Digital Transformation

Oft used phrase “Digital Transformation” – what does it really mean? When we say Digital India, is it only about cashless transactions? Why would some services find it very difficult to go fully online? What are the pros and cons of a digital world? I am sure we all have many such questions with us, and based on our understanding of internet based technologies, we have different answers/opinions to the above mentioned questions.

Real Time Experiences, beyond boundaries

Internet has ushered a revolution in our lives, the last 10 years or so, especially in India – proliferation of internet use, through mobile phones that keep getting smarter every day; knowledge, information explosion has occurred like never before. Sitting at our homes we are able to see how earth looks like live from the International Space Station; it takes us few seconds to search for any location / service near / far by; driving past busy and messy roads have become easy, from cabs to medicine to essentials, everything seems to be a click away. Physical boundaries of houses, localities, cities, states and countries have dwindled beyond recognition before this information revolution. Information bombardment is the latest buzz, a simple search throws thousand of results, and it is very difficult to ascertain which of the results are correct and which aren’t. People watch and enjoy sports real time while sharing comments. One gets real time updates during natural calamities; the world is much more knowledgeable today compared to years earlier, and every moment, information dissemination continues to influence the world – both positive and negative.

We could have never imagined where we are today 10 years earlier. And the same would hold true 10 years hence.

Security

Internet was seeded by the US Army, as a means to enable people communicate with each in a secure manner. Today, we are in a situation where practically everything we communicate over the internet is insecure. Among umpteen uses of the Net, porn tops the list, and fake news, terror instigation, information theft, frauds follow – hence the need to monitor /regulate information it seems. Given basic human nature to misuse any system/technology, there shall always be an overwhelming need to control the internet, and rightly so; under what precincts is the debate. One size fits all would not work, though it may be easier to implement. The bottomline is, internet would continue to be misused and monitored going forward, and as end users or service providers we need to cognizant.

Platform / Internet of Things / Artificial Intelligence

The other significant aspect of the internet is how it makes flows seamless. Information flows, communication flows, service flows and then money flows. Internet today has become the strong framework for any person/business to survive. A website, mobile apps, email and a whatsApp is as much needed as a physical office. One might not have a physical office, and still operate with “virtual” offices. The paradigms of businesses have changed. Quite remarkably the early champions of the internet, especially who embraced and celebrated smartphone revolution, have made all the gains. Google, Amazon and Facebook have become invincible in their domains of excellence. They are going stronger, and are being used by 90%+ world population. These companies will continue to rule the internet in years to come. Their pockets run very deep and they make huge investments in research and innovation. For others in the internet business, it makes a lot of sense not to compete with them, rather complement or build on them. One has to note that Google. Amazon, Facebook have all become platforms now, rather than utilities and a host of amazing shared economies runs on top of them. These include the Ubers and the AirBnB’s of the world, to name a few. Internet has moved far beyond search to experiences and direct buy. Google would have been obsolete had it not gotten into Android, Maps and Video. It still rules old school desktop search and is fighting to transform into a utility. The next wave of innovation would be in the culmination of internet, connected things (IOT) and artificial intelligence aided by machine learning. Machines will fights wars, quarantine and explore space instead of humans. They would save lives by helping doctors during critical procedures.

Offline to Online to Offline

Never could one imagine Amazon opening a physical store to improve customer experience; Years before Amazon stood for everything which was not physical. The way it disrupted the bookstores, and then one by one hit retail for every other known category – it seems surreal to note it would sell from a physical store as well. I believe more such stores would be launched across the world. Amazon says it’s the most customer centric company in the world, and it seems to appreciate the customer’s preference for “touch and feel” before buying. Physical stores would transform to experience centres while purchase and payments could remain online. Along the value chain, wherever possible online will be forced – but top companies would respect customer preferences and provide the right experiences. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it either. There are other products / services which involved deeper customer engagement, and brick/mortar would remain the port of first choice in those cases. Property buying is one such space; Grocery, especially daily food also comes under the same roof.

Health and Education

It amuses me sometimes, why Healthcare and Education remain the most under penetrated industries in terms of the internet. Both these sectors have continued to remain physical and offline, while from information perspective, these sectors should ideally have had the highest impact. We still don’t have one global online only university, neither do we have on “Uber” of hospitals/healthcare. This said there have been limited disruptions in both sectors – possibly a thought material for my next article. I believe, these are the next frontiers of innovation and the next internet behemoth shall come from either Health or Education. The offerings have to run deeper than platforms and be authentic. Lives and Careers would be at stake and any business in such space has to be serious and take good care of quality. Nevertheless, these are the next frontiers of transformation. Google tried Health long back but shut down terming it an unviable business. Microsoft is in the business of Digital Records, but has found it difficult to grow. Companies have tried tele-medicine, online chat etc. but no one has tried to build an online only hospital? Wiki and Quora have done wonders on Knowledge share, and they can definitely disrupt the age old education system.

I will conclude with some thoughts – today technology aided by the internet has conquered and amazing expanse; from life in one of moons of saturn billions miles from earth to witnessing what’s goes on with the smallest “God Particle”. We are only limited by what we think we can achieve and ability to change. Let us all put on the seat belts and ride the transformation – I am sure it will be as exciting as it gets!

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