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The Inevitability of “Digital” and What It Might Mean for Us

Here are five items of important news that hit the headlines in the past month:
  • Whatsapp’s decision to share certain types of user data with its parent (Facebook), and the consequent shift towards apps like Signal, Telegram and India’s home-grown “Arattai” from Zoho.
  • The Indian army displays of how a swarm of drones can be used to attack and neutralize enemies in future wars.
  • Tesla’s announcement on setting up an R&D Centre in Bangalore.
  • The launch of the Vaccine Credential Initiative brings together diverse technology and healthcare organizations such as Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Mayo Clinic, Cerner etc., to collaboratively develop a “trustworthy, traceable, verifiable, and universally recognized digital record of vaccination status.”
  • Amazon’s plans to enter India’s buzzing online education market with the launch of the “Amazon Academy”, which will reportedly provide curated learning content and assessment material to students preparing for competitive entrance exams like the IIT JEE.

What’s common to the above seemingly random list? “Digital” is one common theme that connects each of the above items of news. This is perhaps not surprising because, in the last few years, it has become quite clear that the shift to “Digital” is a trend that is both inevitable and largely irreversible.

In this context, it is fair to say that the economic growth of various countries, including India, depends on how quickly, efficiently and effectively they embrace “Digital”. At one level, this means companies imagining and developing the right solutions to help various industry sectors “go Digital”. At another level, it also means individual companies across industry sectors are adopting such solutions to make their operations more efficient, connect better with customers, improve quality of service etc.

But the “Digital” world will also bring other substantial changes. A critical aspect is that it will need all of us to reimagine the important concept of “trust”. We will need to rebuild it in new ways with various members of our respective ecosystems. This is not just about data privacy or security; it extends to the choice of raw materials, the process of manufacturing (e.g., Manufacturing 4.0), management of supply chains, how we communicate (e.g., 5G), how products are marketed and indeed, how they will be used (and not allowed to be misused). Employer-employee relationships too will need to evolve in the context of “Digital”. New skills will be needed. In short, every aspect of business (and indeed, life) will need to be reconfigured.

In a digital world, how services are delivered also needs to change because there is not just greater interdependency, but at least in the initial years, there is also a higher degree of “unknowability” about how advice in one area might impact other areas. In today’s world, accounting, consulting, legal advice, financial advice, IT services, HR services, Governance solutions etc., are all neatly siloed. But in the brave new world that lies ahead of us, that may well need to change. We may need “super advisors” who have the ability to coordinate multiple strands of expertise to ensure that clients get the best solutions to address their needs. In many cases, even the needs will need to be elicited through a process of brainstorming because what “digital” means to a company cannot be easily defined or benchmarked.

Under the influence of various geopolitical forces, changing demographics and the consequent mindset shifts, the next few years may also see a realignment of global organizations. As and when this happens, we can also expect to see other changes, and those might also impact how the world moves forward on the “Digital” highway.

If you are older than, say, 45 years of age, you’ve likely grown up and worked through relatively long periods of stability. But in recent years, technology-enabled innovation has led to large-scale disruptions. Add to that the changing demographics, and it is fair to say that the world is on a roller-coaster. Generational shifts bring with them new ways of thinking and working and new attitudes towards life, including changing notions of “success”, “risk”, “happiness”, and so on. In this dynamic environment, some of us can be at the forefront of defining and shaping the future of industries. The simple question is: how many of us are up to the challenge?

What’s common to the above seemingly random list? “Digital” is one common theme that connects each of the above items of news. This is perhaps not surprising because, in the last few years, it has become quite clear that the shift to “Digital” is a trend that is both inevitable and largely irreversible.

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