The last two years demonstrated the power of exponential technologies like AI, automation and the hybrid cloud to accelerate digital transformation, as companies looked to better serve their customers and find new sources of value emerging from the pandemic. Today, new imperatives, such as sustainability and security, are top of mind for business leaders, while at the same time these leaders must address new geopolitical and market challenges that are impacting their supply chains, talent, and costs.

As I speak with clients around the world about their post-COVID strategies, we’re getting a glimpse of the kinds of organizations that are more likely to succeed over the next decade. Successful business leaders are embracing what we refer to as the virtual enterprise – a new destination for modern business where advanced digitalization, platforms and partnerships are the essential blueprint of competitive advantage. The virtual enterprise features the following approaches:

Grow an ecosystem of partners. Openness is at the heart of the virtual enterprise, and in this digitally interconnected world, ecosystems will evolve businesses and drive growth. The State Bank of India, for example, partnered with more than 100 e-commerce sellers to transform its traditional banking platform into an online marketplace for third-party offerings and digital financial superstore  – SBI YONO (“You Only Need One”) — that aims to attract younger, more digital-savvy customers.  SBI YONO quickly grew into a mobile platform with more than 10 million daily logins and 64 million downloads.

Innovate with science-forward and data-led approaches. In today’s virtual world, openness is accelerating a scientific discovery approach. Access to technologies such as AI, automation and now quantum computing are enabling businesses to sift through the massive proliferation of data and use it as a source of innovation across ecosystems.  The Cleveland Clinic, for example, is establishing the Discovery Accelerator, a center that will deploy hybrid cloud, AI and quantum to enhance research in genomics, single cell transcriptomics, clinical applications and drug discovery and population health.

Expand intelligent workflows. Organizations are increasingly applying AI and automation to reinvent internal business processes like hiring, supply chain or customer service. Extending these intelligent workflows across ecosystems provides even more insights to fuel transformation. In the wake of the pandemic, Pandora, an international jewelry manufacturer and retailer, was forced to close most of its stores and pivot to online retail. The company quickly leveraged a comprehensive order management platform into an omni-channel “commerce-on-a cloud” solution. Intelligent workflows now provide in-store staff and virtual customer service representatives end-to-end visibility to better meet consumer needs.

Create inclusive human-technology partnerships. One thing we learned through the pandemic experience is the importance of empathetic engagement. Virtualization has created hybrid ways of working across an organization that require leaders to look more closely at the intersection of talent and technology. As it looked to create new customer offerings on digital channels, Orange France developed a comprehensive “Orange Campus” program to enhance employees’ digital competencies based on a vision of how human talent and technology can work together seamlessly. Orange France boosted career mobility by helping employees acquire critical digital skills; fifty percent of the telecom company’s workforce have achieved these new skills through the program.

Embrace the power of sustainability. As CEOs report that increasing sustainability is one of their highest priorities, new technology-enabled business models can help solve some of our biggest environmental challenges. As part of its efforts to create a sustainable world without hunger, Norway-based Yara built a digital platform for sustainable farming with the goal of connecting and empowering independent farmers across the globe. The Yara platform provides holistic digital services and instant agronomic advice to more than three million farmers, ultimately helping avoid deforestation and increase food production on existing farmland.

Build a secure, open hybrid cloud architecture. An open, secure hybrid cloud architecture is needed to effectively make use of data and provide the flexibility, agility and security that digital transformation requires. It also enables the openness needed to connect with ecosystem partners and achieve the full potential of digitalization. Bharti Airtel, one of India’s largest integrated telcos, turned to a modern hybrid cloud architecture to deliver more responsive networks that tap into automation and AI to deploy new services at the right location and network tier.

In today’s world, change is the only constant. Business leaders must embrace the new virtual enterprise and capitalize on the new opportunities that will bring them a competitive advantage in the marketplace. As these client stories show, IBM is uniquely positioned to help them on all the steps on their journey.

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