How to prepare for the technological breakthroughs megatrend, and the eight technologies to start with
How can CEOs and their top teams even begin to make sense of the swirl of technological breakthroughs affecting business today? How do they gauge the impact of artificial intelligence on their companies’ future compared with, say, the Internet of Things or virtual reality?
Given the sheer pace and acceleration of technological advances in recent years, business leaders can be forgiven for feeling dazed and perhaps a little frustrated. When we talked to CEOs as part of our annual Global CEO Survey, 61% of them told us they were concerned about the speed of technological change in their industries. Sure, more and more C-suite executives are genuinely tech-savvy - increasingly effective champions for their companies’ IT vision - and more and more of them know that digital disruption can be friend as well as enemy. But it’s fair to say that most struggle to find the time and energy necessary to keep up with the technologies driving transformation across every industry and in every part of the world.
History is littered with companies that have waited out the Next New Thing in the belief that it’s a technology trend that won’t amount to much, or that won’t affect their industries for decades. Yet disruption happens. It’s safe to say that the history of humankind is a history of disruption - a stream of innovations that have tipped the balance in favour of the innovators. In that sense, technological breakthroughs are the original megatrend. What’s unique in the 21st century, though, is the ubiquity of technology, together with its accessibility, reach, depth, and impact.
Business leaders worldwide acknowledge these changes, and have a clear sense of their significance. CEOs don’t single out any particular catalyst that leads them to that conclusion. But we maintain that technological advancements are appearing, rapidly and simultaneously, in fields as disparate as healthcare and industrial manufacturing, because of the following concurrent factors:
Cheaper access to technology
Globalisation of technology
Increased comfort with technology
The competitive advantage of technology
Multiplier effect of technology
Collectively, those driving factors are forcing big questions to the surface - questions that C-suite executives themselves are asking. To help provide answers, we tracked more than 150 discrete technologies, and have developed a methodology to identify the most pertinent of those technologies; the aperture being granular enough to scale from a business unit to a company, an industry, or even the global enterprise landscape as a whole. The multifactor criteria screens for business impact and commercial viability of these technological breakthroughs over the next five to seven years (and as little as three to five years in developed economies).
The specific technologies most impactful to a company can - and likely will - vary, of course, but when we analysed for technologies with the most cross-industry and global impact over the coming years, eight technologies emerged. They are at varying degrees of maturity; some have been around for years but are finally hitting their stride, while others are maturing rapidly. None will be surprising to CEOs; they are regular subjects of often breathless coverage in popular newspaper coverage.
We believe that these technologies will shake things up across all five aspects of your business model - some in very beneficial ways, and some in quite challenging ways, as seen in the following snapshots.
Strategy: If strategy is about defining “what business to pursue,” then these technologies are opening up a slew of new opportunities and corresponding considerations.
Customer Engagement: The eight key technologies are already reshaping almost every dimension of companies’ interactions with their customers, from sales and marketing to billing and after-sales support.
Operations: Artificial intelligence, robots, drones, and 3D printing can all improve operational efficiency and provide significant competitive advantage.
People and talent: The eight technologies are creating brand-new job categories, but a worrying consequence may be slower job growth. Concurrently, new technologies beget new companies and new job categories.
Compliance: This is an often overlooked aspect of the business model. We believe the shortlisted technologies will see many companies scrambling to adapt to - and trying to influence - the resulting regulatory landscapes. The regulators themselves are likely to be in a catch-up mode for a while.
So what should CEOs and their leadership teams do with such brief glimpses of the business impact of these influential technologies? For starters, it is best not to treat the technologies as a kind of checklist to delegate to the CIO or the CTO. Instead, CEOs must take very seriously their own obligations to turn these technologies to strategic advantage - and to protect their organisations against others using the technologies for advantage. If that sounds something like an arms race, that’s because it is: technology must be viewed as a competitive weapon, one that merits regular discussion and decision-making in the C-suite.
Tracking, evaluating, and developing the action plan for emerging technologies should be an integral component of the overall corporate strategy. To do so, there are three questions you must find effective answers to:
Do we have a sustainable innovation strategy and process?
Have we quantified the impact of new technologies? If not, how can we do that - and how soon?
Do we have an emerging-technologies road map? If so, are we keeping it up to date?
Answers to these fundamental questions will give you the meta-actions - moves that enable the executive team as a whole to properly and effectively harness the best new technologies.
No argument: it is not easy to stay ahead of emerging technologies. But you really don’t have a choice; your organisation must adapt. By winnowing down the welter of possible technologies to a starting list of the Essential Eight, we hope we have helped provide some focus and clarity. More than that, we hope that we can begin to re-energise the C-suite’s discussion of how best to leverage the right technologies in the right ways at the right time - for the right business reasons.
So, develop an innovation strategy and start making the exploration and quantification of emerging technologies (and planning for them) a core part of your corporate strategy.