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Jouko Ahvenainen

Digital natives and aliens: 2015 resolution

For years many experts have divided people into digital natives and aliens. Digital natives are often younger people who have learned to live with digital services. The key characteristic is not only age; it is deeply linked to how you understand digital is a fundamental basis for business, not only as a cover. And digital aliens are those who try to survive in this digital space, but it is not easy, when you think through antiquated models.

I thought this natives and aliens is an old story. But I have traveled a lot in the last few months literally around the world, met a lot of people and especially talked about digital and mobile finance services. And I realized the dividing line very much still exists. And it appears especially, how people see the transition to a digital business.

Do you think the digital phase doesn’t change fundamentals of your business; it is just some new technology to support your old business? Do you think digital has no impact on your business value chain? Do you think all these new things are just something to ask your IT people to set up or use IT consultants to select new technology for you?

If your answer is yes to those questions, you are probably a digital alien. Digital is not only something to add to your old business model, it can have a significant influence on your value chain and the whole organization must think about it, it is not only an IT matter. We have already seen that years of experience and strong balance sheets don’t guarantee your position in the new phase, when new players come; just think Google in advertising business, Amazon in book selling, or several companies in music business. I have previously written about the 3rd mobile era that has an influence on all businesses.

In practice it also looks like digital natives often look for and are willing to find much more cost effective solutions. The aliens trust IT consultants and system integrators that are building expensive solutions based on proprietary hardware configurations and software components, when natives trust more clouds and standard software. Natives are also much more for consumerization.

This is of course an oversimplification. There are many people who are something in between. The business implications are also always not so clear. But we must not ignore this difference. Many people and organizations still have a lot of work to do to better understand and utilize digital business models.

What is surprising is that carriers are not necessary digital natives, although they should have the background and history to be. But maybe they often have too heavy a load from the legacy solutions. Customers can see this in a carrier’s customer services, web sites and mobile apps. Typically they are not smooth experiences, more like a new interfaces to an old mess of all kind of incompatible old IT systems.

If you are in an “old business” and you feel you are more a digital alien than a native, now is a good time to make the 2015 New Year resolution: try with an open mind to understand a more digital way to run business. It might mean that you must forgot your old style to say “that cannot work in this business”, “we have tried that once, but it didn’t work”, or “we have always done things like this and we also have our internal company policies to follow”. Just some more open mindedness and willingness to challenge old models and utilize new ideas can make your 2015 and business better. Digital is here, it is coming everywhere and it influences all business.