To be, or not to be…Digital.

To be, or not to be…Digital.

That is no longer the question. At least not for most corporations in most industries in most countries. The question has been answered, in the affirmative.

I remember getting my first Casio wrist watch with a digital display as a kid growing up in Berlin in the late 70’s. I remember buying the first CDs as a teenager and having the store clerk educate me on the differences between “AAD”, “ADD”, and “DDD” (only the latter were recorded, remixed, and burned into the CD using all digital technology). Now, in 2014, when we use the term Digital Voice Recorder or Digital Camera, the “Digital” really has become unnecessary. We are past the inflection point. There must have been a point in time – I don’t know what decade, precisely – when people stopped saying “turn on the electrical lamp”…because they no longer needed to distinguish between a gas lamp and one lit by electricity. Do you know many companies that have an executive in charge of electricity? Yet Chief Digital Officers are all the rage right now in corporate America.

As I travel around the world, I observe corporations at different stages of digital transformation. Think about it…There are companies where you still see those brown inter-office envelopes being shuttled among different floors and buildings. In some global law firms partners still routinely print out emails on their office printers so they can read them on paper. There are financial institutions in G-7 countries that instruct their customers to fax in signed forms because that’s the only acceptable way. And, yet, there are companies that have a paper-free board room with all Directors securely accessing their confidential “board books” from their iPads. And there are banks with ATMs that email you the receipt rather than print it out at the machine.

Different industries have been impacted in different ways by going digital. Few architectural or engineering firms still rely on hard-copy-only drawings. Few large manufacturers depend on manual processes that have not been optimized digitally. Yet I find that many large corporations in Europe and Asia are still a bit behind the curve when it comes to the digital transformation.

And this brings me to my main point: I actually think that on a global basis we have only realized maybe 10% of the value and advantages that can be achieved by going digital. There is so much potential! We should be very optimistic. I see so much innovation and efficiency driven by truly smart apps every day, and then I see so many businesses that have yet to fully leverage all of this technology. I am truly excited when I think about what businesses and governments will be able to do for their customers and citizens in the future. Internet penetration and eCommerce will take a giant leap with internationalized domain names, such as .商城 (Chinese for .mall) and .بازار (Arabic for .bazaar), able to address consumers in their native language – even to the right of the “dot.” Corporations the world over are making massive, smart investments in information technology that will enable them to more efficiently interact with their customers and vendors.

Thinking back to the root of the word digital (Latin: finger or toe; the word digit comes from using your fingers to count up to ten), that should make us smile as we tap out messages with our fingers on our smartphones and tablets!

Michael Marquardt serves as a global business advisor and speaker to corporations in Asia, Europe, and the United States. He works closely with the CEO and members of the senior leadership team on issues strategic to the enterprise and advises Audit Committees and Boards of Directors on effective risk management measures, corporate governance, and emerging technology issues.

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