Are You Providing Sufficient Digital Leadership?

It has been seven years since Marc Andreesen’s famous article “Why Software is Eating the World” was published in the Wall Street Journal, and given the slow pace of change in many companies, some executives still may not be taking the threat of being “eaten” seriously enough.  

Software, and platform business models based on software, have the potential to deliver powerful economic forces into virtually any company or industry. Every company has valuable assets—such as data, expertise or access to certain services or user bases—and most of these assets can be delivered via software. Once an asset is expressed as software in a modern way—that is, as an application programming interface (API)—it can be combined with other software to create new applications and digital experiences. 

Benefits of this approach, just to name a few, include near-zero marginal cost to scale up APIs for new users or use cases; global reach for both partners using APIs and end users consuming the digital experiences those APIs power; and network effects triggered as more partners use a given company’s digital assets and spread its services into new markets and use cases. 

In the last two decades we’ve seen individual companies and entire industries upended by these kinds of software-powered business models. Examples abound: Amazon and the retail industry, Netflix and movie rentals, Uber and ride hailing, Airbnb and hotels, etc. We’ve reached the point that these companies’ names have become verbs synonymous with being “eaten” by software (e.g., “Amazoned” or “Netflixed”).

The most famous examples of digital disruption involve digital natives, of course, but legacy businesses are leveraging software to evolve too. Brazilian retailer Magazine Luiza—a company I’ve worked with through my employer, Google Cloud’s Apigee team—has enjoyed enormous revenue growth and seen its stock soar, for example, as it has built out its digital platform capabilities and transitioned from a primarily brick-and-mortar model to an omnichannel one. The point is, whether a company has been in business five decades, five years or five months, software remains ravenous and is always looking for new companies and industries to “eat.”

Facing this threat, how should corporate leadership respond?

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