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​ The earth is flat: Digital tipping points from Melbourne to Mumbai to Moscow

Real disruption is alive and thriving … in the vaults of the Kremlin.

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Digital business holds the world up on its shoulders, like ancient Atlas. Digital giants create global platforms that are making our world ever flatter and more homogenous with each expansion of their reach and hold.

From Melbourne to Moscow, Madrid to Mumbai, Manila to Marrakech, we citizens of a common digital world use the same gadgets and games and share the same stories and news in moments.

One of the privileges of being a Gartner analyst is constant travel and unique access to business insights from our clients around the world. This year I’ve already been to nearly 20 countries. The more frequently I travel, the more I see the signs of sameness, the result of our love, trust and adoption of digital technologies.

In digital business, disruption spikes when triple tipping points synchronise: culture, technology and regulation. Think of the music industry disruption since 2000.

First technology changed – the iPod, digitised music libraries and faster, better home internet access. Then culture – the adoption of the idea of listening to digitised music on our personal devices, and the world was switched on to downloading music from digital pirate bays.

Finally, regulation caught up to protect musicians’ intellectual property. The likes of iTunes and Spotify emerged to legitimise and monetise the digital content industry. Three tipping points which started with music and extended to any content, paving the way to streaming movies and TV today.

Apply the same lens to the sharing economy of Airbnb, the rides of Uber, digital wallets and you get the picture. The more I physically travel these days the more I notice synthesis across global culture, technology and regulation. From Melbourne to Manila to Moscow I’ve constantly relied on my contactless wallet for payments on my smartphone.

I could choose to uber everywhere and uber is now a verb across languages, not just a brand (except in London where its license was revoked the week I arrived). I switched social sites effortlessly to suit the country and friends and purpose, from Facebook to WeChat to WhatsApp (except in Russia where LinkedIn is blocked). Brands blur. The ubiquitous uptake of smartphones means citizens everywhere assuming ‘the posture’ – eyes down, shoulders hunched, fingers zinging. Except when taking selfies and photos of everything, everywhere.

How many shots are there of the iconic tourist spots? Where are they all stored? What would an alien learn from our global digital big data? Human behaviour fascinates as it evolves because of digital. From the days when I started my career, before we technologists invented all this – the world wide web and email and mobile phones and ‘digitised everything’ – to the closing days of 2017, those triple tipping points of disruption whirl like fidget spinners and constantly spark ingenuity and invention to disrupt our lives.

What’s left to amaze us?

I still seek out difference and celebrate uniqueness as I travel. Since I very first travelled to Kabul and London and Singapore as a teenager, I have looked for it. And this year I’ve found it, but not where I expected or even suspected. I have found it in the vaults of the Kremlin.

Deep in the Russian bureaucracy I discovered real disruption is alive and thriving. There are signs of the powerful potential of digital business to create radical social and commercial change. Change that I’ve been imagining for years. But eureka, I've seen it. In Russia’s tax department. The three tipping points aligned. Technology: cloud storage, big data lakes, connectivity, digital payments, digital commerce and identity management as infrastructure.

Culture: people using digital payment for almost everything and trusting their suppliers, both traditional and digital (Google, Apple and Alibaba are all signed up) with their transaction data.

Regulation: government creating open data policies, sharing data and datasets across business and government. What emerges is a real digital business platform, which I was able to experience in person last month. The platform captures value-added tax (VAT) inputs and outflows from many millions of citizens, algorithms calculate price fluctuations of the GDP and the 'basket of goods'. On screens around the room we could see current volume use of different power sources (and pricing).

We switched effortlessly from a whole country view of VAT flows to a drill down into a single transaction. We digitally peered into a cafe across the street where someone had just bought a beetroot juice. Open data sets are shared with ecosystem partners. The next, even more powerful step is visualising economic indicators and scenarios projected by experimenting with variables to test hypotheses.

Platform innovation in government – isn’t that a bit ‘big brother’? No bigger than any of the global digital giants we all give up data about our lives to now, with full disclosure and trust. Think of Facebook with two billion citizens or WeChat approaching a billion. One country’s transactions are tiny in comparison. We stand on the shoulders of digital business giants and digital governments. We look both deeper into ourselves and further out to foreign lands and beyond into space. The future is here, and it's becoming ever more evenly distributed.

Jenny Beresford is a research director with Gartner's CIO Advisory team. Previously, she has served as a CIO in global enterprises, held VP and GM roles in consulting and technology firms, worked as a hands-on enterprise agile coach, an innovation lead and a digital transformation director. She will speak about ‘CIO Futures in 2030’ at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on the Gold Coast, 30 October – 2 November 2017.