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The two clear leaders in this emerging digital economy are the US and China. Their current dominance in platform-based enterprises means that they are the most prepared for the forthcoming wave of disruption, which is due to their ‘platform vision’, i.e., their understanding of the underlying logic and digital architectures of the new digital economy. China especially is demonstrating long-term strategic thinking with considerable investment and technology partnerships in other countries.

The impact of the digital economy is the result of two major disruptive innovations—platform-based business models and deep technologies such as data analytics, blockchain, quantum computing and advances in the life sciences such as nanotechnology. In order to understand how digital technologies are already revolutionising business, leaders need to develop an organisation-wide platform vision to overcome the conceptual confusion that often exists between digital businesses, systems and platforms.

These differing concepts can be best understood by looking at how the digitalisation of business evolved. At the start of the first internet wave in the early 1990s, companies started to build portals that provided new channels to market, powered by the first e-commerce technologies. Online portals such as AOL and CompuServe, and then mobile portals such as British Telecom's Genie Internet, created unified customer experiences by integrating information such as news, travel, weather, sports, and entertainment with the first generation of online shopping services.

As web technologies and digital user experience design practices developed, portals brought new channels, media, interfaces, processes and technologies into the economy. Following this phase, we learned to create new digital systems. A digital system is an integrated set of digital components, service interfaces and computational infrastructure that is highly scalable, available, and economically efficient. Some examples are customer relationship management (CRM) systems, learning management systems (LMS), and content management systems (CMS).

Our personal and professional lives will be changed dramatically with the introduction of virtual worlds called ‘metaverses’ - digital worlds which blur the distinction between our real-world and virtual lives with social media becoming more of a gaming experience.

In the following phase of digitalisation, these systems were integrated to create digital solutions capable of producing or augmenting critical business capabilities. An example is a multi-channel marketing solution that can send a range of messages such as emails, SMS messages and which defines rules, business logic, and market segmentation on communications workflows. So a digital solution contains multiple digital systems and critically impacts on one or more business capabilities.

Digital solutions usually have an internal perspective rather than user-centric platforms and are based on niche business capabilities. They are always created in a closed manner, meaning they cannot scale and extend to new markets and value propositions. Today, many modern startups are closed digital solutions rather than being built on an open platform logic. However, this does not stop these solutions from being positioned as platforms, resulting in conceptual confusion for leaders who are not fully digitally literate.

This architectural misunderstanding can present significant challenges for businesses that wish to transform digitally through acquisitions. Purchased businesses can often be challenging to integrate into holding companies because their digital systems are not interoperable. Digital solutions can be evolved into platforms through architectural re-engineering, a process that requires the various digital components to be made open for extension, evolution and reconfiguration.

Platform-based business models can be understood by categorising the way in which people interact with them in three core ways:

1) Core interactions

Relatively simple fundamental interactions which reinforce the core value proposition.

2) Volume functions

These allow a platform to increase the number of people who use it.

3) Exchanges of value

The access offered by a platform in return for users sharing personal information and content.

When these different forms of interactions are explicitly understood, organisations are then able to build platforms flexibly, meaning that they can be opened up with extensions to create new solutions created by external partners. It is this aspect that is transforming the very structure of our global economy, where the focus is no longer on single businesses but whole ecosystems. Today, for example, Instagram is not just a platform. There is an entire ecosystem of solutions that utilise the platform’s functionalities.

While at present digital technologies are behind the drive towards digital transformation, it is the flexibility and extensibility of platforms that is facilitating the next wave of innovation, allowing businesses to grow by rapidly customising the way in which they deliver value to customers and extending their offers into new markets and sectors.

Our personal and professional lives will be changed dramatically with the introduction of virtual worlds called ‘metaverses’ - digital worlds which blur the distinction between our real-world and virtual lives with social media becoming more of a gaming experience. While Facebook recently announced its new name Meta to reflect its new focus on developing its own metaverse, other innovative virtual worlds have already started to capture people’s imagination. Developments such as NFTs are now allowing digital-only fashion houses such as The Fabricant to work with brands such as Adidas, Puma and Tommy Hilfiger to produce highly desirable fashion that only has a digital existence.

The vision of metaverses being the experiential basis of the digital economy will be made possible through the breakthrough advances in quantum computing now being achieved. A team of scientists in China led by quantum physicist Pan Jianwei recently announced that their new Jiuzhang 2.0 quantum computer was 10 billion times faster than its previous version, meaning that it can solve a problem in one millisecond that the world’s fastest supercomputer currently takes about 30 trillion years to solve.

While practical and commercial solutions are still a few years away from being realised, leaders need to start understanding the implications for quantum computing now, in order to ensure that they are fully prepared for those specific areas in which this type of technology is suitable for. Extremely large data sets will be searchable almost instantaneously, and real-world complex problems that were previously intractable will soon become solvable, such as computation in physics, chemistry and cybersecurity and providing optimisation solutions such as Volkswagen Group are developing in transportation and JP Morgan are developing in financial services.

Society is now at a bifurcation point, and we do not yet fully know which new order will emerge from the current chaos and complexity. Many people are now sensing dangers from having a Meta/Facebook level of monopoly in the digital economy due to the controversies that have recently come to light. But at the same time, we should not allow these understandable concerns to stop our most creative designers and entrepreneurs to discover new ways of connecting, relating, transacting and being in the digital economy, elevating humanity and amplifying our impact in the digital economy of the future, whatever form it may take.


 Simon Robinson is the Global CEO of Holonomics and co-author of Deep Tech and the Amplified Organisation: How to elevate, scale and amplify your business through the New 4Ps of platforms, purpose, people and planet,

Ashok Vaswani, the CEO of Barclays UK talks to Katina Hristova about championing digital skills for all and his outlook for the future.


Barclays has a history of innovation and continues to be a leader when it comes to technological innovation in banking services – tell us more about it.

 Barclays has been at the centre of British finance for over 327 years, and in that time, the world has changed beyond recognition. However, the reason we have been able to consistently deliver game-changing innovations throughout all this disruption has been a relentless focus on our customers, their needs and aspirations, and being there for the moments that really matter.

We have 24 million customers in the UK; roughly one in two adults. For me, success isn’t about driving the business to get 25 million customers – it’s about becoming indispensable for the 24 million customers we already have, by continuously making their lives easier, offering greater convenience and delivering value for them.

If we can’t do that, we won’t be around for another 327 years, or even 10 years. In this era of disruption, businesses will become obsolete unless they serve a clear purpose. Our purpose is to help people go forward.


What have been Barclays’ biggest achievements in the past 12 months?

We have been at the forefront of reinventing banking through a focus on great technological innovation with a purpose. I think our biggest achievements have been transforming the business and its culture as well as creating Barclays UK; a business that is truly fit to meet customers' needs and expectations in the digital age.

As part of that, we have rolled out a number of technology solutions to make our customers’ lives much easier, such as instant cheque imaging and video banking. Barclays was also the first bank to introduce contactless cash; a completely new way for customers to withdraw their cash using their Android smartphone or their debit card’s contactless technology.

We have also launched automated valuations for home purchases, shaving days off the processing time. Mortgage Agreement in Principle has also been introduced into 338 branches, allowing customers to obtain a mortgage decision in less than 15 minutes.

New digital processes have also helped improve the on-boarding of Business customers, and the introduction of pre-approved credit limits for Business customers has reduced the time required for customers to request an unsecured loan of less than £25,000 from five days to a matter of minutes.

In addition, we have opened 12 Eagle Labs, sites where people can use new technologies such as 3D printers and laser-cutters and which help facilitate small business growth in local communities.

We have also demonstrated a strong commitment to using technology to enhance customer security; Barclays was the first bank to pioneer finger-vein technology in the UK, and we are working to tackle fraud through innovations like voice biometrics, which over 750,000 customers have now registered for.


How would you evaluate the impact that you’ve had on Barclays achieving all of this?

In creating Barclays UK, I have set out three mains goals for the business:


Barclays UK has already made significant progress in achieving these strategic aims, and we have done this by putting the customer at the heart of everything we do.

Our investment in technology sets us apart, putting us at the forefront of innovation in the banking sector, delivering products and services that improve people’s experience, enhance accessibility and offer quicker and more convenient choices for customers.

At the same time, we have been working to make sure that no one is left behind in the digital revolution.

Our Digital Eagles have so far helped to support over 100,000 customers to become more digitally confident through dedicated Tea and Teach Sessions in our local branches, as well as delivering Code Playground sessions to teach young people basic coding skills.

We’ve also introduced the Digital Driving License, a free app through which users can earn a City & Guilds digital skills qualification, boosting their digital skills and confidence.

In 2017, Barclays UK launched its latest campaign to promote digital safety, a major nationwide initiative to raise awareness of cybercrime and help people protect themselves from fraud and scams.  Since the campaign launched in May, it has already helped 2.5m people take action to become more digitally safe.

We have also pioneered Beacon Technology, improving the level of in-branch service offered to customers with disabilities, as well as SignVideo, which allows deaf people who use British Sign Language instant access to an interpreter via the in-branch colleague iPads. Talking ATMs, supersize card readers and high-visibility debit cards have also been launched for the visually impaired.

In addition to championing accessibility, we want to ensure we are doing the right thing by society as a whole. As part of our commitment to helping people move forward in their lives, we run a number of skills and employability programmes, for example, the Barclays apprenticeship scheme, through which over 3,000 apprentices have already been offered employment. I also support the Armed Forces Transition, Employment and Resettlement (AFTER) programme, which provides work placements, employment opportunities, CV and interview coaching, and money management sessions, as well as funding for education and vocational courses for service leavers.

We also have the LifeSkills Programme, which provides schools with a range of free, curriculum-linked lesson plans, workshops and resources designed to help 11-19 years olds to develop the skills employers most seek. To date, over 4.3m young people have been reached through the LifeSkills programme via either in-school lessons or directly online.

I believe we are beginning to rebuild the trust and reputation of the banking industry, but I know we still have some way to go. However, by remaining committed to the strategy of putting customers and clients first, serving our economy and earning trust, I want to build a solid foundation on which we can grow. Barclays is creating a bank that is truly good for customers and clients, good for businesses and good for Britain.


As CEO of Barclays UK, how do you ensure you are directing the company in the correct direction? How do you advise your team to make the correct decisions for the company alongside your customers?

The thing I ask myself every time I make a decision is: “are we doing the right thing for the customer?”. I learned a lot from my Mum growing up, and one of the principles that has always stuck with me is that there is no substitute for integrity. Integrity isn’t just about what you write down as your mission statement, it’s also about how people behave when no-one is looking.

When it comes to my team, another thing that my Mum taught me is the importance of humility, that is to be ready to admit I don’t have all the answers, which is why I need many brilliant minds working to deliver our game-changing innovations.

I sincerely believe everyone needs to keep learning throughout their career. We can no longer rely on what we learnt at school to last a lifetime. I encourage everyone at Barclays to keep learning, particularly digital skills, and to develop an entrepreneurial mind-set.


What was your main motivation behind being the CEO of Barclays UK and what is the most rewarding aspect of your role?

The most rewarding thing about the role is the opportunity to work for millions of people.

In terms of how I got here, as a kid in Mumbai, my Mum wanted me to be a Doctor. When I said I didn’t want to do that, she actually took me to see my local bank manager to ask what he thought a good job would be.

I’ve since come to realise that the role of a bank manager is really at the centre of a community, and I have him to thank for the fact I became a Chartered Accountant. After that, I moved to Dubai aged 27 with $10 in my pocket, and met my wife there. That was the start of a fascinating journey working around the world.


What are your plans for the company for the rest of 2017 and beyond?

There are some exciting times ahead, with next year’s PSD2 and data protection regulation set to transform the shape of the digital economy. Barclays has all of the right ingredients to remain a leader in financial services, but we must be prepared and remain agile in order to take full advantage of the coming changes.

In the longer term, customer expectations are no longer confined to one industry – we are being judged not against other banks, but against the best in class from across our customers’ favourite brands. Is Barclays a bank, an information business or a technology company? We’re all three. But we will never lose that central focus on the customer, and that’s how we will thrive in a truly connected world.

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