The Modern Enterprise

Peter Wagner
March 23, 2020

Business is changing and the stakes have never been higher. Digital-native attackers are disrupting the old economy. Enterprises are racing to transform themselves before it is too late. The pressure of the global pandemic is amplifying these forcing functions. Entrepreneurs can harness this urgency to build transformative enterprise technology companies, or forward-integrate to compete directly in massive markets.

The next era of business belongs to the Modern Enterprise, an agile workplace built on data and powered by AI.

1. BUILT ON DATA

Data has become an essential business asset. Effective leverage of existing data is now table stakes. More compelling is the ability to generate proprietary data that defends and extends competitive advantage -- a “virtuous data cycle”. The direct connection between data and enterprise value is obvious in the consumer sector (e.g. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix). The same phenomenon will sweep the enterprise.

How does data translate to business value in the enterprise? The historical answer has been in superior decision-making (e.g. business intelligence), but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Data contains signals that can be used to continuously improve every business process, from customer interactions to back office operations. It is the very foundation upon which the Modern Enterprise is built.

The cloud has enabled this data foundation, delivering unprecedented scale, efficiency and agility. Edge computing is the next step function, offering new opportunities for data acquisition and real-time inference. The rise of the cloud has already over-stretched enterprise security doctrine, and modern systems need to be built with security as a first principle from cloud to edge. Protection and safe usage of valuable data assets will be top priorities.

With data assuming such a foundational role, data layer decisions are among the most strategic. Modern Enterprises are architecting around cloud data platforms like Snowflake, DataBricks, Google BigQuery and Confluent, as well as specialized data platforms such as Segment. Data platform choices unlock – or impede -- a host of other opportunities, including the AI-powered applications at the top of the enterprise stack.

2. POWERED BY AI

Business applications exist to accelerate and improve business processes. The next generation will be powered by AI. Legacy applications were workflow-driven and sought to automate a defined business process. AI-powered applications go beyond automation, helping steer the process in intelligent fashion.

AI will become that critical, ubiquitous ingredient in “smart” business applications. These AI-powered applications can be used differently and allow Modern Enterprises to compete in creative ways. Exciting data-driven application companies can already be seen in horizontal enterprise functions like sales (Gong, Clari, SetSail), marketing (Bloomreach, Persado, Drift), engineering (Jellyfish), recruiting (HireVue, Findem), employee service (Espressive, Moveworks) and even legal (Everlaw). Other enterprise functions such as customer success, finance, HR and product management will be fertile ground for new AI-powered systems as well.

Vertically focused AI-powered applications are also important as the data tornado touches down in specific industries, and life science promises as profound a transformation as any. Advances in data collection, such as low-cost sequencing, have radically scaled data availability. Mathematical and computational approaches open the door for new research tools, medical equipment, diagnostics and perhaps even therapeutics fundamentally enabled by data and AI. Major industries like Pharma and Biotech are in dire need of computer and data science chops and companies like Seer (proteomics data platform) and Asimov (AI-powered synthetic biology) aim to help.

In another trillion-dollar example, the energy industry is experiencing its own data revolution. With climate change adding additional urgency to this already dynamic sector, data leverage will be in high demand. Validere is an example of a company delivering both a specialized data platform as well as an AI-powered vertical application, monitoring and optimizing product quality in Oil and Gas.

The impact of AI on user experience is surprisingly underappreciated. Great consumer-grade design is part of the equation, yielding a measure of delight that drives adoption and usage – a familiar story. What’s new is how this usage generates proprietary data through the operation of the application itself. Smart business applications will combine this “synthetic data” with domain-specific machine intelligence to raise the bar even further. Radically streamlined, context-driven experiences are now possible, free of the drag and distraction of workflow pathways irrelevant to the user’s in-the-moment goals. AI-powered applications can offer a whole new level of dynamic, optimized and, yes, delightful experiences geared to the specific needs of customers, employees and business partners. Obsession with experience will be pervasive in the Modern Enterprise and will help transform the nature of work itself.

3. AGILE WORKPLACE

As AI reshapes the applications people use, it also transforms the way people do their jobs. The agile workplace offers smarter models of work that are more effective, flexible and even more fulfilling. The Modern Enterprise will embrace this concept and open itself to potential quantum shifts in productivity and creativity.

While there will be jobs where people are replaced, the augmentation of human capability with AI will be the more important model. Enterprises need to learn how to empower their people with AI-derived superpowers. Those that do will have an advantage over their competition not only in their core market, but in the war for talent as well. Vimaan is a very specific example, combining indoor drones, computervision and digital twins to enhance the productivity and safety of warehouse workers.

Adoption of the developer mindset is another profound shift in the way Modern Enterprises work. As software permeates the enterprise (and AI permeates software), more and more employees will be involved in creating it. They already have keen appreciation of the problems they need to solve, but have lacked the mandate, skills and tools to tackle them with code. Simple automation technologies such as UiPath and low-code / no-code development platforms like Retool are helping change that, enabling more team members to solve business problems directly.

The agile workplace has profound implications at enterprise scale. Internal silos are broken down with the help of horizontal data analysis and sharing platforms like Snowflake and collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom and Airtable. External resources and data are integrated more easily via hyper-connection services like Twilio, Auth0, Stripe and Checkr. Everything, and maybe everyone, is accessible via API’s. The result is a Modern Enterprise organizational structure that is both decomposed, and composable.

The Modern Economy emerges through the interaction of Modern Enterprises. Now huge swathes of GDP – not just the enterprise technology budget – are in play. Data assets, the ability to generate them, and the ability to leverage them will determine the winners and losers in this new world. Guardant and Livongo have successfully utilized data to build forward-integrated business models in life science, competing directly in diagnostics and chronic condition management. Data-driven tech-enabled service providers are also winning at scale in sectors like media, entertainment, financial services, retail, transportation and travel.

Founders drawn to the opportunities of the Modern Economy have some decisions to make. You can choose the picks-and-shovels approach, building technology products that enable the Modern Enterprise. Which customers will you help modernize, and what data, processes and people will you touch? Or you can forward integrate into the customer’s business, using data, AI and the agile workplace to directly compete against the incumbents. In doing so, you might claim a larger share of industry profits – while taking on greater operational risk, with a larger capital requirement.

The Modern Enterprise is an agile workplace built on data and powered by AI. As these technologies touch more people and processes, their impact grows exponentially and transcends traditional organizational boundaries. Wing’s reason for existence is to work alongside ambitious founders to enable the Modern Enterprise. Together, we have the opportunity to build a new generation of transformative enterprise technology companies with the potential to reshape the economy while changing the way we work and live.

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