THE PHILANTHROPIST: What makes digitalisation different from other economic, social, and, above all, industrial changes?
GEORGES GRIVAS: Digitalisation affects every kind of development, whether economic, social or industrial. It is a comprehensive shift, and very few developments across humanity’s history can be compared to it.
What does this mean for companies, their managers and their corporate culture?
Digital transformation affects every single area within a company. A company’s management needs to understand the technology that underpins it, while guiding the transformation from above – and wanting it to happen, too. Corporate culture will not escape digital transformation unscathed, either: it will undergo marked changes. It is not unusual for central elements, such as the business model – or, in other words, how a company earns money – to change. In turn, this often requires a new corporate culture.
Disruptive changes are particularly challenging. What exactly are ‘disruptive changes’?
The word ‘disruptive’ refers to new technological innovations replacing existing business models, or completely squeezing them out of the market.
Can you give an example of this?
Standard mobile phones were almost completely superseded by Apple and Android smartphones, while CDs and DVDs were practically supplanted by streaming providers like Spotify and Netflix.
Disruptive developments pose a threat to companies’ business models and their very existence as a result: how can companies react to this?
It is important that companies monitor emerging technologies and their implications on an ongoing basis. Nobody should think that they won’t be affected by them, or that their market isn’t going to be impacted by disruption. Netflix is an easy example of this. The company launched in 1997, operating as an online video library sending DVDs and Blu-rays by post. It recognised the opportunities offered by streaming early on in the game, setting up its video-on-demand business as far back as 2007.
How can a small company ensure they don’t miss any developments and fully tap into the opportunities on offer?
In my view, it’s the role of the administrative board and management to pursue a forward-looking, strategic approach in the interests of their company. This means that they need to recognise developments, such as technological innovations, early on in the game. As a result, it is essential that the members of the administrative board and management alike are able to pick up these risks and opportunities on their radar.
Can an SME outside the technology sector even hope to deliver digital innovation?
SMEs (especially those not in the technology sector) don’t need to deliver digital innovation. However, they need to make sure they have the right tools at their disposal to successfully overcome the structural change wrought by digitalisation.
Does disruptive development occur within a particular sector, or can it also make an entire sector superfluous?
Both are possible, there’s no doubt about that. For example, tech giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple are putting out feelers in the financial sector and expanding what they offer in this domain. It is a logical consequence that even the financial sector will be increasingly driven by technology. As ‘digital natives’, IT companies have a natural advantage here. Their global reach, on a digital level, is unparalleled, and their marketing machinery is excellent.
Will this change social structures?
Absolutely. One up-to-the-minute example comes in the form of blockchain technology, which makes it possible to ‘bank the unbanked’, meaning that people around the globe who previously didn’t have a bank account or access to financial services are now being connected to the financial system, which will change the structure of society at every level.
Can you see any hints of disruptive development in the philanthropic sector or in terms of donations?
Even these areas will feel the effects of digitalisation. For example, we can see developments regarding topics such as transparency, where technologies like blockchain are having a positive impact. As every transaction is permanently stored in the blockchain, these transactions can be tracked at any time, which makes it possible to trace donations and financial flows transparently. In turn, this enables a charity to cut out the middleman, thereby reducing costs.