CFOs must rethink their entire way of working, says Ray de Villiers of TomorrowToday Global


Any business that doesn’t make a shift towards digital is ultimately staring down the barrel of redundancy, says world-of-work guru Raymond de Villiers of TomorrowToday Global. CFOs are key enablers of the decisions that need to be made to make this change, Raymond said, before unpacking eight future-proof elements of successful business models.

By Raymond de Villiers

I have an app that I downloaded onto my phone that allows me to book movie tickets. At the end of the process, I am given payment options that allow me to pay by credit card or cheque. I have no idea how a cheque payment would work on a mobile phone, but it is a great example of 'digitising'. A lot of organisations are trying to digitise. Essentially, what they are looking to try to achieve is maintaining the way they have always worked by 'bolting on' a digital front end that will allow them to do it simpler, cheaper and faster, but, still essentially the same.

Effective business in the digital world of work requires a whole new way of thinking and functioning. CFOs cannot evaluate requests and strategic options using the same frames of reference or data as before.

Companies that are driving the changes in society towards this digital world, tend to share eight common elements that sit at the centre of their business models and ways of functioning. As we consider what a digital business model - not just a digitised analogue model - may look like for our organisations, these eight areas are the starting point for that discussion and strategic shift.

1. Personalisation
Coca-Cola got it right when they allowed people all around the world to buy a can of soda emblazoned with their own name. The level of personalisation was mind blowing, and people all over the world made a point of buying a can with their name on it. The rest of the branding remained, the product inside tasted the same… nothing changed except the deep level of personal connection with the product. It was not only an act of marketing genius but also a reflection of the power of digital business.

2. Automation
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is moving and growing in leaps and bounds. Facebook recently decided to speed up the process at which some of its AI was developing by having two versions of the same AI speak to each other and use the interactions to iterate their development. They ended up having to shut the project down because they forgot to tell the AI to work in English. The two programmes quickly developed their own language and were developing and evolving their code in a way that the external human observers were not able to understand.

There are many functions within our organisations that no longer need human intervention to make them possible or effective. Even in the nascent stage of development that AI currently is in, there are things that technology can do more effectively than people. We need to allow that to happen, and then rethink what we do with the capacity it opens up within our people. The answer to the benefits of AI is not retrenching and downsizing but cross-skilling and redirecting our human resources.

3. Ease of use
Machines were not always easy to use. The reason we developed professions around them is indicative of the complexity inherent within them. Digital technology is exactly the opposite. It is built from the beginning to be simple to manage, intuitive to understand, and not need advanced knowledge to use.

Too many business models are based on the assumption of specialist knowledge sitting within the business that needs a specialist or professional to use the associated technology. In the digital world of work, everything is being simplified. Increasingly, anybody can do anything, and the digital tools used in work are specifically built to limit or negate the need for specialist support.

4. Mobile first
In the modern world, the one thing that is never more than an arm's length away from anyone at any time is their mobile device. More and more of our daily tasks are being automated and enabled by our mobile phones. In the 'old days', we would tailor our digital engagement for the web, and tag mobile functionality on as a value add. Today it is the other way around.

Modern digital clients expect to be able to conduct all of their core business with an organisation via a mobile platform and are happy to go to a website for secondary or ancillary functions. Mobile-first means that we start our build and design work in the mobile space and migrate to other channels from there.

5. Social/sharing
Whether it's using Tripadvisor to plan a vacation, choosing an Uber driver based on ratings, or being picked up by an Uber driver based on our ratings as passengers, or a host of other services, today's digital customers use social networking and sharing platforms to support, inform and drive many commercial decisions.

6. Gamification
In their book 'Got Game', Howard Beck and Mitchell Wade identify six values that digital games have developed in the gamer generation: sociability, competitiveness, flexibility, multi-tasking, arrogance, and insubordination. Gamification means moving beyond bringing fun and play into corporates and really engaging the value system of this generational cohort.

Understanding the depth of Gamification requires a separate article on its own, but every CFO needs to understand the underlying social dynamics at play as they make decisions to enable their organisations to function effectively in the digital world of work.

7. Removing the middleman (Disintermediation)
Whole industries have been built on the legacy that there were certain things that individuals were not able to do themselves and they needed an intermediary to do it for them. Banks, insurance brokers, librarians, teachers… so many functions that we can now do directly using technology and automation.

As the digital revolution removes this intermediate layer of value, we need to realise that it isn't generating redundancy but rather the opportunity to refine the value that people bring to a process. For example, capturing information for clients can now be done online without our input. This means that we now need to reutilise the time that would've been spent doing that to benefit the client with a human interaction or service. Digital organisations are pulling more and more of these 'time-sink' functions into the digital sphere.

8. Constant upgrades
In an industrial world enabled by machines, it was important, if not critical, to make sure that everything worked 100 percent before flicking the switch and turning on the machine. If one part didn't work the whole machine could be compromised and not function to specification. This is not the case in the digital world. Look at the app store icon on your mobile phone and see how many updates are waiting for you to pull them down for the apps on your device. In the digital world, we move when something is good enough and then upgrade and update it on the fly. In the digital world perfection is the goal, not the starting point.

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