Seemingly since the dawn of the Internet Age we have had drilled into our collective consciences that “content is king.” However, a good case can be made that while content is critical, when it comes to understanding the ability of information and communications technology (ICT) to transform the ways we live and work, context is equally important.
We live in a time where everything is accelerating and the initial wave of opening up the world to previously inaccessible information via the Internet has revolutionized not just a myriad of markets and created new ones, but has forever changed the relationships between buyers and sellers, people and processes, people and devices and human interactions in general on an unprecedented scale. No longer are we looking at a world of technology innovation as technology for technology’s sake. Innovation is now primarily about intent and impact, what it can do now and what it means for the future.
In an effort to provide context for the what we are witnessing and where we go from here in terms of the ultimate utility and potential of ICT, Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) and the ENPC School of International Management have completed a joint research project aimed to giving all of us context about where we are, where we are going and why. They have just published the results of their efforts, “Megatrends: A Wave of Change Impacting the Future.” It is well worth a complete read. I provide a summary here with a few additional insights from the authors.
What is a Megatrend? What are they?
The report defines a megatrend as: “A gathering wave of change that is slow to form, nearly impossible to reverse, significantly influences the future, has an aura of inevitability and has a far- and wide-reaching impact on society.” In short, identification and understanding of them can provide guidance on future decision-making for development and investments.
The megatrends were delineated (click here for a good interactive way of diving into the individual categories) as follows:
As might be suspected this is the modern phenomenon of the “always on” and all ways connected world of 24/7/365 increasingly ubiquitous connectivity. It refers both to people and, increasingly, to net-connected objects and media platforms. Whereas only a decade ago “getting connected” required an effort, today a similar effort is needed to get disconnected — especially for the new generation of knowledge workers. We all are experiencing the changes brought about this connectivity in literally and figuratively virtually everything we do.
Digital native acceleration
This concerns the rise to leadership of individuals that are digitally adept and have expectations that ICT tools will enable them to change/disrupt all aspects of how we live and work. The acceleration of these natives into positions of authority is helping accelerate the proliferation and adoption of not just new technologies but new ways of doing things making the boundaries between all aspects of our lives increasingly blurry.
According to Marc Prensky who coined the term “Digital Natives”, the net generation thinks at “twitch speed”, where the mind needs to process more than 100 images per minute. The new way of thinking this next generation brings will shape our future in many ways.
This is a description ofICT-facilitated institution-based learning giving way to individual-centered learning. It translates into learning being liberated from location and time-specific constraints. As it evolves, it is becoming de-correlated from age, life stage, traditional institutions and financial means. It is noted by the authors that this liberation comes with an obligation, i.e., closing the digital divide between those with access and those without is an imperative for societal progress. Information in the Information Age is power, but to unleash that power it must be accessible.
Netizens to Government (N2G)
The trend here encapsulates the emerging new ways in which citizens are using digital media to interact with elected officials, governments and the public sector to induce or oppose change, participate in or influence a debate, support or reject proposed legislation, and, as we have seen recently, even go so far as to encourage or resist regime change.
According to the United Nations, the number of government web sites grew from fewer than 50 in 1996 to more than 50,000 in 2001. The rise of e-government has spawned its own jargon of new relationships, transactions and interactions including G-to-G (government to government or administration to administration), G-to-B (government to business/es) and, G-to-C (government to citizens or government to consumers/constituents). Interestingly, the top five countries leading in e-participation in 2010 were the Republic of Korea, Australia, Spain, New Zealand and the UK.
The rise of this so called e-democracy appears to be signaling a shift to a proactive form of citizenry in which the general public has a real-time say on a wide-range of issues.
The scope and look of urbanization are being transformed, blurring the boundaries between traditional definitions of urban, suburban, rural and region. New concepts, such as corridors, megacities, connected cities and rural conversion are now needed to describe this on-going phenomenon. The blurring of boundaries raises the need to redefine city demarcations, in terms of jurisdiction, local governance, control of trading zones, local taxes, local services, etc. Plus, as technology now allows for “on-the-grid” quality of life in non-urban areas, “remote” no longer implies disconnected, thereby encouraging people to stay in such areas, or move away from big cities.
This has led to the phenomenon of rural conversion, which describes the availability of quality services (health, education, etc.), as well as local economic development in rural settings through technology without traditional urban infrastructure. The bottom line is that especially in developing countries, understanding neo-urbanization and the role ICT can/will/must play is a crucial component to planning and executing economic development.
In fact, for further information about this trend, I would suggest explored extensive research, including primary research done by Alcatel-Lucent recently in India that can be accessed at the following links.
This is another simple but profound trend that describes the need to take into consideration the realities that medical breakthroughs have created by extending life expectancies. The ramifications are already challenging the assumptions and expectations of the typical adult life cycle into mutually-exclusive “chapters”, typically education-employment-retirement. In fact, the authors believe that as a result of people living better and longer, the notion of life stages and of retirement will have to be rethought. At the same time, the 60+ generation will have growing political influence to shape what is likely to be a “radically new” social contract that will have to be investigated, designed, debated and legislated.
Sustainable by Design (SBD)
Sustainable design (also called environmental design) is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and related services to comply with the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability. The authors state that the achievement of sustainable development requires the integration of economic, environmental and social components at all levels.
The trend refers tothe accelerated transition from sustainability as something that was “nice to have” or a source of competitive advantage to sustainability as a “need to have” and competitive imperative that must inform most aspects of modern business across all industries. The authors note that, “As SBD goes ‘mainstream’ it will also encompass all things ‘smart’ and accelerate their proliferation.” In short, they believe that from a global perspective we have reached a tipping point where consumer awareness and expectations that corporations are committed to being good stewards of the earth’s resources is table stakes.
The value of context
As can be seen from the descriptions above, having context at a macro-level is not just about having the ability to describe the world around us. It is about being able to use those descriptions and underlying data that support their relevance to turn insights into action. One of the contributing authors of the report, Smirt Collins, Senior Manager Market and Consumer Insight at Alcatel-Lucent, had a nice way of summing all of this up in the context of what this all means for service providers and other members of the ICT industries:
“These megatrends are driving the emergence of connected or interconnected business models, creation of new ecosystems, new value chains and opportunities for creation of circular value through collaboration between many industry players… As mentioned in the report the borders between many industry segments, Government and citizens and between private companies are blurring. This means business models need to change including the way SPs operate. And broadband connectivity (the network) is at the heart of all the enabling models. So here is a big opportunity for SPs to adapt their infrastructure, operations and business models to offer the services and customer experience that those ‘empowered connected individuals’ demand.”
As I noted at the top, content may be king but kings without context are not drivers of progress and success. Agree or disagree with the names used to describe the megatrends, the fact remains that they are valuable guide posts for anyone who has to not just think about the future but who must decide on where, when, how and why to place their bets.
Edited by Peter Bernstein