diginomica 2017 - the year according to Jon

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed December 26, 2017
With 2018 in sight, Jon Reed takes a look back at highlights from the departing year on diginomica.

(1) The obstacles to digital transformation come into focus

Breaking down company walls is powerful, but it exposes flaws. All it takes is one weak link to take the entire “experience” of dealing with a company down. Change is never easy, but as this panel showed, radically questioning long-held processes like performance reviews can shake things up.

Why? Hearing from practitioners has a way of cutting through the tech fog. This is especially true for “digital transformation,” one of the most elusive/nebulous/maddening concepts for the enterprise to grapple with. Most of my use cases explored obstacles to change, how adoption was achieved, and hopefully, that quaint, old fashioned thing called results. Good news: we are getting clarity on what successful transformation efforts look like, including the importance of measuring change (crafting the right metrics are another story). The bad part? "Best practices" are at best overrated, if not a marketing farce. Change agents need corporate backing - or they'll be snowed under in 2018.

(2) AI is practical - and the skills gap must be closed

What ties these jobs together isn’t the people-centric aspects, but the unpredictability. Dealing with unpredictable people, strange environments, complex and changing industries, ambiguous data – that’s where people  should continue to excel over machines.

Why? The term "AI" remains amorphous to the point of absurdity, a barely useful umbrella. Underneath it, approaches like machine learning and robotic process automation look for traction. One thing we have learned in 2017: despite the limitations of general AI and the near-uselessness of the viral "AI doomsday" debate, there are very real AI possibilities available to companies now - and problems to go with them. One serious issue: the data science skills gap. My "staying ahead of the robots" piece framed the best thinking I've seen. The Tableau piece stood out because "data analysts" are supposedly amongst the most impacted by the encroachment of automation and ML. Yet Tableau sees it differently. I will push myself in 2018 to document more stories, not about rising above the machine, but working amidst them in new roles.

(3) Blockchain is debatable

Blockchain has proven it can run on cryptocurrency scale. But can it run on enterprise scale? In other words – when are we going to get beyond pilot projects? Behlendorf, who already estimated the number of live blockchains at around a hundred, sees us moving past this pilot phase shortly.

Why? The enterprise blockchain hype machine was in mind meld mode in 2017. Nevertheless I found some clarity. As I see it, blockchain won't revolutionize the enterprise, but it will find solid ground in certain use cases, especially where existing processes are cumbersome, and assets hard to validate (example: IBM and Walmart's food safety blockchain partnership in China). My interview with Hyperledger's director had a jugular vibe; he was running hot after an intense, onstage blockchain and Hyperledger debate. Our interview was a gut check on what 2018 might hold.

(4) Security gets cloudy - and privacy gets Equifaxed

am interested in how individuals – and enterprises – should respond to the bigger picture of a world where these types of breaches occur far too often. I heard from a rather upset cyber security expert, Mike Shultz, CEO of Cybernance, a cyber governance company. I get why Shultz is frustrated.

Why? Consumers are generally used to (over)sharing their data in exchange for convenience (hello, Facebook!). But Equifax's data breach took data privacy out of anyone's comfort zone with its massive exposure of social security numbers. I used the chance to run down how enterprises should respond to such breaches, looking at everything from white hat crowdsourcing to automating security with AI botnets. Cloud security remains a potent topic even as cloud gains enterprise credibility. With GDPR on the horizon in Europe, you can expect privacy and security to remain chief diginomica concerns in 2018.

(5) Informed buyers ignore marketing  - so how the heck do you reach them?

When you build an opt-in community, you’re ratcheting up the value exchange on both sides, with your community willingly sharing valuable data in exchange for what they receive. Some folks in that community will never buy from you. That doesn’t mean they don’t have influence. They could be subject matter experts, called upon by buyers to evaluate technical claims. Or they could be influencers of one stripe or another (see: Why enterprise buyers trust influencers – new research).

Why? The B2B buyer is more autonomous in their research than ever before. Equipped with a better peer network and a first class BS detector, today's buyer sees through the blustering marketing claims of old. They don't appreciate pseudo-personalization; they push back on strong-armed sales tactics. The challenge to the modern vendor? Be helpful, relevant, and, toughest of all - as agnostic as possible (e.g. play nice with other cloud services). My thinking on B2B buyers has advanced - in conjunction with new data from analyst research. The debate from these pieces was instructive, and showed the gaps I need to fill in 2018.

(6) Beyond omni-channel hurdles - into customer wins

NRF and IHL Group came to those numbers by reviewing over 1,800 retail chains, each with more than fifty U.S. stores in 10 retail vertical segments. The IHL Group discovered that for every chain with a net closing of stores, 2.7 companies showed a net increase in store locations for 2017. As you might expect, Buzek is not a fan of the sloppy “retail apocalypse” media narrative.

Why? My 2017 retail coverage kicked off via the NRF Big Show in New York City, examining the promise/pitfalls of the omni-channel. That led me through to Shop.org in the fall, where surprising data on store closures indicated signs of life for retailers not named Amazon and Walmart. Use cases from U.S. to China showed how customer trust can be won -but only with the right content/experience/data. Now the 2018 Big Show is coming up again; I'll look to discover more retailers who are getting the analytics/online/in-store mix right. Also see: my colleague Stuart Lauchlan's recent pieces on the retail holiday push.

(7) Cloud ERP customers find a new value - in data visibility

Cloud ERP benefits are not limited to the transactional payoffs of easier/streamlined processes. When you do it right, the end result is increased visibility – real-time or close to it. In turn, this offers an opportunity to apply that data, properly dashboarding business KPIs – with much more confidence in the data than when it was spread across disparate programs and spreadsheets.

Why? This year's cloud ERP shows brought a welcome surprise: a second - and more potent - phase of value realization for customers, based on the impact of real-time data visibility. This benefit crossed over events, from FinancialForce to Sage Intacct, from SAP to Acumatica. No, this benefit isn't the cloud ERP end game: ahead is more work on predictive/automation, incorporating external/unstructured data into the mix, and pursuing new business models based on that data. Readers challenged me on whether these data benefits were cloud-dependent. Not necessarily - but the pattern is clear, and exposing/consuming data via cloud and mobile interfaces is just easier.

(8) Are enterprise audiences still in content shock?

Content subscriptions were always important; now it’s the deciding factor in your content marketing success – or not. By “subscribers,” I’m not talking about the 1,000 unlucky souls your booth team scanned at the last trade show. I mean those who are rabid, or at least enthusiastic, about your content – and welcome your notifications. By opting in, they are saying, “I value your content enough for you to interrupt me.”

Why? Since I last waded into the "content shock" debate two years ago, much has changed. I've had to confront the problems in my own thinking. Recently I had the chance to wade back in, and once again adapt the content shock debate to the problems B2B companies face. I also seized the chance to undermine social media misconceptions. A twenty-point checklist for B2B content strategy stemmed directly from a recorded presentation I gave, where business owners put my ideas on the spot.

(9) Diversity is a framework for solving problems

Many stats on workplace diversity are concerning. However, there are two areas where I see progress:

- There is a clearer understanding of how living an “open” (as opposed to closeted) identity at work can improve productivity.

- Expanding the discussion/practice of diversity beyond the gender, ethnic and sexual orientation categories can cross barriers of resistance. An expanded definition of diversity helps people to surface their own differences in ways that build empathy – and provoke new viewpoints.

Workplace diversity is a core part of diginomica's coverage. We had outstanding contributions on this topic throughout the year; I can't list them all here. For my part, I tried to look at areas where diversity could strengthen a business case. Pushing beyond algorithmic bias was another focus. To be fair, this is still a difficult topic. We have a lot more to do - inside and outside of diginomica.

(10) Satire is still good for the enterprise soul

Just a few of our enterprise un-predictions for 2018:

- A vendor’s conference menu will be hacked by a competitor, with all attendees upgraded to the venue’s highest dining offering – a delightful sit down lobster lunch.
- Deloitte will begin – and quickly rescind – the practice of suing anyone that utters “reimagine” now that they have their own Reimagine Platform.
- Not to be outbuzzed byWorkday’s Power of One, Oracle will announce its Power of Infinity- - EVERY application in 2018 will now be ‘self-driving’ and ‘autonomous’ but some will go a step further and become ‘prescient’.

Why?  I've been known to get a bit sassy around here. We all work pretty darn hard on this enterprise gig - a laugh or two is always good. But I've always felt that satire can get at issues in a more revealing way. You can get a regular dose in my weekly Enterprise hits & misses column, particular in the whiffs section, as well as our weekly email newsletter and the daily email send crafted by Den Howlett. But now and again, a full-on cheeky piece is needed. Especially when it comes to trying to save enterprise events - or buzzword overdose.