Published October 2018
This is not an article about the future, this is an article about changes happening right now, right here, in South Africa and all over the world. The management of companies need to be aware of disruptive technologies.
I have always had to deal with competition, and I enjoy the challenge for the most part, but when I consider that nearly 90% of the Fortune 500 Companies from the past few decades no longer exist I need to ask why?
For the longevity of a company, decision makers must do an assessment of their operations in context to technologies and take action where needed. I have. After all, what is the point of preaching and not practicing? I don’t think I could live with the embarrassment if my downfall came from technology…Certainly not, considering my line of work.
I concluded a keynote talk not so long ago to some newbie lawyers and accountants, advising that their careers were under real threat and that they need to think outside the box. My opinion is supported by many other professionals and organisations. For example, the University of Oxford says there is a 95% chance of accountants becoming obsolete.
Closer to home, Deloitte says 39% of positions in the legal fraternity are at risk.
All over the world and in every sector change is happening and at a great scale. 10 million people’s jobs are expected to be disrupted in the oil and manufactory industry alone in the USA.
The influence of disruptive technologies on us will far surpass our comprehension, and the severity exceeds any past experiences. It will make the death of the Yellow Pages by order of Google look like a blimp on a monitor. Without any doubt, and for the foreseeable future, the only constant for businesses is going to be discontinuity.
We are living through an evolution called the ‘humanization’ of tech. Let me unpack that concept.
Operating systems started off with computers, moved onto cell phones and are currently migrating to cars. In the not so distant future, tech will physically become part of us, and we part of it. The once clear line between man and machine will become very blurry.
Every business will be affected and the largest wave of capital expenditure is going to be experienced in the history of the world. Nothing less than 4.5 trillion pounds is expected to be spent on the Internet of Things before the end of 2025.
I am happy to share that no matter what happens with this movement of ‘humanization’ of tech, no computer can ever recreate human desire or replicate empathy or emotional intelligence. A smart business would try to commercialise these things …. This brings to light a subject of ethics, which I address a little later in this article.
In my opinion, the movement itself is going to disrupt four areas of our lives. There will be disruption of the economy & trade, cultural & ethics, income & skills levels, and lastly the political landscape & governance power quota verse corporate quota. We can summarise all disruptive technologies into two categories:
So what does the actual landscape look like now and what do we actually have to deal with already?
There are so many examples I can offer, but let me share some on the top of the radar, like the shift from text searches to interfaces using voice and virtual reality. The keyboard and mouse will become nearly obsolete within the next five years by my prediction. We will, in fact, be having more conversations word to word ratio with robots than even our own partners. For example, if you are lucky enough to be able to book into the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas you will be speaking with a bot concierge, not a human.
These sorts of robots are going to be everywhere.
I also predict the death of the cashier position very soon and with it the closure of many retail chains which have dominated our shopping malls for years.
Digital purchase will exceed person to person transactions soon, and businesses are becoming aware of this. We now have over 2500 block chain-related patents filed. This new type of trade will have a financial impact of around 180 billion Pounds before the end of 2025. This trend is not all about Pounds or the US Dollar. These countries will not have the monopoly, and if Africa is smart we can actually do very well.
Right now we have MasterCard 2Kuze with their cell phone solution for payment options to East African farmers.
We have Medsaf, a platform for African health institutions to get quality medication and help battle fake and substandard medication.
At home, in South Africa, we have Domestly, a sort of Uber for domestic workers, but better. The platform allows domestic cleaners to set their own rates.
We have Snapplify’s digital publishing solutions, which are helping students gain access to books.
We have Bright Black providing solar energy solutions and saving some of our trees.
We even have BOTTLES, an on-demand alcohol delivery service via smartphone.
In general, South Africa’s awareness of opportunity is good. For example, 90% of South African companies are shifting to cloud tech and are also ensuring that their services or products have some sort of channel for customers through cell phones. We expect to have 27 million South Africans connected by the year 2025, and enjoying similar connectivity standards to that of the UK and USA.
There is a retail chain in South Africa that already tracks in store purchases to help with future sales. This is one example of using technology to digitally push future sales. This strategy is going to dominate and rattle the marketing practices of nearly every business.
HDTV in Ubers, shopping centres and even while trying to eat in restaurants will become the norm, and these little TVs will be able to use our phones to discuss what we like and change marketing displays based on our interests and preferences.
This method of marketing is going to open us up to all sorts of unsolicited notices and could very easily be abused. The European Union has issued new regulations, which can impose a fine as much as 20 million Euros on companies pushing their luck and violating our privacy to sell us things. We don’t have similar legislation in South Africa yet.
Service providers cannot manage the ethical standard of disruptive digital marketing or technologies. It’s just too much risk. We need an international standard and global authority with representation from all invested parties. We cannot leave these responsibilities to search engine and social media giants.
We need to start off on the correct foot because many of the impacts will be irreversible. We are already setting a bad example for AI, which is learning racism from us! Remember our Xenophobia issues in South Africa? Well, the levels of divide and potential for harm world-wide will be astronomically greater if we have digital phobia.
Perhaps one day we will have a union for humans and another for robots?
For business, which is, of course, my focus here, we need to accept that our greatest competition was probably only conceived a little over 2 decades ago.
65 percent of today’s school children in the USA will end up doing jobs that haven’t even been created yet, and for them starting a new business now that can threaten our trade is much easier with technology. The competition’s ability to acquire market share at a faster rate is much greater now. We have seen this pattern before. It took 60 years to connect 30 million phones in the USA, but only 12 years for 25 million cell phone subscribers.
The top ten and most in-demand jobs in the year 2010 did not even exist in 2004!
Experience is no longer a top priority asset to a business. It can actually be a liability. The old ways of ensuring a company survives, the methods and theories, are just obsolete, and the scary thing is they are still the lessons we are teaching at schools and universities.
We must embrace a fundamental mind shift. Accept that we will have smaller offices and hospitals, there will be new digital communities sharing resources.
We must adapt. It is possible, and the rewards are worth it. Look at Discovery who sold 90% of all Apple watches through its highly disruptive health insurance program. Insurance companies are reacting as much as the medical fraternity. We are going to be living a lot longer. The merger of technical and human parts is here and there is a growing investment into gene editing technologies that allow us to rearrange the DNA in nearly any living creature.
We will have the ability to monitor cancer, and the nature of medicine will evolve from treatment to prevention. We can use similar technology for other things too. For example, very soon vegans will start eating meat. Not a meat substitute, but the real thing. We can grow a steak and never have to harm an animal. The knock on effect, of course, will far exceed the experience of dinner time, and if you can imagine the huge environmental effects on farming when livestock farms occupy nearly 50% of our habitable land, and the animals create nearly half of the annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Less farming will also mean we save water; it takes 4000 litres for a kilogram of meat to be produced.
With tech we can make organs using “bio-print” or even upgrade ourselves with neuromorphic hardware.
We will have custom medication which will be a huge new industry worth approximately 240 billion Pounds before the year 2030. While on the subject of markets, technology is going to lead to the creation of entirely new industries, some worth huge values. For example, more than 430 billion Pounds worth of quantum encryption security services is expected to evolve because of new computers.
On the other side of the same coin, we can anticipate the end of the 19th-century power grid because power usage practices are shifting rapidly to green power.
The cost of making power is also decreasing, and this will help with the evolution of Industry 4.0 and so many wonderful changes. For example, the installation of smart sensors and the application of data analytics for smarter production, or how about Beyon3D, which robotically turns 2D drawings or 3D models into a prefabricated building component by using high-grade concrete or gypsum mixes.
I can go on and on about all the examples, and I have not even touched on the subject of the transport system. It’s hard to create a clear picture with all these changes, but there is a wonderful report called the Richard Watson 100 Disruptive Technologies one can look for. Actually, the report only has 99 listed examples but now is not the time to be technical.
The report is a table of four severities of disruptive technology phases. I wanted to give some examples, and I have amended the phase titles and shared some examples of technology for each phase where I think they belong.
I believe I am spot on with Technologies that are happening right now, for example: Distributed ledgers, drone freight delivery, precision agriculture, and smart control of appliances.
Then, we move onto Probable near future technologies, less than 20 years into the future, such as smart nappies, predictive policing, cultured meat, balloon-powered Internet, computerised clothing, predictive gene-based healthcare, cognitive prosthetics, and AI advisors and decision-making machines. Not on Richard’s list, but I will add robot sports!
More than 20 years: Vertical agriculture, wireless energy transfer, powered exoskeletons, human organ printing, autonomous robotic surgery, low-cost space travel, colonisation of another planet.
Ending finally with
highly improbable but not impossible, the far future: Medical tricorders, AI board members and politicians, mega-scale desalination, lifelong personal avatar assistants, humanoid sex-robots, Internet of DNA, human cloning and then my favourite from the list, human de-extinction!
To view the full table, you will need to move onto a PC and zoom in:
So how do we, business management, respond to disruptive technologies?
Each business has to make a decision about what approach to take on for monitoring and reacting.
Do you take a radical or incremental stance? The simple answer to this is if you are losing sales already, you take radical action, but every company must have at least an incremental plan in place.
I have plotted a simple step by step plan overview below, but there are, of course, many more steps to explore depending on the business I am consulting with.
No matter the complexity of your industry, these plans must be designed with the input from all levels of your staff.
|Step 1:||Assess current technical status of own operations verse your primary competitor. This has to include your physical equipment + staff skills + external factors such as legislation.|
|Step 2:||Create a plan to ensure you address your shortfalls. This normally involves shuffling of leadership, some new equipment and certainly some new skills and training.
Most companies will also add some new services or product offerings to clients.
|Step 3:||A plan for monitoring disruptive tech. This plan must have two separate areas of focus:
|Step 4:||Create a response plan to threats.|
|Step 5:||Create a plan to test opportunities in a sustainable manner while maintaining own company technical status.|
Most companies already have an inclination on step 1. Step 2 is much harder, but change has to be embraced. Think about Netflix’s destruction of Blockbusters. Blockbusters had the opportunity to buy Netflix for just 50 million Pounds and declined. Blockbuster is now a dead cow, and Netflix is worth more than 32 billion dollars. Companies must take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.
More importantly, we need to engage, collaborate and share resources. This practice for the most part is something new for companies, but needs to be embraced as most companies won’t have all the skills needed in-house.
You must also prepare for resistance, perhaps from shareholders or investors. If the resistance is too high, you must accept that you might need to get new investments.
Linear thinking needs to stop. Skillsets in a company need to be reassessed and teams have to think about new ways to apply their companies’ knowledge into new solutions, similar to Fuji, who took the opposite approach to that of Polaroid, who filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Fuji introduced digital products and went to their own employees to find out what other ways they could make money. This resulted in the use of their cellulose triacetate being used in a new market for flat panel displays. Fuji generated an operating income of nearly 1 billion USD for the fiscal year ending in March 2007.
The World Bank has the approach to build, broker, and boost an environment for technology to support business. I believe that businesses need to play their part in this process.
Companies that survive will need to know how to be flexible, engage in constructive communication and challenge their own teams. Core management needs to shift from being an expert on one thing, to knowing how to learn and embrace a variety of technologies.
Re-skilling staff and migrating personnel to new jobs is not going to be an easy challenge for businesses.
In short, most companies will have to either chase the market with an amended product or service offering so that they can continue to sell to their current client base, or create a new market base using expertise to create entirely new solutions and find entirely new clients.
Running a few workshops is helpful to facilitate this decision process. Here is a great table I found while doing my research as an example of a tool used during such a strategy session:
While Google is moving forward with its Project Loon (high altitude balloons sending down their signals) we need to focus on some other things closer to home in order to prepare our strategy to respond to disruptive technologies and improve our companies’ chances of survival.
We need to look with new eyes, internally and externally.
Be aware that right now not even legislation governs disruptive technologies, and we are in the new Wild West.
There are huge skills and wage voids developing and no one to respond to these challenges.
Our markets are going to be flooded with skilled people but no job opportunities.
We are going to have a landscape of old infrastructure waste, companies avoiding accountability and a developing culture asking questions about moral implications of tech.
We have leadership without the slightest idea on how to deal with this new phase in our human evolution, and business owners need to do some future proofing.
Please feel free to send any questions or comments. My other articles are at: https://www.jeanpierremurraykline.co.za/media_jeanpierremurraykline.html
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Published October 2018Read more articles