Category Archives: Governance

COVID-19 and the Future for Business

We are creatures of habit and isolation measures are changing our habits

Photo by Mike Kononov on Unsplash

People across the world are feeling the affects of the coronavirus called COVID-19. Whether it is directly as they suffer from the contagion, or indirectly through the various forms of social isolation, many individuals and families are having their lives changed.

Governments too are caught up in the maelstrom. They are, to varying degrees, financially, legally and morally supporting their health systems, their populations and the many aspects of their economies. Generally, these administrative bodies are taking part in global efforts to combat the pandemic.

Likewise, businesses large and small are affected. Retail facing enterprises have experienced precipitous falls in income and manufacturers have had supply chains interrupted. And, with health messages aimed squarely at driving people to work from home, the daily routines and work practices of many have shifted quite dramatically.

In amongst all of this are uncertainties about the medium to long term. Queries about what normal will look like on the other side of this pandemic. A time horizon that is familiar to strategic thinkers. To futurists.

Now, the questions a futurist seeks to provide guidance on are those that are long term in nature. This is the context for this article: the long term impact of CIVID-19. For this coronavirus has the potential to influence how people, governments and businesses operate throughout and beyond this next decade in quite profound ways.

How could the future unfold

Consider this. There are several ways the future could unfold. The following scenarios briefly describe different outcomes for daily life, for economies and for governing policies and practices.

For example, observe how governments are currently reacting. Leading politicians in many countries are quite openly resting upon the advice of scientists and other experts in constructing their responses to this crisis. Thus, to be consistent after this event, they would seek similar sources of wisdom for other problems. So, in the decade ahead you could make the argument that politicians would turn to scientists and experts to solve the challenge of climate change. Another problem that could be solved in a similar manner is the issue of social inequality.

A second way the future could pan-out is through the rejection of CBD-based employment. This scenario is based on the continued use of remote working technologies together with the ongoing threat of an outbreak of COVID-19 or a similar pathogen. As a result, people would gravitate toward living and working in the community they call home.

However, rather than focus on how things could turn out in a decade, let’s look at what could happen next. While either of the two scenarios outlined above could be realised over the next five to ten years, we need to consider how businesses could be affected over the coming 12 to 24 months. For governments around the world are talking in a timeframe of at least six months before returning to “normal” is even considered. Even then, the issues of the efficacy and availability of both anti-viral medicines (repair) and vaccines (prevention) may not be settled until well into 2021.  

So, apart from the initial reaction of configuring remote working and communication options, and the triggering of business continuity plans, there are strategic matters to reflect on. For we do need to consider the likely affects of this pandemic on business models and on human resources over the medium term.

Impacting a range of industry sectors differently

For retail businesses, bereft of any foot traffic, significant efforts are currently going into establishing both online operations and home delivery options. The collection and use of customer data is critical here as is the use of internet-based tools for growing the business. While our current habits are aligned with shopping and being entertained in a physical environment, consideration must be given to shift to digital-only operations and virtual retail environments. A second-order effect could be the further emptying of shopping areas and all that this entails.

For professional services firms, with face-to-face contact a rarity, the way clients and staff are managed could well shift significantly over the next few months. Regarding clients and prospects, all facets of hospitality and meeting locations become moot. For example, if handshakes and the stereo-typical corporate box to watch a sporting event are off the table, what distinguishes the nimble young from the stable and mature one? Likewise with aspects of human resource management. As people are spread between physical locations, trust by management in staff, and trust within teams themselves, becomes a key factor in the productivity

Let us not forget education services, government services, logistics, transport, manufacturing, agriculture and so on. The personal interaction component of each of these sectors will be affected as well. For education, the distinguishing feature of an institution for the next intake will be the quality of the online offerings and the suitability of assessments. For manufacturing, it may well be about maintaining the cohesiveness and productivity of design teams and operational units. As with professional services, the issue across a range of industry types is the question of generating new clients. Where the answer may not be found through traditional patterns.

In summary, its all about people skills and digital skills. Regarding people skills: we are experiencing shifts in how business relationships are conducted. Regarding digital skills: we intuitively know that business is increasingly reliant on digital technology. Finally, we also recognise the long-term effects that significant global events, such as the September 2001 terror attacks and the global finance crisis, have had on business. This COVID-19 pandemic is no different.

The point is this: those that respond to what may unfold are those that will reap the rewards in the new landscape.


For more of what I have to offer, visit Dellium Advisory, follow on Twitter, connect using LinkedIn, review my IT Strategy blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, or buy my ‘Jobs. Future. You.’ workbook.

Universal Basic Income and COVID-19

This pandemic is changing society, let’s think about shaping that change

For many across the globe this pandemic has changed the way life is lived in a myriad of ways. While many others are looking on and wondering when it will be their turn.

One recurring thought we may have is this: “I hope that life will return to normal soon”. However, it may be that this hope is only realised three, six or even twelve months from now. But, what will “normal” look like when the pandemic is over? Apart from some aspects of our life not being the same as today, many industry sectors will still be facing difficulties.

The most recent and relevant lesson is found in the financial calamity of 2008 and its aftermath. Some say that even 10 years after the event, many economies around the world still had not returned to what they were prior to the disaster. With this in mind, let’s use a thought experiment by applying this most recent lesson to what is happening right now. Suppose that the pandemic is behind us by the middle of 2021. Can we assume that life will return to “normal” by the middle of following year? Do we expect to see and experience how things were in 2019, by 2023? That is, a return to the familiar routines and rhythms of life just a couple of years after a potential defeat of this particular virus?

As a futurist, one of the tools in my toolbox is to help people discuss the different ways the future may unfold. So, here is a question to consider: can we use this time now to imagine an improved way to run the economy? Could we perhaps use this current period of restriction and uncertainty to consider ways of enhancing how we run the affairs of business, of careers, of welfare?

Is Universal Basic Income an idea whose time has come?

Much studied, discussed and experimented with, Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a regular living wage paid directly to citizens. This government guaranteed income is sufficient to cover basic living expenses such as food, accommodation and health. In its purest form, all people regardless of socio-economic status receive it and it replaces social welfare payments.

Self-evidently, arguments can be mounted to dissuade us from its introduction. But what is possible? Let us reflect on some of the positives, and how UBI can be paid for.

Regarding the positives, one obvious example is the benefit to those who have fallen on hard times, or for those who live at the lower end of society. UBI provides a floor, a liveable safety net, a tangible promise that support is available when its needed most. Another benefit is for those going through the agonies of divorce or domestic violence. UBI provides a means of escape and of establishing a haven of safety. A third advantage is from a career perspective. Consider someone who wants to leave a job and either start a business, or enroll in a course of education, or even have a break before they pursue a new career. With UBI as a support for these people, imagine the benefits we would reap as a society. Innovation and entrepreneurship would be unleashed, our workforce would be better trained, and employees would stay in jobs that are suitable for them.

Now for the other side of the equation. Where would the money come from? With reference to the trials and studies that several countries have run over the last few decades, there is a level of experience and knowledge that can be drawn on to answer this question. In essence, UBI could be paid for a number of ways. Taxes on resources and financial transactions, and the consolidation of welfare programs are but three sources of finance for this initiative.

One final thought. Step back and look what governments around the world are doing to help their citizens through this coronavirus crisis. The UK is gifting people a regular income, the Italians are paying utility bills, and South Korea is subsidizing wages. While there are other types of support currently being delivered, each of these governments have found the finance to directly support their people.

So, once this turmoil is over, imagine if the will was there to continue this financial support. Whilst we are in this period of uncertainty let us begin to have conversations about introducing Universal Basic Income. Why can’t we reframe the months ahead as a time of transition? For reshaping how our society functions is the opportunity that awaits.

 


For more of what I have to offer, visit Dellium Advisory, follow on Twitter, connect using LinkedIn, review my IT Strategy blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, or buy my ‘Jobs. Future. You.’ workbook.

Digital Economy Series: In a digital world does being faster, better and cheaper still count in business?

Achieving success today

One of the dominant narratives of the business world is that in order to succeed the products you provide either need to be cost competitive, be differentiated in some way, or you need to be quicker to market than others. Will this narrative hold as the economy turns fully digital?

vehicles on road between high rise buildings
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Consider what happens today. In order to maintain profitability an external improvement approach may be taken: variations of current products may be offered, or price discounting may take place to increase the quantity sold, or new markets might be opened up. Another approach would be to focus internally. That is to reduce costs and to streamline processes. And a third approach would be to go down the innovation route and develop new products for the same or for different markets.

All of these are variations on the faster, better, cheaper narrative. A narrative that holds true in an economy based on atoms, but does it hold for an economy solely based on bits?

Achieving success in a world of bits

We can gain some insights into this future state from the transition that is currently underway. This shift can be seen in the increasing proportion of business, of the economy, of even work itself being categorised as digital. Consider some observations. First, the marketing of goods and services. No longer does the maxim hold of “not knowing which half of the marketing budget is wasted”. For with the analytics available from advertising campaigns using social media channels and search engines the marketing budget can be spent more efficiently.

And second. What about the potential of big data, machine learning and the internet of things currently being brought to bear on say manufacturing processes, the logistics sector, and on agricultural practices? Finally, not forgetting consumers in all this data processing potential: we can find what we want or need more efficiently among the increase array of choices available to us.

Another insight from this transition is the merging of values with business activity. No longer can a company opaquely distance itself from that which is socially unacceptable. Today’s consumers, and even employees, increasingly call out participants in the local, national and global economies for lack of transparency and corporate behaviour at odds with forward looking standards.

A final insight is with respect to legal and political matters. Until recent times, the digital economy could be regarded as this anarchic wild-west frontier where the scale of profits was beyond comprehension and regulation was an anathema to the full gamut of stakeholders. But now we are seeing serious discussions concerning appropriate taxation regimes, effective safeguards of personal and private data for business use, and a range of attitudes of governments when it comes to how they use their citizens’ data.

Increasing efficiency and transparency

So, from one perspective digital technology is making the market more efficient. Perhaps even moving it toward that holy grail of it being a perfect market. Where there is perfect information, sufficient products are available for consumers, and where the lowest cost is the hallmark of all goods and services produced.

And from another perspective, digital technology is making the market more transparent. Where the ulterior motives of its stakeholders become clearer and the governance of data is weighted in the consumer’s favour. In other words, there is possibility that a defining characteristic of the market of the future is its integrity. That across the globe the economy operates with a high level of ethics.

A fully digital economy, then, has the potential to be described in terms of it being a perfect and ethical economy. And this potential will shape the current dominant “faster, better, cheaper” business success narrative. Where even if you are “faster, better, cheaper” due to the nature of perfect markets long lasting economic rents will be almost non-existent. Where even if your business succeeds by being “faster, better, cheaper” the rewards may well be short-lived if that path to victory was less then ethical.

The implication is that “faster, better, cheaper” is becoming “faster, better, cheaper, clearer”. For even if the systems involved in the current transition to an economy based on bits seem opaque, the potential is for all digital economy systems to be fully pellucid.

 


For more of what I have to offer, visit Dellium Advisory, follow on Twitter, connect using LinkedIn, review my IT Strategy blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, or buy my ‘Jobs. Future. You.’ workbook.