Nine Future Catalysts
by Bray J. Brockbank

Welcome to a new era in business. In a marketplace more competitive than ever, with diminishing gross profit margins, organizations are looking to form and sustain relationships with other businesses that will help them keep their competitive edge. But, this shouldn't be news to most of the business world.

Although most of us realize that the future is not easily predicted, we do know that the future tends to follow a predictable rhythm or pattern. With an understanding of the past, we can gain a better understanding of the possibilities of the future - that is, what might happen. By knowing future possibilities we are more capable of making educated decisions before the future becomes the present. Once the possibilities are identified, we can better choose to make the desired possibilities become realities - while preventing the undesirable from happening.

Eye to The Future

Study and research of the future or "futures" has emerged as an instrument for governments and business enterprises in identifying and studying emerging trends and envisioning the range of scenarios that they may produce. Futures helps us look to and prepare for the uncertain and unpredictable future.

Looking beyond the present to the future for answers allows us to see beyond our current, myopic, ever-demanding environment. Futures study offers the ability to:

  1. Utilize greater depth-of-knowledge and access to information
  2. Anticipate and shape the evolution of business
  3. Create a microscope through which to analyze emerging research and trends
  4. Predict business opportunities from these trends

For the past few years, I've had the opportunity to study many of the current trends, opportunities, and much of the available research on business, technology and economics. What I've seen can be summarized into nine general 'catalyst' categories that I believe will shape future business activities over the next three to five years - and possibly beyond.

For each of the 'catalysts' described below, I offer a few "future thoughts" to support my conclusions - and "future business opportunities" likely to occur. Also, note the connection or interdependence of each catalyst to another.

1. Open Architecture

Enterprises, organizations, and governments are increasingly seeking interoperability and faster integration between their internal and external systems - while offering openness to integration with future systems and emerging technologies. Openness and connectivity will be the standard by which intelligent enterprises operate.

Proprietary, closed systems will no longer survive in the business world. There will no longer be the "Microsoft way" - openness of systems and connectivity will drive future success. "Open" architecture is much more than a trendy "buzzword" - it's a philosophy supported and internalized by the "fast, brave, and innovative" leaders of the knowledge economy.

Open systems will be modular in concept and practice - where all the modules, components, or systems communicate and work together - without dependencies on each other. This allows unrestricted addition and removal of components and modules - with the capacity to work with new or emerging technologies yet to be marketed or conceptualized.

Bottom Line: Those seeking to preserve or maintain their market space or dominance by holding on to their proprietary, closed systems (and processes) will see them rejected through difficult and failed integrations. Eventually, their products, services and market share will vanish away.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

For decades, artificial intelligence (AI) has been touted as cutting-edge technology. It's true, but for the most part, it's still a lot of 'hype'. Though, I see significant breakthroughs in AI development within the next five years. These significant breakthroughs will not give us the sci-fi artificial intelligence that we have dreamed about or grown to fear, but we will eventually see AI emerge as a viable commercial product and service.

Breakthroughs in voice recognition (VR), biometrics and adaptive intelligence systems (AIS) will provide significant victories in the AI battle. AI could easily present itself as a replacement for many of the technologies that we currently use in our daily work and living.

Bottom Line: Artificial intelligence will allow technological "programs" to question their own underlying logic and related assumptions. AI will give programs the ability to sense dynamic changes occurring around them - that they have not been preprogrammed to detect. Technology will no longer be programmed to act from a list of "memories" or "experiences" based on accumulated (past) data, but will have the ability to act with an "adaptive and predictive" response.

3. Global Connectivity (GloCon Era)

As technology develops, the need for connectivity 24/7/365 becomes the mantra. All of the new technology being introduced is leading to connectivity - anytime, anywhere. This is self-evident with the emergence and near global acceptance of PDA's, laptops, instant messaging, cell phones, and unified messaging products.

Greater acceptance and utilization of global, wireless, interoperable, and broadband networks is beginning to create an anytime, anywhere environment. Most of these technologies are heavily backed and funded.

Adoption of WAP (wireless application protocol), or any other application protocol as an industry standard -- in the next two to three years, may prove to be the key to wireless success and security as well as the foundation for global connectivity. In general, though, standards are too slow to be developed and accepted as de facto - an open architecture (connectivity) approach would be best for wireless interoperability.

Bottom Line: As people and organizations become more and more connected, business opportunities will emerge in serving the connected market. The materialization of increased bandwidth and open systems will enable global connectivity to grow exponentially. Instant access to information via PDA's, wireless phones, pagers, two-way radios, and other devices and technologies are on the horizon.

4. Embedded Technologies

The proliferation of embedded technologies and software devices is leading to smarter-connectivity. Although embedded technologies have been around for some time, the technology is now more open, intelligent and connected. Embedded technology will only improve as our understanding of processing does.

The distinction between devices, such as, PDA's and wireless phones will blur even more - size, functionality, convenience, and ease-of-use will become the primary focus for consumers when purchasing these new hybrid devices. As this becomes possible, costs related to this technology and connectivity will drop significantly. Every day, microprocessors are becoming cheaper, faster, and smaller.

Bottom Line: Eventually, embedded technology and software products will "bridge the gap" between disparate technologies - creating a personal universally integrated device (UID). Each device will be enabled with some type of universal language interface (ULI) that will allow each of us to communicate with technology, through technology - in real-time, seamlessly. With this advent, enormous business opportunity will present itself for developing, supporting, and maintaining an infrastructure that facilitates collaboration in a connected "virtual" environment.

5. O2O

Collaborative markets will make the transition to O2O markets - or one-to-one markets. Future analysis of customer behavior will enable businesses to offer unique and differentiated service in every O2O 'connection' or encounter they have with a customer.

The development and expansion of application service providers (ASP's), eCRM, datamining, e-marketplaces, all sustain this catalyst movement. But this is only the beginning of the O2O market.

Bottom Line: Growing global connectivity and entry barrier breakdown will likely enable anyone to buy, sell and collaborate with anyone over the Internet. Hybrids of eBay, Amazon.com and Yahoo! will appear on an even more personal or one-on-one basis.

6. Convergence

A market convergence is beginning to take place. Growing mergers, alliances, joint ventures and partnerships all contribute to the blurring of once clear company boundaries. The current sharing of assets, co-opetition, joint-venture development, and outsourcing all suggest that this convergence is already underway.

Who does this convergence affect most? It primarily affects the customer or consumer of such products and services. In the middle of all of the 'convergence' that's taking place, the consumer 's information is being collected, processed and analyzed. Businesses will be anxious to use this information to determine their customer needs and future prospects.

Bottom Line: As markets and business models move from collision to eventual convergence, the consumer will need to be aware of the need to protect their privacy. It will be the consumer who will dictate what information will be made available while making purchases and inquiries. Power will be transferred back to the paying consumer.

7. Intellectual Assets

A shifting of the valuation of assets is underway. Physical asset valuation is now shifting to intellectual capital valuation. What comprises intellectual assets? Primarily, intellectual assets consist of the knowledge within an organization's human capital.

Current metrics are insufficient in measuring organizational intellect. New metrics and processes will need to be created to better measure and more accurately assess the level of organizational (intellectual and physical) assets.

The employment market landscape is changing. Today, employees want to be more than a corporate body number - they want stock options, tailored benefits, rewards and recognition. They want more than a good salary. Research shows that employees are leaving companies in droves because their company hasn't sufficiently invested in their personal career or goal development.

Bottom Line: The talent shortage will affect corporations, as more and more workers leave the corporate world and migrate to contract work or self-employment. Many will start their own businesses - taking their intellectual capital (knowledge) with them. Systems like learning management (LMS), knowledge management (KM), and business intelligence (BI) systems are business tools that will curb the tide of mass worker exodus. These tools, when implemented correctly will support and improve the workers' surrounding environment as well as their development.

New opportunities will also exist in infrastructure development and support for those who've chosen self-employment. Small business organizations and programs will need to be developed and deployed to support the new rogue workforce of the future.

8. Intangible Metrics

The "swing" from physical asset valuation toward placing value on intangibles will increase and influence the way we measure and report value. In light of this current trend, intangibles are now measured in ever-growing number.

In the near future, revolutionary metrics will be used to measure performance, with emphasis on future performance measurement and valuation. The first positive step in this direction is evident in the efforts organizations are taking to measure training and development with new learning management systems (LMS) that record and report results. These systems will also assess knowledge gain and specify additional subject matter to address 'gaps' that exist in the employees desired skill-sets. They will also offer highly customizable training modules that will adapt to their learning preferences and needs.

Bottom Line: New systems and processes will need to be developed to measure and evaluate innovation, brand and new product development. Such metrics will also offer the ability to measure the loss/gain ratio with the departure of old employees and the entrance of new employees. Organizations that put systems in place to measure and value human capital intangibles will attract, train and retain the leaders of the future - their human capital.

9. Government

The government is also looking to 'e-enable' itself to keep pace with the Internet economy. The ever-growing influence of government through new or removed regulations will prove to be one "wild-card catalyst" that could possibly redefine all markets.

The government is poised to intervene in many markets as industries undergo consolidation or market scrutiny as monopolies. Ask Microsoft. Healthcare and medical disciplines are also prospective targets. Healthcare represents one-seventh of the US GDP. Although it's a very large market, it's also largely fragmented.

Bottom Line: The government is moving to 'e-enable' itself to keep pace with rapid business development and regulation. The Internet and other breakthrough technologies will also provide healthcare and other medical disciplines a means for quick claim processing in a "paperless" environment - at a tremendous cost savings. The Internet will also facilitate personal management of healthcare and program portfolios.

Future Analysis

As I look into the future I see many variables. Each of the catalysts that I've described is heavily interdependent on the other. The technologies of the future haven't even been named yet - but these catalysts will surely be the foundation for their success.

Final Analysis: Regulation and deregulation by government will be the hidden "wild-card" on many of these predicted catalysts. With regulation or deregulation possibilities on the horizon for many of the market players - only time will tell how the final catalyst will play out.


Bray J. Brockbank is a business and technology integrations consultant for Learnframe, a leading KnowledgE-commerce (TM) and e-Learning infrastructure technologies corporation; bbrockbank@learnframe.com, 800-738-9800.

Also by Bray J. Brockbank - Innovation at Ground Zero and e-Learning and the e-Workforce | Articles on technology in e-Business and The CIO Refresher in The CEO Refresher Archives

   


Copyright 2001 by Bray J. Brockbank. All rights reserved.

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