Category Archives: Strategic Foresight

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: Through what eye do you behold a digitising economy?

In order to answer this article’s question we need to appreciate how our perspectives have developed. For it is important to note that not only do we all have our own biases but our world views aren’t always in synch on any one of a number of issues.

high angle photo of robot
Photo by Alex Knight on Pexels.com

This development process starts with our beliefs. These are shaped by factors such as our culture, our education and our experiences. What we hold dear, our values, not only grows out of our set of developed beliefs but are also shaped by our family’s values and our successes in life. What builds on these two, in turn, is first our attitudes and finally our behaviours.

This is where our perspectives of the future digital economy come into play. Because the future can not be studied, as it does not yet exist, only our images and conceptions of the future can be. These ideas are built upon our beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours. The vision that we each have of what a fully digital economy will look like depends upon our biases and world views.

Consider the question: “what do you think the future will be like?” From a temperament perspective, are you a hopeful person and by default you look for win-win outcomes? Or are you one who has been bitten by identity fraud and based on your experiences your answer is laced with skepticism. The implication here is that an argument for a fully digitised economy that is utopian in nature could be just as well received as well as one that is dystopian.

The question that follows from this first consideration is this: “what future are you afraid of?”. If you fear being manipulated by omnipresent artificial general intelligence, then you may well rail against “the machine” as it currently stands. Perhaps even exhibiting Luddite-like qualities in your attitude toward technological developments.

In discussing how the future of the economy could unfold, specifically the degree to which it could be digitised, we have seen that there is not one preferred scenario. Several possibilities could eventuate. What underpins any of these paths is the growing preponderance of the digital bit in creating economic value. For it used to be that the economy was solely based on what we could do with the atom – build things, sell things and establish bases of power through the material world. But now it is the world of the bit that is increasingly ubiquitous.

There are then several issues that flow from this increasing digitisation: the skills that we trade for value in the workplace, questions concerning the knowledge and wisdom that can be derived from a super-abundance of data, social responses to the changing structure of the economy, and the shape of governance structures surrounding corporates and other institutions. Finally, what may arise from this trend toward increasing digitisation is the emergence of an “intelligence economy”. One that supersedes the digital economy. An economy where real value is no longer held in varying compositions of bits, but in prized abstractions of knowledge stored in quantum computing machines.

In looking forward from the vantage point of today, what is your preferred future? How would you like this increasingly digital economy develop? Are you hoping for one that is based on solely the taxation of capital, thus freeing humanity through the mechanism of a universal basic income? Or are you hoping that life continues as it is, albeit with some form of control mechanism that reduces any digital encumbrances arising from social toxicity?

Whether we gladly accept this trend or hold deep reservations, the future is progressively digital. This phenomena will impact how value is created, how we lead our lives, and how the state conducts its governance. The nexus of all aspects of the future economy will rest on streams of ones and zeros. For just like the harnessing of physical streams by the waterwheel led to all manner of outcomes, so to will the technology that harnesses digital streams.

 


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.