Making plans for the future: the challenge to change your business

David Smith
CEO | Global Futures and Foresight
8th January 2016

There is more change happening in more places in the world driven by more people than ever before. Back in 1950 there were just three billion people on Earth, today there are over seven billion. Over the same period, economic activity has multiplied exponentially to reach nearly $US 80 trillion today and is set to triple in the next forty years.

Even if you don't plan to engage in the vast opportunity that exists in foreign trade you can be assured that foreign organisations have their sights firmly set on the UK. New business models are incubating in economies with different structure, costs, regulation and priorities and these have the habit of crossing international boundaries at the speed of light.

Ebay, Amazon, Uber, AirBnB, Lidl and a range of micro finance offers all developed business models outside of the UK but have hollowed out their respective UK industries traditional business models and truly disrupted them - forever.

Challenge to Change

Technology has been a major force for disruption for centuries but the pace, scale and scope of technological innovation has accelerated recently. In industries such as communications, mobility, health, manufacturing, construction, automotive, financial services etc. technology is allowing them to become significantly more innovative, productive and effective at achieving their goals.

These are the necessary steps all firms in the UK will need to take to remain competitive in the new fast-cycle global economy. Offering traditional products and services in traditional ways is not a safeguard against irrelevance, which is the likely outcome for those who cannot or will not change.

Artificial Intelligence, cognitive computing and software robotics are all technologies that are increasingly making knowledge workers and professionals redundant. At the same time, however, they make those who know how to deploy them more productive. Customer contact centres will employ far fewer people as these tools increasingly undertake the routine work.

Those who are employed will be the smarter people who will chose the contact centre as their career as they will be dealing with the complex issues learning systems still cannot resolve. This paradigm will be true in many industries including the insurance and banking sectors and accounting and legal support operations.

In manufacturing we will see the continued uptake of additive fabrication, or 3D printing, as it enables consumers to design products that are highly personalised and produced locally. The new maker economy is already born and is maturing rapidly in the UK which is already at the forefront of this innovation.

3D Printing Shutterstock

In the business-to-business sector the idea of holding stock for your customer may evaporate as they can print whatever they need when they need it. How might this impact how you work?

Our communications technology has gone from mainframes, minis, micros, personal computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones in the past fifty years. These highly personal tools give us access to the vast information resource that is the internet whilst we're on the move.

A third of workers in the UK will be working remotely from an office using personal devices in the next five years. We will have an additional one million small and medium sized firms in the UK in this same timeframe, many of which are innovative and knowledge rich micro companies, companies of under ten people.

This technological transformation hasn't ended. This year Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will come of age and for the very first time we will be immersed in our data, game, film, conference call rather than looking at a flat image of it on a screen, the screen age is coming to an end. You have to try it to experience the impact it will have - try it out.

The Apps economy will also start to come to an end through the next few years as we see smart personal digital assistants, such as Microsoft's Cortana and Apple's Siri seek out the products and services we want. These digital assistants will be interacting with organisations selling algorithms and it is they that will negotiate the best deal for you. Searching the Internet, using comparison sites or loading up Apps could become a things of the past quite soon.

Smartphone Shutterstock

Tech disruption: what will business look like in 10 years? 

I could raise any number of technologies that are transforming how we do things, where we do them and who we do them with. They are numerous and they are disruptive and they are being implemented today. Read our 'What's Hot in 2016' report at to learn more about them.

What I do know through forty years of experience in IT services, is that with all new technologies, first we do things differently, then we do different things. In other words, with each new technology we harness it to do what we've always done but slightly better, quicker, faster, cheaper, more conveniently etc.

But, as we learn the true potential of the new technologies we do completely different things, in other words we change the business model.

This cycle is accelerating and disrupting industry after industry and sector after sector. It's widely believed that seventy percent of the Global Fortune 500 companies will not exist in just ten years. Many have taken decades, even centuries to form but have become inflexible and easily toppled by fast-cycle start-ups with access to large scale investment funds. This is the world that exists today.

My view is that looking forward we need many advisers and many viewpoints and we should prepare ourselves against irrelevance.

It's better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong when making plans for the future and to do that we need to create a knowledge base of the drivers of change that may impact us, work closely with our business partners and customers and, probably of even more importance, build a culture that encourages innovation and change.

How to future proof your business in 2 minutes

Image credit: Virtual reality headset from Shutterstock

Image credit: 3D printing from Shutterstock

Image credit: Woman using smartphone from Shutterstock

Do you want to join the conversation?

Sign up here
  • Find out how to get started

    Start selling your products overseas with our comprehensive support to help you every step of the way.

    Call our trade centre on 01275 370 944