By @SimonCocking, review of What’s Your Digital Business Model?: Six Questions to Help You Build the Next-Generation Enterprise by Peter Weill  and Stephanie Woerner. Available from Amazon here

Digital transformation is not about technology, it’s about change.

In the rapidly changing digital economy, you can’t succeed by merely tweaking management practices that led to past success. And yet, while many leaders and managers recognize the threat from digital–and the potential opportunity–they lack a common language and compelling framework to help them assess it and guide them in responding.

MIT digital research leaders Peter Weill and Stephanie Woerner provide a powerful yet straightforward framework that has been field-tested globally with dozens of senior management teams. Based on years of study at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR), the authors find that digitization is moving companies’ business models on two dimensions: from value chains to digital ecosystems, and from a fuzzy understanding of the needs of end customers to a sharper one. Looking at these dimensions in combination results in four distinct business models, each with different capabilities. The book then sets out six driving questions, in separate chapters, that help managers and executives clarify where they are currently in an increasingly digital business landscape and highlight what’s needed to move toward a higher-value digital business model.

This is definitely a hot topic these days, four of the last six books we have read for review have covered this topic in one way or another. This of course then means it is an even greater challenge for a book to stand out from the rest. The authors,  Peter Weill  and Stephanie Woerner are keen to emphasise that incremental change will not be enough for large organisations to change. This is of course easier said than done, and time and time again it is fascinating to watch and analyse how large the gap is between the corporate message and the company’s actual actions. They don’t sugarcoat this pill either, it “is not easy, and requires constant, long term attention from the whole enterprise, probably for many years to come”.

The book uses good case studies to illustrate, and break up the theory. There are quizzes and assessments to carry out, and 6 steps in this and 8 steps in other things, but sometimes the desire to codify everything in a series of structured programs can feel a little over programmatic for our tastes. In this context the case studies from Schindler and General Electric among others helped to make it feel more accessible and offering useful real world examples.

The book is optimistic about the possibility of large organisations successfully addressing these current challenges and enabling them to reposition themselves into a rapidly changing future. However on reading a book like this, you do still wonder if large work organisations are the way forwards at all. Firstly they are at under threat from nimble fast moving new entities, and then also from the emerging gig economy of a new army of self employed workers. This book aims to provide a solid roadmap for companies to achieve digital transformation, and it could prove very helpful, but are we also seeing the last throes of a whole way of working too?


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