Is Your Content Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Technological changes are forcing the leaders of many of the world’s largest and well-established organizations to rethink how they do what they do. Their rethinking involves reimagining how they will create, manage, localize, and prepare content for consumption by the machines people rely on to deliver products and services.

These changes are due in large part to recent and rapid technological advances that have radically reshaped our capabilities, making it possible for organizations to offer products and services that previously seemed unimaginable.

This transformation of business is being driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an amalgamation of technological advances that promises powerful, disruptive, game-changing innovations assembled into new systems that provide unparalleled capacity and capability. 

It’s time for an extreme makeover of “business as usual”

Unlike the three industrial revolutions that came before, each of which was made possible by the introduction of a single set of technological advancements, our current revolution — the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) — sometimes described as the perfect storm of new technologies, is an extreme makeover of business as usual. Made possible by harnessing the power of accelerating technologies and innovative new business models, 4IR is already transforming how we live and work in radical, often unexpected ways.

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4IR makes exponential growth possible

Leaders of institutions around the globe are searching for ways to leverage the exponential growth capabilities that the 4IR makes possible. New business models, big data, quantum computing, crowd-sourcing, automation, robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things, and a host of other accelerating technologies, are shaking up the business world. 

Today, we find ourselves at the precipice of transformation. Never before have so many metaphoric technological breakthroughs taken shape simultaneously. When compared with previous industrial upheavals that revolved around the introduction of a single game-changing disruption (e.g., the steam-powered engine ushered in a new era of transportation and commerce), the fourth revolution is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. 

As someone intimately involved in helping healthcare and technology companies transform themselves, I should make clear that we’re not talking about digital transformation, the over-hyped marketing term du jour that is often misused as a synonym for the metamorphosis that occurs when an organization actually transforms itself. Instead, we’re talking about big change — the caterpillar-turns-into-a-butterfly type.

Business, government, education, and organizational leaders with strategic foresight to anticipate how this future might unfold are looking for ways to reimagine — and reshape themselves — before a disruptive competitor enters the market and up-ends the status quo. 

While disruption seldom sneaks up on a business or industry sector, the past few decades have seen some unexpected interruptions that few business leaders noticed in time to do anything substantial about them.

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Disruption is likely. Are you prepared?

Not all business leaders have the foresight needed to prepare for the future. Disruption isn’t new. It doesn’t discriminate. And, it seldom occurs in isolation.

It’s the speed at which disturbances occur that has changed. To survive and thrive in the 4IR, we need to adjust the way we think about disruption, understand the likelihood it will happen to us, and work proactively to both reconstruct our organizations and foster exponential capabilities necessary for future success.  

Meeting the demands of business leaders who see the need for transformation — those who don’t want their organizations to end up like Blockbuster and Blackberry — is the turf of a new breed of business consultants whose aim is to help companies succeed at digital transformation. Serial entrepreneurs like co-founders of Singularity University (a school dedicated to creating exponential business leaders) and futurists, Salim Ismail, and Peter Diamondis (chairman of the venerable X Prize Foundation) have introduced services and a global community of disruptive thinkers and business transformation practitioners to help business leaders create and manage what they call Exponential Organizations (ExOs).

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What is an exponential organization (ExO)?

Exponential organizations are companies that grow at an exceptional rate — often ten times faster than comparable companies — while using appreciably fewer resources. Exponential growth is intentional, and the result of the adoption of digital technologies that provide the organization with capabilities required to keep pace in the fast-changing, always-on, global information economy.

According to Ismail, who coined the term exponential organization, businesses that enjoy exception growth have some common characteristics

ExOs are guided by a Massive Transformational Purpose (MTP) — a “highly aspirational tagline” — a big, clearly focused, unique, forward-looking, audacious reason why your company exists. The MTP, Ismail argues, when properly aligned, captures the hearts and minds of those both inside and outside your organization.

Here are a few examples:

  • Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” 
  • Quirky: “Make invention accessible.”
  • X Prize: “Bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.”
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information.” 

Organizations that successfully grow at an exponential rate also share some common characteristics—or digital DNA—that separates them from their competitors and enables them to survive the massive shift taking place.

ExOs most often leverage the assets of others. When possible, they do not own their assets, opting instead to rent staff-on-demand, contract labor, lease space, and shift the burden of managing mission-critical functions to third-parties (think Amazon Web Services and software-as-a-service enterprise content management). ExOs also are astute at extracting value from the power of the crowd and at leveraging community to help them scale.

Information-Enablement Accelerates Everything

In his first book on the subject, Exponential Organizations (2014 — Singularity University Books), Ismail argues that information is accelerating the metabolism of products, companies, and industries. This acceleration, he says, “will continue to accelerate even faster to an almost unimaginable pace.” 

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To avoid the “asteroid of digital information” heading our way, Ismail says that organizations must adopt a “new information paradigm.” That means eliminating the limitations and errors common to manual information processing. It means employing algorithms to surface the right information to the right person at the right time and place, in the format and language desired. 

It also means providing dashboards that deliver dynamic content, surfacing up business metrics that support on-demand decision-making, following standards for information exchange, and supporting an organization’s goal of building interoperable content that can be deployed to solve myriad business challenges. 

To grow exponentially, Ismail says, today’s institutions must become “information-enabled.” ExOs benefit from the creation of interoperable content that is easy to adapt, augment, and deliver to those who need it. 

Unfortunately, Ismail and other exponential business gurus haven’t done a great job at defining what it means to be information-enabled nor do they lay out a roadmap for how an organization should make the changes needed to become so.

To be fair, in their most recent book, Exponential Transformation, Ismail and the ExO experts focus on what they’re good at — providing an open source roadmap for leaders who want to transform their organizations, But that map is more focused on helping leadership prime, prepare, and guide their staff toward developing exponential growth ideas using a 10-week sprint approach that aims to overcome internal resistance to change. 

They also make it easy for organizations to determine their Exponential Quotient (ExQ) — a score that allows leadership to understand whether their organization is ready — and mature enough — for transformation. It’s a much-needed approach that addresses how to suppress the corporate immune system that tends to attack new business ideas and derail the work many leaders face when bringing new ideas to their organizations.

Transferring knowledge to others

Fortunately, there’s an entire industry sector devoted to the art and practical science behind managing complex sets of information. Just as there are scientists who study how organizations work best, there are content strategists, content engineers, and content designers who work to establish best practices, standards, and technologies designed to help organizations leverage content to its full extent.

Astoria Software, makers of the world’s best SaaS enterprise content management platform, has a rich history of helping organizations around the globe become information-enabled. Astoria helps its customers develop capabilities that support exponential growth and ensure success in the new information economy.

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