Episode 42: Navigating Digital Disruption with R. “Ray” Wang

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R. “Ray” Wang09/01/2021

In this episode, AvePoint Chief Brand Officer Dux Raymond Sy sat down with R. “Ray” Wang, the founder, chairman, and principal analyst at Constellation Research and author of the book "Everybody Wants to Rule the World". They discussed the ways in which new, nimble competitors are entering the market, causing established players to rethink their entire business models.

Wang explained data has become the real currency and those who can use it are set to come out on top. There is an arms race to get the best technology and talent. The conversation then shifted to the digital revolution and its impact on every part of our lives, including the way we work. The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards digital business models, and Wang reflected on how he recently cleared out his basement of vinyl records and equipment, realizing that he no longer needs physical inventory because of the rise of digital channels, business models, and monetization. He concluded that he is a victim of being in the middle of a trend without realizing what has been going on, emphasizing the importance of being ready for unprecedented transformation in the face of disruption.

Taking this example and shifting to a business concept, Wang discussed how the pandemic has changed the way businesses run and how organizations need to adapt to the current landscape. The pandemic has forced organizations to rely more on technology and remote work to operate and this reliance has helped businesses to access information in real-time and make better decisions. Additionally, Wang discussed the importance of companies rethinking their brand and purpose, as many middle-aged companies have lost sight of why they exist. He believes companies need to go beyond digital transformation and revisit their mission and purpose to be successful in today's world.

Wang then goes into the pitfalls and successes of digital transformation using Toys "R" Us, Macy's, and Domino's Pizza as examples. Toys "R" Us failed utterly, Macy's is in the middle of a rebranding, and Domino's Pizza is the poster child for successful digital transformation. With the rise of food delivery apps during the pandemic, small businesses that could not deliver their food turned to food delivery apps, which then picked up millions of customers. The food delivery apps took over customer account control and began to mine data to monetize it, building ghost kitchens and using the data to target ads or create new menus. For Domino's to remain relevant, they should create a brand-new startup unit to help other startups compete with food delivery app companies, giving them infrastructure from ordering to managing to delivering the last mile. In this way, Domino's could remain relevant even if customers only ordered from them once a month while still capturing all the other revenue from everybody else.

The discussion then turned to the challenges and opportunities presented by the shift to hybrid work, where employees work both in the office and remotely. The speakers emphasize that organizations need to avoid falling back into old ways of doing things and instead embrace modern technologies to work better together. Remote work is no longer just about working from home, but rather a hybrid model where employees are expected to come into the office for important tasks and events.

Companies should focus on maximizing productivity by avoiding long commutes and embracing collaboration tools, while also recognizing the value of in-person work for certain tasks such as design and client interactions. Ultimately, it’s about finding a balance between structure and flexibility in the hybrid workplace. While modern technologies allow for real-time collaboration and connection, there needs to be some structure in place to ensure that employees are using their time effectively when in the office. Sacred time should be set aside for collaborative group work and for experiencing the serendipitous collisions that can occur when working in-person.

Leaders must provide structure and guidance to equip the workforce to take advantage of the hybrid work environment. Wang discussed the importance of recreating the serendipity that can occur through random collisions and interactions in the office environment. Additionally, working from home has made it difficult to disconnect from work, leading to long working hours and difficulty catching up when returning to the office after being away.

Another challenge of hybrid work environments is the need for businesses to adapt to changing attitudes towards loyalty. Wang explained that loyalty has become a myth, with customers and employees being driven by convenience, cost-effectiveness, and individual needs. As a result, businesses need to build a business graph inside every organization to understand how employees interact with products, other employees, and customers. This business graph can help leaders understand their employees' demands and address issues before they become serious problems that lead to employee departures. Understanding the nuances of employee interactions with the business can help leaders automate processes and make work easier for employees.

Wang then turned to how technology can be used to measure the pulse of an organization – both internally and externally. He gave the example of Microsoft's Viva suite of technologies, which offers tools to measure the behavior, mental health, and content being surfaced in an organization. Wang noted that although these technologies are not perfect, they provide signals to help measure sentiment. He goes on to discuss how data is becoming a commodity in today's world and how digital giants use this data to control every aspect of a person's life. The conversation ends with advice on how to make the shift happen in organizations and personal pursuits. Wang suggested that data should be treated as a property and that data portability will be an important aspect of this. He argued that the benefits of digital giants, such as innovation, driving down costs, and creating new companies, should be weighed against the costs of potentially giving up control of personal information to these giants.

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