12 disruptive business and technology trends for 2020

24 March 2020 Consultancy.eu 25 min. read

New research from management consulting firm The Next Organization has identified some of the most disruptive business and technology trends for 2020 and 2021. The following twelve trends will according to the researchers have a truly disruptive impact on economy, society, organisations and people.

Conscious consumerism: from wealth to wellbeing

Consumers start to understand that the current impact of human beings on the world needs to be changed. This means that people not only start to live healthier (nutrition), but also want to have more insights in the origin of food and goods towards a more sustainable planet.

From eating a more plant-based diet to searching the supermarket for plastic-free produce, a growing number of consumers are trying to live a more ethical lifestyle. This is because they are more concerned about the impact we have on the environment. As a result, consumers have started buying products with more ethical or sustainable practices and the demand for sustainable goods is increasing. Moreover, from consumer packaged goods, to big tech to fashion brands, ethics and sustainability are moving from nice-to-have to a base rate expectation of brands; it is a responsibility.

In addition to the main trends, two other emerging consumer behaviours will become increasingly important. Consumers are eating less meat, drinking less alcohol and their attitudes towards leather are changing. To service these behaviours, companies are responding with broader offerings. And it is recommended to respond, because there is a growing audience waiting to be catered for.

In the upcoming years, the following ethical trends will predominate: plastic-free produce, plastic-free packaging, compostable carrier bags, plant-based foods, natural fabric clothes, clothing re-sale and recycling schemes. To be fair, the average consumer is not going to be a zero-waste consumer for a long time. However, companies that embrace this trend quickly, will have a competitive advantage.
Trend Report 2020 - The Next Organization

Biotech: at the forefront of superhumans?

People are getting more and more aware of their health and the methods they can implement in order to prevent or overcome diseases and disablements. Technology embedded with biology reshapes the playing field of medical institutions, key in this; accessibility and scalability. From biohackers to CRISPR/cas9 gene editing, this ‘new’ industry is at the forefront of rapid growth and discussion.

Whether it is in food, medicines, sports or life sciences; the simplicity and low costs of digital fabrication make it possible to build own lab equipment and apply biotechnology outside laboratories or research institutions. Hold your horses; gene doping of athletes’ DNA will be a topic during the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo. That is ‘just’ sports, but have you ever thought of the fact that within a few years, it will be possible for premature babies and embryos to (further) develop in an artificial womb?

Ethical discussions on the above-mentioned topics will start, but in the meantime people also start with ‘biohacking’ their body. This basically involves controlling external stimuli leading to the creation of the optimal self. It is about ‘hacking’ the body using natural or technological resources to maximise physical and mental performance. And as number of people are consciously wanting to improve their health, things as ‘biohacking’ will turn into practice.

Biohacking involves things we eat, drink, smell, touch, hear, and see. The difference however between biohacking and a general healthy and conscious lifestyle is to think of our biology as a physical system, which can be enhanced by conducting measurements, monitoring and feedback.

Imagine the impact biohacking will have on society once people see the effect of it. It will influence the working world as the level of productivity and cognitive function increases. Next to that, social relationships for example, will improve with people having better moods and more energy. Companies and brands can adjust to this movement and seize new opportunities that develop over time. Keep in mind: the sharing and availability of open source knowledge enables everyone to get involved in biotechnological developments.

Internet of Robotic Things

Internet of Things (IoT) and Robotics are trends that are not new in itself. While robotics for automation purposes already exists for decades, adding IoT into the mix will change the rules of the game: Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT) is making an entrance. The acronym ‘IoT’ refers to a network of billions of physical devices around the globe. These devices are equipped with internet-connected sensors that provide ongoing data collection and sharing. There is no shortage of IoT devices and applications. Many people are reaping the benefits of smart light bulbs, smart thermostats and activity trackers.

IoRT is the next level of IoT; integrating sensors into robotic systems. In fact, Artificial Intelligence is built into robotics systems to process the data delivered. This enables the system to observe, interpret, evaluate and take decisions, comparable with the human way of processing tasks. Combining robotics and Artificial Intelligence by sensor technology is also referred to as ‘Embodied Cognition’; implying robotic systems to perform tasks that are learned by means of training (and by which they become self-learning). 

In the years to come – smart robots will impact both B2B and B2C. ‘Collaborative robots’ will be of help in various crafts, such as welding and painting. It is expected that robots, performing autonomous tasks, can solve the problem of labour scarcity. The long(er) term vision is that robots relieve humans of all heavy, monotonous and/or irksome tasks.

Lastly, daily life assistance is seen as another area of growth. Worldwide, the number of people aged over 65 is expected to double between 2020 and 2050, and they cannot all be served by people. The ‘domestic robot’ is not only considered as a smart device, but also as an artificial creature that improves over time. This creature will also impact our relation to technology, were ‘artificial empathy’ is being studied more and more, as it is a new dimension to our lives of which we do not know the impact of.

Can robotic creatures become our ‘buddy’? A challenge for tech companies to embed and design the ‘human’ edge in their smart solutions.

Voice technology as the new way to pay

The rise of voice technology is clear and everyone knows the voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. The technology enables voice assistance through a smart speaker which creates a three-way interaction between devices, services and people and has completely changed the way consumers interact with computer devices.

Voice control is the next evolution of human-machine interaction, thanks to advances in Artificial Intelligence, data collection, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things. According to Voicebot, nearly 50 million people own smart speakers in the United States, which works out to roughly one in five adults.

This technological trend has a huge impact on everything. For example, experts say that in this year (2020), 50% of all online searches will be done with voice search. Consequently, brands have to adapt their way of promoting their products and services. Companies will change the way they are organised as internal knowledge can be shared more easily resulting in new workflows and communication streams and the broader possibility to multitask leads to an increase of productivity.

In 2020 and beyond we will see a transition in voice technology as an information tool to a transaction tool. Voice p.a.’s do not offer only the best results, but also the possibility to directly order and even pay. Challenges for the further development of this trend also lie in security and privacy matters; do we really want ‘big tech’ in our living rooms?

Next, mostly SEO (search engine optimisation) and online marketing of brands also needs to be done differently. Experts say, that a voice assistant is used in a more human manner by people than they use a computer. Therefore, ‘emotional connection’ and trust in the device/ service are key for the success of voice assistance.

Urban versus rural innovation

According to the UN, 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2030 – 1.5 billion more than in 2010. And all these people need energy, healthcare, water, mobility, housing and community areas. This booming urbanisation and consequent stretched infrastructures cause environmental, logistical and social challenges threatening the quality of city life and therefore the well-being of citizens.

Technology forms the fundament to overcome these challenges and defines a new way of living together. As cities are becoming smarter, we see a change in how people do business, organise their lives and (inter)connect with ‘others’ and ‘things’. In ‘cities of the future’ smart technology, governmental institutions, commercial parties and citizens collaborate to make the city more liveable, sustainable and safe; a playground for public-private initiatives.

Interesting here is that the playground for companies and industries worldwide is determined by the ecosystems that can be developed there: places for cooperation between partners, knowledge institutions nearby, a robust economy and with access to the labour market. Our current thinking and boundaries must make way for these new, facilitating ecosystems. This should create a city that is good for everyone, even if you do not live or work there.

Where cities become smarter and dense, there is also a trend towards the rural, countryside areas. Escapism from the ‘busy’ city-lives has been a concept around for ages and again is seeing growth due to the challenges listed before. While you can think of ‘future cities’ with Blade Runner­-esque streets and shiny, high-tech buildings, it is the countryside that is on the front lines of change according to worldwide renowned architect Rem Koolhaas. Technology makes isolated areas accessible and attractive for e.g. data centres or solar fields. Areas where drones deliver packages and meanwhile monitor meadows.

Technology will strengthen the kaleidoscope of functions and eliminate rural isolation. Modern agriculture can become more closely connected with nature. Although the countryside remains the main supplier of food, lab-grown food and processing are coming to the city. Technology, therefore, becomes an integral part of nature and vice versa. And this requires a mental change, especially for governments that interconnect spatial planning, investments, the labour market, nature, agriculture and technology.

And as the European Commission aims to have 5G commercially available in at least one major city in every EU member State by the end of 2020, the first steps of this transformation is getting shape; change is literally coming your way.

Autonomous mobility, as a service

The 2030 ambitions for the European government are the greenest ever, with a minimum CO2 reduction of 40% as the main attraction. These targets have major consequences for the current mobility ecosystem. Smart roads, interconnected self-driving vehicles, car- or ridesharing and productive travel time are all future possibilities. Our current mobility ecosystem is on the verge of a revolution. And it is here sooner than you think.

The way we see and perceive mobility today – individually owned vehicles, gas stations, traffic jams and driver’s licenses – will drastically change in the coming dozen years. Different developments and innovations happening right now will change the game as well as its players. New collaborations and business models will emerge. Expected is that two very different business models will co-exist: ‘traditional’ carmakers and mobility service providers.

The 'traditional' carmaker will continue the current model of manufacturing increasingly improved hardware, the car itself. Technological improvements of battery life, lower costs of electricity, maintenance and total cost of ownership are expected to generate shifts towards electronic cars across entire fleets. Next to their electronic transformation, cars are becoming ‘smarter’ and more ‘autonomous’. Essential for car autonomy is interconnectedness. More and different systems will connect, transforming them from reactive to proactive systems offering personalised services, ultimately evolving in so-called ‘virtual drivers’.

Next to traditional carmakers, mobility service providers will rise. Together with partners they provide a mobility platform consisting of different customer services based on customer interface. Compared to costs of ownership, the costs of subscription are relatively low. While different, both business models have a major role to play. Yet, future success will only be achieved by exceptional collaboration between different markets and players, both private and public.

Real deep fake

Every single day we consult photos, videos, sounds, human voices, written texts and reviews to live our digital lives, but... What if they all can be faked? This so-called ‘infocalypse’, based on deep fake technology, is on its way at fast speed and puts us in front of a new era of information consumption. Is it real, is it fake, or is it real fake?

Deep fake is the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology for the creation of fake information. In short, this generative AI software can create synthetic media such as faces, voices, texts, images, moving people and sounds. Good to know: deep fake is based on negative intentions.

In the last year, we have been introduced apps such as FaceApp and ZAO, in which you can replace existing images into new versions of yourself. These can create a lot of laughter and on the positive side, the creative sector could get a boost from all the possibilities of generative Artificial Intelligence. People become their own film star or admire ‘fake’ models such as Shudu with thousands of Instagram followers already. It is already there at our fingertips.

However, the downsides seem to have a far more fundamental impact to think about. A majority of Europe is based on democracy and the foundation of a democratic state is, after all, a shared perception of reality and a corresponding agreement on facts. It could be a serious strategy of one country to sow discord in another (adversary) country. By polarising with fake news there is less sense of community, thus making it more difficult to steer politics.

The great danger is not so much that a lie is turned into truth or vice versa, but that the credibility of the truth is affected. If we face a future in which everything and everyone can be imitated, then nothing is real anymore, because it be dismissed as a lie or fake news. Who or what are we then going to trust?

Privacy, morality and trustworthiness

A world where we trust our lives, economies and societies to technological innovations is evolving. One question that becomes highly relevant is if one can live a digital life without giving up on privacy. Where Facebook’s usage declined for the first time last year, their trust issues continue, with the failure to launch Libra as the best example. These trust issues continue to grow in a larger discussion on moral standards, technological dependencies and privacy, since these form the fundament of our society.

The current lack of trust created a group of consumers that can be classified as ‘reluctant sharers’: people who are concerned about or would prefer not to be, sharing their personal details, but feel compelled to do so in order to gain access to a service or product. With the introduction of the GDPR this group is growing and growing, since they are now empowered with rights over ‘their’ personal data. Consequently, there is a re-balance of the rights and powers between an individual and the supplier, which puts an urge on taking a serious look at privacy standards and ethical frameworks.

With datacentres as the new coal plants and ‘big tech’ as the new oil firms, a shift is happening; from offline powers to a digital playing field in which geopolitical borders and influence seem unrestricted. With an average of 25 trackers per website, Tinder selling your dating preferences, or ultrasonic tones in TV commercials being picked up by your smartphone to target you, large tech companies seem to have free play in grasping and forwarding your personal data. Not to even think of what is going to happen with our biomedical data that is going to be embedded in technology more and more.

Next to this, with advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, autonomous technologies (voice-assistants, robotics, cars) become more normal too. However, it is also expected that these behave ethically towards living things. The design of this is still in human hands and that needs to be overseen.

The large data companies know what they are doing (for the good or bad) and we as consumers mainly keep convenience in mind. And yes, there are headlines regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal or the protests in Hong Kong, where demonstrators are wearing masks against Chinese facial recognition software. However, the protection of our privacy and ethics is a public concern that affects us all. Facebook and Google do not have the reputation of ExxonMobil or Shell.

But the youngest generation, for whom internet and smartphones are as self-evident as petrol pumps and gas stoves for the previous generation, we must surely prepare for the difficult conversation with your kids: "Mom and Dad, how could you be so stupid and naive?” To conclude; our current ethical frameworks do not hold. Prepare for a discussion on the following question: what kind of society will become the normal?

The Qualityconomy: shifting to valuable offline experiences

The experience economy has already been introduced two decennia ago. In this view, organisations fulfil a different role in society and serve customers differently. Namely, they do not merely provide customers with product and services, but they focus on providing customers with personal and memorable experiences. An economy based on quality rather than quantity.

Moving from extracting commodities, making goods, delivering services to creating experiences, that is where the origins lie of the experience economy. Despite it has already been mentioned years ago, it is today that the experience economy gets shape. Organisations increasingly focus on providing their customers with an experience instead of ‘just’ and sec products or services. People care less about owning things, but want to be flexible and do not mind sharing things with people to extract value out of experiencing products or services. This is also in line with the concept of the sharing economy.

Providing experiences is important because people are more demanding than ever. They are not just asking for good products and excellent ‘one-off’ services, but they look for entire experiences. They demand extraordinary experience along their entire journey, starting already in their ‘orientation’ phase. If organisations smartly think about what their customers want, through maintaining and creating continuous dialogue, they are more likely to succeed and differentiate from competitors.

In the upcoming years, the experience economy will evolve further. Organisations, mainly in the B2C landscape, that actively think about turning their offering into extraordinary experiences will differentiate from their competitors and facilitate customers with greater value.

Shameable business models

Many business professors still teach the 1970’s doctrine of Milton Friedman: “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits”. Growth, therefore, is at the heart of the business model. But the foundation of this model was developed at a time when we did not comprehend the natural limits to growth. Over the last years a new term has been rising: the Sustainable Business Model (SBM).

Sustainability is not just about recycling or fair trade practices, it touches every part of a company, from its supply chain operations to its talent practices, and to the physical workspace itself. Organisations will either be labelled as sustainable or ‘shameable’, with nothing in between.

With the upcoming climate goals of the European Union and significantly increased general awareness, SBM’s are emerging rapidly. Within the wideness of the term, there are several trends that appear to be having the most impact in the upcoming year: (1) supply chains go circular and (2) hire to retire to re-hire.

(1) An increased longing for circular goods, in a way that production is done in an (social) environmentally neutral (or positive) way and used products are recycled up to a level where the product in its entity can be used again. The world’s biggest companies will transform their supply chains to become circular since ethically-minded consumers ask for a change in the production model. BM’s will change from ‘out of sights, out of mind’ to being accountable for the whole end-to-end supply chain.

(2) SBM’s does not just apply to the supply chain. Nowadays, most businesses do not even consider the prospect of re-hiring previous employees, but in 2020 and further we will see several forward-thinking firms, particularly in under pressure industries like financial services, taking a chance on the tried and tested.

To underpin the above mentioned trends; there has been a strong growth in Certified ‘B Corporations’, known as businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. Have you started yet?

Open ecosystems

As we saw a rise of digital ecosystems such as AirBnB and Booking.com, facilitating mainly customer focused needs and problems, ecosystems will evolve even further with a very ‘open’ character. Competitors might share or give away their resources to solve shared problems instead of a focus on the commercial win. Three key elements: data, transparency and partnerships.

There is a shift from using closed technical infrastructures to open platforms that enable a complete (digital) ecosystem available to everyone. In short, an ecosystem has one central database in which all relevant information is stored. Based on this data, the system can provide relevant information real time. Moreover, if a company opens up their platform to users, partners or others willing to contribute, it can perfect its market offering using input from its collaborators.

This allows them to react faster to flaws or jump in on opportunities exposed by the data in the ecosystem platform. Also described as open data or open innovation, these platforms are mainly based on the idea that a group of experts can do more than a single company.

From now on, the three key elements of ecosystems keep on evolving. With more and more devices connected, the amount of data available is endless and with the first 5G devices entering this year, the availability and speed of data will rise. Moreover, businesses with different profiles but operating in common markets with common customer profiles will seek for partnerships for the mutual benefit.

Combine this with the fact that mega-brands (e.g. Starbucks) keep getting bigger, their global footprint also becomes bigger. When trying to differentiate from a sustainable point of view, as consumers expect, open ecosystems might be the key to leverage this need with powerful innovations.

All class movements: stepping up in a change of era

‘Middle class’ movements always have been an important target group, both as the foundation as well as driver of consumer markets. And they stood up in the recent few years. While booming in developing countries, they are struggling to maintain the economic position they enjoyed for decades in developed countries. But last year, in 2019, we saw that it is not only the middle class stepping up. Actually, all layers of society are stepping up on issues that, despite of social class, relate to us all.

Accelerating economic growth in various countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, has led to a decrease in between country inequality, helping billions of people out of extreme poverty over the last decade. The notion is that this trend, commonly referred to as ‘the rise of the new global middle class’, has important consequences for global consumption and investment patterns and will act as an accelerator of further economic, social and political development in the developing world.

In the developed world, on the other hand, middle-class households have not seen any significant improvement in standards of living since the 2008 financial crisis, as a result of weak income growth and continued economic uncertainty. The ‘yellow vests movements’, that began in France in 2018 – claiming that a disproportionate burden of governments tax reforms were falling on the working/middle class, is one of the concrete expressions of dissatisfaction. It is important for brands and businesses to understand the impact of this on customers' behaviour and habits.

In the last year, we have seen different movements from different classes stepping up. To illustrate the trend in the Netherlands; it rose from 220 protests in 2014 to 1360 in 2019. Worldwide we saw such ’signs' too; from privacy-related protests in Hong Kong to ‘how dare you’ by Greta Thunberg in New York. And from criticism on the ‘broken’ European financial systems with negative interest rates to civil protests throughout Chile in response the increased cost of living and inequality.

Although taking place in different parts of the world, there seems a common denominator: all levels of society step up, mainly against politics. They step up against a ‘system' that has created growth and wealth for a majority of the world, but this ’system’ has shown vulnerability. There is a common feeling that it has reached its limits. It is climate change? Technology? Brexit? Or even Trump? At least they are catalysts in a discussion that is rooted in the reassessment of values, ownership and priorities.