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When I bought my super-hip minivan a few years ago, I thought the color was unusual. Now I see the color everywhere almost every time I drive.
I'm starting to feel the same way about digital business, having immersed myself in the subject to write our March 18 story "Goodbye IT, Hello Digital Business." I'm seeing digital business trends everywhere.
The latest comes from Accenture, whose just-published 2013 Technology Vision sports the theme "Every business is a digital business." I talked with Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty about the seven tech trends the consulting firm sees making digital business an executive priority. Here's his list, plus some of my thoughts and examples:
1. Relationships At Scale. Mobile apps, loyalty programs, social networks and e-commerce help companies connect with customers, but are you just milking them for data so you can throw more ads at them? "A lot of companies have thought about their customer as the cookie," Daugherty says. Or companies have looked at "digital" only as a way to cut costs, through online self-service, for instance.
Daugherty suggests this measure for raising the bar: Will the digital experience so dazzle customers that they make sincere social media recommendations for your company? (See Vail Resorts' 2 million social media mentions for proof it can be done.)
[ Which tech trends do you find more hype than happening? Read 7 Tech Trends CIOs Call Overrated. ]
2. Design For Analytics. The industry talks about big data, but companies lack the data they need for about 40% of the analytics they would like to do, Accenture estimates. That data doesn't exist, or people who need it can't find it. Daugherty refers to data "as a supply chain instead of a warehouse" -- less about storing data and more about delivering it where it needs to be for an employee or customer to make a decision.
There are two big action areas here: Check whether new networked, sensor technology can fill data gaps, and make the collection of data needed for analysis a bigger part of the requirements process when building software. (Our example: Sears embracing Hadoop while trying to sort out how best to use that newfound analytical speed to improve its business.)
3. Data Velocity. Technology advances such as Hadoop, in-memory processing and flash memory mean companies can run in minutes calculations that had taken days or weeks. That ability means predictive analytics -- say, using the sensor data mentioned earlier in No. 2-- might be done in time to actually prevent a breakdown or a customer defection.
The key: Where does faster analysis have a measurable impact in boosting sales or cutting costs? Plenty of CIOs are wrestling with how Oracle Exalytics or SAP Hana systems will improve the margins of their existing businesses, but speed will open new opportunities. (Doug Henschen's interview with a Facebook insider reveals a lot of emphasis on real-time analytics.)
4. Seamless Collaboration. I'm surprised to see Accenture make collaboration such a high priority. Daugherty says IT organizations have focused on automation over collaboration. He compared today's opportunity to inject social collaboration models into work processes with the re-engineering efforts of the 1990s.
Collaboration is important, but it feels to me like collaboration and enterprise social tactics have been high on the agenda for years. Our report on the shortcomings of enterprise social networking finds that nearly all companies have internal social networks in place, and most have some ties externally. But a slim minority considers them a great success. And IT pros think social tools have helped companies a whole lot more than non-IT pros do: 89% of IT pros think social tools have improved collaboration among business units, for example, but just two-thirds of non-IT pros agree. Maybe this speaks to the opportunity Accenture sees -- make social collaboration more relevant to employees' jobs.
5. Software-Defined Networking. Accenture calls SDN the "last mile" of virtualization, the last piece of the data center to get virtualized. What's most interesting here is that a pure technology movement makes Accenture's list of mostly business concepts. Count on the acceleration of virtualized networks.
6. Active Defense. Daugherty thinks companies are moving away from just monitoring and understanding cyberattacks and quickly reacting to minimize the damage. Active defense tactics include knowing employee tendencies and restricting access if a person suddenly starts downloading sensitive data or hitting files he normally wouldn't. This isn't full-blown offensive security; we warned earlier this year about the risks of striking back at hackers with countermeasures. But Daugherty sees more companies taking more cautious offensive steps, such as identifying attackers and delivering "honeypot" files and the like that are meant to look like valuable assets and thus alert a company of a security problem.
7. Cloud. Accenture says the debate is over and declares cloud "enterprise-ready." CIOs now need to focus on changing their architectures and staffs to make hybrid cloud/on-premises software environments the standard model, according to Daugherty. Most IT shops haven't done that, he says -- they've treated cloud projects on a one-off basis.
The big missing piece from Accenture's list is mobile. Daugherty says mobile's no longer a trend -- it's an element in most of the seven factors above. Want a closer digital relationship with customers? Better collaboration among employees? Analytics that salespeople, repair staff or factory workers can actually use? Mobile is part of the answer. No debate there.
But in terms of IT's readiness, I'd say Accenture's a bit ahead of the market in not making mobile its own priority. Most companies are still in the early stages of crafting a strategy for ongoing development and support of mobile apps -- and each app is even more of a one-off effort than their use of cloud software or infrastructure is.
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