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12% of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa have a mobile money account, while globally only 2% do

Digital change is constant, ubiquitous and fast. Emerging technologies and global megatrends are colliding to disrupt both business and society. Little wonder that 51% of CEOs are now making significant changes in how they use technology to assess and deliver on wider stakeholder expectations[1]. There have been periods of intensive change in history before, of course. But unlike other periods of significant upheaval – the agricultural or industrial revolutions, for example – the digital revolution has no boundaries or borders. Emerging economies are adopting technologies as fast – or in some cases faster – than developed markets. For example, 12% of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa have a mobile money account, while globally only 2% do[2]. PwC's disruption and emerging tech team can help you map the landscape of disruption, scan the horizon for potential “wild-cards” and enhance strategic agility – the capacity to future proof your business against disruptive change.

From B2C to ‘all to all’

Business to Consumer (B2C) models that have been characterised by a small group of large businesses serving huge numbers of atomised, unconnected customers are being supplanted by platform-based models. These enable consumers to transact with one another and with small businesses on an equal footing to larger businesses. 

Scale, of the enterprise, is no longer a de facto source of competitive advantage. Nor is the factor of production driving value now built around the unit of the human being and its relative efficiency. That change is most evident in the employee-to-value ratios that we see for digital born businesses. 

Consumers leapfrog corporate technology

Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 consumers are increasingly driving the specifications of corporate technology.

For many years, corporate technology was far more advanced that anything available to the consumer. But two key dates – 2007 and 2010 (the launches of the iPhone and the iPad respectively) – decisively shifted this imbalance in favour of the consumer. And the take up of these disruptive new technologies has been astonishingly rapid. It took 76 years for the telephone to penetrate half of all US households. The smartphone has achieved the same in less than a decade. Now, the ubiquity of smart devices means that most corporate technology tends to disappoint or frustrate its users. Employees as consumers now have a very high benchmark for the experiences that they expect from their everyday use of digital apps and platforms.

The millennial mindset

But there is another, more subtle, development. And that’s the way that younger generations born into a digital world approach technology. For them, technology is not simply a tool. Millennials engage with technology as a form of ‘natural language’. So rather than equating what the technology can help them achieve in strict productivity terms, their essential relationship with technology is qualitatively different. And that matters because organisations need to direct their activities to accommodate this reorientation. It’s a major shift in mindset. Related to that shift is social media. This, too, is a significant change from the past. It’s a new social fabric of both interaction and action: a platform for crowd intelligence and a reshaping of the relationships that people have with one another and even with themselves. Here again, organisations need to understand that social media is not simply another channel, but a fundamentally new and different way in which people organise and live their lives. And its scale, already vast, is growing constantly.

Organisations need to understand that social media is not simply another channel, but a fundamentally new and different way in which people organise and live their lives and their relationship with themselves, with other people and with information.

Key maturing technologies

Maturing technologies offer huge potential in many industries. But their adoption needs a balanced approach. Embracing the new is important, but not for its own sake. Organisations need to adopt, experiment, implement and learn from these technologies but also make sure that they use them to create value. If implemented correctly, they can produce returns that can unlock financial and management ‘energy’. But this also needs to be directed towards integrating their use within the wider organisation and addressing the more fundamental challenges of legacy technologies.

Maturing technologies (Source: PwC analysis)

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Software algorithms that are capable of performing tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and language translation.

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Augmented reality (AR)

Addition of information or visuals to the physical world, via a graphics and/or audio overlay, to improve the user experience for a task or a product.

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Distributed electronic ledger that uses software algorithms to record and confirm transactions with reliability and anonymity.

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Air or water-based devices and vehicles, for example Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), that fly or move without an on-board human pilot. Drones can operate autonomously (via on-board computers) on a predefined flight plan or be controlled remotely.

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Internet of Things (IoT)

Network of objects — devices or vehicles, for example — embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity, and compute capability, that can collect and exchange data over the Internet. IoT enables devices to be connected and remotely monitored or controlled.

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Electro-mechanical machines or virtual agents that automate, augment or assist human activities, autonomously or according to set instructions — often a computer program.

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Virtual reality (VR)

Computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or a complete environment, within a defined and contained space (unlike AR), that viewers can interact with in realistic ways.

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3D printing

Additive manufacturing techniques used to create three-dimensional objects based on digital models by layering or “printing” successive layers of materials.

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Data explosion

These new technologies are also creating huge volumes of data. Data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009[3]. This huge data explosion requires a smarter approach to avoid drowning in the data deluge that threatens to engulf every organisation. Rather than just managing the huge volumes of data they are creating, organisations need to develop new, smarter approaches to translating data into actionable and monetisable insight. One critical dimension of that will be the greater use of artificial intelligence. Advances in semantic engines and cognitive computing are increasingly enabling machines to ‘think’ for themselves, interpret and learn rather than follow a set of (albeit sometimes very sophisticated) rules, like syntactic engines. These advances will be critical in supporting smarter approaches to exploiting data and to creating new generations of businesses with a higher percentage of high-value-add knowledge workers.

Data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009

Connected everything

By 2020 there will be close to seven times the number of connected devices as people on the planet[4]. Cheap, reliable and plentiful sensors and almost limitless connectivity mean that anything that can be connected will be. That’s already apparent in the fast-growing connected home and connected car markets. And the possibilities are limited only by the imagination. For example, smart locks on vehicles or in homes could allow temporary trusted access to service providers who can legitimately open the lock by using a “digital rights management app” on their smart devices. This ability to connect ‘things’ to the internet and to each other has the potential to transform whole areas of life: healthcare, aviation, transport, manufacturing, home services, education – just to mention a few.

Pervasive connectivity has major implications for business models, because it opens a window into consumption that had always previously been closed. Car manufacturers, for example, can know where, when and how their customers drive. Instead of just being able to know what consumers buy, businesses can understand how their customers use any products or services and the outcomes they achieve. It’s a profound change, but one that also generates some big challenges in terms of how to price for outcomes rather than products or services at the point of transaction.

And the other key dimension of greater connectivity is increased vulnerability. Connecting devices makes them accessible to cyberattack. If something can be connected, it also becomes hackable. Digital security, and the trust it supports, becomes even more critical. This applies equally across consumer and industrial applications – from wearable health and fitness monitors to oil rigs.

Pervasive connectivity has major implications for business models, because it opens a window into consumption that had always previously been closed.


By 2020 there will be close to 7 times the number of connected devices as people on the planet

Operating in a world of multidimensional change

In 1964, a terabyte of storage would cost $3.5 billion. Today, it's only $27

The change generated by technology is multidimensional. It’s happening rapidly and in many different directions – changing behaviour and expectations as much as the tools used to deliver new services and experiences.

Digital technology today is more abundant, cheaper and more modular than ever before. Its predecessors were the exact opposite. Just one example illustrates the difference. In 1964, a terabyte of storage would cost 3.5 billion dollars, today, it’s twenty-seven dollars[5]. That’s a cost reduction of ~130 million times in 52 years, or an average decrease in cost of ~30% every year. But many of today’s largest and leading organisations and businesses were developed in an era of scarce, expensive and rigid technology. Delivering change for them is a complex proposition. On the contrary, businesses that are ‘born digital’ are much better prepared to deal with the constant flux of change that hits everyone. Their architectures tend to be highly modular and ‘decoupled’. They are able to plug in new capabilities and create and launch new services in weeks rather than in months or even years, with an end-to-end digital model that requires little or no human intervention in order to complete a process from start to finish.

Advances in, for example, cloud computing and ‘as a service’ models are unquestionably enabling large established enterprises to gain more agility and flexibility. But they are not the complete solution to creating the new type of technology architectures that will support the business models of the digital age.

Digital business models

Technology is no longer simply an enabler that supports more efficient processes which in turn secure competitive advantage. Technology is increasingly the source of competitive advantage itself. Consequently, all companies, regardless of the sector in which they operate, will now need to think of themselves as technology – and specifically software – businesses. We’re likely to see a number of distinct types of business model emerge that will deploy digital technology to a greater or lesser extent, shown in this 2x2 scheme developed by MIT Sloan School of Management[6].

Every business today can identify themselves in one of these four categories. While digital technology can create competitive advantage for all four categories, it is interesting to see that three of the four categories (Omnichannel Players, Ecosystem Enablers and Ecosystem Drivers) could really not exist without digital technology. It is also interesting to see that most new ‘digital native’ companies tend to fall in just two categories: Enablers and Ecosystem Drivers. Clearly every player has to understand if they want to use technology to perform better in the quadrant they are in today, or if they would rather ‘jump’ to one of the other quadrants, and the steps they will need to take in order to achieve that goal.

This Digital Age is not just about opportunities – it is also about threats, clear and present threats. For example, MIT Sloan School of Management has estimated that large organisations (greater than $7 billion turnover per annum) risk up to 53% of their revenues to disappear due to digital disruption over the next 5 years[6].

That’s why becoming more digital is a fundamental shift that goes to the core of any business and its foundational capabilities, in any sector and in any geography.

In this digital age technology and strategy become peers, as one informs the other in a novel but positive circularity. This has profound implications. Successful players have to develop a Business and Execution Strategy that are fit for this digital age, not a Digital Strategy. And successful CEOs have to understand quite a bit more about technology and innovation. If you are a business leader you have to value your own understanding of this digital age, not delegating such understanding to others.

Knowledge of Your End Consumer x Business Design matrix

Suppliers are those businesses that are active in one part of the value chain, with little knowledge of the customer – for example an FMCG manufacturer. They will use digital technology to improve processes and drive efficiency, and possibly to get a closer relationship with their customers.

Omnichannel Players, for example banks or telcos, will engage and transact more directly with their customers, supported by digital technologies.

Ecosystem Enablers play a key role in the digital economy, for example a blockchain provider or a digital payments company like Paypal.

Ecosystem Drivers operate digital platforms from which they can sell multiple products and services. They connect buyers and sellers and enable others to transact on their platform. Examples include Amazon, Alibaba and Uber.


[1] 19th Annual CEO Survey,, [2] World Bank’s Global Findex Database 2014, Measuring Financial Inclusion around the World, [3] Computer Science Corp, [4] Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, [5] PwC analysis (Michael Driscoll/Metamarkets), [6] Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem, MIT Sloan School of Management,


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Leo Johnson

Leo Johnson

Head of Disruption & Innovation, PwC United Kingdom

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