It is not technology, but culture, that is critical to becoming a future-forward business. So says futurist Chris Riddell, the first ever Chief Digital Officer for Mars Incorporated and global futures advisor to the Australian Federal Police.

During Genesys’ Humanity Reinvented: Beyond Tomorrow webinar, Riddell discouraged the audience of business leaders from getting distracted by technology.

“Today’s world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous,” he said. “We tend to run after shiny new things when fundamentally, culture is one of the biggest obstacles to success.”

It is not technology or digital that is creating disruption. High-speed change is the disruptor and the biggest threat to business relevance. Tech is simply the underpinning force.

Organisations that cannot accept failure, ideation and external input are not going to keep up.

Contrary to popular opinion, the next wave of disruption will come not from a hooded teenager writing code in their bedroom, but from existing competitors. Startups may have some great ideas, but they lack the cash and funding sources to get their ideas off the ground. The futurist said 2019 will be the year of the “category killers”, where one business dominates an entire industry.

“In media, Facebook is the biggest category killer with no #2 competitor, putting it in a unique position,” Riddell said. “Google is the category killer in the data industry, also with no #2 competitor.”

Amazon surprised everyone and sent the retail sector into a tailspin after it acquired Whole Foods for $US13.7 billion in 2016 — the largest acquisition in the company’s history.

It also launched its own “frictionless” flagship store in London last year, where customers swipe their phone at a turnstyle as they exit — eliminating the need for a checkout.

Riddell expects the retail sector to undergo a significant shake-up as more tech giants go physical.

Amazon is the biggest player in the bricks and mortar space at present. The only question that remains is which tech titans will buy up retail’s remaining big players.

Riddell asked “Will Facebook buy Target? Will Twitter buy WalMart? Will China’s Weibo buy Costco?”

Emerging trends

The potential offered by Augmented Reality — as demonstrated by the success of Pokemon Go in 2016 — demonstrates that AR is a major growth sector still at the bottom of its hype curve.

“The next we’ll see is mixed reality,” Riddell said, ”blurring the distinction between the digital and physical worlds”. He describes AR as a “gateway technology”. Expect to see significant growth in this sector over the next three years.

Other future trends include the sharing economy, blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Of the four categories, Riddell said AI remains the most misunderstood as it is often presented as the technology most likely to put humans out of work.

“This simply isn’t true,” he said. “It exists to help us create deeper, more meaningful experiences on a one-on-one basis. Combined with IoT, its power is truly extraordinary.

“Real-time intelligence out of IoT platforms means we get real-time data on individuals about how they’re behaving, what they like and don’t like. This has propelled us into an era we have not had access to before.”

The sheer volume of data consumers generate through their devices means business can use AI to craft predictive and prescriptive experiences.

“We can predict what customers want before they realise they need it themselves,” he says. “We can make sure each individual person has exactly the experience they want, on demand, tailored to them, using the power of AI.

“People expect this now. If you aren’t giving your customers an incredible experience every single time, you are missing the mark. Experiences are the new brand.”

But with great power comes great responsibility

After years of headlines about hacks, data breaches, manipulations, and violations of customer privacy, trust in the public, private, financial and government sectors is at an all time low, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer survey.

Riddell said the business of trust must be reinvented. While companies like Telstra and ING have attempted to do so by announcing company restructures and transformations, these have all been accompanied by significant job losses. Moreover, restructures do not directly address the ethics and responsibilities of data sharing in an age where consumers are deeply distrustful of how their personal information is being handled.

“As we go into 2019, these headlines are not going away any time soon,” Riddell said. “We are going to see more and more of these as businesses try to understand how to reinvent themselves to become relevant for our future.”

Regardless, the change and innovation that occurs over the next three years will shape and redefine the next 100 years of society, the futurist says. So it is essential that business keeps up with the pace of change.

“Imagine you have two clocks: one that runs within your business and one that sits outside,” he said. “The clock in your business is the pace at which your organisation is running. The clock outside is the real world. If those two clocks aren’t going at the same rate, you’re not keeping up. That is your biggest threat.”

About this author

Claire Connelly is a writer of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit of which Genesys is a corporate member. Our members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply.

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