Michael Nutley
Michael Nutley 8 June 2022

Survival of the Quickest – The Future Belongs to Those Who Can Adapt Fastest

The era of digital transformation is ending. The majority of businesses know that to be successful in the next decade, they will need to be alert and ready to adapt to every change in customer behaviour, competitor activity or technological development. They need to be ready to evolve.

This is half the conclusion of a new report by London Research for digital product consultancy Netcel, Optimizely and Siteimprove.

More than two-thirds (68%) of the companies surveyed say they no longer think of ‘digital transformation’, but rather of constant evolution and iteration to embrace change. Unfortunately, the other half of the conclusion is that most companies’ thinking in this area outstrips their achievements.

The report, From Digital Transformation to Digital Evolution: Survival of the Quickest, found that only 6% of respondents describe themselves as digitally transformed compared to other companies in their sector.

Too many companies, the report concludes, are: “mired in a world of poor technology, fragmented data, unaligned teams, inappropriate structures and governance, and incomplete skills and capabilities.” They may be digitised, but they’re not digital.

Interviewed for the report, Chris Worle, fintech adviser and investor, and former Chief Digital Officer at Hargreaves Lansdown, argued that many businesses still think of digital transformation as a process with a beginning and an end.

“With digital transformation, people almost have in their minds that there’s going to be some sort of ribbon-cutting ceremony one day and everything will become easier and faster,” he said.

“That’s not the way transformation is. Many businesses have catching up to do from the point of view of technology, of culture, of organisational design, but transformation and the digital way of working now is about getting a business to a point where it can continue to adapt and evolve and work in an agile manner.”


The research found that, when asked which aspects of digital transformation were relevant to their company, almost two-thirds (60%) of respondents pointed to “improving overall technology infrastructure, including automation of process”.

Just over half said “the ongoing evolution of business to capitalise on digital opportunities” (55%), and “the development of new business models and platforms” (53%). However, less than half (45%) believe that digital transformation involves fundamental organisational change.

In other words, more than half the companies surveyed see their future as simply working faster within their existing structure.

What do Leaders Look Like?

The report splits businesses into two groups – leaders and the mainstream – and compares their digital behaviours. Almost all leaders say they have the right capabilities, the right organisational structures and culture, and the right balance of art and science in their approach to digital.

In comparison, only about two-thirds of mainstream companies agree they have the right capabilities, structure and culture. That proportion falls to just over half for the right balance of art and science.

The difference in approaches to investment in digital projects is equally marked. Leaders are three times more likely than mainstream companies to take a data-driven approach to such investment, while mainstream businesses are twice as likely to adopt informal processes based around business cases.

Tim Ellis, CEO of The Digital Transformation People, is another expert interviewed for the report.

“The gap between leaders and followers is growing as leaders perfect evidence-based and data-driven incremental innovation,” he said.

“But it seems few have mastered working across silos to orchestrate new business model innovation and new value creation. This explains why, despite their digitisation efforts, many organisations will still struggle to match their digitally-native competitors, and deal with threats from disruptive market entrants.”

Organisational Barriers Dominate

The major barriers mainstream businesses face in their transition to digital readiness are organisational. Around a third struggle with fragmented data, unaligned teams and lack of the right structures and governance. A quarter also report major resourcing problems; lack of funding, poor tech infrastructure and a lack of skills and capabilities.
Leaders, meanwhile, are just as likely to struggle with resourcing and poor tech, and with project-based budgeting that doesn’t support ongoing investment. But they’re much less likely to have the structural, organisational and human issues that bedevil their mainstream counterparts.

This suggests that although technology and resource are important to digital leadership and success, bringing your teams together in the right ways and supporting them with the right data are what really matter.

This is the view expressed by Netcel’s Director of Strategy and Experience, Dom Graveson.

“Our digital channels and touchpoints are as much an opportunity to learn about our audiences, customers, and colleagues as they are an opportunity to serve and delight them, grow revenue, and lower costs,” he said. “This means we need to work together in new ways, combining expertise and insights from within the organisations and across partner networks.”

Download the full report, From Digital Transformation to Digital Evolution: Survival of the Quickest, now.

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