Future skills in a changing world of work

Skills shortages and talent issues are central to many industries and organisations, and despite the ameliorative effects of some technologies, will continue to be so. Given the complexity of many organisations’ operations and uncertain digital direction, the precise skills needed for any given are impossible to determine, especially without consideration of their organisational and business model. However, in general, the emerging digital economy will concurrently demand both more data fluency and soft skills.


86 percent of business decision makers believe all employees, especially knowledge workers, will need to become ‘…data geeks[i].’ Worryingly, only 30 percent of organisations have a long term formal plan for analytics[ii]. Without integrated strategies, the talent needs of industries will shift at a greater rate as organisations adapt to latest developments. Talent platforms are one possible emerging route for mitigating the damage that uncoordinated strategies present, as they enable companies to adapt to changes in the type of skills needed faster than the labour market can traditionally provide. Arguably a better appreciation of the type of skills needed can be achieved by scenario planning and strategically aligning technology to goals yet the notion of (shifting) skill demands will force organisational model change, as access to – rather than ownership of – talent becomes a key feature of successful business ecosystems. Strategic third party cooperation will likely become a key skills and talent issue in the coming years as many organisations realise their configuration of current workforce, skills and technology is dated and will increasingly hamper growth.

In addition to data geeks, knowledge workers will need to become technology generalists. Distributed workers will require specialist technologies to collaborate and engage in meaningful ways, as will managers overseeing remote staff. Haptic interfaces, mixed reality and 3D interactive holographs will redraw the remote (and in office) work experience significantly throughout the coming decade.

At the same time, the ability to reskill on the job could change radically. At the intersection of the IoT and wearables lies the promise of the quantified self. The efficacy and efficiency of on the job training could improve significantly, by using this technology to pinpoint areas of specific employee weakness and then suggesting and implementing courses of action to remedy the issue, such as short MOOC or access to new research on a given topic. This holds significant implications for education in general as well as skills and talent in the workplace. It also introduces the notion of closer human-machine union. Whether through implants or artificially raising cognitive abilities, the fusion of human and machine (beyond just pure automation) will not just challenge current ideas over skills and talent but change the paradigm entirely.

[i] http://www.news-sap.com/sap-sponsored-survey-finds-business-decision-makers-struggle-unlock-power-big-data/

[ii] http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/the-hard-work-behind-data-analytics-strategy/


The future of doping in sports

The medicalization of sports is nothing new; drugs such as EPO that treat anemia in cancer patients and significantly boost red blood cell counts have been common place in distance events since the early 90’s and the desire to be faster, higher and stronger seems well entrenched in the human psyche. However inadequate the science, politics and organisation of implementing current anti-doping efforts are perceived to be, a full revolution will likely be needed in the coming years if the system is not to collapse completely.


Advances in medicine are such that an era of gene doping is likely imminent, if not already underway. Medicines and therapies that genetically instruct the body to produce more EPO are already in testing – ranging from ingestible pills to gene therapy. If such methods avoid the common drug testing routine of looking for foreign substances in blood and urine, then whole new scientific paradigms will need to be employed by the testers, and probably at great cost.

It is likely that wearables or ingestible technologies could evolve to become a more reliable and constant real-time test for conventional drugs and doping techniques, and allied to big data and predictive analytics indicate a range of predicted performances given certain parameters. Beyond this, could genetic passports – similar to, but more advanced than today’s biological passports – be needed?

Some advances will even lead to some questioning what exactly constitutes doping – ‘…electroactive polymers (EAPs) bend and stretch like real muscle fiber in response to an electrical charge; clothing woven with EAPs might augment an athlete’s muscle power,’ says Yoseph Bar-Cohen, a physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab[i].

Beyond gene doping lies the possibility of shifting the playing field before a baby is even born. Embryo selection and IVF could enable us to eliminate many genetic diseases, extend healthy lifespans, and enhance people’s overall well-being in the coming decades. Indeed, some have predicted that by 2040, the majority of babies will be created rather than conceived[ii]. Even if the prediction of a majority falls flat, it would seem likely that a future Olympic champion will have had the benefit of superior gene-selection and enhancement without ever having the need to dope in the conventional sense, yet benefit from many of the characteristics that various doping products create.

This creates fundamental questions for sport going forward; what will it mean to be an athlete, what constitutes doping, how do you level a playing field for athletes that is increasingly uneven (assuming these techniques cost a lot of money) and how do you monitor and verify such advancements? Will we be happy, on a philosophical level, to watch the spectacle of sport devolve further into a medical arms-race?

There can be little doubt that the type of medicines, techniques and procedures mentioned will provide a net benefit to humanity and to wellbeing, but the unintended (and in some cases very much intended) side effects will completely rewrite the rules governing a $145 billion global industry[iii].


[i] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-future-of-cheating-in-sports-138914769/?no-ist

[ii] http://qz.com/677335/by-the-year-2040-embryo-selection-will-replace-sex-as-the-way-most-of-us-make-babies/

[iii] http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/hospitality-leisure/changing-the-game-outlook-for-the-global-sports-market-to-2015.html

The platform economy

The platform economy, taken as a whole is perhaps the most singularly disruptive force impacting work and the future of work. Whilst technologies can create significant shifts in what we do, the broad spectrum of change from platforms will change how we work, and more. A platform economy could be described as one in which tools and frameworks based on external ecosystems (such as the Internet but also other networks) shape our economic and social lives. Platforms – in all their guises – act as frameworks for collaboration between users, providers and peers, and also result in these definitions blurring somewhat. Since the top 15 public ‘platform’ companies already represent $2.6 trillion in market capitalization globally, it is no surprise that 81% of executives say platform-based business models will be core to their growth strategy within three years[i]. Collaboration has clearly become more than a buzzword.


Whilst platforms have proven themselves in terms of their innovation potential, part of their disruptive nature lies in their ability to create external challenges that must be met; innovation is creating the need for further innovation. Fundamental rules of strategy are broken – with emphasis placed on external interactions, generating ecosystem value and harnessing network effects. Failure to appreciate this shift is one obvious source of disruption for business lacking the agility or culture to adapt, but the nature of the disruption means that its impact will be felt beyond those industries more obviously suited to platforms, such as manufacturing. For one, with GDP as a measurement of economic growth increasingly unable to measure the value of digital services, the need to develop new methods of assessing wealth will become pressing. It is only fitting that a new economy designs new measurement tools

Platforms will also create new standards for which there are no clear policies or in some cases, supporting structures. The traditional work model – already under pressure from other issues such as automation, will likely break, necessitating a revolution in the way that benefits are provided. One need only think of the prospect of a large minority contingent workforce to see the scale of change needed; health insurance, pensions and other provisions will need to be recalibrated in an era where the pace of technological and organisational change is outstripping the ability of both labour markets and the capacity of government to respond. Regulatory frameworks, corporate practices, access to the internet, data-ownership issues and even individual mindsets will need to change if the enormous benefits from talent platforms alone are to be realised.

Since the potential gains are so significant, developing supporting frameworks for this new economy is critical. McKinsey suggests online talent platforms alone could add $2.7 trillion to global GDP by 2025, creating work for 540 million[ii]. The old industrial model has proven incapable of providing for these people, and is responsible in many ways for inducing severe labour and talent shortages across a wide range of industries and geographies – as well perhaps for migration. Since all business are now technology businesses (or at least in various stages of becoming so), platforms offer a way of creating new opportunities and new economic and social mechanisms that are better equipped in dealing with some of our most pressing problems.

[i] https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-digital-platform-economy 

[ii]  http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/connecting-talent-with-opportunity-in-the-digital-age

The end of the golden age for companies?

The underpinnings that have sustained corporate growth for many of the previous decades are eroding, and many truths are starting to unravel. The emerging business environment is both increasingly uncertain and ever more competitive, and coupled with the emerging competition from new markets it would be easy to form a narrative of decline for western companies. The rules of business are changing and those failing to notice will perish.


For those not wedded to previous, and perhaps current, ways of doing things, the future holds great promise. The rise of the global consuming class is set to undergo a rapid expansion by 1.8 billion by 2025, by which time global consumption is expected nearly to double, to $64 trillion and global revenue could increase by more than 40%, to $185 trillion[i]. New industries, new markets and new sources of consumption – as well as changes within the type of consumption in core markets all offer opportunities to innovate and carve new value propositions.

Cynics would be correct in pointing out that much of this growth will go to emerging market competitors and that emerging market competitors will increasingly pose a challenge in many western companies’ home markets. The blurring of industry boundaries, and corrosive power of technology companies that allows quick implementation of data rich sets and cost structures onto a range of industries add an additional dimension to competition, as well as providing new opportunities for those agile enough in thought and action. The opportunities for entrepreneurship, partnering, collaboration and disruption are all significant.

Through both emerging market competition and digital vectors the challenge is clear – the relative decline of the large western corporation will exert even greater pressure to innovate and increase productivity just to survive, let alone thrive. Any relative decline could also lead to a fundamental rethink on some long standing assumptions of what factors make for a successful business. In fact, new business processes and models will be needed in conjunction with root and branch cultural renewal for success to be achieved en-masse. Board-level technology competency and direction is a matter of urgency (and one that will be addressed in a future GFF blog) and the platforming of key business processes could help create increasingly competitive companies more capable of success in the global digital economy. It also likely that the forces convulsing labour markets could someday lead to a rethink on the role of business and its place in society.

The combination of demographic, geopolitical and stage of consumer development that helped propel steady economic growth in western economies can never be repeated, and neither should the organisation models that emerged as a result of these conditions. New models are not a ‘nice to have,’ they are essential. This means actively disrupting your own model before a data rich competitor or emerging market competitor (from within or outside your vertical) does it for you. Bleeding edge may not be desirable but neither is disruption and in some cases, the comfort zone between the two is decreasing. Those agile enough to inhabit this evolving ground could well post revenue and profits that help redefine the ‘golden age.’

[i] https://hbr.org/2015/10/the-future-and-how-to-survive-it

The emerging T&T data platform economy

Accenture notes that ‘…digital offers a once in a generation opportunity to embrace the future and gain sustainable advantage in the marketplace by shifting to new, more sustainable economic models, while simultaneously stepping up to better satisfy real consumer demand[i].’ This is the crux of where branding strategies need to shift to. Effective digital transformation should include tools and processes display and enable transparency. This is a powerful point from which to launch predictive analytics and other potentially powerful consumer-centric strategies. Data will enable ever greater micro segmentation of customers, increased personalisation for customers and a more effective search for new customers.


As a result of the emerging digital revolution, considerable business model change is underway. In 2013, 14 of the top 30 global brands by market capitalization were platform-oriented companies[ii]. MIT Sloan notes that as these companies can get closer to their customers, they often develop ‘…a competitive advantage based on new insights into pricing, network effects, supply chains, and strategy.’ In short, branding is moving from simply selling a product and towards ‘…adding value and engaging the customer[iii].’

Data, its analysis and applied insights should stand at the centre of future ecosystem applications, since companies that succeed in both demonstrating trust and applying data driven yield productivity rates and profitability that are 5-to-6 percent higher than those of their peers. Furthermore, McKinsey research shows that those that embed data in the DNA of their marketing and sales decisions improve their marketing return on investment (MROI) by 15-to-20 percent[iv]. This is, of course, nothing new for many individual components of the travel industry. Travel retailers, hotels and airlines form some leading examples of how to run data driven campaigns. The challenge remains however, for the industry to create common platforms that provide single points of access for consumers.

The Internet of Things (IoT) offers one possible medium for both unifying disparate standards (although it will require a common standard/platform itself) and gathering exponentially more data, and more valuable data. Thanks to IoT growth, the turn of the decade could also see consumers interacting with over 150 sensor-enabled devices every day, with 60 percent of device interactions proving ‘passive’, allowing people to use information from intelligent systems and machine learning[v].

It is only through more granular data, ostensibly including IoT sources, and providing consumers with easy to use and manage technology interfaces that personalised service will ever be realised.  This presents the great possibility of crafting seamless travel propositions, new value for consumers as well as industry stakeholders; the time to start developing platforms that span these stakeholders is now.


[i] http://insuranceblog.accenture.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Accenture_The_Digital_insurer_PC_Insurance.pdf

[ii] http://executive.mit.edu/blogpost/why-platforms-beat-products-every-time#.VumTi-IrLIU

[iii] http://executive.mit.edu/blogpost/why-platforms-beat-products-every-time#.VumTi-IrLIU

[iv] http://www.sas.com/content/dam/SAS/en_us/doc/whitepaper1/using-big-smart-data-107003.pdf

[v] https://agenda.weforum.org/2015/02/5-predictions-for-technology-in-2020/

The next frontiers in travel and tourism

Space hotels, floating cities, underwater hotels and adventure travel via submarine all feature as some of the more extreme destinations and experiences soon to be available. Cruise ships weighing 500,000 tonnes, larger than today’s aircraft carriers and with their own flight decks[i] form another. The desire for something new would seem inherent in human beings, yet in a world saturated by curated travel and social media it would seem increasingly difficult to push the envelope out yet further – especially for the vast majority of travellers not able to afford space travel or submersible adventure.

Travel and tourism 2

Perhaps then, the next frontier lies in technology? Virtual travel, at present, acts more as a way of planning a trip as opposed to an alternative to taking one even as Samsung warns that ‘…travel agents must embrace digital and virtual reality to survive[ii].’ Whilst holodeck style travel is highly unlikely to feature as a direct replacement for travel any time soon, there is considerable scope for a deepening of tourist experiences and even forms of time travel.

Years ago, an augmented reality app appeared in Berlin, allowing tourists to follow the path of the Berlin Wall as if it were still standing. As this technology matures, and in conjunction with virtual reality, we will be able to recreate past scenes with more visual, tactile and sensory feedback than ever before. Staid recreations of past battles or historical events could be replaced with mixed reality –  interactive, participatory events that enable greater learning and potentially open up a whole new array of tourism destinations currently idle or under-utilised. The potential for raising local tourism levels is considerable – whilst bringing the Roman Coliseum or Beijing’s Forbidden City to life has obvious attractions, recreating local attractions and history will also have a place for consumers increasingly conscious of constricted planetary resources.

In these examples, it is not the destination that represents the frontier but rather the enhancement of the environment around us. If the travel and tourism industry is to start to grapple with the complex question of sustainability and its various economic and environmental facets, inducing more domestic and regional tourism would appear to be a good place at least to start. This would, in many cases, require new forms of collaboration, partnerships and industry ecosystems to form.


[i]  Source: Lupyled, retrieved 2016 http://www.lupyled.com/en/the-future-of-travel-2050/

[ii] Source: Marketing Week, 2015 http://www.marketingweek.com/2015/07/07/the-future-of-the-travel-agent-virtual-reality-digital-screens-and-smell-generators/

Customer-centric travel and tourism

All travel companies should be in the midst of a transformation to becoming technology companies. The role of digital in both back-end and consumer facing processes is simply too important for companies to consider themselves as anything else.

Travel and tourism 1

Consumer loyalty – or lack thereof – would suggest that stakeholders reorient themselves towards becoming platforms for experiences. A number of relevant and interesting technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are the more obvious examples, with Thomas Cook’s ‘Try Before You Fly’ scheme featuring Samsung Gear VR headsets generating flights and hotel bookings of over $17,000 and instigating a 190 percent increase in the number of New York excursions booked[i].

In able to provide the personal touch craved by many travellers though, the need for a substantial data architecture capable of capturing information accurately at any points of contact is pressing. In addition, such a system must be capable of effectively combining sources of external data – such as from social media or else other ecosystem stakeholders – since the data on file for a given traveller may not be complete enough to offer a true glimpse into their lifestyle, interests, aspirations or personality. Such information is likely contained within the industry ecosystem but dispersed and siloed between the many different stakeholders; hotels may have insights that airlines don’t or vice-versa. Whilst great care needs to be taken to protect the security of such data, the attraction of some sort of data ecosystem – whether controlled by the individual consumer (in a sort of data profile) or stakeholders putting their pieces of data together – is clear. It is also possible of course that some next gen apps, based on deep learning and algorithms will be able to learn these things without the need for wider partnerships and formulate push messages and offers to consumers based on their specific circumstances.

It could even be argued that a highly segmented, market of one mentality is the only way that the majority of industry stakeholders will be able to pursue the future successfully. Whilst niches will always exist -some highly profitable – a culturally diversifying global consumer base and fragmenting mass market will mean more focus is needed on the individual than ever.

The promise of such individual data is that through digital technologies, analytics and innovation provide much more seamless experiences for consumers[ii]. The outside-in perspective provided by customers and their data will become a key lever in shifting to a truly customer-centric future.


[i] http://www.inc.com/neil-c-hughes/how-virtual-reality-is-ab-transform-the-travel-industry.html

[ii] https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/transportation-travel-tourism-innovation-travel-innovated-who-will-own-customer/