How Technology Will Change Business: Disruptions Through 2020

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New developments in information technology have had a profound effect on the way organizations operate. In what spheres of business and government will technology have the greatest impact over the next decade? Which parts of organization life will undergo the greatest changes? Will technology be even more disruptive going forward, or has the impact of IT plateaued?

To answer these questions, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) interviewed a number of well-known technology and business leaders and thinkers about the impact of technology on business over the next decade. The EIU also surveyed 500 senior executives from a wide variety of industry and government organizations in more than 25 countries. The results paint a broad picture of ongoing, even accelerating, technology-enabled change.

3 KEY FINDINGS

  • The impact of technology on business will continue and accelerate over the next decade. Survey respondents did not feel that the positive impact of technology on efficiency had yet plateaued.
  • Technology disruptions will impact business models, organizational structures, and the nature of jobs and the workplace, and will lead to increased personalization of products and services.
  • Organizations whose cultures can adapt more readily will be better placed to seize the opportunities offered by technology disruptions.

TECHNOLOGY IMPACT

Executives surveyed believe that technology developments will be the third most important force changing business in the next decade—27% selected it as one of the three most important macro- trends, behind the shift of economic power from the developed to the developing world (50%) and ongoing instability in financial markets (30%). They do not agree that “the positive impact of technology on enterprise productivity has plateaued.” In fact, 59% agree or strongly agree that “the vertical market in which my organization operates will bear little resemblance in 2020 to how it looks today.”

It is safe to assume that much of the impact of technology over the next decade will come from already emerging, known technologies.

  • Cloud computing will make computing power and data storage readily available.
  • Organizations will amass “big data,” and analyzing that data will be a critical skill.
  • Business communication tools like 3D video chatting and social media will reduce business costs and enable new organizational models.

3 BUSINESS IMPLICATIONS

  1. The shift from employees who are physically together for a long time, to contract workers who are physically together for a short time has many implications for communications, teamwork, and leadership. Beginning with the picture of the future workplace painted in this report and others, organizations should identify and implement the training and tools needed to prepare their managers and workforce for new ways of working.
  2. For many years, traditional organizations have served as training grounds where employees develop career skills. During the economic downturn, some employees who lost their positions took their skills and experience with them to the contract workforce. But as contract work becomes the norm for a large portion of the workforce, where will workers develop needed skills? Will the variety of jobs they take on help them to develop more quickly? Could large organizations still take responsibility for developing a skilled workforce through increased internships and work-study programs, even if they hire people going through these programs only as temporary workers? Organizations must plan now to ensure that they will have access to the skills they will need a decade from now, as the career landscape is already shifting.
  3. Similarly, a significant amount of corporate competency and corporate values is embedded in the corporate culture, which is absorbed by employees through years of immersion. Organizations will need to learn how to consciously and efficiently identify and record the important elements of their culture and values. They will also need ways to effectively communicate this information to their temporary hires. As employees serve various organizations in rapid succession, corporate cultures will be homogenized unless organizations actively guard them to maintain their uniqueness.