanding the reality of how people use technology has been key to evolving the school's admissions strategy. Fortunately for Hewitt, her higher-ups understood that traditional approaches to reaching applicants are no longer practical. Since an increasing number of "underserved" college applicants only have access to mobile devices, a logical move was to engage them through the most popular mobile channels. "That's how we came up with the Harvard Snapchat strategy," she said, in which the university created custom, location-based geofilters for students on the emerging platform. 

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