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Digital Business Models Take Shape Across—and Among—Industries

May 25, 2015

What do McCormick & Co., CVS Caremark and Schindler Group have in common? If you guessed revamping the business with digital technologies, you’re on your way to understanding the unruly digital economy we’re in today and what we can expect in the future.

The big news isn’t that traditional companies such as these are adopting digital technologies: That’s table stakes in today’s marketplace.

What is new—and totally disruptive—is how they, and dozens of other established firms, are upending long-held business models as a result of those technologies.

McCormick, an old-line spice manufacturer, has become the hub of a digital platform ecosystem for consumers. CVS, best-known as a pharmacy retailer, is also an urgent care provider and an emerging innovation lab. Schindler Group, a Swiss elevator company founded in 1874, is also an innovator in smart devices and the Internet of Things.


CVS, McCormick Seek Platform Solutions

Throughout the May 20 MIT CIO Symposium these trends were described and explained. CVS Caremark, for instance, is exploiting complementary businesses and partnerships to enter markets like healthcare. On a panel about Inventing Continuity of Care, James Murray, VP of IT at CVS Caremark MinuteClinic–a network of 800 walk-in medical clinics–said the quality of care and the success of this venture will depend on the integration of e-records among thousands of doctors and providers around the country. And in a discussion about Leading Digital, Brian Tilzer, SVP and Chief Digital Officer for CVS Health, said that the company is looking to hire 100 people for an innovation lab located in Boston that he hopes will meet demands for new digital products and services.

At the session on Platform Shift, former McCormick CIO Jerry Wolfe, explained how he refocused the company’s tech efforts on a consumer-facing, interconnected initiative called FlavorPrint. Wolfe is now CEO of Vivanda, a spin-off company that has expanded on FlavorPrint’s consumer analytics/recommendation engine and personalized food experiences.


Mandate to Find New Markets

Meanwhile, Michael Nilles, CIO of Schindler (left), was named CIO Leadership Award winner at the conference. In his role as CEO of Schindler Digital Business AG he led a digital transformation fully backed by his board and the CEO. Nilles told me he was given the mandate, as well as the necessary funds, to leapfrog competitors and find new market opportunities.

As I see it, these cases illustrate that businesses are heeding the warnings of experts like MIT IDE Research Associate Marshall Van Alstyne, who moderated the Platform Shift panel. Van Alstyne’s research and forthcoming book, Platform Strategy, explains how, in a relatively short time, dotcom companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Apple and Uber have attracted millions of clients worldwide and displaced giant corporate brands and industries.

At least some of these giant firms are fighting back.