Facing Digital Fear Head-On

Ronan O’Sullivan, Product Manager, from our London team reflects on his time at Web Summit last month.

On day one of an action packed three days at Web Summit, one of the first sessions I attended still sticks in my head — a discussion between Michael Dell of Dell Inc. and David Rowan of Wired Magazine. While there was some inevitable conversation around the recent record $67bn bid by Dell to buy EMC, one of the more interesting topics of conversation that resonated with me were his thoughts around ‘Digital Fear’. As Michael himself professed, while this is undoubtedly one of the most exciting times to be alive and working in our industry, he pointed out that what he is seeing in their customers is that they are trying to figure out how to make their products or services more digital, or how they can insert digital technology into the business.

This struggle can lead to a ‘digital fear’ as businesses face the challenge and the opportunity that digital presents, while they face threats at an accelerating rate from newly invented/created competition using technology.

Across the three days of Web Summit we would see numerous examples of changing customer behaviour, changing trends, new and emerging technologies, and startups, so it’s understandable that businesses big and small face digital fear in a new world where there are no boundaries, no industry-based rules or limitations.

But being successful in digital is less about shoe-horning technologies into a business, but more about being relentlessly customer focused. In a landscape of changing customer expectations, experiences and engagement, it’s not about pushing products at customers, but to interact and learn from them — identify their pain points and work to make their lives easier or better, with relevant technology solutions. Michael referred to Dell’s focus on building end-to-end solutions for customers and trying to solve challenges and opportunities that customers have. Part of what drives him is that he gets excited about what they can do for customers.

Like facing any fear, facing the digital challenge also requires an element of risk. Being bold and ambitious, Michael claimed he’s not afraid of risk, and risk goes along with innovation. For most larger organisations, risk is seen as something to avoid, and as Michael said if you want to innovate, and do new things, businesses have to embrace risk. Understand that there are risks, but think in the strategic context of what you are able to do for customers.

Essentially for businesses big or small to overcome the digital fear, they need to think like a VC, take risk, test and learn at pace — don’t leave ideas on the shelf when you can quickly determine whether they’re worth it, and if not, then stop.

And Michael’s parting words of wisdom: be fearless — you can accomplish just about anything.