Tron ride at Disneyland Shanghai

Are you ready to ride the next wave of digital disruption?

Image credit: Paulus Rusyanto/Dreamstime

From high-tech theme park experiences to the latest manufacturing techniques, successful businesses aren’t waiting until they reach later stages of digital maturity to establish the foundations for convergence of technologies, processes and data that is transforming industry.

Technology that once seemed a long-term ambition for many companies has become a necessity in the past two years, as companies have accelerated their digital transformation efforts to cope with the impacts of the pandemic. Previously innovative practices such as virtual communications, personalised digital engagement, immersive modelling, rapid prototyping and efficient remote-collaboration tools are now mainstream.

The pandemic catalysed the creation of two classes of company. The first, with a low level of digital maturity, struggled to implement innovative systems, having to play catch-up before they could tackle the challenges that Covid-19 restrictions put on organisations. The second, which already had high levels of digital maturity, thrived, adopting future-proofing technologies to navigate the pandemic’s challenges. This group is ready for the next wave of digital disruption, which I believe will be a series of market movements and innovative practices known as ‘convergence’.

Convergence is the blending of previously separate technologies, processes and data to create new combinations of products, services and experiences that will reshape industry structures. Research from Altimeter and Autodesk has found that digital maturity is a strong predictor of how much a company believes it will be impacted by convergence.

Nearly three-fifths (59 per cent) of companies with the highest levels of digital maturity think convergence is one of the most critical influences on their business – but this recognition decreases as the level of maturity decreases. This makes sense, as less digitally mature companies are still playing catch-up, struggling to implement the modern technologies and innovations that are the milestones of digital transformation.

This doesn’t mean that companies should wait until they reach later stages of digital maturity to think about and prepare for convergence. The foundations need to be put in place as early as possible.

The first step toward building a digital transformation foundation is understanding all the ways in which convergence is taking place and identifying the four categories that will have the most impact on the business.

Process convergence – Formerly discrete processes and workflows are now being connected across the business for greater efficiency and integrated goals.

Technology convergence – Technologies such as cloud, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, supply chain management, and augmented/virtual reality are converging to create new use cases and solutions.

Data/information convergence – Formerly siloed data is now accessible and being used across business and industry to power a range of new products and services.

Industry convergence – Formerly discrete industries are becoming more similar and connected, creating new opportunities for value creation.

The research found that a business’s level of maturity also dictates which level of convergence it believes has the most impact. Less mature companies tend to focus on process and technology convergence to achieve gains in efficiency. The more digitally mature companies focus on data and industry convergence with the ambition to innovate. Ultimately, however, all companies that identify and act on the opportunities created by convergence early on are well-positioned to gain a competitive advantage in the coming years.

Understanding convergence and applying it within an organisation is an under-leveraged competitive advantage. Process, data and technology convergence have the greatest impact on a company’s internal workings, but it’s industry convergence – driven by external forces – where the magic happens.

When previously disparate industries, or industries that operate in parallel, find ways to collaborate, this can result in enormous mutual benefits. This collaboration can take many forms, including partnerships, transactional relationships, or simply shared resources.

A large-scale example of this is Disney’s Shanghai Disneyland Park, where the rides and attractions are impressive immersive experiences designed by a convergence of architects, artists, engineers, technologists, digital media producers and others. The multi-industry collaborators were able to design these complex experiences using sophisticated building imaging modelling software that allowed different teams to carry out work on projects, which in the past would have been done sequentially, in parallel. This not only increases speed, but also provides a holistic way of delivering a great end-to-end customer experience.

By assessing their digital maturity and top investment priorities, companies can use this data to benchmark themselves and chart a roadmap for transformation. Doing so can effectively enable businesses to prepare for any type of digital disruption – and, as we’ve seen over the last two years – even thrive because of it.

This is still the case for less digitally mature businesses – they don’t necessarily have to wait to start preparations for convergence. Taking initial steps today will help businesses leapfrog maturity stages and even surpass those ahead of them.

Alex Stern is technology strategist at Autodesk.

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