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The digital revolution: why now?


18 May 2016

Chris Lindsay

Blogs by author: Chris Lindsay, Head of Digital Transformation, BT.


We live in a digital world that the World Economic Forum is calling the fourth industrial revolution. Everywhere you look, businesses and board rooms are asking themselves the question “what does digital mean for us?”

I see this every day at home as well as in the office. My wife's cake decorating business means she is an expert in manipulating sugar into beautiful and creative designs, but she is also becoming an expert in digital marketing, social engagement and digital processes to make her more efficient.  Most of this would have been impossible only a few years ago.

I also see it in our discussions with some of the largest companies in the world. When I talk to them they are busy putting programmes in place to re-imagine their operations in a digital world, try things out, experiment and innovate. What does 'Uberisation' mean in their industry, what jobs can be automated to improve costs, productivity and service, what new channels and ways of interacting and offering value to customers should they be employing?

Then I sit back and think, why? Why is all this happening now. Sure you can hear about Gartner and their nexus of forces or any other analyst talking about their own flavour of social, mobile, cloud and information, but there is something underlying all this.

The Economist published an article in 2014, called The Great Third Wave, which keeps on coming back to me. In it, they tell the fable of the man who invented the game of chess and took it to the sultan who liked the idea and wanted to own the game. The ingenious inventor was asked for his price. He said I'll take a grain of rice for the first square on the board, double that for the second, double it for the third and so on. The sultan thought this a fair price, until they got to about half way across the chess board where the number of grains required were more than were in the entire kingdom and the next square was worth double that.

The article then went on to apply it to Moore’s Law. Up until now we've been living in the first half of the chess board with computer power doubling every couple of years, but the advances in the next few years are going to be at least double what we've seen over the last 30 or 40 years.

That is why digital is on the minds of so many board rooms. The possibilities given from these sorts of advances are going to be profound, and it's hard to imagine the impact. It is a digital revolution, we've seen nothing yet. But these are exciting times to work out what Digital Possible means for you and your business whatever your size.

Read our point of view on the Digital Possible. Take a look at our global report on the digital CIO.