For businesses, as for individuals, the turn of the decade should be a time of contemplation. What has gone right over the past ten years, and what has left us feeling disappointed? More importantly, what are our goals and resolutions for the decade ahead, and how confident are we that these will be met?

Realizing maximum value

Some business leaders may look back on the 2010s and ask themselves if they were able to make the most of the opportunities on offer. After all, this has been the decade when technology innovation has skyrocketed through tools like data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and the cloud. But some organizations saw mixed results when it came to extracting full value from investments in these areas.

We recently conducted an in-depth global analysis into the ‘innovation achievement gap’ that has emerged between businesses that have made their technology investments deliver optimum value and those that have only been able to realise piecemeal, limited value from such investments. The gap is startling: 10% of innovation ‘leaders’ are earning more than double the revenue of the bottom 25% of innovation ‘laggards’.

New year, new approach

For many organisations, the new decade will, therefore, need to be a period of change, and right at the top of their list of New Year resolutions should be transforming their approach to technology investment. The vital question is what shape this approach should take.

Looking at the approach innovation leaders have taken, the answer quickly becomes clear. Rather than treating technology investments as standalone, point solutions to specific challenges, innovation leaders think in terms of systems. They have a clear and cohesive vision for their entire technology estate and are moving towards what we call ‘future systems’. I believe that future systems will be the dominant enterprise technology paradigm for the next decade.

Systemic change

Businesses deploying future systems recognise that enterprise IT models are fast becoming highly interconnected structures comprising people, machines and applications. These organisations understand that by bringing humans and machines together in the right way and by connecting their core to new innovations they can optimise productivity and efficiency. They also see that innovation is central not just to their own organisations but to the broader partner ecosystems in which they participate. These organisations will quickly find themselves in the ascendency.

Given the forces at work, what will the business of the future look like? At Accenture, we believe there will be three defining features to all successful enterprises and their technology systems in the years ahead:

1. They will be boundary-less. Certain historically rigid barriers and divisions are now fading. These include barriers between elements of the IT stack (i.e. database, applications and infrastructure), but also the barriers between companies and their partners, companies and their customers and between humans and machines. Embracing the cloud and a unified approach to data, security, and governance, these businesses will reach deeper across their networks of customer and partner ecosystems to reduce friction in their operations and customer interactions and secure a nearly infinite number of ways to improve how they operate.

2. They will be adaptable. The world may be getting more complex and volatile, but thanks to future systems, businesses will be more fluid than ever and able to adapt to change at pace. And they will be better placed to pivot towards new opportunities – for example, using automation and AI technologies to dynamically adapt and scale in response to real-time events associated with a particular product, customer, or salesperson. These businesses’ systems will be able to learn, improve, and scale by themselves, eliminating the friction that hinders growth while helping their employees make better decisions faster.

3. They will be radically human. While technology is critical to future systems, its real power is in its ability to interact seamlessly with people on human terms using AI and natural interfaces. These systems will talk, listen, see and understand just like we do, empowering employees and customers through their simplicity while breaking down technical barriers within the organisation.

According to our research into the innovation achievement gap, businesses that have not yet cracked the investment puzzle stand to lose a staggering 46% of their annual revenue by 2023. That’s far too much money to leave on the table while competitors are surging ahead. As we prepare to welcome a new decade it seems clear to me that all businesses need to think about their IT architecture holistically and systemically. There is plenty of opportunities out there in the years ahead, but it will only be won by companies that have put in place future systems.

The author is group chief executive, Accenture Technology Services.

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