Circles and shares: A glimpse of societal change
Posted on: Apr 11, 2018 by Ivo Luijendijk
My work at Atos brings me into contact with all sorts of organizations. It also brings me into contact with all sorts of ideas about the way the future might look. Not just for organizatons but for individuals and society at large.
So I read with interest the Atos whitepaper, “The Digital Business Continuum: Enabling organizations to thrive amidst disruption”. It introduces The Disruption Trinity—a combination of rapid technological advancement, regulatory changes, and changes in society. It then goes on to explore how organizations can address such challenges through continuous transformation. But there was a particular passage that stayed with me:
“Alongside … technological advancement, society is also changing. Access to technology has become a reality for a wider range of people. We are even seeing a “leapfrogging” effect where some countries (like those in Africa) have the potential to adopt new technologies faster because they are not so constrained by legacy infrastructure.”
As this quote highlights, changes in society often have a lot to do with how quickly new technologies are adopted; not just among the younger generations but when those technologies are pervasive out of necessity and unconstrained by pre-existing equipment, systems or industry arrangements.
It put me in mind of two examples of societal change I have come across in my work that could have long-lasting implications for organizations.
The first is the sharing economy, defined by one of its earliest commentators, Rachel Botsman, as, “An economic model based on sharing underutilized assets from spaces to skills to stuff for monetary or non-monetary benefits.” As one example from an article in the The Economist states:
“…consider Flare, which bills itself as an Uber for ambulances. Nairobi does not have a centralised ambulance-dispatch system. Getting one can take hours and require calls to as many as 50 hospitals and ambulance companies. Flare hopes that, through a smartphone app, it can dispatch ambulance drivers to patients in much the same way that cab-hailing companies link taxis and riders.”
The second is the circular economy, which the World Economic Forum defines as “…an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design.” In essence, it aims to “design out waste” with consumable elements of products being biological or non-toxic and durable elements being designed for reuse. An interesting example of how quickly this concept is gathering support is the African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA), founded by the governments of South Africa, Rwanda, and Nigeria.
As this extract from the opening speech at the ACEA highlights, a commitment to keeping resources in use for as long as possible could transform national GDP:
“…commitment to green growth has also attracted private investment in Rwanda, created jobs, and boosted local innovation. An example of this is STRAWTEC, a company that recycles agricultural waste into high-tech, low cost and carbon neutral construction materials.
Perhaps having been expected to play catch-up with Western countries, it is African countries that have become reference cases for the development of these new societal trends. Both examples reveal how the traditional linear economy of “make, use, dispose” has come under careful scrutiny by those who may not have enjoyed all its successes in the past.
Yet, the upward trajectory of the sharing economy and the circular economy depends on agile, traceable, and predictable ways of organising contracts. Circular economy principles need long-term monitoring and logging of events to determine pricing effects. Sharing economy principles require fast micro-consumption contracts that can track and handle services almost in real-time, as they are being consumed.
For long-standing organizations, moving towards these new societal arrangements means first reinventing business models, which in turn rely on widespread digital transformation. As the Digital Business Continuum explains, organizations need a highly adaptable and flexible way of transforming that is enabled by highly adaptable and flexible technology. And this is where I believe a new ‘trinity’ comes into play: “The Data Trinity”.
As IoT proliferates, our opportunity to gather data accelerates. With tools and techniques—such as advanced analytics and cognitive computing—we can turn that data into insights. Those insights may then influence actions that are just as secure for the individual sharing an ambulance in Nairobi as a banker investing on Wall Street thanks to blockchain. With organizational change underpinned by this Data Trinity, the potential for societal change we are starting to glimpse may just come to pass sooner than we think.