Technology breakthroughs by Bob Moritz

In our latest Global CEO Survey, business leaders told us technology is one of the biggest disrupting forces in their organisations. One aspect is that the time it takes to go from breakthrough technology to mass-market application is collapsing. In the US, it took the telephone 76 years to reach half the population. The smartphone did it in under 10 years.

The price of new technologies is falling equally rapidly: since 2001, the cost of DNA sequencing per genome has plunged from US$96m to less than US$6,000. At the same time, digitisation via the internet has created extraordinary value, as exemplified by Google. And social media is steadily strengthening its position as a dominant force in the day-to-day lives of people across the globe, enabling many of the world’s top brands to capitalise on it to deepen their relationships with customers.

Indeed, the impacts of digital disruption are now so pervasive that no business in any sector – from the smallest family business to the largest multinational – is immune from them. And the pace of technological advances hasn’t slackened at all during the past year. Far from it. According to MIT Technology Review, in 2014 alone we’ve seen breakthroughs in technologies ranging from agricultural drones that enable higher crop yields, to ‘neuromorphic’ chips configured like human brains; from microscale 3D printing of an ever wider range of products, to agile robots that can walk or even run across uneven terrain; and from ultra-accurate, big data-enabled weather forecasts that will boost the contribution from renewable energy, to genome editing that will help tackle previously baffling brain disorders.

All of these advances either help to solve complex problems or open up new ways of using technology – or both. And in each field the progress to date is just the start.

So, what’s next? Over the next decade, we think the transformative potential of digital for consumers will play out in three waves:

  • The First Digital Wave: we’ll see more and more companies adopt ‘e-commerce’ or add a web channel to their existing portfolio. In this wave, even fairly traditional organisations will make this move.
  • The Second Digital Wave: digital will move beyond a channel to an ‘economy of outcomes’. That means we’ll see businesses teaming up with the consumer to find an outcome. A good example would be that a number of companies today are involved in helping us live healthier lifestyles.
  • The Third Digital Wave: this will be driven by consumers taking back their digital identity and extracting value from it. You’ll see consumers owning their digital brand and expecting organisations to know what they want and to really deal with them as individuals.

Across these successive waves, companies will find value by uniting four aspects of digital: Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud. For businesses, having a digital strategy will no longer be enough. Instead, they’ll need a business strategy fit for the digital age.