The Shifting Boundaries of Digital Business

November 09, 2015

Contributor: Heather Pemberton Levy

Industry boundaries will blur as products and services become digitally controlled.

In 1996, Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, the U.S. based apparel and accessories company, to make great athletic shirts and shoes. Nearly two decades later, the company has purchased fitness apps, such as MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and Endomondo; and offers Armour39, a heart rate and activity monitoring digital chest strap device. In a digital era where one day Under Armour’s clothing may embed sensors in the fabric, Plank is positioning his company to better control the entire package of digital and data utility to the customer before a competitor beats him to it.


Mark Raskino discusses how to drive change in the digital world at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Barcelona. When digital business fundamentally changes the core of products and services, customer value often becomes data centric and digitally controlled. Companies face challenging, and often unusual competencies, required to create that value and the pathways to its delivery, said Mark Raskino, distinguished analyst and Gartner Fellow, and Graham Waller, research vice president at Gartner, during Gartner Symposium ITxpo in Barcelona, Spain. Once companies engage and start to develop the new competencies, their power and attractiveness can grow quickly (think Uber and Airbnb). Traditional players must go after opportunities to build their part of the platform before new players seize these new routes to value.

Digital substitution blurs boundaries

The walls that once defended one industry from another crumble, becoming blurred and less defined. That’s why the blurring of industry boundaries can turn an athletic apparel company into a digital fitness company. Leaders can’t simply defend the core of their enterprises. Instead they must seek new opportunities to build their part of the new platform before someone else uses it to control their business.

In this new reality, every company becomes a technology company. This compels leaders to create new thinking, culture and competencies to preempt market space invaders and adapt to digital disruption. Three mindsets enable digital leaders to win.

Be prepared to make techquisitions

Technology fueled start-ups close to your space can become part of a future winning formula. While only a few specialized tech firms may be relevant, create the capacity to pounce on key technology acquisitions to accelerate your organic digital capabilities.

Claim your stake in your new industry platform

If you have the muscle to build an open industry platform, do it. Or keep looking for the biggest contribution and measure of control you can win over that platform. Otherwise, someone else might do it, taking market control.

Be open everywhere

The most powerful digital businesses will be massively open, creating platforms and ecosystems in which new, reshaped industries are founded, evolved, and traded.  Cultivate a complete acceptance that you cannot make the changes you need without outside help and be open and attractive to people, companies, ideas, and services you may not know exist or realize you need.

Learn more in the book: Digital to the Core, Remastering Leadership for Your Industry, Your Enterprise, and Yourself

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