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The Future Is Unpredictable, So Seize The Day With Digital Transformation

I love podcasts—they’re a great way to gain knowledge on a subject while exercising or commuting. I was listening to a16z, a venture capital podcast, the other day and my ears pricked up when I heard that private car ownership could be banned in cities by 2023.

It’s easy to follow this through to its natural conclusion: automated cars will be on the road next year, and it will quickly become apparent that they are safer than fallible humans. The government will come under increasing pressure to stop people driving in cities, and people will enjoy having more space to move around until eventually private ownership ends. It’s a logical and compelling argument.

And, yet, private car sales are going up. Despite the growth of direct sales websites, 80% of people still visit a retailer to test-drive a car before buying it. This feels a long way from a society that says “car please” to a voice-controlled concierge, resulting in an automated car pulling up outside the house two minutes later.

That’s a really problematic scenario, because what’s happening right now bears no resemblance to what we’re being told will happen in the near future. It’s easy to become fixated on such predictions and rapidly move to a place where they become your truth. But the future is complicated, and predicting what’s going to happen is all but impossible.

In my last article I talked about what should stay the same during digital transformation. Now I want to talk about the practicalities of transforming. We all get that the world is changing and that it’s going to look very different, from both a customer and business perspective, in 10 years’ time, from what we buy and the way we buy it to what we eat and how we prepare it.

However, I am not sure there is much value in CMOs picking north stars to aim at. I feel much more comfortable focusing on how we build teams, technology, and processes to adapt to customer demands, enabling us to focus on the here and now, which, in the case of automobiles, is a world in which people still research online, test-drive, and buy cars in person.

The two successful ways I have found to make your business this flexible are through culture and technology. First, invest in culture so that your people feel that change is OK, and that something done in a certain way one year can be done differently the next, or even simply put in the bin. My agency works with a major housebuilder that has seen enquiries for new homes shift entirely from walking into show homes to online over the past five years.

Second, build your tech to meet customer needs, for example, simple micro-services that fix particular problems and fit together, and avoid dependencies on legacy systems that create complication. For example, can I adapt from desktop to mobile quickly enough? Or change my payment methods?

With this approach, we can ask ourselves and our clients: “What customer needs have we met over the past three months?” and not “How are we preparing for a future that may or may not happen?”

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