Digital is ready, it just has to be done

The post-digital world is no longer next. It already has arrived.

Designer Erik Spiekermann once coined the phrase: Alles ist fertig, es muss nur noch gemacht werden. Roughly translated: Everything's ready, it just has to be done. That's exactly the state of digital in 2019: Everything's digital now, it just has to be digitalised. Welcome to the post-digital world! The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed, as William Gibson put it. That everything's digital now has a number of grave consequences.

First, digital is no longer a differentiator. It's just the way it is. And how everyone expects things to be. Like tap water, or electricity. Ubiquitous, needed and necessary. It still requires a certain amount of attention, work, maintenance and money. And of course there are places on this planet that lack water, electricity or digitalness. But in general, we are talking about commodities and fungibility. Digital has been successfully commoditised.

We only notice tap water, electricity or wi-fi, for example, when and where they're missing. Otherwise, they're just part of the background.

Late adopters are in danger

Second, consumer expectations have flipped. They perceive not being digital an annoyance, or worse. This puts late adopters into a dangerous position. Getting digital no longer gives them a competitive advantage. It only lessens a dire disadvantage. This makes the investment no less necessary, but harder to justify, since the return on investment probably will be lower. Investments are inevitable only to keep current customers and revenues, while growth can't be taken for granted.

But there's neither a choice nor an alternative. Invest in digital, or go out of business. In the long run, at least.

Third, every business is now a digital business, and that means: a tech company. Software is eating the world. The investments mentioned above are first and foremost investments in software. And software means: shorter product cycles, frequent updates, better customer experience. It means disruption, and agile mindsets. It's a totally different ballgame. For incumbents, there are two remaining assets that they possibly can still leverage: the customer base, and the current revenues.

Digital has been commoditised, but it commoditises everything else as well. Classic brands are in danger.

Welcome to the post-digital world

Fourth, the customer experience is now the dominant differentiator. Brands are built through experiences, and experiences are built through software. A better customer experience warrants a premium price. This helps a lot in a world where prices are under the pressures of commoditisation. Where the experience is the product. Consumers are going for experiences, rather than services or physical goods. Investments in digital transformation and in software ultimately are investments in experiences.

The rule of thumb is: invest in better experiences to thrive in a world where everything's digital.

This world is a post-digital world. Digital technology is the platform new value is built upon. And existing, old value is absorbed by, and thus commoditised.

To be clear, there's still a lot of work to do. Post-digital doesn't mean everything's done. It might be ready, in the Spiekermann sense, but nevertheless it has to be done.

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash