Organizations such as these—digital natives that are not defined or constrained by any one industry—may seem like outliers. How applicable to traditional industries is the notion of simultaneously competing in multiple sectors, let alone reimagining sector boundaries? We would be the first to acknowledge that opportunities to attack and to win across sectors vary considerably and that industry definitions have always been fluid: technological developments cause sectors to appear, disappear, and merge. Banking, for example, was born from the merger of money exchange, merchant banking, savings banking, and safety-deposit services, among others. Supermarkets unified previously separate retail subsectors into one big "grocery” category. Changes such as these created new competitors, shifted vast amounts of wealth, and reshaped significant parts of the economy. Before the term was in vogue, one could even say the shifts were "disruptive.”
Yet there does appear to be something new happening here. The ongoing digital revolution, which has been reducing frictional, transactional costs for years, has accelerated recently with tremendous increases in electronic data, the ubiquity of mobile interfaces, and the growing power of artificial intelligence. Together, these forces are reshaping customer expectations and creating the potential for virtually every sector with a distribution component to have its borders redrawn or redefined, at a more rapid pace than we have previously experienced.
Consider first how customer expectations are shifting. As Steve Jobs famously observed, "A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” By creating a customer-centric, unified value proposition that extends beyond what end users could previously obtain (or, at least, could obtain almost instantly from one interface), digital pioneers are bridging the openings along the value chain, reducing customers’ costs, providing them with new experiences, and whetting their appetites for more.
We’ve all experienced businesses that once seemed disconnected fitting together seamlessly and unleashing surprising synergies: look no farther than the phone in your pocket, your music and video in the cloud, the smart watch on your wrist, and the TV in your living room. Or consider the 89 million customers now accessing Ping An Good Doctor, where on a single platform run by the trusted Ping An insurance company they can connect with doctors not only for online bookings but to receive diagnoses and suggested treatments, often by exchanging pictures and videos. What used to take many weeks and multiple providers can now be done in minutes on one app.