In an interview earlier this year, Deloitte’s John Hagel lamented that most companies don’t look far enough ahead when thinking about digital strategy. Instead of the one- to three-year time frame that most companies use for digital strategy, Hagel advocates using a 10- to 20-year timeframe — at least at times. In data collected for MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte’s 2016 annual report on digital business, we found that only 2% of respondents say their company thinks about digital strategy on such a broad time horizon and only 10% think five years or more in advance.
It may seem crazy to do strategic planning on such a long horizon. Few people can adequately predict what digital trends will dominate in the coming years, let alone the coming decades. After all, who could have predicted the current state of mobile, social, and analytics tools in the mid-1990s, before the dot-com boom even got started? Yet the trends started then have played out according to a generally predictable path. While a smaller number of companies profited directly from those trends than expected, many more have been disrupted because of them.
Conducting a thought exercise can help highlight the benefits of long-term strategic planning about digital trends. Let’s consider the potential strategic impact of self-driving cars and other automated transportation services on business and society. It may be difficult to predict accurately exactly when or how self-driving cars will become mainstream. It’s safe to say, however, that this future will eventually become reality.
Ubiquitous self-driving cars would have a number of impacts on a variety of industries.
- Auto Dealers. Automobile dealers would be significantly impacted by the widespread adoption of self-driving cars. When cars can drive themselves, they don’t need to wait for their owners to pilot them. Passengers can subscribe to an Uber-like service that will be dispatched to pick up passengers on demand. This shift means that individual people won’t necessarily need to own their own self-driving cars personally. If so, it could undermine the current value of the network of automobile dealers who sell these cars to individuals. It may be that an Uber-like company owns the cars in a fleet and dispatches them to customers as needed. Alternatively, companies or individuals could own and maintain a small fleet of cars that plug into the Uber network.