Commercial Worlds

Future Perspectives showcases The Futures Company’s new thinking. It outlines critical issues, reveals new insights, and helps identify new sources of growth.

Technology 2020: Commercial Worlds is the third report in a series from The Futures Company which seeks to explore how digital technology will remake our world over the next decade. In the first, main, report in the series, we outlined our analysis and the big picture of technological change; in this short series of further reports, we discuss what some of the impacts will be on everyday life in 2020. In this edition, we look specifically at the impact of digital life on commercial life, including retail, payments, and business models.

Summarizing the future of technology on health or domestic life comprehensively in a few hundred words would be ill-advised, and we don’t attempt to do that here. Instead, we provide an overview of some of the key trends and technological developments, and a perspective on how these will change the way people do business.

You can’t assess the impact of technology without understanding social values, systems and infrastructure

Fortunately, we are helped by some of the tools and knowledge available to us at The Futures Company. One of our founding principles is that you cannot make an intelligent assumption about the impact of technology without considering changes to fundamental infrastructure and social conditions. We use a range of models to help us with this analysis, such as the Technology Axis Model referenced in the first report in this series. Furthermore, because we look through the lens of foresight and futures, rather than technology, we are able to draw heavily on our knowledge of other social, economic and cultural trends, and assess how these will interact with technological changes.

What this means is that this report provides a series of snapshots. They are not specific to particular industries or geographies, but we hope that they provoke you to look at these issues in more depth for your business or organization.

This Future Perspectives report is part of a series of reports on how digital technology is reshaping our world. The first in the series, Technology 2020, published in late 2011, set out an argument about the development of digital technology over the next decade or so which fell into four parts. This argument is summarized briefly here.

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) revolution is only the latest in a number of long waves of technological evolutions that we have seen since the Industrial Revolution. The other four were cotton and canals, steam and rail, steel and chemicals, and oil and autos. (In this analysis we draw heavily on the work of the technology and economic historian Carlota Perez). Each wave, which lasts for 50 to 60 years, has followed the same pattern: an ‘installation’ phase, funded by investment finance, in which infrastructure is built; a crash, as expectations outstrip take-up; and a ‘deployment’ phase, in which new products and services take hold. The ICT wave started in 1971 with the invention of the microprocessor, and the crash occurred in 2001-02. We are now about a decade into the deployment phase of the ICT revolution.

The next decade will see an unbundling of technology. We expect to see users and suppliers reconfiguring constantly the ways in which they use and deploy technology

The next decade will see the progressive unbundling of technology, as connectivity becomes more ubiquitous. We use the acronym DDSS for data, devices, software and sensors, to represent a way of thinking about this unbundling process. The result will be a technological world in which users and suppliers can endlessly reconfigure the ways in which they use technology to interface with the world.

Understanding technology on its own is not enough to understand which devices and applications will be successful. We use the technology axis model developed by HP Labs researcher Bill Sharpe to understand the ways in which social values will influence the adoption and use of technology, and the role of infrastructure, systems, regulation and business models in—typically—acting as a brake on take-up.

Finally, looking at these different elements together, it is clear that business innovation takes place only towards the end of the technology wave. The edge-of-town ‘big box’ store, for example, evolved very late in the auto and oil wave; similarly, the US meat- packing industry emerged near the end of the rail/steam wave. We are 10 to 15 years away from the end of the digital wave, in other words, exactly at the point at which we can expect business model innovation to accelerate.

For more, download the full report below.

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