While Social Business continued to evolve in 2012, 2013 will see the emergence of digital business as a new strategic theme for many firms. What's driving this shift and what does it mean for CIOs, CEOs, and chief digital officers?
The Communications Evolution
Communications continue to evolve. Consider how humans have transformed communications over the centuries: signal fires; semaphore; Morse code; the telegraph; the telephone; telex; fax; email; SMS; Facebook; and Twitter. I have no doubt that this evolution will continue in 2013 and beyond. Perhaps beyond 2013 we will eventually achieve the ability to communicate our thoughts directly — whether we’ll want to is a different question. As people the world over learn to use new social networking tools, they drop older tools that are no longer useful to them. Regardless of where you are in your personal communications evolution, the undeniable truth is that over the past decade we have significantly changed how people communicate; we are no longer dependent upon email. But social tools and 24/7 mobile access have not removed the complexity or decreased the volume of information we must process. Time remains our most precious resource and we’ll always seek ways to use it more effectively — but social tools are not necessarily the silver bullet we might think. In 2013 we need to rethink business processes to take this new communications paradigm into account.
The Social Business Evolution
Although the benefits of social media marketing may yet turn out to be the modern version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, 2013 will continue the shift in businesses across the world toward a more open, innovative, and collaborative environment. For sure, not every CEO is convinced this is the best strategy, but enough have taken the plunge to show significant results that translate to the bottom line. (See examples in this year’s Groundswell Awards for B2BEmployee CollaborationB2C). In the coming year organizations will continue to evolve social layers that allow employees and customers to collaborate more effectively. Early adopters of social technologies are already moving toward social business ecosystems, combining mobile technologies with social apps in ways which save customers time and make the customer experience more enjoyable (or less frustrating). The future winners will combine community, content and commerce — what I call commerce cubed — into powerful mobile apps which transform the customer experience.
As early adopters begin to see competitive advantage, the challenge for everyone else will be catching up. And increasingly this challenge will land on the CIOs doorstep. The need to adapt technology architectures not designed for digital business will be both a blessing and a curse for many CIOs.
Technology Vendor Struggle To Define Their Social Business Strategy
Meanwhile, tech vendors continue to layer social technologies onto their applications portfolios in the hope of capturing a slice of the social business market, but few can show customers any tangible business impact that would excite their customers’ shareholders. As always, success for technology vendors will come through the clear demonstration of measurable returns on the investments they are asking from clients — and savvy sourcing teams are challenging vendors to deliver on outcome-based contracts.
Enter 2013: The Year Of Digital Business
As we move into 2013, we’re seeing an increased focus from our clients on customer experience. As mobile, social, cloud, and big data come together we see the emergence of digital business strategy: the ability to leverage digital technologies to transform the customer value equation and drive competitive advantage. The challenge for most will be to keep up with the pace of change. And as digital business strategy depends heavily upon IT, CIOs must put digital strategy into the strategic plan to prepare the organization for future success.
The Great Human Capital Conundrum
Baby Boomers will retire in even greater numbers in 2013. While this will open up jobs for younger workers, many will lack the skills companies need. There are already signs that programming skills in mobile app development will be in such high demand worldwide that we’ll see a major shortage of skilled workers in this field. This means that CIOs need to work hard to keep talented staff in these key fields, as replacing them will be much harder than it has been up to now. So another priority for CIOs should be attracting and retaining top talent — failure in this area could be a strategic threat for the enterprise. 
Predicting The Future
Mobile app development won’t be the only hot job in 2013. Analytic wizards capable of using massive data pools as a source for predictive analytics will be in increasing demand. Long understood by the finance and insurance industries, these data gurus will help shape even more effective business decisions in 2013. If you don’t have advanced big data analytics in your strategy portfolio for 2013, you may want to rethink your strategy.
The Emerging Chief Digital Officer
Digital business and a renewed awareness of the customer experience will drive many CEO to change the executive team in 2013. While we will see more CEOs add chief customer officers (CCOs) and chief digital officers (CDOs) to executive leadership teams in 2013, I predict that the chief digital officer won’t dominate until 2015 at the earliest. Will CIOs be able to step up into the role of CDO? While some CIOs may have the opportunity to step into such a role, it’s likely that they will be most commonly filled from the ranks of business unit leaders and marketers. The few CIOs who successfully make this transition will have already had P&L experience and worked extensively on enabling the customer experience through digital technologies.If you’re a CIO who sees the CDO title in your future, I highly recommend brushing up your marketing skills to evolve your 2013 digital business strategy.
The Gift Of 2013
Certainly the digital revolution will continue into 2013 and beyond — that’s easy to predict. But perhaps 2013 will also be the year we realize that the world will not come to an end if we don’t reply to that Facebook post today, or we don’t respond to that email this minute, or we don’t read every tweet and blog post. And so for some of us at least, 2013 may be a year in which we learn to enjoy the physical world we live in more than the virtual world we create on our electronic devices. Only one thing in life is guaranteed: Each of us will eventually die, and I doubt that any of us will be lying on their deathbed thinking “I must just clear my inbox.” I plan on enjoying every day of 2013 as the precious gift it is, and I wish the same for you too. Happy New Year!