Game-changing companies Airbnb and Uber don’t own anything other than their online communities – and the data those communities generate. But Airbnb and Uber are worth billions. And they’ve blown traditional business models out of the water in the sectors in which they operate.

This was the key point made by digital expert Dion Hinchcliffe at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in London recently: “I hear people say ‘Oh, we’re not a technology company, so we’re not riding the technology wave’,” said Hinchcliffe. “But that’s no longer an excuse!”

“Whatever your sector, your business model is under threat from digital,” said David Terrar, the summit producer. “We’re seeing three massive trends happening at once: cloud, social and mobile. The unprecedented access to data, connectivity and the speed at which new products and services can be delivered mean goal posts are shifting fast.”

Consultant Anne McCrossan agreed: “Even just a few years ago, Ford would not have thought its biggest competitor would be Google,” she said, referring to the technology giant’s investment in electric cars. “But whole industries are changing. Pharmaceutical, for example, is no longer about the margins on a new product, it’s about how you aggregate your data across markets.”

“The startups are winning because they’re already thinking about how digital can transform the user experience,” she added. “They incorporate digital from the bottom up.”

The summit featured case studies from leading blue chip companies such as Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Shell, who have all tackled digital transformation in creative ways.

Dave Shepherd from Barclays UK Retail Bank talked about teaming up with non-profit organisations like Age UK and Young Rewired State so staff can deliver digital knowhow to the elderly and coding workshops to teenagers. This connection with the public has made a big difference: employees once resistant to new technology are now enthused about it.

So what’s the best way to incorporate digital?

“Don’t bang on about social this or enterprise that,” said keynote speaker Euan Semple. “Do something that’s actually going to make people’s jobs better. Social [and digital] gets adopted one person at a time – and for their reasons, not yours.”

Vision is essential: “If you can agree what the future looks like, you’re more likely to make it happen” said social technologist Benjamin Ellis.

But don’t only focus on big ideas:

“Do small things to begin to drive change. Most successful case studies are made of tiny incremental changes,” said management consultant Lee Bryant. “Digital transformation is helped by apps like Slack and Hipchat – nice little smaller tools that are filling some of the gaps.”

I’ve been working with Slack for a few months now. And that “little tool” was recently valued at $1billion – because investors see the massive potential in technologies that change the way we work.

The smart money is backing digital transformation – maybe business owners everywhere should take note.

Photo: Another Pint Please (via Flickr)

A version of this post was originally published on the Claremont Communications blog.