A hint of aspirational aims in troubled times - the unexpected sub-text from Accenture's Technology Vision 2020

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan March 24, 2020
Accenture's 20th Technology Vision Report covers a lot of expected ground, but in the current crisis, there's an underlying big picture that hints at a better time.

crystal ball
(Steve Knight via Freeimages.com)

It’s 20 years since Accenture published the first of its annual Technology Vision reports, studies that aim to reflect the trends, realities and potentialities for tech adoption and investment at the time. This year’s report - We, The Post-Digital People: Can your enterprise survive the ‘tech-clash’? - is published based on data that was compiled prior to the Coronavirus crisis taking hold - November 2019-January 2020 - and as such some of the expectations outlined are likely to be (heavily?) modified as 2020 rolls out.

That said, some of the findings are ‘timeless’ and will be relevant both during this the current time of crisis and once the threat is lifted. For example, there’s a big emphasis on the importance of trust in technology, hardly a new theme perhaps in the post-Cambridge Analytica age, but as enterprises and individuals find themselves even more dependent on digital platforms to cope in the current climate, that question of trust becomes even more valid.

Accenture polled more than 6000 business and IT executives and 2000 consumers for this year’s report. Of the first study group, 80% emphasised how dependent they now are on technology, while among consumers, 70% felt that their “relationship with technology would be more or significantly more prominent over the next three years”. Given all the families currently trying to come to grips with video-conferencing services or trying to find an online grocery platform that can be accessed, that’s a prediction that’s come to pass horribly quickly.

If we are to look beyond the bleak headlines and think about what the world looks like on the other side of the current crisis, there’s something positive to be taken from what might in ordinary times have been filed under ‘cheesy marketing’ - “From tech-clash to trust” - when the report talks about using technology to build a more human-centered future:

In the future, people don’t just want more technology in our products and services; we want technology that is more human…Trust and accountability are the new litmus tests for businesses in a world where digital is everywhere. Creating a more inclusive future that is better for all people is the new mindset.

That would be a good outcome if that mindset did indeed take a firmer grip on the back of the current troubles. I said last week that “once the crisis is past, how we all conducted ourselves is something that will be taken into account” and that applies to both individuals and enterprises that are tech-centric and otherwise.

Already it’s apparent that certain businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors are taking more socially-responsible stands than others.

Prior to the new restrictions in the UK, the CEO of Wetherspoons thought closing the cross-infection breeding ground that are his and other pubs was over the top, while book retailer Waterstones CEO faced a social media rebellion over the weekend as branches of his own business took to issuing online messages to customers to stay out  of then still-open shops.

On the other hand, chicken restaurant chain Nando’s has promised its staff that their jobs are safe despite closing down for now and that they’ll get 80% pay during the shutdown, while key cutting/show repair retailer Timpson’s has committed to keeping all staff on full pay until its doors re-open.

Those are actions and reactions that consumers might well bear in mind once the high streets are busy once more….

The C-Suite big ask

There’s a certain degree of ‘if only’ sentiment when the Accenture report paints a picture of digital healthcare:

Imagine a world with seamless, secure and personalized healthcare. Wearables give doctors instant access to patients’ real-time and past vital signs. Digital healthcare records automatically incorporate results and notes from different providers, with no delayed requests for records or decisions made on incomplete information. All the while, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered machines use these records to make preventative recommendations.

Yup, imagine that, wouldn’t that come in handy right now?

As to what is yet to come, the report breaks out the usual suspects - AI, robots everywhere, yada yada yada - but the broader strategic/philosophical thrust is what catches the eye under current conditions:

Enterprises are facing their next big challenge. Up until now, businesses have largely benefited from following the technology roadmap laid out by digital pioneers. Now, digital technology is evolving from an advantage to a basic expectation—and yesterday’s best practices are turning into today’s shortcomings. To grow and compete, enterprises will need to revisit their fundamental models of business and technology, rebuilding them to align better with people today.

Every business assumption and entrenched approach is up for review and reinvention toward people-centric models. Companies must reengineer the experiences that bring people and technology together; they must raise questions about the democratization of data and technology, and they must reevaluate the application and value of intelligence—what technology is providing for people, and the ways it’s changing people in the process.

The report argues that this is going to be the biggest ask for enterprise leaders in the years to come:

Getting there is the greatest challenge the C-suite will face during the next decade. The success of the next generation of products and services will rest on companies’ ability to elevate the human experience. None of the steps on the journey are incremental changes, nor are they as simple as finding the next technological tool to do what you’re already doing today. Leading in the future will demand rethinking core assumptions about how an enterprise works and redefining the intersection between people and technology.

Again, words that worked before the current crisis, but when the greatest challenge for most C-suites will just be getting back on track as soon as possible, that Brave New World call-to-arms is likely to have to wait its turn.

My take

This hasn’t been the usual sort of review of an enterprise tech study that I would usually have produced. But these aren’t usual times. There is much meat to be had in the full report and in these self-isolating times, it’s worth a read to come to your own viewpoint on some of the conclusions therein. The thoughts on the underlying need for technology to become more human-centric chimed with me however. When something as basic as placing an online grocery order has in the space of a few weeks become an almost unattainable goal, the point comes home about how hardwired tech platforms and services have become in daily life. As I write this, it’s the first day of schools being closed in my area and already the internet services is a tad creaky as online schooling adds to the burden of home workers using Zoom or self-isolators deciding that now’s the time to finally have a crack at Game of Thrones on Netflix. At this time, I find the aspiration in the Accenture report is something curiously welcome.