Why Having a Digital Strategy Is Vital to Business

It’s clear that digital technology touches every corner of the enterprise. Almost every task now flows through a computer, smart machine or electronic device en route to a data repository.

Yet, in an era of increasingly connected systems and devices—and rapidly changing business and IT ecosystems—there’s another emerging truth: “The process does not start with technology. It starts with people and creating some type of value,” observes Michael Sutcliff, CEO of business consulting firm Accenture Digital.

To be sure, wading through all the business and IT possibilities is a daunting task—even for well-funded organization with strong leadership. Yet, as Sutcliff points out, all roads ultimately lead to the same place: “the experiences you create for your customers, partners and employees. You may be able to learn from other industries and companies that have proved themselves digital disruptors. But you have to be able to adapt them and apply some of the lessons learned in a way that is relevant for your industry and your business.”

Of course, moving to a digital business model is fraught with challenges. Debbie Krupitzer, Digital Manufacturing and Industrial Internet lead at Capgemini, points out that “Interdependency is essential in the new digital era. Companies must rethink the value chain and consider how it is connecting and providing value.”

The key questions she suggests asking include: “How quickly can your organization move and adapt? Are there certain processes you could automate to save money with operational efficiencies? Does your organization have the appetite to take on digital disruption to change the game?”

Today, organizations from every industry share a common reality: Digital business is all about data and putting it to work more effectively. According to Krupitzer, “Organizations must ask: “What proprietary algorithms is your company using that can be leveraged as intellectual property in your industry? What is the value you are attempting to extract from your data and have you achieved it?”

Accenture Digital’s Sutcliff believes that—regardless of the tools, technologies and systems in place—the end goal is a focus on the human experience and enabling people to perform their jobs better. “You don’t embark on digital projects for the sake of technology,” he points out. “You do them because they can create a better outcome for a human.”

Digital Strategy Involves Initiatives From Mobile to Analytics

That’s a message that resonates with the management at Southwest Airlines, which operates a fleet of more than 700 aircraft. The company has embarked on an ambitious digital business strategy that touches almost every corner of the organization and involves initiatives ranging from mobile to next-generation analytics, including how to schedule aircraft optimally.

A major focus has been to put more information in the hands of flight crews, so that they can handle various tasks more efficiently. For example, the company has equipped pilots with an “Electronic Flight Bag”—an Apple iPad—which replaces all paper in the cockpit. Crews can look up information from flight manuals, but also can check weather in real-time via on-board WiFi.

The WiFi capability, which was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), allows pilots to “cut time off routes and make routes smoother or shorter based on actual weather at that moment,” says Paul Tremback, who heads the initiative for Southwest Airlines. Plugging in internet of things (IoT) data from The Weather Company, a division of IBM, pilots are no longer forced to use weather data that’s 15 minutes or longer old.