Back in February, Accenture launched its Technology Vision 2020, the twentieth edition of our annual report which predicts the tech trends that will impact businesses over the next three years. Even on the eve of the COVID-19 crisis, I don’t think anyone could have predicted quite what was coming next. Our lives have changed beyond recognition in the months since.
In this year’s Technology Vision report, we had warned of an impending ‘tech-clash’. It’s not that we’re rejecting technology, however people are starting to express concerns about how it is used and what it is used for. The business models that built some of the world’s largest companies are under increasing scrutiny.
But what I’ve seen and experienced over the past few months has had me questioning: is this still something businesses will face?
Had this pandemic hit just 10 to 15 years ago, it would be a very different story. Thanks to technology, robots are disinfecting cities, cooking hospital food, and delivering packages. Smart devices are monitoring patients’ health and collecting valuable health data. Human-AI collaboration is leaving the proof-of-concept stage and becoming a critical tool for scientists studying the virus. For those of us that can, collaboration tools have made the move to permanently working from home much easier. By some estimates, the lockdown measures have almost doubled the UK’s internet usage during the day. Even routine chores, such as shopping, would be almost impossible without it.
We’re putting our lives in the hands of technology and, at the same time, setting aside concerns about privacy to a certain extent while we search for solutions. While much of the world is slowly recovering and re-emerging, technology innovation is accelerating.
So, will this be the end of the tech-clash?
In fact, it could be quite the opposite. Our eyes have been opened to what’s possible and our expectations have changed. In this new era, trust and accountability will be as crucial for success as the technology itself.
As our expectations change, our values do too. COVID-19 has taken us on a journey where preserving public health has had to take precedence over jobs, commerce and the broader economy. People are taking a much more active interest in what companies represent beyond profits. Whether you’re a fashion brand turning your hand to making hospital scrubs or a car manufacturer shifting production to ventilators, the actions businesses take now will be remembered.
These new expectations won’t just disappear as we start to leave our homes and go back to work. Businesses therefore face the challenge of not only navigating their way through the current crisis, they must also reposition themselves for a new world. What will these values be? We don’t know yet. But we can expect well-being, sustainability, fairness and responsibility to be high up on the agenda.
What is already clear is that businesses are turning to technology in response. Satya Nadella recently said that Microsoft had ‘seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.’ COVID-19 represented a stress test on what worked, and what didn’t. Now is the opportunity to get away from legacy services or systems that have been on the decline and holding organisations back. Enterprises must create an agile, cloud-native technology infrastructure that will enable them to build up future innovation capabilities.
But more than ever, tech adoption cannot just be about profits, and those business models from yesterday must stay there. Focusing only on the immediate challenges and overlooking issues, such as privacy, could sabotage efforts to connect with people in the long term. It’s the companies that know what they stand for and choose to prioritise their values — and invite collaboration with customers, employees, ecosystem partners, governments and the public to achieve it — that will create new opportunities for growth in a way that benefits all. That is where the real value is, and now it will start to show as business value too.
For the past two decades, our annual Technology Vision has focused on just that: identifying key technology trends. We’ve looked at what technology can do, how it will develop and the ways in which businesses will deploy it – with varying degrees of success along the way! But if technology has defined the past two decades, it is expectations that will define the next. Those that use technology to change our expectations of how things work and challenge what is accepted, on issues that people really care about, will set the bar for everyone else.
Click here to view Accenture’s update on their 2020 Technology Vision trends, Driving Value and Values During COVID-19.