‘The Art of the Impossible’:  Digital transformation for industry

CoDE just hosted a Digital Strategy Day in the Business Insights Lab for a team from a big name in the oil and gas industry. ‘The art of the impossible’ is how the company’s team leader framed the search for the truly unique and unlikely ideas that could transform both their industry, and how the company acts within it. Increasingly, businesses are recognising that entirely reimagining their sector is a necessity rather than just an academic exercise.

‘How do I join the dots in a way I’ve never looked at before?’ is beyond doubt the key question for the digital age.

We discussed six key digital trends – from distributed manufacturing, to the shift from products to services and data – along with new industry players and digital disruption. One question, and one exhortation, emerged:

  • ‘How much do we know about what’s going to affect us?’
  • ‘We need to disrupt ourselves, before we get disrupted.’

Professor Alan Brown took the mic next, and cut right to the chase: ‘Everything I’m about to tell you is WRONG. We are facing massive uncertainty in all sectors. So – be sceptical about what people tell you. In the next few years, business is going to change dramatically.’ Alan’s four main ideas underpinning digital business:

  • Design Thinking;
  • Lean Startup (being more efficient in how we learn);
  • The business model/value proposition/ business impact;
  • Agile Project Delivery

He concluded, ‘How do we ask the right questions in uncertain times? Business experimentation. And business experimentation is about value in use, and how we participate in that use.’

Answers, it seems are overrated. The trick is to make sure you know what the question is before relentlessly pursuing an answer. And – to make sure your department isn’t just adding cost, but clearly adding value too.

We moved into a ‘trade show’ that incorporated sessions on Platforms, Blockchain, and Business Models to name just a few, and then break-outs into sector-specific workgroups.

At CoDE, our role is to help business navigate uncertainty in perplexing times. We don’t have easy answers, or even perfect questions, but we do know how to get you thinking in a new way about age-old business dilemmas made unrecognisable by Digital. We’re also educating the next generation of business people here at Surrey. Get in touch to hear more about our work.

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About the Author : Kris Henley

Communications and Outreach for Surrey Business School's Centre for the Digital Economy, a newly-founded research centre to explore the implications of the Digital Economy for business, government and society.