diginomica 2016 - Stuart's choice

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan December 30, 2016
Left till last, here's Stuart's top ten themes of 2016. Onwards to 2017 under Trump and Brexit - Happy New Year!

(1) Brexit means…who knows?

The sky still hasn’t fallen, even if the pound has, and the catastrophic prophecies of the armageddon pedlars have yet to come to pass.

Why? The 23 June vote in the UK over continued membership of the European Union brought the shock result to withdraw, cost Prime Minister David Cameron his job, sent the pound into temporary freefall and provided a ton of excuses next year for tech vendors whose quarterly numbers don’t cut the mustard. When in doubt, blame it on Brexit. In fact, the sky didn’t fall in. What went wrong for the Remain camp? Much will emerge as memoirs are written, but complacency on the part of Cameron is one possible answer. The long term impact remains to be seen.

(2) An entente less than cordiale

Clearly we’ve got to get this right over the next two and a bit years.

Why? A post-Brexit vote debate between the French and UK digital ministers exposed the tensions that are set to emerge in the battle for inward investment in the coming years. The UK government’s been boasting of investments from the likes of Apple and Google since the 23 June vote. But the French are making no secret of their intention to steal away as much overseas investment as possible.

(3) The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is being powered by the Internet of Things and Big Data to develop cyber-physical systems and smart factories.

Why? 4IR was the talk of Davos at the start of 2016 and became a recurring theme down through the year, not least in the UK where incoming Prime Minister Theresa May committed the country to developing a formal industrial strategy. That’s all good and well in principle, but it’s currently short on detail. There are a lot of fine words being bandied around and some impressive rhetoric, but 2017 needs to see some meat being put on the bones.

(4) Monks and other moments

Do we have a climbing wall?

Why? Dreamforce was a major endeavor for the diginomica team with four of us on the ground at the conference, resulting in over 40 pieces of content emerging from the week. As ever the show threw up a lot of ideas and themes and opportunities, but my personal highlight came spontaneously when CEO Marc Benioff invited me to take a walk with him across the Dreamforce grounds. As a veteran of Dreamforce, it was a colorful insight into what makes the conference and the CEO tick. I hesitate to include this here as both Phil and Jessica have kindly cited it in their own top tens, but it’s a piece of content of which I’m proud, so as a year-end indulgence, here it is again!

(5) AI and getting past the Shatner bit

If the level of genuine understanding of the issues involved here are starting from a base level of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Shatner, there’s a long way to go here.

Why? You couldn’t miss AI as an agenda item this year. From Salesforce through Oracle and Microsoft and back to IBM, AI was the transformative technology theme of the year. Politicians got in on the act as well, contemplating the impact of machine-learning and intelligent automation on society and the jobs market. Those are big debates that will continue into 2017 as the press release hype of 2016 starts to evolve into workable use cases that validate the thesis of AI’s potential.

(6) BT - killer of the UK digital economy

Some progress has been made, but this has not been enough, and action is required now to deliver better outcomes for phone and broadband users.

Why? I ended last year with a plea to BT CEO Gavin Patterson to focus on improving the UK’s digital economy prospects with a greater emphasis on fixing the infrastructure issues for all. My words of course fell on deaf ears and a series of run-ins with the company across the past 12 months has merely served to reinforce my view that until this privatised monopoly has its wings severely clipped, nothing will improve. Alas, the corporate arrogance of the telco remains undented even by threats from Ofcom. But finally, as 2016 draws to a close, there are a few signs that the regulator might finally be prepared to take action. Let’s hope so.

(7) Put a fork in it, it’s done - the slow decline of Yahoo!

It’s going to be a long process…we haven’t reached any final conclusions.

Why? Sometimes we go out with a bang, sometimes with a whimper - and in the case of Yahoo!, we go out with years of self-deluding promises of jam tomorrow and some reluctant admissions of hacking on an industrial scale. The Yahoo! endgame was something we tracked closely over the course of 2016, although in reality things might not be as over as seemed to be the case once Verizon agreed to pick up the assets. The revelations of major hacking incidents that emerged after the deal was agreed could yet scupper things - or at the very least, see the purchase price driven down.

(8) Shopping for digital transformation

Any brick-and-mortar retailer that thinks they can go head-to-head with a pure play e-commerce company by simply doing it online…is in for a rude awakening.

Why? Use cases have once again proved hugely popular on diginomica in 2016. I’ve had a particular focus on the retail sector for examples of the digital transformation journey in action, some more successful than others. The retail space is one where the digital imperative is well-understood, but the need to achieve an online/offline balance perhaps less so - and certainly not executed upon with consistency.

(9) The coming of Trump

Right now everybody in this room has to like me, at least a little bit.

Why? November’s election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States exposed a divided America, reignited major questions about the Electoral College v the popular vote and, on the whole, left Silicon Valley leaders less than impressed. That said, from late January, it’s Trump whose economic policies will be impacting on the fate of every US tech firm. A handpicked selection of CEOs were escorted up the Trump Tower for a photo opp and a chat earlier this month. Others will have to wait it out to see what their relationship with the new regime works out to be in practice. There are a lot of stumbling blocks ahead, not least around diversity and encryption/privacy. I suspect it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

(10) The year I did “Think Different” about Apple

While the Mac-erati have so far been stupendously loyal to the idea of buying everything the brand comes up with, there has to be a question as to whether the essentially stylistic change of removing the camera bump is going to be a big enough draw?

Why? As the year came to an end, I realised that 2016 had been something unique in my recent memory - the first year in a long time when I hadn’t bought something new from Apple. I got a free upgrade to an iPhone 7 Plus, but parted with no cash. I watched the Macbook Pro launch with disinterest and felt no compulsion to buy. After some initial scepticism, I would have bought some Airpods, but of course Apple’s usual inability to ship a product on time or to manage its inventory kicked in and put paid to that. So my final choice of story from 2016 is Martin’s erudite Steel Intensity Curve thesis and its impact on Apple.