The digital revolution is producing as profound a change in society as the industrial revolution did in the nineteenth century. It is reshaping all aspects of society and producing whole new industries, not just new products and services.

When constant change is the only certainty, everything from technologies and technology standards to ethical norms and government and industry compliance requirements are up for grabs in an ecosystem-driven digital economy.

To survive and thrive in the digital economy, businesses must seek leadership roles to help shape the future and the rules under which it will develop. Those that take the lead will find themselves central within the new ecosystems their organisation is helping to produce. Those that don’t risk being left behind.

That is the reality addressed by global professional services company Accenture in its Technology Vision 2017 report, Technology for People: The Era of the Intelligent Enterprise, and dealing with the uncharted is the theme of the concluding section of the latest edition of this annual publication.

The report insists that while technology is driving the digital revolution, being a leader isn’t just about incorporating new technologies. It is about finding a place in the next evolutionary change in society. This can only be done by empowering people – both customers and employees – who are seeking to develop partnerships, create new industries and participate in the governance and ethics frameworks that the development of digital requires.

This process can be seen with existing digital pioneers. Tesla, a comparatively new arrival in the auto industry, is unique in that it builds only electric vehicles, but its digital strategies have taken it much further to embrace numerous existing industries as it tries to shape new ones. It’s energy storage research, for example, has led the firm to develop products for the home that challenge traditional utility and building approaches. Similarly, its Tesla Network will create an entirely new model for both car ownership and shared transit. It is also seeking to lead the discussion with regulators on autonomous transportation.

Nvidia is another example. It has morphed from a producer of computer graphics cards into a technology supplier for applications in supercomputing, the Internet of Things and automotive.

For Zahra Bahrololoumi, Managing Director, Accenture Technology UK and Ireland, “Organisations have to follow this example and transform themselves from market taker to market shapers. That brings new opportunities and new responsibilities. Digital leaders will not only blaze a new trail in products and services but they will also have to set the signposts, from ethical standards to industry best practices, for the future.”

The report highlights one example of this with Artificial Intelligence, where Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft are working together to create a standard of ethics for the AI industry. This not only helps ensure that others must abide by those standards to compete in the new market but “also help to negate the need for external regulation,” the report notes.

Navigating the uncharted digital future is not about avoiding government and regulation though, the study insists. Rather, leaders of emerging industries must partner with government agencies to ensure that any new regulations are fit for purpose.

“Put another way: emerging industries can redefine what governments, enterprises and individuals are responsible for in the digital era,” the report states. And the potential disruption to the social contract between government, business and individuals “is monumental”, it warns.

This means policy and engagement work is not an optional extra for any organisation’s digital development, rather it is a central part of creating the conditions that allow ongoing innovation.

The report includes useful 100- and 365-day primers to guide organisations as they prepare for the opportunities and responsibilities that come with digital leadership.

The 100-day plan begins with mapping your business’s role in the ecosystems in which it participates, creating a stakeholder map for each industry in which you operate and outlining the ecosystems within these industries. This should be followed by an internal discussion on the ways your products and services influence society, and the formation of a strategy for building a governance structure that ensures responsible and ethical influence. Your own data governance practices should also be reassessed. Meanwhile, highlight areas where improving or updating government regulation or industry/ecosystem rules will boost economic growth. Finally, create a team to work with local, regional and national regulators.

The 365-day guide builds on this base, using the ecosystem map to highlight the intersection of industries you operate in and which have the most opportunity for new ecosystems. Alongside this, Accenture urges organisations understand the profound changes they are helping enable and to publish governance models for public inspection, plus work with academic partners to pilot systems that use embedded-governance technologies. It also calls on digital leaders to find a single initial area of innovation to engage with government regulators.

The technologies and the themes outlined in Accenture’s Technology Vision report offer powerful insights and practical guides for everyone and every organisation that wants to lead in the digital revolution.

For more on The Uncharted and Accenture’s broader tech vision, download the full report below: