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Insights / Blog / Agility & Organisation

Please be more willing to take Risks in Digital Transformation

August 23, 2018
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

I experience it again and again: The need for action is recognized, the data supports this – but the implementation is halting. Companies are well advised to devote more energy to their digital transformation.

(Reading time: 4 minutes)

Hesitant today means “dangerous”

What is considered risky or risk-free is usually reversed in digital transformation. In the “pre-digital transformation era”, for example, investments in new initiatives and products often represented a high risk.

Today, however, it is more likely that waiting to make investments is a much greater danger, as existing, traditional offerings are increasingly being replaced in the market by digital or digitally-supported products. I often hear from decision-makers that this development isn’t possible to take action so quickly and that one has enough time. This is something I can basically sign off on – but, all too often it is forgotten that other influencing factors can play a role.

If a market suddenly intensifies due to external factors, for example, it is definitely better to have the more competitive offer on the market. What previously looked like a long-term development in such situations can rapidly turn into high market pressure.

I don’t advise you to hurry too much – I also think that, as entrepreneurs, we have enough time to develop our business models further. When I say “enough time” though, I don’t mean “enough time” from the 1980s – but the time available today. 

The 5-Year Plan

When people talk about periods of time in connection with company development, I am always a little horrified when I hear about 5-year plans. Applied in the traditional sense, I perceive this today almost as an anachronism.

For, the fact that this plan will have to be fundamentally adjusted at some point in time seems to be crystal clear to me. Five years has become a long time in which an extreme amount can – and will – happen.

Don’t lose Sight of the long-term Horizon

On the other hand, and this is what makes it so complicated, more strategic attention needs to be paid to the long periods of time. 

Alain Veuve

Alain Veuve

Long-term nearsightedness” must be replaced by “Short-term farsightedness.

I am of the opinion that most companies today make the mistake of planning too long operationally, but lack the foresight for technological and social changes. As a result, the major underlying trends are overlooked and one loses one's self in long-term planning with almost no strategic foundation. A classic example is the definition of a desired market position as a strategic goal. To the tune of: “We want to be the market leader in the xy sector in five years’ time”. However, there is a lot that needs to be done – and indeed we should – but I also believe that our decisions should be based on fundamental changes in the environment. Comparable to riding a wave.

Short-term Farsightedness

In this context, I consider it more effective to demonstrate a “short-term farsightedness”. This means recognizing the underlying trends, most of which are due to technological factors, and using them strategically for the company. In operational planning, however, one should remain agile and opportunistic. I am convinced that this approach is more in line with the demands made on companies today. 

Willingness to take Risks

Once you have grasped the strategic developments and built a strategy based on them, I believe that many more risks should be taken. Not senseless ones, but those where you have a chance to move forward quickly in the market with new initiatives and products. 

I often meet companies that have launched great digital initiatives but took a very long time to do so. The fast, agile players, on the other hand, have developed and communicated a resounding offer in a shorter time. Mostly the fast players win, although they were often relatively late. 

Conversely, this means that you don’t have to be one of the first to get involved with digital products in a changing market. On the contrary: It is usually helpful to start only after the “early adopters” of a technology or a new business model have moved in the market. Not to be confused with the “concept of late harvest” which – in my opinion – almost always goes wrong. 

In jedem Fall ist es sinnvoll, beherzt und mit entsprechendem Einsatz zu agieren. Das verspricht in der Regel am meisten Erfolg. Und Erfolg kommt nun mal nicht ohne Risiko. 

In any case, it makes sense to act with courage and commitment. This usually promises the most success. And success simply does not come without risk.