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Lessons from digital natives born in the cloud

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / Blackboard)

Take a look at almost any industry, whether that’s fintech, gaming, retail or even automotive, and you’ll see it’s been disrupted by startups or scaleups born in the cloud. ‘Digital native’ organizations exist primarily or entirely online, and have created new business standards despite their relative infancy.

These businesses have redefined their sectors using the power of digital. They use data-driven decision making, and are among the first to implement new technologies and streamline operations via a constant process of iteration. It’s businesses like Just Eat, Trustpilot and GoCardless that have continued to thrive, even in the wake of Covid-19. But what can other traditional businesses learn from digital natives?

Make smarter decisions using intelligent data tools

IDC predicts that there will be a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23% in global data over the next five years. Yet an abundance of data doesn’t necessarily equate to value.

Digital natives excel by leveraging business intelligence (BI) tools to gather meaningful insights from their data. A traditional data dashboard provides a portrait of the business at a fixed moment in time; perhaps a specific customer preference for a given week. This fails to capture real-time insights, whereas digital natives can instantly respond to emerging market conditions – which has been critical during the pandemic.

About the author

Thomas Remy is Director, Digital Natives UK/I at Google Cloud

Open and accessible platforms providing live updates, which can scale up as businesses evolve, are key. BI tools can use real-time data and a semantic model, going further than traditional charts and graphs. The results are data-driven workflows, integrated insights, and custom applications.

Digital natives also empower their employees to engage with data. Whether that’s acting on real-time alerts on unexpected spikes in web traffic, using a chatbot to answer questions on datasets, or building a custom spreadsheet view, it should be easy for anyone from customer services to the financial analyst team to benefit from data in an organization.

The rich data experiences of next-generation business workflows will also come from combining BI tools with AI and machine learning (ML). Digital natives successfully combine these technologies to glean insights that reveal their business’ successes and pain points and outline a roadmap for future growth. With tools like BigQuery ML, businesses can build bespoke ML models without moving any data from the warehouse, including real-time AI solutions like anomaly detection. Through these tools, digital natives can remain agile and competitive, maintaining a holistic view of operations at any given moment.

Cultivate a data-driven culture

The benefits of digital origins run deeper than just an aptitude for technology improving the bottom line. Digital natives work in small agile teams with data engineers and the business working side by side. A truly data-driven culture also runs through these companies. Cloud-born businesses trust and engage with data’s function, incorporating it into every workflow to drive decisions no matter the department or role within the business.

The cloud represents a new way for employees to interact with information, as time-intensive administrative tasks are minimized, creating more time to focus on innovative projects. A data-driven culture also empowers employees, who want to see their impact on a company’s progress. Accessible internal dashboards can help employees foster a sense of contribution to the company’s overall success.

Infrastructure and scalability go hand-in-hand

To support the start up to scale up mission, companies must harness the power of secure and efficient data analysis. This means building a data ecosystem on top of business intelligence tools, and serverless data warehouses that enable scalable analysis.

One industry embracing digital native business models is finance. Flexibility and efficiency make up the foundations of digitally native financial services companies, and these attributes set a strong foundation for scalability too. For instance, UK fintech GoCardless migrated its infrastructure to the cloud to gain greater agility to rapidly deploy applications and new features – and ultimately, reduce infrastructure spend. Cutting costs by around 25% meant that it could look to the next step for the business, innovating on security and operations, which was critical for a high growth organization.

Looking to the automotive industry, similar scaling success has been seen by French-born carpooling platform turned global community, BlaBlaCar. The digital native company is on a mission to turn empty seats on the road into a new travel network. To make this possible, it migrated its infrastructure from on-premises to the cloud, giving it the scalability needed to support 90 million drivers and passengers in 22 countries. The company is also branching out to different modes of transportation, leveraging cloud technology to test markets and products at scale with minimal investment.

The ‘digitalize or die’ adage has never been more accurate. No longer is digital transformation just about competitive pressure, it is now the difference between success and failure in our new reality as we emerge from the pandemic. Digital natives provide a strong blueprint for this necessarily digital growth – and traditional companies stand to learn a lot from their progress in the coming years.

Thomas Remy is Director, Digital Natives UK/I at Google Cloud