My daughter (aged 9) cannot conceive what life was like before the iPad. “But Mum, what did you DO?” she says incredulously. The idea that there used to be only 3 TV stations in the UK and that you had to watch a programme according to a fixed (and very limited) schedule seems impossibly inconvenient in the age of Netflix and the BBC iPlayer. And it’s not just media and entertainment. We engage with the world, as consumers and in business, in a fundamentally different way to how we did just a few short years ago, and this has profound implications for many industries.
Here are the top 5 trends I am interested in right now:
Uber has already completely disrupted how many people think about car ownership. Why have an expensive, wasting, massively under-utilised asset in the driveway? Being able to call a vehicle on demand and to travel in comfort and safety, whilst working on our mobile devices or enjoying the latest entertainment streamed to the vehicle, is only a few short years away. The technology for autonomous vehicles is largely already within reach, in my opinion the question is really only around the regulatory and legislative framework, as well as public acceptance to enable mass consumer adoption. Auto manufacturers like Ford and General Motors are investing heavily to retain leadership in this sector.
Internet of things
In a recent trip to Silicon Valley where I interviewed leaders and M&A executives in around 50 companies on their key areas of strategic interest, the internet of things was a topic which frequently came up. The ability to connect previously “dumb” devices so that they can collect data from their environment, talk to each other and allow analysis and action opens up many new opportunities in “Industry 4.0”, as well as in areas such as cyber security. Today the market is relatively immature, with many incompatible approaches, but we expect rapid advances.
Less than 1% of loans in the world are made online, which seems incredible given how many other industries have been fundamentally disrupted by digitisation. Banks and financial institutions have access to incredible amounts of data and have an enormous opportunity, or equally face enormous threats, in the reshaping of financial services in the next decade or so. Consumer services will change out of all recognition. Combining massive real time complex data sets such as weather patterns with huge new sources of information from IOT networks would allow insurance companies to develop new risk models or innovative insurance products, or enable banks to exploit pricing anomalies to trade on capital markets more effectively by using artificial intelligence to create new trading models. Fintech has lost some of its buzz recently, and we sense that (at least in Europe) Brexit has temporarily slowed down the pace of change, but this will be a blip on a long term secular change in the industry.
Advances in genomic sequencing and understanding, together with advances in diagnostics and the availability of massive computing power to crunch vast amounts of data, mean that the potential for genuinely personalised treatments for an individual’s specific health issues with much better patient outcomes is a realistic vision in the not-too-distant future. Meanwhile with better remote monitoring of chronic conditions, we can live longer, better, more productive lives in the comfort of our own homes.
Food tech and agri-tech
How do we feed 9bn people by 2050? We need to produce more food and we need to waste less food. Start-ups developing indoor vertical farming methods are gaining traction (e.g. Softbank’s recent $200m investment in Plenty), while companies like Impossible Foods have raised substantial sums to develop meat-free protein. Agri-tech companies are using artificial intelligence, drones, sensors and image analysis and other tools are automating farm work and helping to increase crop yield and reduce costs. At the consumer end meal kit delivery companies promise to reduce food waste in the supply chain from around 20% to less than 1% by shipping only what is needed to cook a meal. Food companies and grocers, about as “old economy” as they come, are feeling the hot breath of competition as Amazon enters the food delivery space, and a number have launched corporate venture initiatives, such as General Mills, Kelloggs and Metro.