On my way back from a motorcycle trip a few years ago, I became acutely aware of a large threat heading straight for our known business world. I pulled over for a bite to eat and to stretch my weary legs. The town I stopped in was next to a major highway passing through Washington state, and like so many other towns, it had seen better days.

The Ghost Town


I stood between mostly derelict buildings. Their glory days a thing of the past. And far off in the distance I could see the wheels of commerce, literally, driving by on the highway. The town’s walls still had painted murals advertising products that would look at home in a museum. I asked around and the locals told me that the highway used to pass through their town, creating jobs, opportunities and activity. Until the day it began bypassing the town. From there everything went downhill fast. I felt sorry for these people who had lost so much, but on the way out realized that this wasn’t a unique situation: many businesses are heading down a similar path.
Let me explain why. We are inundated with the systems and platforms of large companies harvesting mountains of data about our personal lives.
They measure:
  • what we do
  • where we shop
  • where we spend our time
  • who we relate to
  • and how our very personal lives are unfolding.

The technology behemoths (Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google) spend billions of dollars not only gathering this information, but also sorting through it to determine how our needs are changing. And how best to position products and services to us as individuals. Most of the above is fairly visible: we know that we are part of a large human experiment and that no platform or online service is really free. It is scary, but then we have no real choice, do we? The large companies are not only laying down Information Super Highways but are also deeply involved with determining what will flow on these highways. And determining where it will flow, and how everyone makes use of it, will ultimately connect. And this will significantly change business as we know it.

This brings me to my concern for where so much of our business world is heading. How will companies remain relevant when the very footing on which they built a successful business is changing? And not just changing a little bit, but changing significantly.

Preparing for Business Model Changes

How many businesses out there are at risk of the same phenomenon as those once-booming towns? Here are some of the changes that you need to prepare your business model for:

  • Access to the Information Highway content is becoming a primary business currency. Products & Services are evolving rapidly. But the underlying influence of the Information Highway, driven by large scale digital disruption, is becoming the very nervous system transporting the lifeblood of industries and business. Not just products, not just services, but information.
  • If you are part of the Information Highway, you will survive. But you will need to get used to fighting for that position.
  • If you are not part of the Information Highway, your ultimate survival is at risk. Producing the right product or service, where your customers need it, at a good quality and a fair price, will be useful. But it will not be enough to survive.
  • You will need to figure out what information travels on your industry’s Information Highway. Who owns this information, who controls the flow, where does it originate?
  • Your physical location will not matter much, if at all. As much as location matters in real estate, it will be of little importance when thinking about your business. The Information Highway is everywhere, so you will need to be in the information loop. It will matter less where your business is located physically and far more where the business positions itself virtually.

Data and business intelligence traveling on the Information Highway will continue to become more automated and have less humans involved over the next few years. As a result, your business models must evolve quickly and react rapidly to changes. Not only to changes within your own industries, but up and down the value chain to your customer’s customer, and their customer, and beyond. Conversely, to your supplier, and your supplier’s supplier, and beyond. You must identify these sources of change and be able to adapt your whole business model to it.

The days of building old-school strategic plans with 5 and 10-year horizons are numbered. The pace of change is just too fast. Think about your future customer. Think through their business and around their business and beyond their business. They may be disrupted out of the value chain. Be brave enough to step into the unknown with well equipped visionary leaders that are willing to grow and help those around them grow too. This is a great opportunity, especially for small companies who want to move quickly.

Even if the road ahead becomes unclear, keep your business wheels in the center lane of the Information Highway.