Facebook, YouTube, the iPhone, Twitter, Uber and Instagram. These are all things that didn’t exist at the turn of the millennium. Which was only 15 years ago.
Now fast forward a decade and a half from 2015. Given that the rate of change is speeding up, what will the world look like then? What should businesses be thinking about today, to set themselves up for success in 2030?
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While Mark Raskino, vice president and Gartner Fellow speaking at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2015, held in Cape Town at the end of September, didn’t promise to predict the future, he did maintain that there are enough pointers today to give us some clues: just like the Palm Pilot of the late 1990s hinted at the smartphones we now can’t live without.
“The future is probably already here,” Raskino said. “It’s just poorly distributed. But we can use it to plan forward, and to take decisions today that support the future.” Raskino went on to say that it’s businesses’ IT leaders that need to take up this agenda to “reimagine the business landscape”.
But first, the predicted business shifts need to be backdropped against key societal and technology trends.
According to Gartner, the macro trends that will shape society and our future demand for services, products, technology and resources include:
- The rise of urbanisation — about 70% of us will be living an urban environment by 2030.
- Demographics and longevity — simply, we’re living longer. Will there be enough resources, and how healthy will we be?
- More of us around the world are climbing out of subsistence poverty and creating a growing market for basic services.
- The South and East are starting to have a greater impact on global culture.
And the tech trends that Raskino called out are:
- Ambient computing: forget cloud, we’re not going to think about where our connectivity comes from, as long as we’re connected.
- Smart(er) devices: devices are getting smarter, and smaller.
- Information and analytics.
- Cyber-security and ethics.
So what are the business shifts to start thinking about? According to Raskino, this is what we’ll start seeing:
1. From global to personal: business on a human scale with transparency
Digital makes the world a smaller place and startups can destroy entire industries. The cost of entry is down, so experimentation is vast, exploding the idea space at a faster rate. Products and services become increasingly personalised.
2. From hierarchies to meshes: the intersection of technology, business and society
With the rise of peer-to-peer everything, “what does top-down get replaced with?” asked Raskino. “What are the checks and balances, and how do we prevent gaming this?” This will not be a random play, Raskino said, but will evolve.
3. From fixed to replaceable assets
The rise of the sharing economy will affect everything from how we get about, which takeaways we order, to how we fund ventures.
4. From devices to connected humans and things
Gartner dubs this the “Information Agora”: everybody and everything is connected to the cloud. Handholds evolve to wearables, which evolve to embedded devices; and virtual personal assistants start making decisions on our behalf. Legal liability and responsibility gets turned on its head.
5. From big data to algorithmic business: digitalising, enumerating and acting on the physical world
Competitive advantage is going to come down to “who’s using the algorithm better”. We need to extract meaning from the masses of data we are amassing, then act on it. This data collection and analytics raises surveillance, privacy concerns and ethical issues. Yes, we might be living in a Wikileaks world, said Raskino, but who watches the watchmen?
6. From resources to smart materials: the intersection of technology, biology and material science
3D printing is about to get very interesting, thanks to the emergence of smart fabrics and the ability to print composite materials.
The takeaway? Why should you start thinking about this stuff today and is there anything practical you can do today to prepare?
Firstly, said Raskino, start thinking about where technology and business is headed and develop patentable innovations. Second, your long-term planning is going to change dramatically: a car manufacturer, say, will have to consider that its future factories might be software shops. How does this affect where they will be located? Thirdly, update your infrastructure to cater for smart machines. And finally, start thinking about digital ethics — this will be the key to risk management in 2030.