Only in a survey would this many businesses admit they aren’t ready for a digital future

Big data, mobile and social media might be the “megatrends,” but a report based on 3,600 responses suggests most are struggling to adapt.

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If you think that business leaders in your company aren’t ready for the digital future, you’re not alone.

Many of the 3,600 business leaders across 18 countries admit in a new report that they aren’t prepared to manage or meet customer demands in our digital era, according to The Outlook Report by the Institute for the Future (commissioned by EMC).

You probably don’t need a report to tell you that technology has democratized information and rewired customer expectations, thanks to the mega-trends of always-connected mobile devices, big data, social networking and cloud computing.

But it may surprise you to hear how few companies have actually done anything about this — considering data mining and predictive analytics have been around since the last time plaid was in fashion.

There’s a gap — or, rather, a massive gulf — between the expectations of today’s digital citizens and what businesses are actually delivering. Customers want faster access to services, “everywhere” access and connectivity, access on more devices, and a more unique, personalized experience.

So how can your company close this gap? According to the report, here are the five business attributes required to survive over the next decade:

• Predicatively spot new opportunities in markets

• Demonstrate transparency and trust

• Innovate in agile ways

• Deliver unique and personalized experiences

• Operate in real time

But few companies are doing a good job of addressing these: Only 12% can predicatively spot new opportunities and a mere 11% can deliver a personalized experience. And nearly 50% of business leaders say they don’t know how to get value from their data.

If your company has started mining data, it’s time to get moving. Once that’s in place, you need to derive better insights from that data — in real time, across the organization. Consider that 52% of business leaders admit they don’t use their data effectively or are drowning in information overload.

This is where IT should step in: throw them a life preserver by showing them how to use this data more effectively — and you just might get buy-in for future projects.

That’s no easy task, of course. But there’s an even bigger issue: “Being well-versed in today’s technologies doesn’t guarantee mastery in coming years,” says the report.

Over the next decade, advancements in machine learning will allow information ecosystems to become more intuitive, anticipatory, transparent and personalized. This will “spur information and communication systems that can learn from data rather than follow explicitly programmed instructions,” says the report.

This will lead to the “networked ecosystem,” where environments are more aware, responsive and connected.

But how do we get there if we’re already so far behind?

Many companies only invest in new technologies when they’re required to — but this isn’t good enough anymore. In the digital era, companies need to keep up with customer expectations and be prepared for the next mega-trends (consider how more and more objects are becoming embedded with sensing capabilities and what impact that could have).

Convincing the C-suite to invest in yet more technology isn’t always easy, but the findings from this report show that many business leaders are already aware they aren’t prepared to meet evolving customers demands. Map it out. Show them how to meet these five business attributes.

In all likelihood, you won’t have to convince them why it’s so important.

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