Part I In The Digital Transformation Series

My favorite buzzword over the past few years has been ‘digitization’. It refers to this seemingly sudden embrace of hardware, software, the web, social media, and everything in between. This ‘phenomenon’ is pure nonsense. We have lived in a digital world since the second half of the 20th century (at least), nevertheless, companies, consultancies and influencers of all sizes insist that we are undergoing ‘digitization’ and that we live in a digital world. This notion is an odd one. I will not go through the casual statistics and headlines we see daily i.e smartphone adoption is in the high 90s, TikTok’s growth to a billion users, the metaverse phenomenon, 5G and now 6G, etc. We are far beyond a digital world. We now live in a post-digital world. What does this mean exactly?

George Chivi, Consultancy Senior Manager at Publicis Groupe Middle East

The sad state of the pandemic laid bare the cadaver of what was once a thriving macro retail infrastructure – that took labor, time and space and exhausted supply chains. The retail apocalypse was already here. All the sectors that comprised on-ground commerce had (and still have) several lagging traits in common – an over-reliance on the pre-pandemic world, lacking ‘digital’ competencies and the failed foresight to proactively plan and invest for the long-term. Sure, the global economy is slowly chugging higher given the liquidity pumped by the public sector and consumer confidence is trending upwards given the vaccine drives but there’s a catch – what happens if another variable hits us in the near year or two? A financial crisis, stagflation, prolonged supply chain disruptions and geopolitical uncertainties are a few off the top of my head. What happens to these industries and others that do not ‘digitize’ in time? These are the questions industry leaders need to be asking.

Amidst all this business-centric chaos, many consumers were ahead of the adoption curve even pre-pandemic – hence technology, fintech, content and gaming, ecommerce, cloud kitchen platforms and at-home health and fitness companies thrived during the past 18 months. Ordinary humans were already living in a cross-screen, cross-platform, commerce-enabled, buy now-delivery now mode of existence. Companies were just too slow to respond. When the pandemic hit, I vividly recall friends calling me to ask questions like how they should set up Shopify storefronts for their now locked down and closed shops and how they can learn to use ad platforms to generate sales digitally. They were already too late.

This is the post-digital era. An era when consumers are several years ahead of business machine. It means they research, buy, consume, post, engage and interact with brands in their own time, at their own pace, in their own spaces and sometimes on platforms that have yet to gain traction, especially in our region. Loyalty is a thing of the past – if your site is too slow, too bad. If your app crashes, well then that is going to be a quick user deletion. If you ask for an extensive list of information upon sign up, can you guess how high your bounce rate will be? I can. So, what can companies and brands do today? What are the post-digital trends that will define the next few years?

– Data, Data, Data. You have Google Analytics enabled? That’s wonderful. That also should have been implemented and mastered 5-10 years ago. Today, companies need heavy duty platforms – data warehouse or lakehouse suites connected to systems like product analytics that offer in-depth churn, interaction and lifetime metrics, reverse extract/transform/load platforms to make that data ‘operational’ across your enterprise and real-time business analytics that explores actual queries and questions instead of static dashboards. This is only a piece of the new data stack and it is growing and becoming more complex by the day.

– Headless Architecture & Microservices. The decades long dominance of monolithic platforms (where front-end, back-end and middle-ware is sourced to one company) is over. Mixing and merging best-in-breed SaaS technologies to mold agile teams, output and optimization is in. This trend is particularly impacting commerce as we break-up with one size fits all platforms and begin implementing faster sites, apps, and features. Imagine having different providers for your entire commerce stack (frontend, backend, subscription, payments, loyalty) that are constantly upgraded or downgraded based on performance, scale, and actual results for each solution. This becomes game-changing in the face of expensive to own, expensive to hold monolithic models.

– Privacy-First. With the recent leak of the Facebook Files, the incessant cyber hacks, and documentaries like ‘The Social Dilemma’, users are aware that their data is being leaked, mishandled or worse. Countries and continents are implementing heavy handed legislation like GDPR, CCPA and PIPL. Third-party data from the ‘cookie’ is also set to expire in a year or so meaning advertisers have little time to prepare. Embracing zero- and first-party data methodologies is critical to securing your digital lifeblood. Ensuring consent management and privacy requests benefit the end user is even more critical. One false step, one leak or a bad judgement call on the privacy front and you can expect major disruptions. Implementing identity solutions, programmatic privacy platforms and having multiple cross-team privacy and data specialists is critical. 

– The Metaverse. While I do not believe people will want to walk around virtually as half-bodied Sims characters, this one will be interesting to watch. The metaverse has already existed in pseudo-worlds like Fortnite and World of Warcraft, has been theorized and visually constructed brilliantly in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’ and has been a constant discussion in Reddit crypto forums for years. Facebook’s mother company, Meta, may do well but the entire ethos of the metaverse and its underlying layer called web 3.0 is based on decentralized communities, economies, and commerce. Startups and unicorns like Roblox, Unity, OpenSea and more will build the various worlds, coins, and token models but it will be up to everyday users to dictate its path. I am still not convinced but what do I know … I only live in a post-digital world.