Journeying into the future: Ten years of the Scientific Community
Announcing “Resolving Digital Dilemmas” as our strapline for Journey 2022 last November raised a few eyebrows. Predicting that the digital “art of the possible” would no longer necessarily be aligned with the “art of the permissible” was controversial.
As our Atos Scientific Community celebrates its 10th anniversary of identifying and researching emerging technology and business trends, I have been looking at how our thought leadership messages have evolved. While the detailed richness within the Journey publications would make even a brief reflection of their predictions almost impossible, you only have to look at the evolution of their straplines to see some fascinating trends.
Journey 2014: To boldly go
Anticipating the future in a world changing at an alarming rate is no easy task, particularly when you think that the main digital brands ruling the game today were first launched only ten years ago. Who could have predicted where such digital technologies would take businesses, societies and individuals? Yet that was the mission I accepted as co-chair of the Scientific Community.
We launched Journey 2014, our first vision for the future of business and technology, back in 2010, coining the strapline “Simplicity with Control”. With digital’s promise of efficiency and effectiveness that was not to be ignored if you wanted to remain competitive, “Digital by default” soon became an ethos for many organisations. We spoke about the importance of Cloud Orchestration and how organizations would rely on more than private clouds or a single public cloud provider. While this concept and work won Atos a Nasscom Innovation Award, it was somewhat criticized at the time – history has shown that we were spot on.
Every two years since launching Journey 2014 we have continued to publish our vision systematically. Each iteration has sought to look four years ahead, expressing the anticipated technology evolutions and revolutions as a coherent vision for business leaders.
From borderless enterprises to digital dilemmas
Writing Journey 2016 in 2012, we used the strapline “Enterprise without boundaries”, predicting a need to rethink traditional perspectives on both internal and external businesses in the light of digital possibilities. We also introduced sustainability as a key concept for business, a move that was again seen as quite controversial. However, over the following years, many key players stated that sustainability, climate change, and environmental issues were strategic concerns to be taken into account in every activity, such as investments, operations and supply chains. Our approach of employing 4 mega-trends (globalization, demographics, trust and economic sustainability – later adding automation) as an explanatory backdrop for the multiplicity of otherwise apparently disparate developments was novel at the time.
By 2014, with the worst of the 2008 financial crisis apparently over, short-term predictions about the world and business situation were generally optimistic. Foreseeing some clouds on the horizon, we bravely gave Journey 2018 the strapline "Agility and fragility". But by 2017 the fragility in politics, geopolitics, business and technology we had anticipated was starting to reveal itself.
We had reached something of a digital tipping point by 2016 with disruptions bringing both opportunities and challenges. The huge changes we observed in B2C engagements were propagating through to impact the heart of business processes and supply chains. These “Digital Shockwaves”, as we described them in Journey 2020, would emanate from a number of disruption sources including “Ways of working” and changes in “Business models”. Already we are seeing the impact of automation, industry data platforms, the Gig economy and “as-a-service” models changing long-established business and employment principles on a massive scale. We experimented with technologies such as additive manufacturing and ‘blockchain for industrial use’, as a means of materializing digital platforms in the B2B arena. In early 2016, Atos won the Additive World Challenge contest for masterfully demonstrating the game-changing possibilities of these technologies for industry.
Our Journey 2022 strapline of “Resolving Digital Dilemmas” encountered further controversy, as I mentioned earlier. Issues of morals, ethics and fairness will mean the question of “could we?” must be tempered with “should we?” when considering the application of digital technologies. Once again, our boldness in pursuing an apparently controversial angle has been justified as we observe our clients wrestling with all manner of previously unanticipated digital dilemmas – both technological and ethical.
Realizing the potential of digital
Through all the changes we have observed and predicted, I believe the most significant ones relate to the rise of Industry Data Platforms and the maturing of the economy of data lifecycle. Added to that, there are topics constantly on our radar: security which is moving from reactive to predictive; cloud which is moving to IoT, edge and ultimately swarm; and automation moving from industrial automation to back-office Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence.
But in all this, the massive variation in the way businesses adopt and exploit technology is abundantly clear. We are seeing a growing divide between those that truly leverage the power of digital and those which are just scratching the surface. The potential is so much more than is, thus far, being realised - in part due to a lack of awareness and skills, in part due to legislative constraints, and in part due to cultural inertia.
If I am pressed for hints of where the world of technology and business are heading next, I would emphasize:
- The maturing and rise of AI, conflating data and automation
- Hyper connectivity through IoT, conflating context and control
- Blockchain technologies bringing new mechanisms for trust and truth
- The rise of servitization with products delivered as outcome-based services.
It will be interesting to look back in another ten years’ time to see just how different a world we’re living in.