Is Your Company Ready for a Digital Future?

There are four different pathways that businesses can take to become top performers in the digital economy. Leadership’s role is to determine which pathway to pursue — and how aggressively to move.

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In preparing for the future, many large, established enterprises are embarking on a digital business transformation journey — often without any sense of where they are going. In this article, we will present four viable pathways for transformation and examine their pros and cons. However, the goal isn’t digital transformation but rather business transformation — using digital capabilities to transform a traditional enterprise into a top performer in the digital economy. We call such top-performing enterprises “future-ready.”

In 2015 and 2017, we surveyed several hundred enterprises,1 examining both the capabilities needed for transformation and the impacts on performance. We also had conversations with more than 50 executives to learn about their experiences with digital business transformation. Respondents represented a wide variety of industries, with manufacturing, financial services, and IT software and services being the biggest groups. Based on our analysis, future-ready enterprises performed much better than their industry peers. But we also found that, even within a single industry, enterprises can take different paths to becoming future-ready. This article looks at four banks that have taken different pathways: Danske Bank, mBank, BBVA, and ING.

Becoming Future-Ready

Becoming future-ready requires changing the enterprise on two dimensions — customer experience and operational efficiency. (See “How Companies Compare on Digital Business Transformation.”)


Future-ready enterprises are able to innovate to engage and satisfy customers while at the same time reducing costs. Their goal is to meet customers’ needs rather than push products, and customers can expect to have a good experience no matter which service delivery channel they choose. On the operations side, the company’s capabilities are modular and agile; data is a strategic asset that is shared and accessible to all those in the company who need it.



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1. In the MIT CISR 2015 CIO Digital Disruption Survey, we surveyed 413 enterprises. In the MIT CISR 2017 Pathways to Digital Business Transformation Survey, we surveyed 400 enterprises.

2. J.W. Ross, I.M. Sebastian, and C.M. Beath, “Digital Design: It’s a Journey,” research briefing, MIT CISR, April 21, 2016,

3. J.W. Ross, P. Weill, and D.C. Robertson, “Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution” (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2006), chap. 1 and 2.

4. Our sources are company interviews and documents used with permission; Danske Bank’s website,; and the MIT CISR 2012 IT Investment Survey, sample size of 354, developed countries only.

5. V. Vig Nielsen, “Danske Bank: A Winner in Digitalization,” Feb. 1, 2017,

6. N.O. Fonstad, S.L. Woerner, and P. Weill, “mBank: Creating the Digital,” research briefing, MIT CISR, Oct. 15, 2015,

7. “Francisco González: ‘We Are Building the Best Digital Bank of the 21st Century,’” March 13, 2015,

8. Ross, Weill, and Robertson, “Enterprise Architecture as Strategy,” 61-64.

9. “Scotiabank to Buy ING Bank of Canada for $3.1B,” Aug. 29, 2012,; “ING Direct to Become ‘Capital One 360,’ but Promises to Remain the Same,” Nov. 7, 2012,; and “ING to Sell ING Direct UK to Barclays,” press release, Oct. 9, 2012,

10. “ING to Spend EUR800 Million on Digital Integration; Shed 7,000 Jobs,” Oct. 3, 2016,; and “ING Strategy Update: Accelerating Think Forward,” press release, Oct. 3, 2016,

11. P. Weill and S.L. Woerner, “Becoming Better Prepared for Digital Disruption,” NACD Directorship Magazine, March-April 2016,

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Comments (4)
Chuk pant
I agree with each and every word written in this article. There are many different pathways that businesses can take to become top performers in the digital economy. But company's management team's is to determine which pathway the company should pursue – and how aggressively to move. I always read white papers on digital innovations and read current reports from digital tech events and conferences from ,
radmila grozdanic
Paper is very good as the general approach to the digital transformation of the companies
Cissoko Mamady
Great article with an interesting framework for digital transformation.
Bob Akerley
I completely agree with your premise, “the goal isn’t digital transformation but rather business transformation.” In today’s global, technology driven marketplace, digital strategy is business strategy and digital transformation is business transformation.  I also agree that selecting the right executive to lead the transformation is an important step. Although I like your 2x2 matrix of transformation capabilities plotting customer experience against operational efficiency, I disagree with your premise that “becoming future-ready requires changing the enterprise on two dimensions.”  I feel that these are only two of six dimensions or critical success factors needed to transform an organization to be truly “future-ready”. 

Transforming any size organization is a large, complex and frequently overwhelming initiative. To be future-ready one must transform the business (digital) strategy, the corporate culture, how leadership leads and workers work, the operating model (to gain those operational efficiencies), how the organization interacts with external ecosystems, and of course the approach to technology. In 2017 a number of SMR articles highlighted the need to focus on collaboration, innovation, strategy, 10+ year scenario planning, artificial intelligence, and the like but each of these articles only addressed one or two success factors. Only “Achieving Digital Maturity” from June of 2017 took the holistic approach I suggest but even then, achieving digital maturity isn’t the goal; the goal is to transform your business so that you are competitive today and in the future, can differentiate your business from others, are resilient to disruptions, and are positioned to dominate market share.  

Business transformation is like a woman being pregnant: just like she can’t be a little pregnant so, too, one can’t just transform a piece of the business or on only one or two dimensions as you suggest – if so one risks achieving only partial results. If one achieves future-ready capabilities they are of little use if the organization neglects having a long-term scenario-based digital strategy, or fails to evolve how work is conducted or leadership leads, or overlooks the firm’s role and potential in current and future ecosystems, or forgets to develop processes for understanding how emerging technologies (like AI, blockchains, augmented reality, and chatboxes) will impact the firm. Without considering all of these factors, organizations miss out on reaching their full potential to compete, differentiate, disrupt, and dominate markets – and to be truly future-ready.

I welcome yours’ and others’ thoughts.