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Driving Digital Strategy: A book review by Bob Morris

Driving Digital Strategy: A Guide to Reimagining Your Business
Sunil Gupta
Harvard Business Review Press (August 2018)

“What got you here won’t get you there.” Marshall Goldsmith

In fact, I am convinced that what got you here won’t even allow you to remain here, however and wherever “here” and “there” are defined. One of the most serious challenges that  business leaders now face is to reimagine their business in response to a global marketplace that has become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall. Long ago I decided that strategies are “hammers” that drive tactics (“nails”) and Sunil Gupta adds a dimension that resembles (to some extent) what happens when a space exploration module is launched: it involves a multi-stage process. The same is true of organizational transformation. There are several basic, essential causal relationships during that sequential process.

For example, Amazon has rewritten the rules of strategy, blurring industry boundaries with a competitive advantage no longer based on low cost or price differentiation. “Best Buy is thriving in the face of Amazon’s threat by reimagining how it creates and captures value. New business models, such as product-as-a service or product-as-a-platform, are redefining the competitive landscape.” (See Pages 23 and 42-45) Gupta also shares his thoughts about three other building blocks that drive organizational transformation: Business Strategy, Value Chain, and Customers.

This book’s subtitle refers to reimagining an organization’s core business. There are countless examples. These three immediately came to my mind: the owner of a one-truck, family-owned garbage business limited to residences reimagined his core business as waste removal, adding commercial and then governmental clients; Walt Disney and his management team reimagined the film studio’s core business as entertainment, adding theme parks with hotels, retail stores, and product tie-ins with fast food chains; and Amazon began selling only books online but after reimagining its core, it became an almost “everything store” as well as one of the major providers of cloud services.

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also shared ti suggest the scope of Gupta’s coverage:

o Business scope of Amazon (Pages 13-17)
o Scope (13-29)
o Defining your business around competition (17-20)
o Competitive advantage from complementarity (22-26)
o Razors and blades (24-25 and 31-37)

o Business models (31-58)
o Weather apps (37-42)
o Subscriptions: Product-as-a-service model (52-58)
o Platforms (59-80)
o Operational excellence (97-115)

o Channel conflict and omnichannel strategy (117-132)
o Advertising (150-151)
o Engaging customers and advertising (155-172)
o Story making in advertising (160-166)
o Context, advertising, and complementarity (167-172)

o Marketing (173-185)
o Value of Social media (175-177)
o Organizational design and digital transformation (197-199 and 203-211)
o Capabilities and skills (213-227)
o Artificial intelligence (214-220)

I commend Sunil Gupta on the superior quality of the information, insights, and counsel he provides in Driving Digital Strategy. It is truly a brilliant achievement. For members of many (if not most) senior management teams as well as for those who aspire to join their number, this is a “must read” book. Bravo!

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