Category Archives: Scenario Planninng

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.

Digital Economy Series: “Who and what is holding us back from a fully digital economy?”

Among many responses to the to the unfolding phenomena of a digital economy there are two that stand out. The first, is “yes, we will be enmeshed in a full digital economy by 2050”. The other, and more phlegmatic, response is “potentially, we could be enmeshed in a fully digital economy by 2050”. Upon examining the reasons for the less than full hearted second response, we reveal the forces arrayed against change. What follows is an assessment of the second response.

stop sign
Photo by Mwabonje on Pexels.com

Consider the fields of human affairs in which we are experiencing change. There’s environmental change, shifts in international and domestic politics, technological advances and the constant innovation in the health and human services sectors. Let us not neglect the spheres of finance, education, and governance. The list goes on. Trends, change and drivers of change. All threads in the dynamic tapestry of early 21st Century life.

In among all of this we are examining the digital economy and who and what is stymieing what some would call progress to the realisation of a fully digital economy in the decades ahead.

Asking questions is the key to this examination. Questions like: who benefits from the status quo and who loses if we go fully digital? What are the social, political, economic, legal, environmental or technological barriers to realising a fully digital economy? Are cultural worldviews and belief systems the obstacles in the path to building an economy that is fully digital?

Turning firstly to the status quo. Benefiting from the status quo are those whose influence, power and profit are founded on the world of atoms. If these attributes of prominence do not translate to the world of bits change is resisted. Remember the retailers of a few years back? To them the internet was but a passing fad. They saw no need to embrace the digital economy.

Our reference point for an examination of the social barriers could be the introduction of Facebook. Once Metcalf’s law kicked in, ordinary people could see the inherent value in sharing their lives online and overcame their reluctance to enter their personal and private details into the Facebook database. Turning to one potential aspect of life that could be with us the time ahead: personal artificial intelligence assistants (we do have Alexa, Cortana & Siri now don’t we?). Our uneasiness with being second guessed ahead of time by artificial intelligence may be rendered moot because of the value and ease these new machines bring to our lives, relationships and careers.

And what of the governing class and the way political life is conducted. Is it because of the Machiavellian dictum “never attempt to win by force that can be won by deception” that political barriers will remain? For with this category of barrier the perspective that “a fully digital economy is equivalent to full transparency” may well be the non-negotiable impediment raised by its stakeholders. An anathema to the political class.

And what of legal barriers? Consider the difficulties presented by cryptocurrencies, the machinations we have with privacy in a digital world, and the conundrums with copyright. And let us not forget the implications of RegTech, the jurisdictional challenges faced by taxation authorities in this digital world, and the quagmire at the interface of human bodies and technology.

Finally, there is who we are as individuals, as members of families, communities, tribes and nations. All revealing a rich and complex global panoply of worldviews and belief systems. We can conjure images of dystopia and pockets of doomsday preppers as symbols of resistance to a fully digital economy. And similarly we watch the countervailing forces of progressives and conservatives. Progressives seeking a better way, conservatives seeking to only incrementally improve the way things are. And then we have the reactionaries who are bent on impeding any forward movement that the forces of improvement show.

Given all this, is it any wonder that we have so far been able to thread the needle of change. Is it any wonder that the quality of so many parts of our daily life for so many lives is better than what it was decades ago?

There is no single “who” or “what” holding us back from a fully digital economy. But what there is this: a multitude of challenges that are to be overcome on our collective arc of accumulation.

 


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: “Is there only an upside to your life, your job, your community in a digital economy?”

Tomorrow’s teenage grandchildren

Just like those in their retirement years today have witnessed so much change since their teenage years, so will today’s teenagers when they reach their autumn years and help raise teenage grandchildren.

For those currently in the latter seasons of life, what have they witnessed over the course of their adult dyf - future possibilityyears? Consider the geopolitical tensions pushing history to unfold in uncertain directions (ie. Cuban missile crisis), the scientific developments ushering in hope (penicillin) and despair (nuclear fission), and popular music performers swaying the life choices of fans across the globe (Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix) are among the many changes witnessed.

 We now know how all of this unfolded, for it is today’s lived reality. Looking back over these decades we view this historical path as the “business as usual” path. The scenario that happened and that we now experience, study and use as reference points for what may happen in the decades ahead.

 But what of other possibilities, of other scenarios, of other ways that things could work out. Just like our current reality could have turned out differently, what paths could history take for today’s teenagers? Specifically, what could unfold in our context of focus – the digital economy.

 Its relatively easy to imagine one scenario – the business as usual path. For example, in 50 years time (ie, the lived experience of the teenage grandchildren of today’s teenagers) and based on what we know now, it is conceivable that consumer purchases will all be cashless and will involve automated delivery technology, and that all business transactions will use blockchain technology for goods and services prioritised by company-wide artificial intelligence algorithms?

How could things turn out?

But what about other scenarios? Will the history of the digital economy unfold such that there will only be an upside for your life, your job and your community? Where machines and robots undertake the work we don’t want to do, provide for our needs effectively and facilitate the richness of humanity’s many bonds and opportunities?

Imagine, then, a scenario unfolding where everything is restricted, or perhaps a scenario where anarchy rules.

First, restriction. Today we live with our social media feed being individually unique. No one else on the planet has exactly the social media friends and followers as I. Likewise with the configuration of ads I see in my browser; they are unique to me. And what about my purchase history where I shop with loyalty cards. This too is unique to me, as are the offers I receive. Why not then, in the time ahead, only seeing on my screen the things I am interested in? Only being shown political messages that will resonate with me, only being offered membership to social groups aligned with my past experiences and interests.

 A scenario where the lives we live have boundaries that can not be altered. Where a superficial peace is the dominant mood.

Second, the anarchy scenario. Today there are forces that seek to upend the order that liberal democracy has brought to bear upon hundreds of millions of people across our world. What if they succeed? What if the internet is technically re-architected into ideologically walled gardens, that the Global Currency – the US Dollar – is replaced by the Chinese Renminbi, the German Mark and the Brazilian Real, and that the bounds of ordinary life are limited to self-contained urban zones each with different digital capabilities and intents.

 A scenario where social and business life is dissimilar across the many enclaves, in which tension is a common theme.

With business as usual, life retains its complexity; with restriction it is hollow; as for anarchy it is wearying.

The future is not set

As outlined above, an AI-rich digital economy that supports quality of life is a likely outcome of the business as usual path. But what of the other two scenarios under consideration? For the consumer, the restriction path implies only uniquely tailored goods and services. Similarly for business. Where success is tied to this unique tailoring, implying that prospects for innovation are limited by the scope of these personalising algorithms.

 With respect to the dystopian scenario, some enclaves no doubt will have the economic resources to realise a business as usual outcome, but most are likely to be unrecognisable societies by today’s standards. And so, due to resource scarcity, lack of trust, and through the application of technical digital capabilities built up over decades, local oligopolies reign supreme with deep surveillance and intense social stratification core characteristics of each society.

 Understand that the future is not set. History indeed can unfold along one of these three paths. To our question at the start, the answer then is no. We are not assured of beneficial outcomes for our life, our jobs, our community in a digital economy.

 


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.