For the past several years, the strategic digital consulting firm Accenture has presented its annual “Technology Vision”: a slate of five current technology trends that the firm believes will profoundly impact enterprises over the next three to five years. Serving as a kind of touchstone for business and organizational leaders struggling to navigate today’s constantly changing digital landscape, Technology Vision seeks to provide context and ideas to guide enterprises in all fields through the process of digital transformation.
In 2016, Accenture’s Technology Vision explored the theme of “People First,” looking at how high digital performance isn’t just about consuming more technology, but about using it to enable people to get more done. In other words, while technology is the driver, it’s actually the people who will take organizations into the future. As the year draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the five technology trends Accenture identified for 2016, together with predictions about where those trends will be headed in the coming years.
Trend 1: Intelligent automation
A large amount of future growth and innovation will be built on intelligent automation, whether it be manufacturing production lines that are able to run unsupervised for extended periods of time or autonomous drones clearing dirty dishes from restaurant tables instead of human servers. While on the surface this trend might seem to involve little more than transferring tasks from people to machines, it’s actually much more profound: intelligent automation holds the power to fundamentally change everything about what a business does and how it does it. Unsupervised production lines, for example, are just the first step toward the more complex goal of a fully self-organizing factory. While people are still a critical part of this future, thanks to automation they can occupy higher-level roles than before. Accenture’s predictions for the future of intelligent automation include the transformation of consumers into programmers by making custom apps simple to build. The future also includes the widespread use of avatars and robots to go places and do things that we can’t.
Trend 2: Liquid workforce
As more companies invest in digital tools and technologies in an attempt to keep up with the constantly changing digital landscape, one factor is all too often overlooked: the workforce. This is one of the most obvious examples of the importance of a “people first” philosophy when it comes to digital transformation. Companies need to go beyond simply adopting the right technology. Instead, they must focus on harnessing it to enable the right people to accomplish the right things, and on promoting adaptability and change-readiness throughout the entire enterprise. By leveraging technology to create a liquid workforce in which adaptable, continuously trained teams are organized around projects rather than the current scenario of static workforces organized around particular functions and competencies, digital businesses can acquire a significant competitive advantage. Accenture’s predictions for the future of the liquid workforce include disbanding traditional roles and organizational structures, and replacing employees outside of the C-suite with agile teams of freelancers.
Trend 3: Platform economy
Given the massive and profound impact they have had on the traditional industry structure and operations, it’s no surprise that, according to experts, the platform-driven ecosystems that have been enabled by recent technological innovation represent the biggest disruptive change to global macroeconomics since the Industrial Revolution. In increasingly widespread use across a range of industries, these platforms allow enterprises to capture new growth opportunities, overhaul their business models, and create value within and across new ecosystems. Accenture predicts that, in the future, every company will need a platform strategy, whether to increase their value or simply to protect and defend the profitability of their core business.
Trend 4: Predictable disruption
While previous technological disruptions tended to be unpredictable, today’s enterprises are better equipped to track the trajectory of growing ecosystems and can draw from past experience in order to anticipate the impact of impending disruption. The simple ability to see disruption coming can be a vital asset to leading companies, allowing them to capture significant opportunities to develop new roles and create inroads into new industries ahead of the curve. Accenture’s forecast for the future of predictable disruption includes leaders’ use of gaming techniques to predict disruptions and the increased blurring of industry boundaries, leading to the evolution of entirely new industry segments.
Trend 5: Digital trust
As digital technology becomes ever more pervasive in business and society, digital trust is of paramount importance. Individuals, ecosystems, regulators, and other players in the digital economy must be able to trust that businesses take digital security and ethics seriously. Without this trust, the data use and sharing that underpin digital operations will become impossible. However, businesses that are able to gain customers’ trust will be rewarded, as they are increasingly held up as guides to the digital future. Accenture predicts that the coming years will see new governing bodies and regulations set up in response to high-profile digital ethics failures, and it foresees that the role of the chief ethics officer will emerge as a critical company leader.