You might not know it, but your business is on fire. Will you take digital action before it’s too late?

Last week’s news made for bleak reading for even the most jaded retail analyst. I was particularly struck by an article I read in The Times about Philip Green and the collapse of his retail empire. The headline refers to him as “an analogue man in a digital world”.

‍This sentence alone should strike a lightning bolt of fear into the hearts of every CEO around the world who has so far resisted or dragged their heals on digital transformation. I’m not talking just retail here. I’m referring to every commercial business.

‍We’re in 2020. The digital age has arrived. If the pandemic has taught us anything this year, it’s this.

‍If your business is still predominantly “analogue”. By this I mean bricks and mortar and paper-based, slow and inefficient, not offering value for money in the eyes of your customer, you need to be acting like your business is on fire and taking urgent digital action to future proof it.

‍Because your business IS on fire. You just can’t see the flames yet.

‍Every industry faces a digital revolution

History is littered with stories of complacent businesses. All which took their household name status, the goodwill of their loyal customers and their large revenues, for granted. Today’s industry leaders need to learn the lessons from the past.

‍The world is changing faster than any other time in recent living memory. Resisting or delaying digital transformation could turn out to be akin to unknowingly signing your company’s death warrant.

‍Every industry is being disrupted by technology. Newcomers who are building their businesses on digital foundations from day one, may be small and unknown to begin with. But with the right marketing, the right customer-focused approach, the right product and pricing. They will scale with extraordinary speed and could topple an established global behemoth much quicker than you might think.

‍Newer companies are often more fearless, innovative and adaptable of course. Open to more risks. Just by their very nature of being new and not burdened by legacy inefficient systems and outdated processes. Or large shareholders they need to keep happy, often leading to short term thinking. Distracted by the next quarterly earnings or end of year results, knowing they need to demonstrate continuous growth to keep growing the share price and investors happy.

Speed, access and radical transparency

Digital-first players are able to be more accessible, act faster and remove inefficiencies. They will generally be in a position to offer a higher quality customer experience and transfer often substantial cost savings to the customer through lower pricing or investing in a higher quality service for the same price as their competitors. To name just a few.

‍That should not, and does not, mean an established firm cannot revolutionise its approach and turn the juggernaut around. Big firms most definitely can. Just at the moment, very few seem to possess the courage and conviction to make such a fast radical change. It’s too difficult, too expensive, too risky if it doesn’t work.

‍But what about the risk of not doing it? Of not changing enough, fast enough. A rhetorical question for the decision-makers at Arcadia and Debenhams perhaps.

‍From a retail perspective, the sector was struggling long before the pandemic of course. With industry giants increasingly challenged by fast-emerging digital-only indie brands. Part of a fast-emerging “digital shopping mall” which is open 24 hours, seven days a week, and generally accessible by shoppers anywhere in the world. That’s an extraordinary opportunity for digital-focused retailers.

‍Not to mention that new digital brands appear to be much more alert to the changing expectations of their customers around issues such as sustainability and human rights, offering radical transparency into their supply chains and factory partners.

‍As shoppers move from the high street to the comfort of their sitting rooms, their shopping options are exploding. Making every pound, euro and dollar spent that much more difficult for retailers to earn.

‍Every crisis presents choices and opportunities

The shock of the pandemic has put jobs at risk in all sectors. Economies flat-lining as politicians scramble to try and stop the health crisis becoming an economic crisis of devastating proportions.

‍We’re in a crisis, yes. But let’s remember, a crisis presents a choice. And a choice can often present an opportunity. This is the mindset of the entrepreneur.

‍For some businesses it might already be too late. That’s a sad truth. But for others, now should be the time to accelerate investment in digital transformation. Taking bold decisions to scrap outdated processes and invest in something new in readiness for long-term revenue growth.

‍Sometimes this might mean minor changes, sometimes it might mean removing something completely and rebuilding it from scratch. Rather than keep adding more and more patches to old systems, it might be time to rip out the core and put in place a completely new operating model. This can seem daunting but if it means saving your business, then it’s a vital life-saving action in the long-term.

‍Think of it through the eyes of a gardener and pruning plants. When to prune, how to prune, where to prune? How to nurture. What does the plant need to grow? Plants get sick and need surgery same as humans.

‍There are times when surgery is needed to encourage healthier growth, there are times when it is needed to save the plant from the compost heap.

‍The same applies to businesses.

‍Benefits of blockchain transformation

2020 has without doubt been the year we all want to forget. But if we flip the lens around and try and find the opportunities, they do exist. This year’s financial pain could be the long overdue catalyst businesses around the world need to act with urgency and fully embrace digital transformation.

‍Specifically, blockchain transformation. It’s potential to revolutionise and future proof so many industries is phenomenal. It’s radical transparency, security and privacy benefits are well understood by blockchain entrepreneurs and early adopters. But it’s still an unknown to most mainstream businesses. Overshadowed by its unfortunate association with a product built using blockchain technology too — that product being digital currencies.

‍This is frustrating as blockchain has received unfair criticism as a consequence. Slowing innovation. With just a small part of the ecosystem really understanding its potential and refusing to give up, despite the constant obstacles.

‍All businesses which are struggling today with operational efficiencies, security issues, not to mention unhealthy balance sheets. I suspect they could make positive progress in some if not all three of these areas if they incorporated decentralised blockchain technology into their operations.

My message is this. Your business is on fire. Don’t wait to see the flames to believe it.

The invisible carbon monoxide could already be killing you.

Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of Treehouse. A London-based ESG-focused fintech. Trying to reverse climate change. One tree at a time 🌳

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