Are you trying to transform into a digital business?

The rare and wonderful cheetah has a range of specialist characteristics that allow it to be the fastest land animal in the world, clocked at up to 75mph. Strangely, looking at these characteristics reminded me of the qualities large businesses need to aim for when transforming operations for the digital age.

So I’ve distilled this picture down into five memorable digital business lessons:

LESSON 1- SPEED IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH

Speed is what allows predators to catch their prey, or prey to escape from predators. All out speed gives the cheetah the highest predatory success rate on the Savanah – 40% of the time the Cheetah hunts, it kills.

Right now the leaders in every industry are under a greater threat than ever from new market entrants seeking to define entirely new business models. Cisco famously predicted that 40% of the top 10 in each industry will be displaced by digital disruptors in the next 5 years.

LESSON 2 – MOST ENTERPRISES ARE NOT BUILT FOR SPEED

Today’s incumbent enterprises, (the buffalos of the digital economy) are powerful but slow, and digital innovation has made it easier than ever for smaller, more agile businesses to pose a threat to their survival.

But how do these agile businesses differ from big enterprises? Let’s look again at the cheetah, its massive chest gives it a huge heart and lung capacity for an animal of its size, and its long thin legs are joined to the body by flexible hips that allow for an overlap while running, something not seen in any other animal…

Like the cheetah, disruptive digital businesses aren’t weighed down by rigid legacy systems, complex operating models, or the pressure to minimize risks. They are open to new ways of doing things, especially if it makes them different from everyone else. So for today’s big incumbent enterprises, diminishing these very limitations is essential for survival.

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LESSON 3 – IT’S WHAT’S HIDDEN THAT NEEDS TO MOVE THE FASTEST

A cheetah’s head is undersized to improve aerodynamics, while its huge legs, the underlying structure of it’s incredible movement, are hidden from view in the long grass.

When embarking on Digital Transformation, many businesses focus only the most visible part of their business, the front end user experience, the consumer website or the mobile apps. But the customer experience is often made up of many touchpoints with a business through a variety of channels – not just the app. Think about the retail store, the call center. All of these channels rely on the underlying technology infrastructure of the business – the processes and technologies that keep the organization moving.

The lesson we can learn here is to focus on enabling agility in the underlying business technologies such as the ERP. Fortunately, that does not dictate a practically impossible and undesirable rip and replace approach. Today’s wrapper technologies allow businesses to add agility where it is needed in order to get the best from legacy systems. Systems that would take too long to replace (never mind the cost).

LESSON 4 – REAL AGILITY REQUIRES RAPID CHANGES IN DIRECTION

The cheetah’s heavy tail gives it the ability to quickly change direction – ensuring that it can catch other incredibly agile targets. This is a real challenge for the incumbent enterprises in every industry.

Our digital economy is driven by rapid shifts, accelerated by new digital players that reinvent and disrupt stagnant sectors. For any successful business, change is hard, and the bigger an organization grows the harder it becomes.

The lesson that businesses can learn here is that a straight path is not the path to innovation. Big businesses need to think differently, and be ready for constant course corrections. For example, your biggest competitor right now could become your greatest ally next year in the battle against a new digital player. Combined resources could help you innovate faster to stay ahead.

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LESSON 5 – TO MOVE FAST, EVERYTHING NEEDS TO WORK TOGETHER

The truly rapid pace of a cheetah is only made possible by the coordinated movement of a body optimized for speed. Imagine if your business was genuinely working in perfect harmony towards a single common goal…

For most enterprises, the reality is a disparate organization of silos that really struggle to collaborate effectively. Looking at the cheetah, every one of its specialisms is important, but each on its own would be far from enough to achieve such hunting success.

In the enterprise, no individual team can deliver against the goals of the business. Digital transformation absolutely must be collaborative and enterprise-wide.

Download your free copy of ‘Top 5 Challenges of Digital Transformation – And how to tackle them’ for insights into the most important business strategies in enabling rapid digital change.