Leaders in digital pure play or traditional businesses understand that disruption is constant. The problems they commonly face are; changes to their business model, evolution of products and services, the customer experience and workforce effectiveness and efficiency.

All businesses are trying to get closer to customers via digital and social channels, with traditional businesses typically having to navigate legacy issues while transitioning to new platforms.

For some time, traditional Australian businesses have been racing to find the best way to work through these issues. And what they’re realising, is that the race analogy is no longer apt. There’s no finish line, the race keeps on going.

The businesses that are succeeding, and will continue to do so, are looking beyond digital transformation to get closer to their customers. Transformation suggests an end point, but these businesses are embedding the ability to continuously transform. They’re becoming digitally sustainable.

Australia ranks fourth in digital sustainability

Recent research by Korn Ferry suggests Australian businesses are confronting this challenge head on – and doing a pretty good job at meeting it. The Korn Ferry Digital Sustainability Index 2017 (DSI) examines five critical leadership and organisational capabilities that position organisations to seize the opportunities of a digital economy.

Together, these five capabilities – agility; connectivity; discipline and focus; empowerment and alignment; and openness and transparency – comprise the DSI which predicts the extent to which businesses are set up to adapt continuously and achieve lasting success.

The Five Dimensions of Digital Sustainability


Australian organisations performed strongly across the five capabilities, ranking fourth among 14 countries. But the essence of digital sustainability is continuous adaptation, honed by razor focus, which means being satisfied with fourth is the surest way to slip down the rankings. Here we look at some of the success factors that helped lift Australia to fourth and the opportunities that exist to sustain and strengthen this ranking.

A surprising result that’s not all that surprising

While publicly there’s been little discussion of the need for digital sustainability, it’s a concept that immediately resonates with the Australian market. Many businesses have been embedding digital initiatives for many years. Even so, it’s perhaps surprising to see Australia ranked above countries like Germany and France.

One reason for this may be the Australian market’s insatiable appetite for digital technologies. Australians rank second globally in internet usage and smartphone ownership, a whisker behind South Korea. In short, Australian consumers want and demand the latest technologies, creating market conditions that demand digital sustainability. Organisations are responding by implementing digital initiatives locally and seeking connections with the global digital ecosystem to meet this consumer expectation.

Financial Services is leading the way, with progress in other sectors

Globally financial services was the most digitally sustainable sector. In Australia digital sustainability has long been a feature of our financial sectors’ go to market strategy. Australia’s financial institutions have taken significant sustainable actions over the past few years, showing a long-term commitment to digital engagement with customers and external partnerships and investments, particularly in Fintech.

Overall, our research found the finance industry is the most digitally sustainable industry of the 14 countries surveyed, followed by technology, health and life sciences, industrials, and consumer. In Australia, the activity in the financial services sector certainly bears this finding out.

There’s plenty of opportunity and action in other industries in Australia. Technology lab structures and innovation centres are making their homes here and private equity investment in fintech, software and digital start-ups is growing. Similarly, other large scale businesses across the likes of telco, airlines and retail are moving fast to face into digital disruption, with varying degrees of sustainability.

Opportunity can also be found in the industrials sector. With large energy providers investing in digital solutions, touching on artificial intelligence, smart grids, electric vehicles, renewable energy and home energy management, we expect to see this sector lift its DSI rankings.

Greater connectivity key to digital sustainability

There’s a lot of good in Australia’s high ranking, but there’s a lot of opportunity too. The strength of the technology ecosystems in the US and UK drive connectivity, while in Australia efforts remain somewhat disconnected.

Whether Melbourne or Sydney claims the crown as Australia’s technology hub, it’s clear that improved connectivity is essential to Australia’s digital sustainability in the long-term. Recently introduced Government-backed innovation frameworks and programs are designed to drive connections with global players, start-ups, universities, incubators and labs and the increased focus on hiring from across the globe to develop digital skill sets certainly helps. However, clear, integrated and highly-connected local hubs also need to continue to develop to assist digital sustainability.

Looking beyond quarterly results remains a challenge in some sectors

Australia’s market size and competitive environment also poses some challenges. Several sectors, like retail and media, are dominated by a few key players and this can drive short-term decision making, focussed on beating direct competitors, which over the long term, hinders digital sustainability.

While major retailers invested in digital channels and adoption early, the intense focus on competitive duopolies means longer term digital strategies can lose traction in the face of quarterly reporting pressures. The focus can quickly return to traditional customer connection points.

Challenges will continue from global businesses such as Amazon, and Australia’s traditional large listed companies, understanding that digital is part of their core business, will continue to be challenged to invest in digital innovation to become digitally sustainable.

Digital Sustainability is the lens for performance

As organisations embark on, and continue, their digital journeys it is those that view their performance through a sustainability lens, that will adapt and succeed.

For smaller and mid-tier organisations, as much as for larger firms, the opportunity is in taking a holistic approach to making changes. It means reconsidering the organisation’s design and operating model, and ensuring the right people are being developed for the future to build structural and interpersonal agility, guided by clear organisational purpose and focus. This is the essence of digitally sustainable organisations.

We may all be dealing with the same problems, but the answers may look very different.

To learn more about what it takes to be digitally sustainable, download The Korn Ferry Digital Sustainability Index Report and join our webinar series.

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About Contributor

Lindsay Every is a client partner and digital lead and he serves clients across a number of industry sectors including; technology, digital media and consumer markets. Across his 20 years in industry, Lindsay has held general management, sales leadership and business analyst positions with leading global and Australian businesses here and in the UK, in the media, consumer and technology market sectors.

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