Welcome to Introduction to Digital Business and Technology, Volume I in the Digital Business series. This is a thrilling new text on the fourth industrial revolution and digital technology, aimed at practitioners, managers, and other non-technical professionals whose lives are increasingly affected by digital technologies.
It has become practically axiomatic that technology is a pervasive and accelerating influence on organizations, with wide-reaching impacts on every level of management and business function, from product design and customer experience to HRM, finance and all other areas of organizational functioning.
However, there are so many unknowns and underdeveloped areas of knowledge within the arenas of digitalization and the fourth industrial revolution. What do these things refer to in the first place? What really are the implications for organizational strategy – does strategy change fundamentally, or rather adapt traditional thinking and models to new realities? How do organizations effectively and correctly transform themselves to these forces, in order to thrive in our new realities? It is these questions that are addressed in the three-book Digital Business series.
This first book in the series, Introduction to Digital Business & Technology, addresses some of these questions in two parts comprising 17 chapters:
Part I, which spans half the book, gives a broad-ranging introduction to digitalization and digital business.
- Chapter 1 discusses core concepts in digitalization, essentially asking the question “what is digitalization?”
- Chapter 2 contemplates why one might consider entering into a digitalization project as individuals, organizations.
- Chapter 3 discusses when technological disruptions occur, which contemplates core factors which contribute to technological disruptions.
- Chapter 4 gives three brief case studies, each involving potentially disruptive 3D printing technology in three different industries. These cases challenge the reader to apply the concepts of convergence, the crucial triad, and technological adoption which were covered in the prior chapter.
- Chapter 5 covers various topics regarding how technological and digital disruptions occur and have occurred, ranging from trends on technology and society to organizational and individual trends which help us to predict future technological disruptions.
- Chapter 6 provides an integrative case study on Google Maps that not only helps to illustrate the concepts of prior chapters, but also to provide thought challenges for the reader.
- Chapter 7 discusses various topics around where digital disruption has, is, and to some extent is not occurring (with the latter topic reflecting the digital divide).
The second half of the book seeks to address core 4IR technologies in a non-technical way that is useful to organizational members such as managers, professionals, administrators and others whose lives are increasingly affected by technology. These sections seek to demystify the technical aspects of technologies in a accessible way, so that anyone may understand and begin to apply them, but also to link these technologies to organizational requirements such as use cases and trends, which can help even non-technical stakeholders take a more active part in technology choices such as commissioning or contributing to projects which affect them.
Part II is the first section expanding on some of the major technologies powering the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). In this part, we cover three fairly simple ‘essential’ 4IR technologies which affect all modern organizations in some way, either because organizations are adopting or addressing these technologies or because they are directly affected by them:
- Chapter 8 discusses cloud computing.
- Chapter 9 unpacks cybersecurity.
- Chapter 10 covers robotic process automation.
Part III discusses three technologies which we believe represent the current pinnacle of 4IR’s ability to change the world. These three technologies can often work together, through a concept we term the ‘virtuous triangle’. The three chapters which discuss these three virtuous triangle technologies are:
- Chapter 11 discusses big data and big data analytics.
- Chapter 12 explores the internet of things (IoT).
- Chapter 13 covers artificial intelligence.
- Chapter 14 briefly integrates the above three topics in the concept of the virtuous triangle.
Part IV discusses the rest of the 4IR technologies which we introduce in Chapter 1, namely:
- Chapter 15 unpacks blockchain
- Chapter 16 covers two 4IR technological areas which both represent the ability to modern technology to create, namely 3D printing (additive manufacturing) and virtual and augmented reality
- Chapter 17 briefly introduces neurotech.
There are several challenges with writing a book such as this. One of these is the sheer breadth of the ground that needs to be covered. We endeavor here to provide sufficient breadth and depth on the key topics of business in the digital era. However, it is clearly impossible to cover all of the material in great depth, and so we provide extensive references for readers interested in particular areas to explore further.
Another challenge is the rate of change of most of the topics we address. Most of them are very ‘live’ areas of current research. The definitive body of knowledge has not been completed. Technology is evolving ever more rapidly, and organizational responses to that process of change are therefore always dynamic and accelerating. We acknowledge that many of the specifics covered herein will therefore date reasonably quickly. Nevertheless, we believe that the underlying principles will be more durable and provide a solid foundation for business leaders contemplating the transformation of their organizations for a digital future. This text is essential reading for our time.
Introduction to Digital Business & Technology has a wide potential audience. It seeks first and foremost to present an holistic view of business and other organizations in the digital and fourth industrial revolution era. When we say organizations, we mean a wide array of organizational forms ranging from for-profit businesses and firms to non-profit, government, and other public organizations (see Appendix A at the end of the book for some of these definitions). When we say ‘business’, too, we mean both for-profit business activities as well as others (the business of government, the business of philanthropy, and so forth).
Therefore, this book is appropriate and important for managers and members of all types of organizations, business owners, business students, consultants, 4IR experts, government leaders, and others who are affected by the ongoing technological revolution of our age. The text not intended to be a technical guide to digitalization, and, therefore, is not targeted at technical experts in any field. Although the book does seek to demystify the technological elements of our time and place them into a business and organizational context, these discussions are aimed at organizational leaders and others mentioned above for the purposes of equipping them to lead and manage the wide range of organizational projects that involve and are affected by digitalization.
This edition of Introduction to Digital Business & Technology makes extensive reference to this topic within the context of the South African economy and its organizations, while still employing a wide variety of developed world examples. These geographic specificities mean that this version will be especially relevant to South African readers, although the nature of the South African economy suggests strongly that these local elements could be extremely relevant to other emerging market contexts. An international edition will be forthcoming shortly for those wishing an greater emphasis on developed world contexts and illustrations.
About the Authors
Professor Gregory John Lee is a member of the Digital Business team at Wits Business School. He is a leading expert in digital transformation, with a specific focus on the transformation of work and workplaces through robotic process automation and analytics. He is a leading figure in analytics, including big data analytics, for HRM and talent functions. He has written seminal books on the topic of analytics in HRM (HR Metrics: Strategic and Quantitative Tools for People Management, Knowledge Resources), business analytics and data (Business Statistics Made Easy in SAS, SAS Institute & two others) organizational design, development and people management (Designing Organizations for People-Led Sustainable Competitiveness, Silk Route Press) and digital business (Armstrong, B. and Lee, G.J. 2021. Introduction to Digital Business. Silk Route Press).
He has published in top journals such as Human Resource Management Journal, the European Journal of Operational Research, International Journal of HRM, Scientometrics, International Journal of Manpower, and many others.
Greg has a Masters in business and obtained his PhD from University of the Witwatersrand in 2008.
Professor Brian Armstrong is one of the foremost ICT industry leaders in South Africa, with over 30 years of top-level management experience in Telecommunications, IT, technology R&D and systems engineering, both in South Africa and abroad. He is widely regarded as a thought leader in digitalization, convergence and business strategy.
Brian is currently Professor in the Chair of Digital Business at the Wits Business School. He consults widely to industry and government on technological disruption and digital business and is an acclaimed public speaker on digital transformation and its socio-economic impacts. He is a non-executive director of Old Mutual Limited, BankserveAfrica and the Tshimologong Innovation Precinct.
Previously Brian spent seven years in the Telkom Group, as Group Chief Operating Officer and Group Chief Commercial Officer, where he was part of the leadership team which has been credited with turning Telkom around. In his time with Telkom he also revived the ailing Telkom Business unit, and conceived and led the acquisition of BCX and its integration into the group. He was also responsible for the group’s retail unit, as well as leading group strategy and transformation activities.
Before joining Telkom in 2010 Brian was British Telekom’s Vice President for Middle East & Africa with responsibility to oversee and grow BT’s activities across the region. Before that his work experience includes South Africa’s CSIR, ultimately as the Director of the Division for Information and Communications Technology; and South African listed ICT services group AST (now Gijima), as Managing Director of AST Networks.
Brian completed a BSc (Eng) and MSc (Eng) at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1982 and 1984 respectively, and obtained his PhD from University College London in 1992.