The Post of Christmas Future


Christmas Future, Business, Technology, LeadershipIn the third and last in the series of Think Oak’s Christmas blog posts – The Post of Christmas Future, let’s take a look at the next 15 years in Technology, Business and Leadership and see how they might have changed by 2030. (In case you missed Part 1 and Part 2)

Looking to the future is always a tough thing to do, but as you will have seen from the last two posts business, leadership and technology are now inextricably linked and will become more so.

Technology

What are some of the transformational technologies that are being developed today that will have a big influence on business well into the 21st Century?

Robotics & Drone Technology

Developers are extending the capabilities of robots, extending the boundaries of military and industrial robots into non-industrial and robots for the home. Although much development is still required to improve robots’ cognitive abilities, many of the building blocks for futuristic and highly disruptive systems could be in place by 2030. Such robotics could eliminate the need for human labour entirely in some manufacturing environments, with total automation becoming more cost-effective than outsourcing manufacturing to developing economies.

Even in developing countries, robots might supplant some local manual labour in sectors such as electronics. The military is expected to increase its use of robots to reduce human exposure in high-risk situations and environments as well as the number of troops necessary for certain operations. The ability to deploy such robots rapidly, for particular tasks, could help military planners address the wider resource demands present in a more fragmented world.

It is expected that 25% of soldiers in the field will be robots by 2030. Whilst this may scare people and open up the debate of ‘Skynet’ and our fate being put in the hands of machines, this is an obvious choice to protect military personnel in unstable areas of conflict as well as keep spiraling costs down for long-term military interventions.

Development of drones, is one of the fastest-growing and, yet, controversial sectors of aerospace, but it could be worth as much as $62 billion a year to the global aerospace industry by 2020, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. The civilian drone market alone is possibly worth more than $400 billion according to a UK research project backed by the government and top aerospace companies.

With such market potential and possible uses for drones, much attention is being paid to the challenges of making them smaller, known as micro-air vehicles or MAVs, such as the tiny reconnaissance helicopters being used by the British Military (also under review by the US Army) to the development of small drones, which mimic the flight action, and the maneuverability of birds and insects.

Retail is a ‘prime’ area for exploitation and unsurprisingly Amazon is at the forefront of R&D:

Transport

Over the next 10 – 15 years we will see the next waves of autonomous vehicles hitting our roads, with some of the first deployments being made by vehicles that deliver packages, groceries, and fast-mail envelopes.

The first wave of consumer driverless vehicles will be luxury vehicles that allow you to relax, listen to music, have a cup of coffee, stop wherever you need to along the way, stay productive in transit with connections to the Internet, make phone calls, and even watch a movie or two, for substantially less than the cost of today’s premium supercars.

Driverless technology will initially require a driver, but it will quickly evolve into everyday use much as airbags did. First as an expensive option for luxury cars, but eventually it will become a safety feature stipulated by governments.

The greatest benefits of this kind of automation won’t be realised until the driver’s hands are off the wheel. With over 36,000 killed in car accidents every year in the US, over 2,000 in the UK and 1.2 million globally (Source: WHO), it won’t take long for legislators to be convinced that driverless cars are a substantially safer and more effective option.

The privilege of driving is about to be redefined. But so are other industries – Delivery vehicles, Haulage, Logistics, Taxis, Public Transportation and many more.

Artificial Intelligence

While scientists have yet to realise the full potential of artificial intelligence, this technology will likely have far-reaching effects on human life in the years to come.

AI is being fully embraced by all of the major tech companies. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and others are beginning to use artificial intelligence techniques to build out their “deep learning” capacities. They’re starting to process all the activity occurring over their networks, from conversations, to photo facial recognition, to gaming activity.

Here are just some of the major acquisitions and hires from the AI field that occurred in recent months:

  • Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2 Billion and launched a new research lab dedicated entirely to advancing the field of AI.
  • Google acquired DeepMind, a company that built learning algorithms for e-commerce, simulations, and games, for $400 million.
  • LinkedIn acquired Bright, a company that focused on data- and algorithm-driven job matches, for $120 million.
  • Pinterest acquired VisualGraph, a company that specialised in image recognition and visual search. VisualGraph CEO Kevin Jang helped build Google’s first machine vision application to improve image search.

Artificial intelligence has reached the point now where it can provide invaluable assistance in speeding up tasks still performed by people such as the rule based AI systems used in accounting and tax software, enhance automated tasks such as searching algorithms and enhance mechanical systems such as braking and fuel injection in a car. Curiously the most successful examples of artificial intelligent systems are those that are almost invisible to the people using them. Very few people thank AI for saving their lives when they narrowly avoid crashing their car because of the computer controlled braking system.

Speech Recognition, Translation and Control

Though voice recognition, handwriting recognition and gesture control will all become more accurate and popular in the next two decades we will still be writing and using keyboards for business. Until mind-control text entry becomes ubiquitous, typing will remain the most accurate method for composing and editing text. We just don’t speak the same way that we write.

Though physical keyboards are in danger of becoming extinct on phones and tablets, their virtual equivalents will live on. On larger form factors like tablets, the feel of real plastic keys will not be surpassed. Whether virtual or real, the QWERTY layout, which first appeared in 1878, will continue to dominate.

That being said, the ability to control many more devices by voice or gesture than we do today will become common place.

Mobile connectivity overtakes fixed line

So-called 5G network technologies now under study and development will not be another incremental evolution of today’s 4G, but rather will drive the next network revolution through “softwarisation” and integration of mobile and fixed networks. Think of future internet access as akin to the air we breathe – present everywhere and essential for the very existence (in this case economic and social) of people and objects. That’s the prospect of 5G. In a word, “ambient”.

This said, in absolute volume fixed data traffic will remain dominant, for the simple reason that virtually all data traffic passes through fixed networks for some part of its journey. In addition to the Wi-Fi trend there is also a trend toward “small cell technology” with a range of a few metres to a few kilometres, allowing for more efficient wireless off-load to the fixed network. Today mobile data traffic represents 5% of the total, rising to 12% by the end of this decade. Greater convergence between mobile and fixed networks may be expected going forward in a 5G framework.

Smart Devices

It is likely that our ‘devices’ will be many and linked. Contact lens or glasses displays that are completely voice activated will be the norm, but information could be ‘shared’ via TVs, tablet devices or projected onto flat surfaces. Superfast ‘Always on / Anywhere’ internet access, will be possible in over more than 80% of the populated world, allowing for an Augmented Reality view of wherever you are.

Social Networks

Social Networks not only will be woven into our society, but into our clothes, vehicles and accessories. The amount of data that consumers and businesses will be able to access will be mind-boggling. Personalisation of marketing will be at the individual level and in real-time. Each of us will have a highly intelligent Digital Assistant that will proactively scour cyberspace for data on our customers, our competitors, our interests and all our contacts.

3D Printing

Unlike a machine shop that starts with a large piece of metal and carves away everything but the final piece, 3D printing is an object creation technology where the shape of the objects are formed through a process of building up layers of material until all of the details are in place.

Manufacturing in the past relied on subtractive processes where blocks of metal, wood, or other raw materials had areas removed with drills, laser cutters, and other machines until the final part was complete. This involved skilled machine operators and material handlers.

3D printing reduces the need for skilled operators as well as the need for expensive machines. As a result, parts can be manufactured locally for less money than even the cheapest labour in foreign manufacturing plants.

This technology is already being used in many fields: jewellery, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering, and many others.

The potential for 3D printing is enormous. In December 2014 an astronaut produced a ratcheting socket wrench that had been emailed through within an hour. Imagine the possibilities within the next 15 years

Contour Crafting is a form of 3D printing that uses robotic arms and nozzles to squeeze out layers of concrete or other materials, moving back and forth over a set path in order to fabricate large objects such as houses. It is a construction technology that has great potential for low-cost, customised buildings that are quicker to make, reducing energy and emissions along the way.

In 2014, the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Company used contour crafting to “print” 10 houses in a single day using a massive printer that was 490 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 20 feet deep.

This type of technology will have major implications on all construction, building, and home repair jobs.

Business

One thing that I am 100% certain of is that the buyers’ voice, choice and power will become stronger in the next 15 years.

The importance of putting the customer at the heart of your organisation needs to move from the Vision and Mission statement into the hearts and mind of every member of your organisation and supply chain.

Crowd – funding and sourcing

Crowdfunding

Much has been made about the ability of crowdfunding to transform new-business finance. Whether it is through a rewards based model, a peer-to-peer lending model or an equity finance model, the crowd has been theorised as the answer to a lack of appetite for risk amongst traditional finance institutions coupled with the always-present financial constraints placed on innovation.

Carrying crowdfunding through to its furthest potential conclusions, it has been theorised that it could take the place of banks for many functions – both for entrepreneurs and investors. It has also been put forward as a replacement to other forms of finance operating in the same sphere, such as angel investing and venture capital.

Crowdfunding platforms can have much larger applications than just bankrolling the latest iPad accessory or album from an up-and-coming artist. As the crowdfunding market grows, entrepreneurs and platforms will continue to explore how to use the model in other ways.

We may discover crowdfunding to be a more efficient way to connect the people that give money with the people that need money. Funding of local public services like parks and road repair is one example, as is funding for major expenses like college tuition and fertility treatments. Wherever there is a gap in traditional financing options, a crowdfunding model will attempt to fill the void.

The one word we keep hearing in relation to crowdfunding is ‘democratisation’. Banks and government-led schemes have long-been the source of finances for budding entrepreneurs in the past, but with billions of people connected to the Web through PCs, mobiles and tablets, the sands are shifting as is trust.

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is becoming a more common concept. It seems that people are beginning to understand the basic idea of giving a task to the masses and letting those who are interested participate in shaping the outcome. But crowdsourcing is so much more than allowing customers to choose the new flavour of energy drink. When you consider the models of companies like topcoder and InnoCentive, you find that companies are taking real projects, posting them to the online community, and offering up a bounty to whoever comes up with the best solution or product. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are working on these projects and not all of them are professional freelancers and consultants. Many of these people could be your employees, doing this work in their “free” time because it’s challenging, they can pick their project, and they know up front what the reward is. This model is exploding and it’s changing the game of work.

Whilst there are many companies that have started looking to crowdsourcing as a way to supplement internal development or R&D efforts, I think that the real opportunity might be to unleash the power of crowdsourcing internally. Why not post challenging projects internally and let individuals or groups of people choose what they’d like to work on? Why not allow your own employees to pick and choose some of their work? Or, to take it a step further, why not completely blow up the idea of a job description and the formal position structure? Instead of having a formal position, why not change the system completely? Assign point values to tasks and projects and then post them for individuals to work on. Then allow your talented people to pick and choose what tasks they work on with the expectation that they deliver at least so many “points” worth of work each month or quarter. This is probably far too simplistic, but you get the picture. The potential to apply the principles of crowdsourcing internally are unlimited.

Outsourced project based workforce

A new form of more flexible work will begin to replace formal employment. Instead of relying on a pool of permanent employees, organisations will increasingly contract out tasks as needed, reducing their fixed labour costs and increasing their ability to respond to sudden changes in the marketplace. Educated and tech-savvy workers will maintain loose affiliations with several organisations, finding and completing tasks remotely through online crowd labour pools and employer-freelancer collaboration platforms.

Further decline for many of the ‘Giants’ and some industries

Some of the newer technologies by 2030 will signal the demise of a number of industries unless they start to act now.

  • The automotive industry will be turned on its head.
  • Logistics and delivery are likely to be highly if not totally automated.
  • House building, manufacturing and energy production will all be impacted by these mega-shifts in technology.
  • Failure of large corporations to anticipate, refocus, reprioritise and act will face serious challenges in the next decade.

For most organisations, value-creating growth is the strategic challenge, and to succeed companies must be good at developing new, potentially disruptive businesses. The bulk of the typical company’s share price reflects expectations for the growth of current businesses. If companies meet those expectations, shareholders will earn only a normal return. But to deliver superior long-term returns management must either repeatedly exceed market expectations for its current businesses or develop new value-creating businesses.

It’s almost impossible to repeatedly beat expectations for current businesses, because if you do, investors simply raise the bar. So the only reasonable way to deliver superior long-term returns is to focus on new business opportunities. (Of course, if a company’s stock price already reflects expectations with regard to new businesses—which it may do if management has a track record of delivering such value-creating growth—then the task of generating superior returns becomes daunting; it’s all managers can do to meet the expectations that exist.)

Value-creating growth is the strategic challenge, and to succeed, companies must be good at developing new, potentially disruptive businesses.

Companies focused on short-term performance measures are doomed to fail in delivering on a value-creating growth strategy because they are forced to concentrate on existing businesses rather than on developing new ones for the longer term.

New Business Models emerge

In the brave new world of technology-driven change, business models are being fundamentally disrupted. Book publishing, newspapers, video chains and in-store shopping have become some of the casualties since 2000.

To compete and succeed in 2030, retailers will need to challenge and, in many cases, rethink their current value propositions to make sure they are sufficiently differentiated and compelling to the consumers they are targeting. For most, this will be a very difficult task, as it means radically redefining the role of the store and how to turn it into an asset instead of a liability.

As brick-and-mortar retailers prepare for battle with the online merchants, they must transform into truly seamless multichannel businesses. In doing so, there are several areas they can draw upon for competitive advantage:

  1. Understanding the buying behaviours of the Millennials
  2. Reducing amount of retail space they own
  3. Delivering a SIMPLE experience – Slick, Immediate, Multimedia, Personalised, ‘Like’able, Everywhere
  4. Reducing costs throughout the supply chain

Everything as a Service

As the Internet becomes more ubiquitous, the cloud will become the standard for all applications. Companies are increasingly deploying new applications with a cloud-first mentality. IT departments are happy to be moving away from server maintenance and backups and transforming themselves into providing value-added services. Additionally, we are seeing a convergence of B2C and B2B technologies, matching online shopping to inventories and warehouse management in real time, all in one system.

Most business users still have powerful laptops with word-processing and spreadsheet applications, even local hosting of emails. All of that will be cloud-based in the future, freeing our devices to be lighter, but data to be everywhere, in standardised formats that enable us to easily consume and interact.

The cloud is also transforming manufacturing, allowing for faster cycle times and increased communications across all the different elements required to produce a product. Ultimately all of this is resulting in better products for a cheaper price.

The cloud is undoubtedly the platform of the future. We will continue to see a world where devices will evolve, business needs will evolve, and new technologies will give us new expectations of success. Vendors of old-style client-server technology are already dinosaurs, and will be extinct very soon. The cloud of 2030 will undoubtedly be far more advanced than the cloud of today, in ways we have not yet imagined. But the companies that embrace the cloud today are aligned with their customers, and well-positioned for continued success.

Leadership

In 2030 leadership competencies will still matter, in fact will probably matter more, but they will change as the competitive environment changes.

Leaders of the future will need to be adept conceptual and strategic thinkers, have deep integrity and intellectual openness, find new ways to create loyalty, lead increasingly diverse and independent teams over which they may not always have direct authority, and relinquish their own power in favour of collaborative approaches inside and outside the organisation.

Roselinde Torres, a New York-based senior partner with the Boston Consulting Group management consultancy, says: “There are some aspects of leadership that are timeless, like vision, intelligence, good judgment, courage, ambition and integrity.  However, the hierarchical, inward-focused leadership style that defined the 20th century is unravelling. The leadership profiles, programmes and processes that businesses used in the 20th century do not fit 21st-century leadership needs.”

I see there being 5 game changes in leadership in this time frame

  1. Technology Convergence
  2. Agility of Strategy, Skills and Development
  3. Virtual Teams
  4. Differing Employee and Customer Needs
  5. Dispersed Decision Making

If leadership is thought of as a shared process, rather than an individual skill set, senior executives must consider the best way to help leadership flourish in their organisations.

Leadership spread throughout a network of people is more likely to flourish when certain conditions support it, including:

  • Open flows of information
  • Flexible hierarchies
  • Distributed resources
  • Distributed decision-making
  • Loosening of centralised controls

Leaders will have to learn to orchestrate highly diverse teams spread in various time zones around the globe. It will be a major challenge for companies to make sure employees and collaborators will feel comfortable working for them. The leader of the future is more of a communications expert with highly developed social skills than an official with financial expertise.

The winners of tomorrow will be those organisations with strong leaders who demonstrate agility, authenticity, commit to the success of their people as well balancing results with the public good. They will use their skills to remain at the ready, anticipate and harness the power of change, and stay ahead of the shifting business environment.

Only time will tell as to whether these predictions will come to fruition, but one thing has never been more certain. Business and Technology and more importantly, the customer and the employee, are changing at an unprecedented speed.