10 “mega” digital trends affecting all businesses today

OPINION / 26th September 2017

The futurist, visionary and celebrated author Gerd Leonhard has identified 10 “mega” trends that are affecting all businesses today. In his latest book ‘Technology vs Humanity’, he states that the ten trends, which we will outline below, have been brought about by the rapid advancement in technology. Each trend is creating a huge shift in society its own right, and when merged together with the other trends, is helping to form an entirely different world in which we will work and our children will play.

Like other futurists, such as David Rogers from Columbia Business School, Leonhard compares the ongoing ‘digital revolution’ with that of electronification in the late 18th century, which fuelled the Industrial Revolution and dramatically changed society forever. In a recent seminar he said: “In the past we electronified. In the future we will cognify”. He added that humanity “will change more in the next 20 years than it has done in the previous 300.”

For businesses to grapple with that level of change, and to think ahead to the future, they need to understand the “Megashifts” he has identified occurring in society. He says that these “Megashifts” are putting us in a position of “exponential technological change” and that any business sitting back and taking a ‘wait and see approach’ will, in his words, “wait and die”.

So, with that in mind, we have taken his 10 megashift terms and explained how they are shaping businesses now and within the next decade:

Augmentation: seeing the world with a digital layer

Google Glasses may have shattered, but the technology behind this invention lives on. Last year the Pokémon Craze took the world by storm – but as life mimics art this technology has filtered into the world of business. Fashion retailer Ralph Lauren has used Augmented Reality in its flagship store in Manhattan to assist its customers. The same brand exhibited one of its collections in a VR show. In a B2B setting AR is being used - for example by supermarkets - to aid planogramming.

Automation: where machines and software replace humans

This technology is predicted to have a greater impact on society than globalisation. It is estimated that telecoms and telesales companies will be able to automate 80% of their work. In other areas, autonomous vehicles will prevail. The first autonomous road cars have hit the streets; in the US, autonomous lorries are being trialled; and in Dubai, the world’s first autonomous flying vehicle has been launched (my childhood dreams might just come true!).

Cognification: everything will become intelligent or smart

Machines will soon be able to think, not like humans, but they will be able to compute information in a logical way. Google is using cognitive technology to begin to identify/diagnose major illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, strokes and other illnesses. It has created a smart pill, that pairs up with a smart wrist-worn sensor, with disease detecting nanoparticles, which when swallowed can identify changes in a person’s biochemistry and send a signal to the sensor.

Datafication: everything is being tracked and turned into data

Things that used to be recorded on paper and stored in a physical filing system, like medical records, are now being stored in the cloud. Data, combined with cognification, is making everything “smart” – from pipes, to cities, to farms and everything else inbetween, so much so it is estimated that there will be 50 billion IoT Sensors by 2020, generating 5,200 GB of data for every person on earth. This data is being used to drive efficiencies, spot mechanical failures before they happen and to reduce things like accidents or insurance claims.

Digitisation: text, pictures and sound are in a digital form, and able to be processed by a computer

If you’re Gen X like me (or even older!), you will remember when we used to buy music on vinyl, cassette, then a disc – but now it is streamed straight to our mobile device. Same for films. We are already digitising things like tickets and bank cards, so expect more analogue things to be digitised and integrated into our mobile devices.

Disintermediation: the middlemen fade and new platforms take over

This is becoming increasingly common in a digital age. Businesses that used to act as the middlemen or gatekeepers are becoming disintermediated – or defunct – as consumer behaviour changes. In the US you can see this happening with TV production companies. Many are bypassing cable companies and distributing their shows directly. HBO has introduced its own ‘HBO Now’ app where consumers subscribe directly, pay to get all its shows, without using a cable bundle, using a digital subscription model.

Mobilisation: technology designed for mobile

Mobile devices have become an external brain or a second brain. We use them for dating, listening to music, and watching movies. The mobiles we use today have the same power that a mainframe computer that the President of the US was using 20 years ago. In 10 years the mobile devices we carry in our pockets will have one million times the capacity of today’s computers. In the near future our mobile will be our computer too, expect to wirelessly hook it up to screens and input devices such as keyboards and gesture-controlled gadgets - at work and home.

Personalisation: every user can be individually targeted

What used to be a marketing fantasy is now becoming a reality. Digital billboards in the US and Asia can now recognise car brands that pass them and change the ads shown accordingly – drivers of high spec cars will be shown adverts for different goods and services than those driving the cheaper vehicles! As we leave driving to automation, expect more personalised marketing to invade our car spaces too, based on our location, time and who is in the car.

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Robotisation: robots are going to be everywhere

Robots will be as common as using WhatsApp in 10 years. In Japan, people are already using physical robots as companions around the home, they talk to them, ask them to play podcasts for them. In the digital world, we’re becoming comfortable communicating with intelligent virtual assistants and robots – Siri, Cortana and Alexa are just the first steps into accepting this technology into our lives.

Virtualisation: creation of a virtual, rather than actual, version of something

Virtual reality, despite adoption being slower than anticipated, is set to change the face of content, entertainment, education and delivery of information. It will even replace the way people connect on social media. It has already been successfully used by Volvo to promote the CX90 which, as a result, sold out on pre-order. It’s been used to help the Italian restaurant chain Carluccio's to promote its revamped menu. And kids in the US are even being taught about the Apollo 11 mission in VR format. Young gamers are already using VR to immerse deeper into gaming environments – so expect micropayments and communications to become more commonplace VR interactions within our homes and business within the next five years.

Peter Gough Peter Gough Managing Partner & Founder Peter Gough