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From genAI to 4IR:
A new digital transformation glossary

Illustration of a butterfly made of folded paper

Digital transformation goes beyond technological adoption, signalling a profound shift in how businesses leverage technology, people, and processes to revolutionize their performance. It's about embracing a culture of continuous innovation and rethinking traditional business models to thrive in an ever-evolving marketplace.

However we define it, it’s clear companies will continue to prioritize “digital.” Our 2024 Leadership Priorities in Tech survey found that 75% of business leaders believe digital transformation investment is needed in the coming year. But while executives understand the value of digital transformation, achieving it has been difficult. They’re also anxious about managing evolving artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, and data compliance challenges.

This guide serves as a concise digital transformation glossary, offering insights into the key concepts and strategies that are driving organizational change across industries.

Digital transformation

Agreeing on a digital transformation definition itself is no easy task.

Historically, digital transformation meant the first wave of digital technologies, tools, and thinking implemented inside an organization. However, the digital transformation journey today isn’t about replacing analog systems and technology. It's evolved into a holistic approach and focuses on optimizing processes, upgrading technologies, and putting digital solutions at the center of daily operations.

Furthermore, in the past, digital transformation was often seen as a one-time event, a single project with a clear beginning and end. However, this perception has shifted as business leaders recognize that digital transformation is an ongoing journey and a continuous improvement process. Digital transformation is no longer confined to a single department or a specific project; it's become a far-reaching force that impacts every aspect of an organization. While technology plays a crucial role, a successful digital transformation strategy is equally about people and culture. It's a mindset that embraces change and innovation as a constant, rather than a one-time destination.

Digital transformation has also expanded beyond the boundaries of individual organizations. It now includes ecosystem-wide collaboration and partnerships. Organizations are increasingly using digital platforms and ecosystems to connect with customers, suppliers, and partners, creating new value chains and business models.

Business process as a service (BPaaS)

Business process as a service (BPaaS) is a form of business process outsourcing that operates on a cloud services model, similar to software as a service and platform as a service models. BPaaS is a fully customizable solution, offering organizations an on-demand, pay-per-use service that reduces ownership costs.

Unlike traditional package deals tied to a single application, BPaaS allows businesses to access on-demand solutions tailored to their needs. This approach helps companies align with industry best practices and the latest technology while maintaining operational flexibility and agility.

Outsourcing specific business processes to specialized service providers allows organizations to focus on their core competencies and strategic initiatives. For example, a manufacturing company can leverage BPaaS to outsource its supply chain management processes, allowing them to tap into the expertise and resources of a dedicated service provider. This not only reduces the burden of managing complex processes in-house but also ensures that the processes are executed with optimal efficiency.

Composable business

A composable business is an organization that's designed to be flexible and adaptable, allowing it to respond quickly to market shifts and changing business needs. Unlike traditional organizational structures, a composable business embraces modularity and agility.

Composable business components—such as processes, technologies, and teams—are designed to be independent and interchangeable. They can be easily assembled, rearranged, or discarded as necessary to meet specific objectives or respond to market demands.

For example, consider a retail company that's embraced a composable approach. It optimizes its modular processes, such as inventory management, order fulfillment, and customer service, to quickly adapt to evolving market demands. During peak shopping seasons, the company scales up its order fulfillment process by utilizing additional resources or partnering with third-party logistics providers.

However, during slower periods, the retailer streamlines operations to reduce costs and improve efficiency. The company also embraces flexible technology infrastructure, using cloud-based solutions, microservices architecture, and APIs, allowing it to seamlessly integrate new tools and systems. For instance, if a retailer wants to introduce a mobile payment option for customers, it can easily integrate the necessary APIs into its existing infrastructure without disrupting operations.

Customer intelligence

Customer intelligence brings together huge amounts of data to help organizations understand and improve customer interactions and relationships. Customer intelligence analysis empowers brands to build loyalty. It also increases revenue through proactive customer engagement, while optimizing offers based on touchpoints.

Customer intelligence comes in two main forms: quantitative data from customer analytics and qualitative data from customer feedback. Quantitative data explores customer behavior through metrics such as churn rate, retention rate, and customer lifetime value. Qualitative data offers a deeper understanding of customer perceptions, sentiments, and experiences. This data is collected through surveys, focus groups, social media monitoring, and online reviews.

For instance, a telecommunications company can use quantitative data from customer analytics to identify and address issues that may lead to customer churn, such as poor network coverage or unsatisfactory customer service. Qualitative data from customer feedback and social media can provide insights into negative customer experiences that can help the company refine its market strategies or find new ways to engage customers.

Democratization of technology

The democratization of technology is the process of making advanced technology more accessible and available to everyone. This process not only empowers users but also fosters innovation, collaboration, and economic growth.

Generative AI has tremendous potential for democratizing technology by making powerful resources available to all kinds of users. Individuals and businesses without extensive technical expertise can harness the power of AI to create compelling content, enhance their brand presence, and engage with their target audience in new and exciting ways.

Similarly, no-code and low-code platforms provide intuitive interfaces and pre-built components that enable individuals without traditional development experience to create software applications. This empowers business users to take control of their technology needs, allowing them to develop custom solutions, automate processes, and streamline operations without relying on specialized development teams.

Open-source projects provide freely available source code that can be modified, distributed, and used by anyone. This collaborative approach encourages innovation, knowledge sharing, and community-driven development. Businesses can also access a wide range of tools, frameworks, and applications without the need for expensive licensing fees.

Digital-native business

A digital-native business refers to an organization that places digital technology at the core of operations, strategy, and culture. These companies are inherently comfortable with digital transformation trends. They’re agile in the face of rapid technological advancement. They aggressively embrace new technologies and platforms, and they have little to no legacy technology or cultural practices to overcome.

One company native to the digital business landscape, Netflix, embraced the shift from physical media to digital content delivery. The company developed a robust streaming infrastructure that allowed users to access a vast library of movies and TV shows instantly, anytime, and anywhere. Netflix eliminated the need for physical DVD rentals and revolutionized the way people consume entertainment.

The streaming platform’s digital-native approach enabled them to be agile in the face of rapid technological advancements. They aggressively embraced new technologies and platforms, such as cloud computing and big data analytics, to enhance their recommendation algorithms, personalize user experiences, and optimize content delivery.

Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), also called Industry 4.0, represents the ongoing transformation of manufacturing through advanced technologies, such as AI, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and automation. 4IR combines tech, data, and human capabilities to reimagine manufacturing, analytics, predictive maintenance, and customer responsiveness.

Manufacturing sites have long been early technology adopters. 4IR transforms this from a piecemeal effort into an interconnected approach that connects devices and data across the enterprise, unlocks advanced analytical and predictive capabilities, introduces virtual and augmented reality use cases, and capitalizes on advanced engineering techniques, such as additive manufacturing.

Industrial robots equipped with AI capabilities can perform precise and repetitive actions with high accuracy and speed. These robots can work alongside human workers, increasing productivity, ensuring safety, and freeing up human resources to focus on more complex and value-added tasks. Collaborative robots, or cobots, are designed to work in close proximity to humans, enabling seamless collaboration and enhancing overall operational efficiency.

IoT devices embedded with sensors can collect real-time data from various points in the manufacturing process. Devices can be monitored and controlled remotely and data can be analyzed to gain insights into machine performance, energy consumption, and product quality.

Fusion teams

Fusion teams connect employees from different areas, such as marketing, design, engineering, and operations. The goal is to generate more creative and more effective solutions to complex problems. By combining individuals with different backgrounds and expertise, fusion teams offer a wider range of perspectives and insights to power innovation.

Fusion teams aren’t organized by business function or brand. Instead, they're multidisciplinary, bringing together experts to deliver specific digital products and customer outcomes. The diverse perspectives and expertise within the team enable them to tackle complex problems from multiple angles, leading to more innovative and effective solutions. For instance, a marketer's understanding of customer needs and preferences can inform the design and development process, while an engineer's technical expertise ensures the feasibility and scalability of the solution.

Fusion teams aren't organized solely based on business functions or brands. Instead, they're formed with a specific goal or business outcome in mind, such as developing a new digital product or improving customer experiences. This goal-oriented approach allows organizations to assemble the right mix of talent and expertise required to achieve the desired outcome, regardless of traditional organizational boundaries.

Generative AI

GenAI refers to the use of advanced computer algorithms to create new content or ideas based on existing data or patterns. This technology utilizes machine learning and deep learning techniques to generate original and creative outputs, such as images, music, text, or even entire websites.

Unlike traditional AI that is programmed to perform specific tasks, genAI has the ability to learn and adapt, constantly improving its outputs over time. It has the potential to revolutionize various industries, such as art, design, advertising, and even scientific research, by automating parts of the creative process and generating novel solutions and ideas. However, with this power comes ethical concerns, as genAI may also perpetuate biases and perpetrate fake content if not monitored properly.

Hybrid cloud and multi-cloud

Hybrid cloud systems give organizations the flexibility to maintain some applications and data in-house or in a private cloud while using public cloud services for other workloads. For example, businesses can keep sensitive or critical data within their infrastructure while taking advantage of the public cloud’s scalability and cost-effectiveness for less sensitive workloads.

A multi-cloud strategy involves using services from multiple public cloud providers. This approach helps organizations avoid vendor lock-in, optimize costs, and leverage each vendor’s unique features and capabilities. By distributing workloads across multiple clouds, businesses can improve resilience, downtime, and performance.


Hyperautomation is a strategic approach that combines automation technologies. It uses robotic process automation (RPA), AI, and machine learning, to optimize and scale automation efforts. Hyperautomation helps to develop processes to automate and improve existing automation.

Hyperautomation helps businesses identify and automate repetitive, rule-based tasks that were previously performed by humans. RPA plays a crucial role in this process by mimicking human actions and interactions with digital systems, and incorporating AI and machine learning takes it a step further.

These technologies enable systems to learn, adapt, and make intelligent decisions based on data analysis and pattern recognition. AI and machine learning also support more complex tasks that require cognitive abilities, such as natural language processing, image recognition, and predictive analytics.


Hyper-personalization goes beyond basic customer traits, using real-time behavioral data to create ‌dynamic and tailored user experiences.

“The next frontier of personalization will also be about flexibility,” says Matthew Hildon, Retail & Travel Portfolio Director, Kin + Carta, in our recent commerce-focused edition of Thread Magazine. “Customers want control over how brands engage with them.”

Businesses can use insights to send relevant messages to customers through their preferred channels at the right time and place. These messages might highlight products, promotions, or content.

For example, a travel app could use a customer’s preferences and needs (such as travel dates, budget, and facilities) to deliver targeted promotions for vacation packages. If the user has specific travel periods, the app notifies them about deals for those periods. Hyper-personalization could also include highlighting their preferred airlines or offering exclusive rewards or discounts.

Incremental innovation

Incremental innovation is the process of consistently making small, gradual improvements to existing products, services, or processes. This approach can reduce business-critical risks and avoid the disruption and challenges associated with large-scale transformations. Incremental innovation is a key aspect of the modern definition of digital transformation.

The process allows for a more controlled and measured implementation, minimizing the potential for costly failures or disruptions to business operations. Employees and customers are more likely to embrace incremental changes that build upon existing foundations, rather than radical transformations that may disrupt established workflows or user experiences.

Another benefit of incremental innovation is its ability to leverage existing resources and capabilities. By building upon existing products, services, or processes, organizations can maximize the value of their current investments. This approach allows for a more efficient use of resources and reduces the need for significant upfront investments or overhauls.

Intelligent experiences

Intelligent experiences are meaningful moments in the customer journey. They are created by combining data-driven insights, personalized omnichannel experiences, and well-crafted design. These relevant and frictionless customer experiences drive loyalty, create customer champions, and increase profitability.

Intelligent experiences build strong emotional connections and long-term relationships with customers. Satisfied customers become brand champions, driving new customer growth through positive word-of-mouth. These meaningful moments improve profitability by providing opportunities for cross-selling, upselling, and targeted marketing campaigns, as well as by increasing engagement and conversion rates.

How do you lead through tech anxiety?

Download our 2024 Leadership Priorities in Tech report and learn how 800 senior leaders are navigating an ever-evolving digital landscape.

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