Technology played its part in any period that historians care to describe as a “golden age”. The Post-War era, stretching from the end of the Second World War to the early 70s was a period of capitalism during which the middle classes swelled along with GDP. The role of technology during that time of growth is unquestionable: we saw a man on the moon, we watched TV become a mass medium and labour-saving devices changed lives – enabling women to join the workforce in unprecedented numbers for example.
Fast forward to 2o14, and we are slap-bang in the middle of what could be described as a new golden age: that of technology itself. While it is the changing lifestyles, behaviours and attitudes of consumers are leading this shift, it is the demands on business that are being challenged as a result. Business must now communicate in a truly authentic and transparent way if they are to bring everyone behind a central vision and allow the maximum number of people to benefit from their innovations.
Internally, the global ICT industry is undergoing almost constant reinvention to deal with these demands so that businesses can modify the way they operate at every level. Externally, the winners will be those who find a genuine purpose beyond profit.
We see five key trends that are allowing businesses to visualise and create the technologies that are changing the world every day in this golden age.
People, places, “things”. In 2008 the number of things connected to the internet exceeded the number of people on the planet. Cisco has forecast that there will be 50bn connected things and has identified $14trillion of revenue opportunity for businesses over the next five years. Google Glass could just be the beginning.
But “connect” isn’t just about internet-connected devices. Think of that most maligned of sectors – banking – and consider how it is being transformed by technology. Peer-to-peer lending firms like Funding Circle are filling the void in the dysfunctional structure that has, until now, been responsible for lending to small innovative businesses. At the retail end, apps like Zapp allow people to pay for goods at the till with their mobile phone; and the well-documented rise of Bitcoin is being embraced across the world.
When we talk about banking and retail, the conversation inevitable turns to the proliferation of mobile technology. Stats on mobile penetration are everywhere, and tell of extraordinary growth. Africa stands out as an example of the sheer scale of mobile service and where this trend could take us. According to the GSMA, Africa is home to 53% of all live money mobile services globally. Core services such as education and healthcare and also going straight to mobile in Africa and in other developing nations, opening up huge opportunities for digital entrepreneurs wanting to access huge new consumer audiences.
Ironically though, the global mobile industry is at a crossroads. Operators are faced with the challenge of ensuring they don’t just become infrastructure utilities as the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook increase their share of the mobile apps and services space.
Getting closer to customers doesn’t come without its challenges though. Securing people’s data is a big issue and the erosion of privacy is an even bigger one.
We are already asking ourselves big questions around how our personal data is used. I may be happy to share my health data with my GP, for example, but would I want it shared with my insurance company or my employer? These are big questions.
The opportunity for growth from data services is so great that, on privacy, the train has left the station in many ways. When it comes to free services such as Facebook or Google, we already pay with our privacy. Based on consumer demand, search engines such as DuckDuckGo are springing up, which emphasise the protection of users’ identities. But the value of data cannot be realised if consumers switch off in this way. It is up to businesses to communicate in an open and transparent way in order to maintain the integrity of people’s personal information.
Data: a small word for something very big that we don’t yet fully understand. There isn’t an industry on earth that isn’t looking at how increased value can be derived from customer data. As a result, we’re already seeing the commoditisation of services over cloud technologies where traditional broadcasters, ISPs and telcos are all encroaching on each other’s turf to get closer to customers. Use of data has already created a two-tier retail sector in the UK to the extent that many traditional retailers are being saved by online sales.
The high street was once the centre of our real-life communities, but the internet is centreless. Portals haven’t really worked and loyalty to social networks is at best fickle. We can look forward to a much more dynamic web where consumers drift to the next big thing with ease. The way these services use our data and the way we come to understand this transaction will be at the heart of future success.
There is a revolution happening in manufacturing, and it involves harnessing information. The 3D printing phenomenon is an example: imagine if a plumber could diagnose a problem under your sink, identify the new part required and print it from his van. Or envisage being able to download a product directly from Amazon onto your home 3D printer to save on transport costs. These examples are reliant on the effective transfer of information or data.
This takes us back to Cisco’s prediction about the internet of things. As devices become more self-aware, the opportunity to build and challenge conventional ways of doing things should lead to incredible innovation. Google and Regus are already talking about driverless cars, and Amazon about drones that could deliver shopping. Qualcomm is using wireless charging pods that could be stored under the road at traffic lights to power electric cars. All of these “things” need to be connected and make use of the information that makes them relevant in the first place.
In a world that has bet so much of its future on the ability to re-invent and innovate, the gains for businesses and individuals are huge. Communicating in such an environment is challenging: there are positive and negatives derived from technological advancement.
Businesses that operate in the sector have a responsibility to share their vision of the world in a way that gives them purpose beyond profit. Their actions must be good, even when they believe no one is looking and they need to work to be authentic and engaging with the individuals and communities that they could end up transforming.
Businesses that look to do so will have a great opportunity to lead us in the first true technological “golden age”.
Image credit: Flickr/Mark Strozier