The post-handset society

Understandably, mobile occupies a key place in companies’ strategies and is without doubt a key pillar of the contemporary digital economy. There is reason to believe, despite the forecasts of global saturation, that the mobile as we know it may be soon replaced.

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Some of the coming changes are undoubtedly iterative; new processes and mediums still using the smartphone as a basis, whilst others are more revolutionary and suggest new ways of obtaining information. Either way, fundamental changes are coming, with HTC CEO Cher Wang already stating that ‘…we have had to rethink phones as a company. Virtual reality is more important[i].’ If virtual and augmented reality, or mixed reality, disrupts the notion of the screen as we know it, advances in artificial intelligence will further question the underpinnings of design. The whole experience – perhaps incorporating audio, haptics and gestural interfaces and even using our own skin as the screen will all help orient the notion of mobile away from the phone as we seek to engage more of our senses.

In fact in 2015 an Ericsson survey found that a majority of smartphone users believed that by 2020, A.I interfaces would take over, replacing smartphones[ii]. Perhaps such a forecast is premature, but the general direction should be noted not just by consumers but those designing the next generation of apps. With numerous wearables including contact lenses able to take photos and provide social media updates, already in the labs – the human is set to become the next interface, rather than the screen.

This ultimately means that how and where people get their information will change. The opportunities that emerge will be significant for a range of industries – perhaps most obviously retail, but could also help revolutionise remote working and provide an effective way of working in regionally or globally dispersed teams. Virtual personal assistants, built on forerunners such as Amazon’s Alexa will increasingly handle our mobile interactions.

Since mixed reality, gestural interfaces and audio provide a more efficient and intuitive way to have a chat with the sophisticated artificial intelligence that will saturate future devices, the future of mobile lies beyond the screen. This will include your advanced Google searches, checking of Facebook and booking your next vacation with Expedia – together with a quick virtual reality tour of your chosen destination’s property. Companies need to start exploring what this means for them and specifically their consumer-centric processes. The immense opportunities to add value to the consumer that could arise from engaging more senses and designing for a complete experience will need to be mapped out and planned for if the potential of the post handset society is to be realised.

[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/01/19/htc-ceo-cher-wang-we-had-to-rethink-phones-as-a-company-vr-is-mo/

[ii] http://www.kurzweilai.net/ai-will-replace-smartphones-within-5-years-ericsson-survey-suggests

Ensuring the future of the insurance industry

Too many insurers are overly reliant on old ways of doing things – culturally, organisationally and technologically, to survive the next decade. For sure, insurers have survived many momentous changes in the past whilst only incrementally nudging their underlying processes and business model. The problem for insurers lies in the confluence of several emerging and maturing trends across the spectrum of their business; any one of these could be sufficient to impact business but as a whole, change is unavoidable and for those who fail to act, this will not be a positive experience.

INSURANCE

The barriers to entry the market are gradually eroding; indeed it is somewhat ironic that regulation – long held as a chief challenge for the industry – is perhaps the strongest remaining barrier in many markets to a flood of new competition.

The list of challenges confronting the industry is diverse and unsettling. An aging workforce, a reliance on legacy technology, several potential data driven competitors from adjoining sectors, a lack of public trust in many markets, the decline of certain lines (such as auto) thanks to automation, ill prepared systems for capturing and analysing data predictively, and an incomplete journey towards customer-centricity are just some of the issues confronting insurance companies. These issues also represent a chance, for those with the foresight and execution, to develop new value propositions and capture more of the market.

This will start with staff; having a data literate workforce operating in data informed processes and an agile, more flexible culture will become an increasingly key success factor. The architecture staff operate in must also be renewed since big data analytics represents a structural transformation in how enterprises are managed from top to bottom. The level of data integration and analytics will require many new skills and cross-functional buy-in in order to break down the many data and organisational silos that still exist within businesses. However, expanded data capabilities will enable insurers to design and promote more flexible products that allow consumers and adjust their coverage as circumstances change. New niches will open; for example there is a possibility for insurers to become trusted lifestyle consultants with data driven insights (from IoT for example) given back to customers in a multitude of value adding ways.

In addition, platforms for interconnection between all stakeholders should be investigated as part of the need to provide greater consumer centricity and forge new ecosystem partnerships. The need to cooperate with emerging InsTech and tech companies will be pressing in the quest for innovation; big bang change could easily overwhelm systems and people, hence the need for targeted pilot-runs of technology, and closer third party collaboration. Cultures supportive of failure (as a key part of innovation) and collaboration with potential rivals will need to be nurtured if this is to succeed.

Virtually every part of the business will require rethinking and reimagining, leading many insurers to ask themselves what business they are in. Regardless, all insurers are now tech companies, or at least need to be. They need to start acting like one if they are to survive.

The future of language; how do you say that in French?

For those of us who grew up at school learning French, subsequently being told it was next-to-useless was somewhat disheartening. Spanish quickly became a preferred language of learning given its wider application, and following the appreciation of China’s rise, Mandarin. Whilst French remains a beautiful language, few would have suggested it was a future global language.

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Thanks to demographic trends in Sub-Saharan Africa, French could, in fact, be the most-spoken language in the world, ahead of English and even Mandarin by 2050 -with 750 million native speakers. So, will tomorrow’s schoolchildren be learning French, after all? Perhaps the better question, despite the numerous mental benefits that language learning unquestionably confers, is whether they will be learning a second language at all?

Tech experts believe that ‘…within a decade or so, we’ll be able to communicate with one another via small earpieces with built-in microphones[i].’ The value of language learning could certainly diminish in relative terms given the technological probability of effective real-time translation apps. Cultural barriers would certainly still exist and the benefits of working abroad may if anything, be exaggerated, but with language barriers dropping, what would happen to the wider world of work? Talent platforms and other forms of digitally based work would suddenly ensure a range of contract work becomes increasingly competitive. Whilst the outsourcing of English speaking contact centre jobs is mature in its evolution, might such possibilities open up competition in places without such histories. Finnish call centres and Hungarian telemarketing are unlikely to hitherto had much competition from India or the Philippines but with language 2.0, a flatter world could deliver such competition.

Since many transformations occur at the intersection of two or more technologies, it is worth speculating on what happens after what happens next. Will the spoken language remain a principle way of communication? In all likelihood, yes, since we are a social species, yet intriguing opportunities are emerging; Emotiv, for example, is a product that can read your brainwaves and understand their meaning through electroencephalography (or EEG). Married to an instant translation app or algorithm, the prospects for internationalizing (or at least providing remote options for) a whole range of social and scientific fields becomes possible. Various brain to machine interfaces have already allowed people to control airplanes and other machines with the power of their mind. It is only a matter of time – perhaps little more than a decade, before direct brain to brain communications occurs. Irrespective of dominant languages, perhaps the lingua franca of the future will be digital.

[i] http://theconversation.com/could-the-language-barrier-actually-fall-within-the-next-10-years-54805

U.S. election; the biggest loser?

Now that Donald Trump has secured the Republican nomination, Hillary Clinton looking set to wrap up the Democratic nomination, and no viable independent candidate in discussion, the options appear set. The world’s sole remaining superpower (for now) must choose between two individuals that have set records for their unpopularity. Whoever assumes the White House is likely to start with the lowest approval rating in history.

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Given Trump’s efforts to alienate women, Hispanics and other minorities, one would assume a clear path for Clinton, but given the uncertain outcome of the civil war within the Republican party and Trump’s populist and xenophobic message, a historic realignment of American politics remains possible. Under such circumstances, all bets and predictions are off.

There can be little doubt however, that the Trump candidacy alone represents a deeply damaging moment for U.S democracy. Not only does it show how antiquated and out of touch its current political system has become with swathes of its electorate, it threatens global stability in myriad ways. Trade wars, an isolationist and mercantilist foreign policy and a seeming lack of ideology (or understanding) underpinning any of the policy u-turns thus announced would radically reduce U.S influence globally, reduce allies’ trust and create global regional chaos in the event of unilateral U.S military withdrawal. Lapsing security guarantees alone would problematize the nuclear proliferation question in eastern Asia and the Middle East and effectively mark the end of American military hegemony. The economy would follow too were Trump to embark on economically ruinous policies of deporting illegal immigrants and confronting China directly over currency manipulation.

If, as many outside the U.S hope, Trump’s reactionary campaign fails, it is hard to argue that a Clinton victory would signal business as usual. In some way, the damage has already been done. The economic, social and demographic forces propelling Trump have been legitimized (even if the majority of his supporters come from declining demographic segments) and he is unlikely to represent the last of a string of strongmen types both cashing in on and fueling populist rage – a situation unthinkable in the U.S even a decade ago.

There can be little doubt that a slow burning political crisis is underway in America that will outlast this election cycle. In an increasingly divided nation that views moderation as a compromise too far, this is likely to result in further gridlock (such a thing is possible) in Congress – rendering void many Presidential plans. The geopolitical and economic forces that propelled the U.S, throughout the 20th Century are evaporating as sources of competitive advantage and its government needs to tackle a host of pressing complex domestic and international issues from social security to climate change. Inaction is not an option, yet 20th Century ideas still prevail. More than ever the U.S. needs an honest and straightforward internal dialogue about the severe economic and social issues it faces and a unifying candidate able to articulate this clearly and confidently – something unlikely when the fight for the most unpopular President in history concludes this November.

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.

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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.

drugs

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.

platformeconomy

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