Our Digital Past; from 2004 to 2014
In the past decade the world consumers and companies operate in has changed. From the fundamentals of established business models and how we work through to the ways in which we interact on a daily basis. However, although the pace of change feels rapid, it’s easy to lose sight of exactly how different the world is as new technologies move rapidly from something on which we focus and are very conscious of using to just another part of our daily routine that somehow seems like it’s always been there.
Smartphones are a great example of this. In 2004 they were an expensive device, limited to work or an affluent few who could buy one of the Nokia 9000 series. In 2014 they are a ubiquitous and essential item that we check that we have on us before we leave home in the same way that we ensure we have our house keys. This is just one of many examples of rapid change that has slowly evolved and yet, dichotomously, seemed to have explosively appeared. Looking to these, and many other examples, it’s clear that were in a time of change to rival the industrial revolution.
Looking to 2024
But what does the past tell us about our future? Considering how digital has changed the world over the past ten years and reflecting on where we are now, it seems that digital is affecting change in a series of patterns. A set of themes of impact that started over ten years ago, are driving a rapid and new age of disruption now, and will continue to impact businesses over the next decade. These are all at different stages of maturity; some are well established and are the modes of disruption we’re experiencing and are familiar with right now. Others are just emerging and will be the engines of disruption and opportunity through to 2024. There are five in total;
The traditional delineations between different types of organisations and actors will continue to be blurred. A customer can be a supplier, a competitor can be a customer. For example, for Amazon AWS, NetFlix is both Amazon’s biggest video-on-demand (VOD) competitor but also their largest VOD customer on AWS.
This enables Disaggregation through increasingly connected individuals, devices, & machines(the “internet of things”). A shift from connecting information, people and business to connecting people, data and machines. For example, Santander's Smart City trial with over 12,000 sensors in bins, streets, the ocean etc. that allows the city to be smartly managed.
The deconstruction of established chains and movements of goods. Connectedness facilitates new business models and interactions and enables new disruptive intermediaries. This is an area where we’re most familiar with the disruptive effect of digital right now and this will only continue. For example, Good Eggs and FarmiGo remove established intermediaries by connecting customers directly to farmers, or AirBnB disrupting the travel industry, or the much publicised disruption that Uber is bringing to the taxi industry.
(4) Frictionless Technology
Our interaction with technology will move from the foreground (interaction with a device) into the background (automation). Our data will work for us without direct intervention. For example, IFTTT allows you to define conditions under which certain actions are performed. There are tens of thousands of pre-defined options that connect data and devices. For example, IF I sleep less than 7 hrs. (measured by FitBit / JawBone Up etc.) THEN switch on the coffee machine at 7am (using a WeMo connected plug). This is just the beginning of what will be possible.
The type of data that is collected on, and is available to, us will be increasingly intimate. It will extend from location-based to our physiology (e.g. health), values, & biology (e.g. facial recognition). For example, BioStamp is a flexible plaster that can collect data on your sun exposure, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature etc. Not to mention the growing list of health related devices, like the Athos bio-suit, the Vessyl that tracks hydration and connects to health devices and the ever present rumours of Apple’s iWatch.
Preparing for Our Digital Future
As Neils Henricks Bohr, who defined the fundamentals of the atom and quantum physics in the early 1900s, said; "prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”! And certainly determining the specifics of the future, the exact definition of what customers will want, or what our digitally-enabled world will look like, is very hard.
However, whilst we can’t predict the future, this doesn’t mean we can’t prepare for it. If we regularly consider these themes and the implications for existing business models, established chains of goods, and customer needs, it’s possible to maintain the continuous iteration of a corporate strategy that’s needed to stay ahead of an increasingly disrupted world.