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The $1 Trillion Question: How Can Efforts to Digitally Transform Businesses Succeed?

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While enormous resources are being spent on digital transformation programmes by the private sector, the results are underwhelming. Today, the World Economic Forum launched a report to help senior executives avoid common patterns of failure and ask the right questions. The Digital Enterprise: Moving from experimentation to transformation is a practical guide to envisioning, structuring and sequencing successful digital transformation efforts.

According to estimates, this year over $1.2 trillion will be spent by companies worldwide on their digital transformation efforts and yet analysis suggests that only 1% of these efforts will achieve or exceed their expectations.

Last year, the World Economic Forum launched the Digital Enterprise project in collaboration with Bain & Company to help companies understand how they can design and execute successful digital transformation programmes. The project was led by a working group of senior executives from 40 companies, including representatives from Walmart, eBay, JD.com and HPE. The report launched today is a synthesis of their discussions and learning over the course of the year.

“Executives are often so involved in their own industries and the operational details of what they do that they don’t realize that the most formidable ideas and challenges to their business model might come from outside their own industry. We help executives take a step back, broaden their peripheral vision and enter into conversations with leaders from other industries about their perspectives and experiences,” said Mehran Gul, Project Lead for Digital Enterprise at the World Economic Forum.

The working group found that, while people are all too familiar with once-revered brands that failed to stay ahead of the curve – BlackBerry, Kodak, Blockbuster – there are also examples of successful reinvention that prove that digital transformation, while hard, is not impossible. Netflix went through successive waves of evolution over two decades, transforming from a traditional DVD-by-mail service into the largest online video-streaming service in the US. The number of Netflix subscribers in the US now surpasses all cable subscribers combined, reaching 73% of all households. Dominos, founded in 1960, started making foundational investments in technology upgrades in 2001 and is now the fifth-largest e-commerce company in the United States. Since 2000, it has been the best performing stock in the S&P 500, outperforming Amazon and Google. Dominos has gone from being a pizza company to being a tech company that happens to make pizza.

“Our understanding of digital transformation and what enables it has evolved on both a personal and a company level through this work. While much of the technology is readily available, the real challenge lies in the ability to change business models and the way we work to take out the potential offered. And that makes digital success dependent on leadership, culture and capabilities,” said Åshild Hanne Larsen, Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice-President of Corporate IT at Equinor, Norway, and a member of the project’s executive working group.

According to the report, successful transformation programmes suggest that, while there is enormous diversity in individual experiences, some common themes clearly emerge. Successful companies embrace digital strategies that can thrive in uncertainty and succeed through a “test and learn” mindset. Instead of focusing on what they are selling, they focus on the needs of the customer they serve and constantly iterate their product or service to better address that need. They invest in developing systems, technology and talent that can help them achieve their digital objectives. Finally, they focus on implementation to ensure that successful experiments can reach scale.

“Things are changing so fast. It’s not just what the technology can do but how people react to the technology. It’s not just robots. It’s people willing to spend the night on a total stranger’s couch. That’s what’s changed today versus 20 years ago. It’s more than just data, technology and computing power. It’s the way people are responding to it, changing their behaviour so fast and so radically,” said Ouriel Lancry, Partner, Bain & Company.

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Environment

New project to help 30 developing countries tackle marine litter scourge

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Litter is removed from a beach in Watamu in Kenya. UNEP/Duncan Moore

A UN-backed initiative aims to turn the tide on marine litter, in line with the global development goal on conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources. 

The GloLitter Partnerships Project will support  30 developing countries in preventing and reducing marine litter from the maritime transport and fisheries sectors, which includes plastic litter such as lost or discarded fishing gear. 

The project was launched on Thursday by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), with initial funding from Norway. 

Protecting oceans and livelihoods 

“Plastic litter has a devastating impact on marine life and human health”, said Manuel Barange, FAO’s Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture.  “This initiative is an important step in tackling the issue and will help protect the ocean ecosystem as well as the livelihoods of those who depend on it.” 

Protecting the marine environment is the objective of Sustainable Development Goal 14, part of the 2030 Agenda to create a more just and equitable future for all people and the planet. 

The GloLitter project will help countries apply best practices for the prevention and reduction of marine plastic litter, in an effort to safeguard the world’s coastal and marine resources. 

Actions will include encouraging fishing gear to be marked so that it can be traced if lost or discarded at sea. Another focus will be on the availability and adequacy of port reception facilities and their connection to national waste management systems.  

“Marine litter is a scourge on the oceans and on the planet”, said Jose Matheickal, Head of the IMO’s Department for Partnerships and Projects. “I am delighted that we have more than 30 countries committed to this initiative and working with IMO and FAO to address this issue.” 

Five regions represented 

The nations taking part in the GloLitter project are in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific. 

They will also receive technical assistance and training, as well as guidance documents and other tools to help enforce existing regulations. 

The project will promote compliance with relevant international instruments, including the Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear, and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which contains regulations against discharging plastics into the sea.

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Development

Climate Finance: Climate Actions at Center of Development and Recovery

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) called access to climate finance a key priority for Asia and the Pacific as governments design and implement a green and resilient recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Speaking at the United Kingdom Climate and Development Ministerial—one of the premier events leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in November—ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said expanding access to finance is critical if developing economies in Asia and the Pacific are to meet their Paris Agreement goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

“We can no longer take a business-as-usual approach to climate change. We need to put ambitious climate actions at the center of development,” Mr. Asakawa said. “ADB is committed to supporting its developing member countries through finance, knowledge, and collaboration with other development partners, as they scale up climate actions and push for an ambitious outcome at COP 26 and beyond.”

ADB is using a three-pronged strategy to expand access to finance for its developing members as they step up their response to the impacts of climate change.

First, ADB has an ambitious corporate target to ensure 75% of the total number of its committed operations support climate change mitigation and adaptation by the end of the decade, with climate finance from ADB’s own resources to reach $80 billion cumulatively between 2019 and 2030. ADB has also adopted explicit climate targets under its Asian Development Fund (ADF), which provides grant financing to its poorest members. ADF 13, which covers the period of 2021–2024, will support climate mitigation and adaption in 35% of its operations by volume and 65% of its total number of projects by 2024.

Second, ADB is enhancing support for adaptation and resilience that goes beyond climate proofing physical infrastructure to promote strong integration of ecological, social, institutional, and financial aspects of resilience into ADB’s investments.

Third, ADB is increasing its focus on supporting the poorest and most vulnerable communities in its developing member countries by working with the United Kingdom, the Nordic Development Fund, and the Green Climate Fund on a community resilience program to scale up the quantity and quality of climate adaptation finance in support of local climate adaptation actions.

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Human Rights

Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns

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At least 30,000 migrants are stranded at borders in West Africa according to the UN. IOM/Monica Chiriac

Travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic have been particularly hard on refugees and migrants who move out of necessity, stranding millions from home, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first year of the pandemic saw more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures around the world at their peak in December.  

These measures “have thwarted many people’s ability to pursue migration as a tool to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disaster and other crises”, IOM maintained. 

In mid-July, nearly three million people were stranded, sometimes without access to consular assistance, nor the means to meet their basic needs.  

In Panama, the UN agency said that thousands were cut off in the jungle while attempting to travel north to the United States; in Lebanon, migrant workers were affected significantly by the August 2020 explosion in Beirut and the subsequent surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Business as usual 

Border closures also prevented displaced people from seeking refuge, IOM maintained, but not business travellers, who “have continued to move fairly freely”, including through agreed ‘green lanes’, such as the one between Singapore and Malaysia.  

By contrast, those who moved out of necessity – such as migrant workers and refugees – have had to absorb expensive quarantine and self-isolation costs, IOM said, noting that in the first half of 2020, asylum applications fell by one-third, compared to the same period a year earlier.  

Unequal restrictions 

As the COVID crisis continues, this distinction between those who can move and those who cannot, will likely become even more pronounced, IOM said, “between those with the resources and opportunities to move freely, and those whose movement is severely restricted by COVID-19-related or pre-existing travel and visa restrictions and limited resources”. 

This inequality is even more likely if travel is allowed for anyone who has been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19, or for those with access to digital health records – an impossibility for many migrants. 

Health risks 

Frontier lockdowns also reduced options for those living in overcrowded camps with high coronavirus infection rates in Bangladesh and Greece, IOM’s report indicated.  

In South America, meanwhile, many displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil, lost their livelihoods and some have sought to return home – including by enlisting the services of smugglers. 

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