Never before in economic history have markets been transformed so quickly as they have now.
This is due to three factors that we have analyzed individually and know well. But it is their interaction that has ensured the high speed of the upheavals that we are currently experiencing. If one component is missing, the dynamic subsides. I am referring to technology, globalization, and disruptors.
The intervals at which new methods and technologies emerge are ever shortening. For example, the Internet of Things is navigating a challenging roadmap; it forms the basis for smart cities and the factory of the future. Artificial intelligence is becoming ever more powerful, even if it is still in its infancy and causes people to smirk along the way. In any case, it is already being used successfully today: for Siri and Alexa, cancer diagnostics, and empathic chatbots. The quantum computer, which is now causing a great stir, is on its way and will completely revolutionize IT as we know it today. The new 5G mobile communications standard will be the foundation technology for all other developments, mainly because of its low latency. The fusion of all these developments will enable further innovations, such as self-driving vehicles and intelligent agriculture solutions.
Second, globalization is a fundamental breeding ground for technological development: partnerships between universities, research institutions, and companies from around the world are becoming ever closer, enabling them to share their knowledge; within various organizations, more people from different backgrounds – and cultures – are working together. This diversity leads to considerable impulses for creativity. At the same time, new product genres, such as the smartphone, are making it a breeze to sell apps, products, and services globally. Market boundaries break down as a result: suppliers no longer come from just Augsburg or Bottrop, but they now also come from Rio and Bangalore. Even startups without significant amounts of capital are in a position to make their innovations available to a global market.
Startups are an essential part of the third component that helps transform markets: disruptors. Both startups and even companies from outside the industry are increasingly turning around established industries with their high levels of creativity and great perseverance. For example, Amazon has come out of nowhere and changed the rules of the game in retail; financial tech sector startups are threatening the banking landscape with new services; Facebook wants to introduce Libra, a digital cryptocurrency; Google and its subsidiary Waymo are pioneers in self-driving cars. And these are just a few examples.
These factors – technologies and methods, globalization, disruptors – may be familiar when viewed individually, but in their interaction they shape the society of the future: a hyper-digitalized society in which IT plays an essential role and in which, of course, the world of work will also look different. In just a few years, the close partnership between man and machine will become a reality and will ensure, for example, that employees work together in a completely new, immersive way or that more equal opportunities in the workplace will emerge as people lose their prejudices of others.
The fact is, with every economic upheaval, entire professions have disappeared, so I expect that the use of automation and AI will eliminate entire professions. But it is also a fact that new professions have always compensated for the loss of jobs. And I am sure that this transformation will also create new forms of economic activity and ways of work that will ensure prosperity.
But on the way to this society of the future, there are other serious challenges to overcome, such as burgeoning population growth, the scarcity of raw materials, and climate change. In addition, there is an IT-inherent challenge, namely a growing attack surface for cyberattacks. For society, hyper-digitalized also means hyper-attackable. And this applies not only to production lines and server landscapes but also to each citizen: will he or she become a transparent citizen in the process? No matter what, technology is already making it possible today. The GDPR does put a stop to this, but it will require a huge rethink in this regard in order for data privacy and self-determination of data and information to endure in the future. The greed of companies and countries for our data is not diminishing, and these entities have strong allies in technology: AI, for example.
Change management is key to success
Against the backdrop of the many layers of complexity here, success in the future will largely depend on the desire to transform: the digital transformation, of course, but also a personal, economic, and political transformation. When we talk about the smart cities of the future, for example, we are automatically referring to the “smart citizen” and the “smart government.” But companies must also learn to think smart, especially the former “top dogs” – the companies that often seem overwhelmed by the rapid changes in the markets. They have no choice but to question everything they found good in the past and reinvent themselves today, so they can be prepared for the future. Change management is the key to success in a hyper-digitalized society.