Technology has the potential to transform organisations. But this alone won't help firms thrive in this period of global technological disruption.
Businesses might need one major strength to survive aggressive competitive forces: they should consider building a moat around their operations to protect them from new market players that are decimating traditional markets.
That was the main message from Andy Lark at the recent American Express Inside Edge conference. Lark says he is not interested in the word 'disruption' — "Being a disrupter is not enough," he says.
Lark believes the best new technologies are those that provide maximum consumer comfort and minimal dislocation.
He offered an interesting possible scenario of consumer servicing that might become business-as-usual in the future.
If a person needs toilet paper or dishwashing detergent, a drone could arrive to the customer's rooftop. A chute would then open, sending the goods down a tunnel, direct to a conveniently-built compartment inside the house.
Amazon, says Lark, is already building rooftops in Arizona in the US to allow drones to conveniently deliver goods 'frictionlessly' – which means customers need do nothing at all to receive a delivery.
Customers may get Amazon to automatically restock their house with 'essential' items based on their past use of products, without needing to place an order, he says. Lark claims Amazon is already building the infrastructure needed to have goods flown directly to homes for free.
This is a space others may not easily enter, says Lark. It's this type of service he believes is key to winning customers in the future.
“You have to figure out how to apply technology and structure partnerships to create big, new defensible positions. All the notions we have around building our businesses, customer journeys and customer experience and payment solutions – these will all be gone," he adds.
Lark said the reason why companies build moats is because they want to be in business for as long as possible – not just to make profits on a quarterly basis.
In his experience in Silicon Valley, companies that truly wanted to make a difference initially cared little for money. The cash was just a means to an end, to impel the technology needed to overhaul and improve customer experiences.
“Why would you ever want to make a profit? I grew up in businesses like salesforce.com and Google, where the thinking was: 'Profit? Why? We've got stuff to do with the money we make'."
Warning the audience that established market leaders cannot rest on their laurels, Lark offered Amazon Alexa as an example of a new service confounding existing market players. A cloud-based voice service and a competitor of Google Home, Amazon Alexa can operate devices in a smart home by voice command. For example, it might be used to play music or control lighting and heating systems. He says Alexa almost immediately captured a substantial share of the smart speaker market.
Competitors such as Bose, a company well known for its quality speakers, have been brought to their knees, according to Lark.
“You could imagine Bose walking around thinking, 'We're an iconic sound and audio brand. We've got German audio engineers working for us. We have Beyoncé on our marketing payroll. We are unbeatable'."
But statistics show Amazon's Alexa is already dominating the smart speaker market - a sobering reality for brands like Bose that have been held in such high esteem for many decades.
Smart homes are just the start
Smart homes are just one dynamic of the new consumer landscape. Even basic household tasks like adding up expenses and doing bank reconciliations have become much more user-friendly according to Lark.
“Bookkeeping used to be the worst thing in the world. The average person would do their bank reconciliations between 3.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. at night because it's the last thing they ever wanted to do," he says.
“Now they've made banking fun and gamified it. When you've reconciled everything, you get a 100 per cent score and a big tick mark."
The new way of doing business will be far more nuanced than simple disruption, according to Lark. It might create new products that may not be easily replicated, but which could respond intelligently to what he calls 'MODDDs' – consumers' moments of doubt, desire and dissatisfaction. “This is what drives most of us to build products," Lark says.
It starts with technology, which is the main source of differentiation. “Technology drives brand preference more than any other attribute or characteristic," he adds.
In this new world, a MODDD may even be able to solve the problem of knowing where your children are. For instance, Lark joked it would be nice to have chip technology for kids similar to the chips used to locate pets – to resolve the moments of doubt parents experience when they don't know where their kids are.
“This moment of doubt would be gone. I would know where my kids are and what they are doing – a chip would enable me to see where they are on an app. Armed with that information, parents can be confident the kids can keep doing what they're doing."
Lark told delegates people could form relationships with a brand based on what it does for the them.
“That's the dividends you look for in all this technology and all these experiences.
“Suddenly you've formed this visceral bond to the technology, which is there to create an experience that's remarkable."
Lark's vision for a whole new world may well be one that many future-facing CFOs could embrace, in their quest to drive their own businesses forward.
- Explore how to 'build a moat' around your business to help protect it.
- Consider building strategic relationships with partners that may help you develop defensible positions for your brand.
- Going beyond just disruption, future business may be about creating products that cannot be easily replicated that also respond intelligently to consumer wants.