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Exclusive Excerpt

“Digital Business Transformation: How Established Companies Sustain Competitive Advantage From Now to Next”: An Exclusive Excerpt of Nigel Vaz’s New Book

Publicis Sapient’s Chief Executive Officer explores how businesses can sustain relevance by adapting to change and capturing value through digital.


Nigel Vaz
Nigel Vaz

My purpose in writing this book is to help business leaders get past what can be the hardest part of any personal or enterprise transformation: the choices they make every day to move towards what will drive future success. Often, this will mean letting go of things that made us successful in the past, to make room for new skills, relationships, ways of working and opportunities.

I write from a practical perspective developed from decades of partnering with large, established businesses on how to take a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach enabled by digital and a particular set of capabilities. What I mean by digital business transformation (DBT) is this: rather than digitizing parts of the business or adding digital revenues as a stopgap, DBT is about becoming digital at the core to build and sustain customer relevance, maintain competitive advantage and protect from competitive risk.

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This book focuses on the ability of businesses to drive two outcomes as a result of DBT:

  • Creating an organization that can continually change at pace with the changes around it
  • Constructing the capability to identify and realize value through digital for your customers and your business

I encourage you to reach out to me or our teams to discuss any aspect of your transformation, no matter where you are in your journey.

- Nigel

The following is excerpted with the permission of the publisher, Wiley, from “Digital Business Transformation: How Established Companies Sustain Competitive Advantage From Now to Next” by Nigel Vaz. Copyright © 2021 by Nigel Vaz. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and eBooks are sold.

The CEO of a major retailer was telling me recently about one of the things he does regularly to make sure that his business is properly serving its customers' needs. He started work at the company when he was 19 years old, stacking shelves, and today runs what is one of the largest retail businesses in the world. It's a great business, and much of that is down to the actions of a CEO and leadership team that care deeply about the company and its customers.

"I walk through the stores and I watch people. I watch our customers. I watch what they do, I watch how they buy, I watch how they engage with products, I watch which aisles they walk through, I watch where they spend time. I talk to them. I understand what they like and what they don't like."

That is the perfect model for what it takes to be a good retailer — be with your customers and understand them.

However, to him, that idea of spending time in his stores and getting close to his customers was very different from looking at a screen to observe and understand the very same things. In his lifetime as CEO, the online channel had become his biggest store and it held the key to understanding whether people are clicking on the top left-hand navigation to shop or using the search function to find products, whether they were dropping out at certain points in the checkout and abandoning their shopping baskets. He didn't quite appreciate that the store visits and web analytics were essentially the same thing. He understood it conceptually, of course, but the good digital practice was not in his DNA. What was true for him is true for a lot of established, or pre-digital, companies.

The inconvenient truth is that most companies are great at their core business, but not great at reimagining the future of their business.

"In a world where much of what we do and know has gone digital in the space of an average CEO's career, and the rest of it is not far behind, established businesses need help. They need help to balance the pressure to perform in their current context with the need to transform in the context of a digital world."
— Nigel Vaz

How many businesses that we work for or with today may not survive, let alone thrive, a few years from now? All you have to do is pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and see stock prices in decline, falling growth rates, shrinking margins — businesses in trouble. Many of the top companies of yesterday have been overtaken by those that were born digital or that have digital at their core. Figure 4.1 shows a comparison of the top five US companies by market capitalisation in 2001 and today.


Figure 4.1 Today's top five US companies by market cap (as of April 24, 2020) compared with those of 2001

The chart makes stark reading, but there is a bright spot. At the time that those companies in the left-hand column were top of the pile, digital was a tangential idea. The CEO of a major retail company might have told you that he had an ecommerce manager, because ecommerce was something interesting happening over there, as an adjunct to the main business. Talk to a retail CEO today and the only kind of commerce he's talking about is the one that's happening digitally, because it's happening everywhere: in his stores, online and on mobile devices. The same is true of nearly every company of size in every sector. In board rooms around the world, business leaders are discussing the need for digital transformation as the means to identify and unlock exponential value by driving growth, increasing efficiency, and creating better experiences for customers.

Let’s nail our colors to the mast. Would it not be a disaster if the only retailer in the world were Amazon because they were the only company to figure out how to sell us everything? And if the only social community in the world were Facebook? Who wants to be in a place like that? 

"As much as we want start-ups to fly and for digital entrants to improve and redefine products and experiences, we also want those brands that we grew up with, those we appreciate and trust, to succeed by evolving to be relevant in the world today for us, and for the generations to come."
— Nigel Vaz

The challenge, then, is not to just recognize the imperative for transformation. We have passed that milestone and will not be returning to it. The challenge is to develop the vision as well as the road map to get there; to identify opportunities for disruption, but also to understand how you will go about delivering it; to identify and remove the obstacles to transformation that exist within your business, while replacing them with the qualities and behaviors of a digital-at-the-core organization.

Praise for Digital Business Transformation

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Digital Business Transformation explains with clarity and urgency why companies need to continually evolve to stay ahead of the curve. It’s a timely and thoughtful ‘how to’ guide for those seeking to disrupt themselves and their industries. Nigel speaks with authority. He and Publicis Sapient’s deep real-world experience and leadership in the digital space have been highly impactful in our own journey of transformation.”

—  Arne M. Sorenson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International

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For any organization working towards a new digital future and more innovative culture, Digital Business Transformation is an essential read. This book explains not just why building digital capabilities is crucial to value creation, but how business leaders can navigate the challenges and reach the decisions they must make in order to innovate and remain relevant.”

—  Beth Comstock, former Vice Chair of Innovation and Chief Marketing Officer, General Electric (GE). Author of Imagine It Forward

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Digital Business Transformation underscores the intensifying need among businesses to digitally transform as they look to create sustainable growth in today’s environment. Nigel breaks down the core qualities held in common across so many of today’s leading digital companies, and gets to the heart of why technology is vital in delivering new sources of customer value. This is an essential read for everyone in a business trying to adapt and prosper."

— Thomas Kurian, CEO, Google Cloud

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Digital transformation has been dramatically accelerated due to the Covid-19 crisis. Nigel Vaz’s book on Digital Business Transformation is a very timely and essential contribution to understand today’s new digital landscape. His book connects the key ideas of rapid technological change, human behaviour and societal shifts with strategies for enterprises to adapt and grow. This is essential reading for the successful transformation of business with the human element at its core.”

—  Hiroshi Ishii, Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Associate Director of MIT Media Laboratory and Director of Tangible Media Group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Get more strategic insights and practical approaches culled from 30 years of evolving to stay relevant. Digital Business Transformation is available January 13.

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Nigel Vaz
Nigel Vaz
Chief Executive Officer