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The Apigee Institute's Top Reads from 2014

Dec 31, 2014

We do a lot of reading at the Apigee Institute (and a bit of writing, too, which resulted in three new research reports this year). Among the literature produced in 2014, two strong themes emerged. First, the top thinkers in business strategy have moved past the question of why a company would transform to the question of how a company can best meet the challenges of digital business. Second, a consensus is forming around the four necessary levers for successful digital transformation: visionary leadership, modern IT, revamped processes, and retooled talent strategies. 

Here we share five of the year’s most powerful publicly available reports and articles for people seeking to better understand digital transformation.

Forrester’s “Unleash Your Digital Business: The Future of Business is Digital,” by Nigel Fenwick (March 2014).

This report for CIOs and CMOs clearly explained the fundamental need for digital transformation, the digital disconnect in enterprise, and strategies to become a digital business. Nigel Fenwick shared the result of a Forrester survey in which 93% of executives said digital would disrupt their businesses in 2014, yet only 15% have a strategy and believe they have the skills and capabilities to execute on that strategy. The analyst focuses on the power of digital ecosystems to create business value, provides a segmentation to identify your own starting point, and provides six specific tactics to develop your own ecosystem. 

This is an especially important read for executives who are looking for a starting point for digital transformation in a market where it’s necessary to pass competitors who are dipping their toes into digital waters. 


McKinsey & Company’s “The seven traits of effective digital enterprises,” by Tunde Olanrewaju, Kate Samje, and Paul Willmott (May 2014).

With special insight into successful digital transformations, Olanrewaju, Samje, and Willmott lay out seven key habits they’ve seen in effective digital enterprises. While few organizations will be able to match all of these habits, they are useful when trying to figure out the hard choices necessary for successful digital transformation.

This is a necessary read for the digitally minded CEO at slow-moving organizations. It is also recommended for executives looking to diagnose bottlenecks or delays in transformation attempts.

BCG’s “Enabling Big Data: Building the Capabilities that Really Matter,” by Rashi Agarwal, Elias Baltassis, Jon Brock, and James Platt (May 2014).

Proficiency with analytics is a critical component of successful digital transformation and a competitive advantage for digital leaders like Netflix, GE, and Google. Yet, as those who have tried could tell you, large quantities of data do not easily translate to strategically useful insights. The authors outline six important capabilities for companies seeking to succeed with big data. This adds to the overall playbook for successful transformation, and provides great advanced reading for those already started on the digital journey.

This piece provides the biggest benefit to those who have a digital transformation strategy and are seeking to optimize analytics and big data capacity. 


McKinsey & Company’s “Developing Talent for Large IT Projects,” by Francine Debane, Katya Defossez, and Mark McMillan (August 2014).

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to market with the IT department you have, not the IT department you might wish you had. One of the biggest concerns we heard from executives this year was about calibrating the talent in IT departments to match the agile, customer-facing leadership necessary from the function most frequently charged with technological innovation This piece provides specific advice for retooling talent strategies and people management within traditional IT departments.

It creates easy action items for anyone looking to optimize their IT department without building a new functional unit. Leaders in HR, strategy, and IT should take these recommendations to heart to enable faster, better transformation.

Harvard Business Review’s “How Smart Connected Products Are Transforming Competition,” by Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann (November 2014).

Michael Porter, the father of much modern business strategy, and his co-author provide the gem in the crown that is the November 2014 Harvard Business Review, which was focused on the Internet of Things. The authors discuss the impact of smart connected devices on traditional industries and traditional business strategy. In a substantial article full of examples, they show how smart connected devices are reshaping the five competitive forces that businesses face: relationships with suppliers, the threat of new entrants, relationships with buyers, the threat of substitute products, and the rivalry among competitors. In the example below, the authors show how a tractor manufacturer can get pulled into the farming automation industry.

This article is important for a company evaluating its competitive position, and for producing a medium-term product strategy from the standpoint of a traditional product-focused business. 


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