Preparing for Digital Disorder

Technological adoption could evolve in one of four ways—which one will win out?
Preparing for Digital Disorder

“WE ARE DESCENDING into a period of digital disorder.” That’s an opening sentiment of a new report from the Global Business Policy Council (GBPC), a unit of the global management consulting firm Kearney (formerly A.T. Kearney). The current technological environment is quickly evolving from one that followed a primarily predictable path to one that’s being transformed in unpredictable ways by new regulations (such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation), advancing technology (such as 5G wireless networks and artificial intelligence), and intensifying global competition.

Although it’s not yet clear how the use of digital technologies will change over the next decade, the GBPC predicts that, by the year 2030, businesses will be forced to contend with at least one of four possible future scenarios:

Techlash to Renaissance, in which the world sees a public backlash against overstepping tech companies. This so-called “techlash” inspires a wave of national policies and regulations. From this, the world emerges with a robust and effectively regulated cross-border digital environment.

Digital Crackdown, in which “high levels of nationalism and strict government control of digital platforms … dominate the operating environment.” The global economy falters as governments increasingly focus on national and state-owned enterprises, and as bureaucratic obstacles hinder companies’ innovation and decision making.

Fake News Devolution, in which a weak regulatory environment spawns a “digital Wild West” that enables the proliferation of online fake news. The spread of disinformation further degrades the public trust in government and business institutions. As nationalism takes hold, consumers avoid foreign-born technologies, putting a damper on global economic growth. At the same time, companies must cope with “rampant hacking, IP theft, corporate espionage, and online smear campaigns.”

Surveillance Capitalism, in which tech giants in the U.S. and China are more powerful than national governments. These companies reach larger numbers of people through their digital platforms, quickly acquire competitors, and snuff out regulatory efforts that would stifle their growth. The global economy is robust—so robust that the public largely accepts the fact that tech companies use people’s personal data for “surveillance-based micro-targeting in advertising and politics.” This practice wields disproportionate power in shaping popular opinion and government policy. Online content grows more homogeneous, as the world moves toward “one global Internet—and one global consumer base.”

Each of these potential futures presents different challenges, but companies still can thrive—if they work now to embrace digital transformation. The GBPC has created what it calls its SCORE framework, which outlines five aspects of technology that companies should target: strategy, customer experience, operations, risk management and compliance, and employees and culture.

Companies will need to remain agile, tailoring their strategies to the scenarios that come to pass. To fight against fake news, for example, companies will need to offer more personalized customer experiences and nurture their talent pipelines. To respond to a digital crackdown, say the authors, companies should build relationships based on transparency and trust, while monitoring and adapting to new regulations in areas such as data privacy.

No matter the scenario, the report’s authors emphasize that all companies will need to improve their cybersecurity, manage their digital risk exposure, and embed digital technologies in their corporate cultures.

“Companies cannot be passive observers of the ongoing digital revolution,” the authors write. “They should be actively adapting to the current digital disorder while also preparing for future digital disorder by embarking on strategic end-to-end digital transformation.”

Read the report, “Competing in an Age of Digital Disorder.”