Slideshow 10 IT-Enabled Business Trends for the Decade Ahead

  • May 28 2013, 12:45pm EDT
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1. Joining the social matrix

Social technologies are much more than a consumer phenomenon: they connect many organizations internally and increasingly reach outside their borders. Social features, meanwhile, can become part of any digital communication or transaction—embedded in products, markets, and business systems. Users can “like” things and may soon be able to register what they “want,” facilitating new levels of commercial engagement. Indeed, our research suggests that when social perceptions and user experiences (both individual and collective) matter in product selection and satisfaction, the potential impact of social technologies on revenue streams can be pronounced. We are starting to see these effects in sectors ranging from automobiles to retailing as innovative companies mine social experiences to shape their products and services.

2. Competing with big data and advanced analytics

As with the social matrix, we now see data and analytics as part of a new foundation for competitiveness. The power of analytics is rising while costs are falling. Data visualization, wireless communications and cloud infrastructure are extending the power and reach of information. Planning must extend beyond data strategy to encompass needed changes in organization and culture, the design of analytic and visualization tools frontline managers can use effectively, and the recruitment of scarce data scientists (which may require creative approaches, such as partnering with universities). Decisions about where corporate capabilities should reside, how external data will be merged with propriety information and how to instill a culture of data-driven experimentation are becoming major leadership issues.

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3. Deploying the Internet of All Things

Tiny sensors and actuators, proliferating at astounding rates, are expected to explode in number over the next decade, potentially linking over 50 billion physical entities as costs plummet and networks become more pervasive. Companies are starting to use such technologies to run—not just monitor—complex operations, so that systems make autonomous decisions based on data the sensors report.

4. Offering anything as a service

The potential impact of this trend is in its early stages. Companies have much to discover about the efficiencies and flexibility possible through reenvisioning their assets, whether that entails shifting from capital ownership to “expensed” services or assembling assets to play in this arena, as has done by offering server capacity to a range of businesses. Moreover, an understanding of what’s most amenable to being delivered as a service is still evolving—as are the attitudes and appetites of buyers. Thus, much of the disruption lies ahead.

5. Automating knowledge work

At information-intensive companies, the culture and structure of the organization could change if machines start occupying positions along the knowledge-work value chain. Now is the time to begin planning for an era when the employee base might consist both of low-cost Watsons and of higher-priced workers with the judgment and technical skills to manage the new knowledge “workforce.”

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6. Engaging the next three billion digital citizens

As incomes rise in developing nations, their citizens are becoming wired, connected by mobile computing devices, particularly smartphones that will only increase in power and versatility. Although several emerging markets have experienced double-digit growth in Internet adoption, enormous growth potential remains: India’s digital penetration is only 10 percent and China’s is around 40 percent. Rising levels of connectivity will stimulate financial inclusion, local entrepreneurship, and enormous opportunities for business.

7. Charting experiences where digital meets physical

The borders of the digital and physical world have been blurring for many years as consumers learned to shop in virtual stores and to meet in virtual spaces. In those cases, the online world mirrors experiences of the physical world. Executives need to examine their businesses to find areas where immersive experiences or interactive touch points can stimulate engagement with “always on” customers. And they should reflect on the potential for interactive digital platforms to play roles in product design and marketing or in gathering customer feedback. These possibilities will grow in importance as customers and employees come to expect interaction between heightened digital and physical offerings.

8. Freeing your business model through Internet-inspired personalization and simplification

A world of digitized instant gratification and low switching costs could force many businesses to seek innovative business models that provide more products and services free of charge or at lower cost. They’ll also have to think about offering more personalization in their products and services: customization at a mass level. This approach could require changes to back-end systems, which are often designed for mass production. Businesses will need new ways to collect information that furthers personalization, to embed experimentation into product-development efforts, and to ensure that offerings are easy to use—and even fun.

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9. Buying and selling as digital commerce leaps ahead

The rise of the mobile Internet and the evolution of core technologies that cut costs and vastly simplify the process of completing transactions online are reducing barriers to entry across a wide swath of economic activity. This trend will become more striking over the next decade or so: 600 cities, most in emerging markets, will account for roughly two-thirds of the world’s GDP growth. One likely consequence for fast-growing cities will be the rapid development of dense, digitally enabled commerce.

10. Transforming government, health care, and education

The private sector has a big stake in the successful transformation of government, health care, and education, which together account for a third of global GDP. They have lagged behind in productivity growth at least in part because they have been slow to adopt Web-based platforms, big-data analytics, and other IT innovations. Technology-enabled productivity growth could help reduce the cost burden while improving the quality of services and outcomes, as well as boosting long-term global-growth prospects. For the full news story, complete with examples from a variety of industries and more thorough analysis of opportunities and implications, click here.