In a digital world does being faster, better and cheaper still count?
One of the dominant narratives of the business world is that in order to succeed the products you provide either need to be cost competitive, be differentiated in some way, or you need to be quicker to market than others. Will this narrative hold as the economy turns fully digital?
Consider what happens today. In order to maintain profitability an external improvement approach may be taken: variations of current products may be offered, or price discounting may take place to increase the quantity sold, or new markets might be opened up. Another approach would be to focus internally. That is to reduce costs and to streamline processes. And a third approach would be to go down the innovation route and develop new products for the same or for different markets.
All of these are variations on the faster, better, cheaper narrative. A narrative that holds true in an economy based on atoms, but does it hold for an economy solely based on bits?
Digitisation has improved business efficiency
We can gain some insights into this future state from the transition that is currently underway. This shift can be seen in the increasing proportion of business, of the economy, of even work itself being categorised as digital. Consider some observations. First, the marketing of goods and services. No longer does the maxim hold of “not knowing which half of the marketing budget is wasted”. For with the analytics available from advertising campaigns using social media channels and search engines the marketing budget can be spent more efficiently.
And second. What about the potential of big data, machine learning and the internet of things currently being brought to bear on say manufacturing processes, the logistics sector, and on agricultural practices? Finally, not forgetting consumers in all this data processing potential: we can find what we want or need more efficiently among the increase array of choices available to us.
Digitisation has improved business transparency
Another insight from this transition is the merging of values with business activity. No longer can a company opaquely distance itself from that which is socially unacceptable. Today’s consumers, and even employees, increasingly call out participants in the local, national and global economies for lack of transparency and corporate behaviour at odds with forward looking standards.
A final insight is with respect to legal and political matters. Until recent times, the digital economy could be regarded as this anarchic wild-west frontier where the scale of profits was beyond comprehension and regulation was an anathema to the full gamut of stakeholders. But now we are seeing serious discussions concerning appropriate taxation regimes, effective safeguards of personal and private data for business use, and a range of attitudes of governments when it comes to how they use their citizens’ data.
So, from one perspective digital technology is making the market more efficient. Perhaps even moving it toward that holy grail of it being a perfect market. Where there is perfect information, sufficient products are available for consumers, and where the lowest cost is the hallmark of all goods and services produced.
And from another perspective, digital technology is making the market more transparent. Where the ulterior motives of its stakeholders become clearer and the governance of data is weighted in the consumer’s favour. In other words, there is possibility that a defining characteristic of the market of the future is its integrity. That across the globe the economy operates with a high level of ethics.
A fully digital economy, then, has the potential to be described in terms of it being a perfect and ethical economy. And this potential will shape the current dominant “faster, better, cheaper” business success narrative. Where even if you are “faster, better, cheaper” due to the nature of perfect markets long lasting economic rents will be almost non-existent. Where even if your business succeeds by being “faster, better, cheaper” the rewards may well be short-lived if that path to victory was less then ethical.
The implication is that “faster, better, cheaper” is becoming “faster, better, cheaper, clearer”. For even if the systems involved in the current transition to an economy based on bits seem opaque, the potential is for all digital economy systems to be fully pellucid.
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