Digital Takeoff: Create Your Own Future

Tony Saldanha

The digital future is here

What do Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs and Peter Drucker have in common? They are all quoted for having said some variation of: “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. However, regardless of claims of their originality, they were all correct – except that the modern equivalent is, “The best way to prevent being Ubered is to be the Uberer.” 

To be clear, our motivations for leading change don’t need to be defensive. On the contrary, every change is an opportunity, and the world has never seen as much opportunity as that driven by the fourth industrial revolution

Digital transformation is an opportunity of historic proportions

All that industrial transformation is an opportunity of historic proportions. Software is eating the world, not in a destructive pac-man way, but more like plants that consume carbon dioxide and light to generate oxygen. We see signs of this digital photosynthesis all around us. Digital is multiplying the capabilities of all other disruptors, whether nanotech or drones or solar. Consider the following–

  • Software algorithm based supply chain planning will dramatically shrink the product inventories and lead times in supply chains. The fashion retailer, Zara, has been delivering fashion from designer ideas to retail stock within two weeks, for several years now.
  • Agile, custom-built manufacturing will slowly replace large scale “batch” manufacturing. Chinese smartphone manufacturer, Xiaomi, already ships new batches of phones every week, with each batch having superior capabilities to the last. They also register 70% of their sales online, including pre-orders, which allow them to purchase raw material only after sales have been placed.
  • Nearly 40% of all Financial services sector jobs could be done by software robots in 2030.
  • Between 40-50% of jobs in Manufacturing, Transportation and Retail sectors could be done by hardware or software robots by 2030.
  • Wealth management advice fueled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) will explode over the next few years. By 2025, 10% of all wealth being managed will use a combination of AI and humans; 16% of that will be managed only by robots.
  • Certain news agencies already generate 90% of their short, pro-forma, real-time news updates on sports and financial markets using software robots. AI, with some human journalist help, will generate 90% of all news in 15 years’ time.
  • Deep Learning can already read your lips with more than 90% accuracy, while the average lip reader usually delivers 50% accuracy.
  • 32 million people in the US cannot read a road sign, but by 2020 it is projected that there will be 10 million self-driving cars that will accurately read all signs.
  • By 2027, machine literacy – the ability for computers to be above basic human literacy levels – will exceed that of 24 million US people.

The race to turn opportunity into success

The question for forward-thinking leaders is how to turn these unprecedented opportunities into relevant action. While William Gibson’s saying, “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed”, has always been true, the sheer discontinuity of the emerging future allows change leaders to win disproportionately versus change resistors. That’s true of individuals and it’s also true of organizations. And Shared Services leaders are in a unique position to drive that change within their enterprises. The exponential automation trends may start in the back-office, but by following end-to-end process automation, they can dramatically improve both efficiency and effectiveness across the entire enterprise.

Digital is the ultimate leveler of the playing field

We are blessed with the opportunity to lead change in only the fourth industrial revolution in the history of mankind. The opportunity is there. The change models exist. The conviction and mindset to thrive in this era will belong to individuals such as you – as it always has, in history.

Tony Saldanha is VP, Global Business Services, and leads the Next Generation Services team at Procter & Gamble. His book, Digital Takeoff, will be published this year. It will deal with the biggest challenge facing CXO’s today – how to make digital transformations more predictably successful. This article is the first of a series of extracts. You can contact him at