Welcome to the Mobile Era, the Era of Big Data, the App Era, the Cloud Era—whichever name you prefer, we can all agree on its chief message: The days of "business as usual" are over. Innovation—specifically, continuous innovation—is essential for companies looking to shape their future and forge new paths.
The shift from a physical to a digital economy has rewritten the rules of competition. Today, the rewriting occurs even faster, accelerated by mobility, the cloud, and ever-present security risks. Ask the world’s top executives and IT managers what keeps them up at night, and odds are they’ll describe the paradoxical nature of disruption. Call it the Uber Syndrome.
A new competitor with a new model, they fear, can catch them off guard and upend their entire industry. Uber isn’t the only billion-dollar case study. Look at the impact of Airbnb on hospitality; Netflix and Spotify on entertainment; BuzzFeed on media; Amazon on retail; and Apple on consumer electronics and telecommunications.
At the same time, these very executives and IT managers have the opportunity to carry out the disruption themselves. The same technology that enables a startup empowers existing players to innovate and reinvent their industry. A never-ending wave of new apps allows companies to better understand their customers and partners, and develop groundbreaking products or services faster than ever before.
But nonstop innovation requires its own ethos of motivation and its own set of organizational skills. And, of course, its own tools. In particular, the demands on corporate IT systems have never been greater—or more complex. Businesses need not only more computational, storage, and network capacity, but also more speed and flexibility. Or as Gary Barnett, the chief software analyst for London-based research firm Ovum, says, "Infrastructure capable of allowing companies to evolve different parts of their portfolio at different speeds."
Fueling the upheaval, of course, is the proliferation of mobile devices and apps. Next year, mobile connectivity to the Internet worldwide is projected to surpass fixed-line connectivity for the first time. The economic implications are significant: By 2018, global consumer spending via mobile is estimated to reach $626 billion, according to Goldman Sachs.
From an IT standpoint, mobile growth represents a formidable undertaking: After all, a single transaction, such as changing your airline seat or making a bank-to-bank transfer, instantly generates dozens of interactions with a corporate IT system (from account authentication to fraud analysis). Extrapolate that flurry of activity across a few billion smartphone users the world over and you get a sense of the urgency facing IT executives.
The companies that master mobile are creating novel digital experiences that shape customers’ expectations of what brands can and should do for years to come. "If you use an app on your phone to, say, open your hotel room door, that resets your expectation," says Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "When you go into another hotel, your perception of value has changed." The entire concept of a key suddenly becomes antiquated.
To coordinate the interplay between apps and back-end systems, companies are relying more on APIs, the software-based rules that allow applications to share data with each other and with IT systems. Increasingly, this communication is driven by machine processes rather than by a consumer or by a mobile device. "A huge amount of cognitive activity is taking place between businesses without any direct human intervention," says Jason Gartner, CTO of API Economy at IBM. "The key to that automation is having the processes, tools, and DevOps culture to be agile and responsive."
The behind-the-curtain technical jujitsu between databases, analytics code, and the cloud services that power such sophisticated automation is one of those feats that wasn’t possible until recently. But in short order, it’s remaking business operations and much of our digital lives.
Just a few years ago, simply having a mobile app set you apart. Soon after, the focus shifted to the best user interface. Now, a company distinguishes itself by the intelligence derived from its mobile data. In the right hands (read: right IT infrastructure), it can enable real-time personalization, the holy grail of digital experiences. The apps on your devices know you, anticipate your needs, and deliver in the moment.
The snake in this garden of opportunity is the increase of cyberattacks, both in volume and sophistication. The number of new malware threats now exceeds a million a day, according to Symantec. Nearly half target big companies.
Today, a brand’s equity is inextricably tied to the trust a company establishes with data. "The biggest threats to this whole world of datafication are security and privacy," says Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who worked for 37 years at IBM, much of it identifying emerging technologies. "If people don’t trust that their data will be both protected and properly used, they won’t share it or participate."
That duality—the thrilling potential and the bracing risk of technology—epitomizes business for today’s IT executives. How do you recognize and seize opportunities in such a dynamic environment? How do you equip your organization to keep evolving? How do you innovate week in and week out?
Find the answers that work for you, and you’ll find yourself and your company on the right side of disruption.
Learn More about how to conquer the cloud and tackle cyber security with new solutions from IBM.
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This article was created and commissioned by IBM, and the views expressed are their own.