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Key takeaways from Summit Europe 2016

If each one of you can take back one idea that you want to execute I would say that these two days have been a tremendous success.

Amit Bajaj, Head of Europe, TCS, upon opening the 11th TCS Summit Europe. It’s possible, in retrospect, that Amit was underselling the prospects of this annual meeting of minds because when you put policy makers, regulators, CEOs, CIOs and boardroom directors in the same room – and throw in a couple of sporting legends for good measure – it’s likely you’ll take away more than one idea.

HERE, BY WAY OF PROOF, ARE SEVEN:

1. DON’T THINK B2B OR B2C. THINK P2P

According to Hanne Sorensen, CEO of logistics firm Damco, innovation starts with the customer. The customer may be external but could equally be internal – anyone, in fact, who makes use solutions and services. And because the customer can come from anywhere it no longer makes sense to think in terms of the old business-to-business (B2B) / business-to-consumer (B2C) dichotomy. Instead, said Sorensen, “think people- to-people.”

2. FOCUS OBSESSIVELY ON YOUR CORE AUDIENCE

Karl Sandlund, chief strategy officer at Scandinavian airline SAS, used his keynote slot to tell a turnaround story in an industry where profit margins are slim. It’s an industry where, for example, the cost of a transatlantic flight has remained largely flat since the 1950s, a period of 1,400 per cent inflation elsewhere in the economy. The turnaround was made possible because his airline focused obsessively on its core audience – the frequent flyer. This customer segment typically takes five or more trips a year, and SAS decided it was time to really understand its needs. The result for the customer: better experience at airports and on board, a more rewarding frequent flyer programme and digital innovations such as the electronic bag tag. The result for SAS: a return to financial health.

3. DESIGN AGAINST FRICTION

David Rowan, editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine, presented a series of growth strategies learned from close examination of the world’s most innovative start-ups. Among them, he urged the summit audience to deliver the smoothest customer experience possible. Taking messaging service WhatsApp as his inspiration – a company where CEO Jan Koum kept a note next to his desk that read: ‘No ads! No games! No gimmicks!’ – he advised organisations to “design against friction.”

4. REFRAME THE PROBLEM

This was another of Rowan’s growth strategies. Where others see problems smart organisations, Rowan noted, see solutions. As an example, he referenced Fujifilm, effectively the anti-Kodak given the way it was able to respond to digital disruption while its American rival failed to do so. A move into digital imaging, cosmetics and other tangential lines of business meant Fujifilm could militate against the decline of film developing and printing. In short, it re-framed the problem.

5. GOOD RISK MANAGEMENT IS GOOD BRAND MANAGEMENT

Among the business lessons four experienced boardroom executives shared was this one: risk management and brand management are one and the same. Why? Because where once an organisation’s culture, systems and processes operated “under the water”, now everything is visible. “There is no water line anymore,” noted one panellist. “Good risk management is good brand management because it means making sure that everything everyone does every day is the right thing.”

6. EMBRACE FAILURE (TO ENSURE SUCCESS)

For two hugely successful motor racing stars, it seemed like an odd place to start. But both Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard wanted to talk about failure. “In motor racing,” explained Hakkinen, “most of the time it’s about losing, not winning.” His former teammate Coulthard said it was the lessons learned from failure that made success more likely. “We spend very little time patting ourselves on the back when we win and lots of time analysing where the next failure will come from,” he said.

7. STRENGTHEN YOUR DIGITAL CORE

To end at the beginning. During his opening keynote, TCS CEO N. Chandrasekaran introduced the notion of an organisation’s digital core. Like a body’s torso, the organisational core needs to be strengthened to ensure its ongoing health and to give it a competitive edge. It is this digital core that ensures organisations are ready for a world disrupted by technology; ready to take on agile start-ups and traditional competitors alike.