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Elizabeth Spaulding: The Anatomy of a Digital Forerunner

Bain Partner Elizabeth Spaulding talks about the five key characteristics of companies that set the pace in digital transformations.


Elizabeth Spaulding: The Anatomy of a Digital Forerunner

As every sector is reshaped by the shifting digital landscape, traditional companies must use technology to become more competitive. Yet few know where to start. Elizabeth Spaulding, a partner in the Digital practice, talks about the five key characteristics of companies that set the pace in digital transformations.

Read the transcript below.

ELIZABETH SPAULDING: Many, if not all, of our clients are asking us, how do they win in digital? And so we've looked deeply at this as we're helping our clients. What makes a great digital forerunner? Both the digital natives—those that were born and grew up in a digital world—but also, the really big legacy players who are getting the advantage both of scale, but also leaning forward on their digital agenda. And what we've found is there are five key characteristics that make those leaders.

But first, why now? What is it that creates the opportunity in digital today? Well, there are a few big macro trends that are creating just an enormous shift in speed in the cycle of innovation. The first is around connectivity of devices. We've seen a deepening penetration of smartphones over the last few years, but that is going to multiply. And above and beyond that, that same idea of connected devices will be proliferating in industrial segments and other consumer segments, where we'll see up to 50 billion devices by 2020.

The second big factor is around the continued growth in computing power. Moore's law is continuing, and that will benefit the ability to harness all of this innovation. And lastly, it's about data. Over the course of the last 18 months, 80% of data was created, and that force will continue. Those that can harness and get the most out of data will have a clear competitive advantage.

So for those that are leading, what are they doing best? We think there are five big characteristics. The first is around having a great vision—a clear and bold vision of how to harness digital technology that can benefit a specific business. The second two are about the customer. We think a lot of that vision needs to be tied back to what will create value for a particular consumer or...customer that that business is dealing with.

Related to that, and the second point around customers, is the mash-up of physical and digital. In many cases—not all, but many—it's the combination of both digital and physical, and creating as little friction as possible for that customer. Fourth, it's about really embracing faster speed innovation, and moving much more rapidly than organizations have in the past. And last, and part of what enables that speed, is much stronger cross-functional teams. Breaking down the historic silos, particularly in big legacy organizations that tend to slow things down.

So these are the five characteristics, but often what we hear from our clients is that's not it. It's often just difficult to get started. And we recommend just taking that first step. It's really a story of experimentation, and most importantly, [of] just getting started.

Read the related Bain Brief: Anatomy of a Digital Forerunner


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