Yesterday’s futurist buzzwords have become reality.

Ken Reid, National Managing Partner Innovation & Digital Services
Ken Reid, National Managing Partner,
Innovation, Digital & Data
James Mabbott, Partner, KPMG Innovate

The cloud now holds not just our vital data, but many of the services we depend on such as our travel, health, banking, shopping, entertainment, lifestyle planning and communication applications.

Blockchain tech is popping up everywhere, from crypto currency to provenance authentication to contract law.

And when Google demonstrated how an AI assistant could now book a haircut over the phone, the world took another leap forward in understanding the potential of what’s now possible.

With all this change afoot, it’s little wonder innovation and disruption remain front of mind for Australian leaders.

The fear of disruption, on its most elemental level, is straightforward: the constant worry that your competition will use new technology, new methods and new business models to do what you are not. But as we look toward 2019, we see the modern dilemma is actually more immediate, more tangible, and more complex.

One reason for this is the current global marketplace has made it abundantly clear that the network effects of the innovation race tend toward winner-takes-all. There are disproportionate growth opportunities for the lucky few – and the potential to get left behind for everyone else.Featured

This raises the stakes enormously. There would be few businesses not looking over their shoulder, checking either for a new disruptive competitor to descend from the heavens or a giant in an adjacent industry to bust into their market.

The reality though is that the most likely competitor or giant will actually come into Australia from overseas, and already exists. More likely it will be the arrival of Alibaba, Tencent, Amazon, Google or another company like these that will reshape our business reality. When these overseas giants move with determination into our market, they will be using the data that they’ve accumulated on customers and users overseas to drive better results than their Australian counterparts (who are still in the process of trying to clean data and break down silos). This is a very real issue for Australian business leaders.

Yet in 2019 a response might not be as simple as rushing headlong into bold new advanced tech and organisational practice.

That’s because the population has developed a general sense of scepticism about whether the benefits of ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’ are really for them, or rather for a small elite who can generate an outsized payoff.

So any business leader looking to prosecute an aggressive innovation agenda in 2019 will likely be met by stakeholders (including employees) wary about what this actually means for them.

So how best to approach the challenge?

Perhaps a good start is to take a leaf from the book of the King Kong of global disruption, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos. Bezos feels disruption fear, but focuses it. “I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified. Not of our competition, but of our customers,” he has said.

“Our customers have made our business what it is, they are the ones with whom we have a relationship, and they are the ones to whom we owe a great obligation. And we consider them to be loyal to us – right up until the second that someone else offers them a better service.”

This is the key – a customer-centric focus that permeates every level.

The challenge is to focus innovation efforts on forging genuine intimacy with your customers. Which, of course, is easier said than done.

Because intimacy is about more than customisation or personalisation. It’s more than just saying, “someone like you bought something like this so you might like it too.” It’s about creating an experience so useful and intuitive that the relationship with your customer takes on meaning and value. AI, machine learning, blockchain, big data – all of these are incredibly powerful technology. But they should not be deployed for their own sake.

They should be used in the pursuit of customer intimacy. In the past we may have thought about innovation and disruption as somewhat synonymous with tech advancement. But that cannot persist, because tech is not enough and on its own, won’t guarantee success.

But although we should be vigilant about the challenges, that does not mean we should be pessimistic. Indeed, Australian business has shown in 2018 that it is eminently up for the challenge.

Australia is now one of world’s leading jurisdictions with the introduction of the New Payments Platform, a global case study for how the private sector can work with regulators to deliver meaningful innovation. Australia is one of the most cashless societies in the world. Only 3 percent of all our transactions are in cash. That means 97 percent of our transactions are digital/online and can now be executed in real time.

In 2019, as long as an organisation maintains focus on the fact that the customer is everything, there is plenty of reason for optimism and excitement. The real truth then is that for innovation in new technology to work, it needs to be in service of customers, employees and communities.

If you get this right then you are also serving the interests of all stakeholders, including investors. It is the interrelationship of these that unlocks business value, and new technologies all have the potential to make this real.

Read our full report on, what’s keeping business leaders up at night.

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