There is widespread recognition that the role of digital technology has shifted from being a driver of marginal efficiency to being an enabler of fundamental innovation and disruption.

Take the healthcare industry, for example, which historically has been one of the few sectors that is not particularly consumer-centric. When sick, one often has to settle for appointments that are neither imminent nor convenient and deal with long waiting times at the doctor’s office while surrounded by other ill patients. The introduction of digital healthcare services, which place the patient firmly at the heart of their activities, will be the biggest single factor in transforming healthcare over the next decade. In fact, few industries have the potential to be changed so profoundly by digital technology.

The two big shifts in this space include point of care (for instance, moving care closer to home) and disruptions to the level of care (such as the move from high-cost, specialized labour to self-care). The home will become an important location of care and virtual care will broaden access to healthcare in rural areas, especially in emerging economies. This will result in healthcare systems that will focus less on building beds and more on developing services to provide improved access to care at a lower cost.

With around $7.5 trillion spent globally each year on health, the rewards are likely to be substantial for the healthcare industry as it successfully creates transformational digital services on a wider scale.

True innovation often stems from smaller, nimbler, non-traditional players who use advances in computational technologies and wide proliferation of data to fill key technology gaps in healthcare. Health start-ups like Castlight, Healthsparq and Stridehealth, for example, have been able to develop cloud and analytics-based solutions to drive greater price realization, enable greater patient health insights and help patients take better control of their healthcare. HealthTap, the Uber or Airbnb of the healthcare industry, uses an interactive app to deliver real-time remote care by providing virtual care solutions on a patient’s smartphone. Via its virtual platform, HealthTap connects over 64,000 doctors with patients globally to offer on-demand patient treatment services through its app, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Healthcare is only one example of a sector that is witnessing fundamental transformation. With the introduction of autonomous vehicles and the connected traveler steering the future of the industry, digitalization will drive more innovation in automotive in the next 20 years than there has been in the last 100. This is a phenomenon not only taking place in the West. In emerging markets, access to affordable transportation is one of the most important factors in lifting citizens out of poverty. Integrated multi-modal transportation networks will provide lower travel costs while greatly expanding transportation options. This has the potential to make inclusive access to affordable transportation a reality, while also positively impacting the environment.

Most other sectors are equally impacted by digitalization, and this will happen on multiple levels. It creates new consumption patterns through trends like the sharing economy and hyper-personalization. New production and delivery capabilities will allow organizations to harness digital technologies to find more efficient ways to deliver products and services, while 3D printing and crowdsourcing offer new ways to think of manufacturing and logistics processes.

The ability to capture and interpret data more efficiently and accurately than ever before, for applications such as predictive modelling and asset optimization, will drive businesses increasingly towards data-centric business models. Digitalization will also require new skills and capabilities in the workforce. As such, organizations will need to understand how to identify, capture and retain these skills.

The World Economic Forum launched its Digital Transformation of Industries to address the opportunities and risks of digitalization in a cross-industry and multistakeholder setting. It constitutes an ongoing initiative that serves as the focal point for new opportunities and themes arising from latest developments and trends from the digitization of business and society. The digital transformation is one of the most fundamental drivers of transformation ever and at the same time a unique opportunity to shape our future.

The Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015 is taking place in Dalian, China, from 9-11 September.

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Author: Bruce Weinelt, Head of Digital Transformation, World Economic Forum

Image: A staff member demonstrates the use of a hospital bed, which uses embedded sensors to monitor vital statistics such as breathing, at the FusionWorld exhibit at the Fusionopolis building in Singapore October 31, 2008. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash