Worried about digital disruption? Even Apple has to keep up with the pace of change

Lucy Handley, special to CNBC
Apple published the book "Designed by Apple in California" in November 2016

Google, Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Microsoft, Samsung, Verizon and Facebook are the technology-based companies that make up eight of the top 10 most valuable brands in the world, according to a report by consultancy Brand Finance published this week.

Yet 10 years ago, the list looked very different, with Coca-Cola, Citi, Hewlett-Packard, HSBC and Marlboro featuring, none of which ranks in this year's top 10, although Wal-Mart and Microsoft are on both the 2007 and 2017 lists.

So what does "digital" mean for businesses that are based on physical products or those that were founded in the analogue world? A new book, "Building Digital Culture: A practical guide to successful digital transformation," by Daniel Rowles and Thomas Brown explores how companies can make sure their whole organization succeeds.

Apple's iPhone turned 10 in January 2017

"Many industries, when technological disruption comes along, attempt to actively resist customer requirements. Customers have decided they want something different and the company's reaction is to ignore the change and carry on regardless.

"However, in many cases the organizations may not be actively resisting, but the catch-up time between market change and company change is just too great," the authors write.

But even for brands like Apple, change is hard to keep up with, says Simon Thompson, who held senior e-commerce roles at the company from 2009 to 2011, and was there for the launch of the iPad in 2010.

"You have to bring your 'A' game to work every day [at Apple], the organization was going through massive growth, it was a totally magical time.

"What was difficult at Apple was keeping up with the sheer pace of the change, when you are selling products that are brand new in the market, and they are growing exponentially, that is a pretty unique experience you'll have in any company or industry you work for," he told

Thompson, who is now global head of digital commerce at HSBC, and spoke in general terms and not specifically about the banking brand, added that businesses ought to be experimenting with innovation, and "placing some bets out there that you don't know are going to pay off." He urged companies to make sure that digital investments paid back quickly, however.

"Digital isn't some future theory any more, it's here, it's now, it's everywhere, it's happening, so I don't think there's really any excuse any more for not delivering some benefit now, either to customers or shareholders. The days of it being a 10-year long project with a gazillion millions [of dollars supporting it], that is long behind us now."

The new Google logo is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 2, 2015 in Mountain View, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Having digital processes or culture is now essential to a business, says Dara Nasr, Twitter's UK managing director. "During my time at Twitter, and even before, I've seen a real recognition that there has to be change.

"It takes time, sometimes. I think that there is a real acceptance that digital isn't a [separate] thing, that it's just one of those outliers. It's central to how companies interact with customers, communicate with customers," he told

Thompson warns brands that they may not get support from colleagues on digital initiatives until results are seen. He set up the e-commerce business at U.K. "big four" supermarket Morrisons in 2014, and writes in "Building Digital Culture": "The day we got true support for the online business was the day that everyone got a delivery at home… You can talk as much as you want, but when people see real things they get involved."

For Willy Kruh, global chair, consumer markets at KPMG International, becoming an "omni business," where every process or system is focused on customers, is the future for brands.

"In the digital world, in online or dealing with mobile, you've got to have a platform or an internal system where supply chains, inventory management and HR comes through that so the center of that whole 'omni business' is the customer. They [businesses] talk about it but they are not there yet, it's aspirational and it's where they need to be," he told

Only 7 percent of companies have currently integrated all of their systems, according to KPMG's "Seeking customer centricity" report published in June 2016, while 32 percent of executives it surveyed plan to do so by 2018.

"Many CEOs believe that in the next three years there will be more transformation and more upheaval than in the last 50. But [a KPMG] study… which found such a disconnect, found that three-quarters of those companies say they'll be the same three years from now," Kruh said, adding "How can you be the same if three years from now the world is going to go upside down?"

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