• To see the dawn of sustainable economies we need to decode the future of everything from deglobalisation to customer experience.
  • Self-reliance balanced with working for the global good characterises our future.
  • India can be used as a good example of why decoding the future helps us make sense of where we are right now.

Noone could ever have imagined that the onset of the new decade that dawned in 2020 would be so unsettling. The changes brought about by various social, geopolitical, technological, environmental and economic factors have already reshaped the world order – and we are just one year in.

The path of economic growth has been reset, with a focus on building resilient economies, alternative models and sound infrastructure, all to ensure sustainable growth.

The way we are handling the COVID-19 crisis has proven that we may buckle under pressure temporarily, but we shall not break. It is human nature to reflect, reset and seek to improve in the face of adversity.

To witness the dawn of resilient, self-reliant, circular and sustainable economies, we need to start decoding the next of everything. And to do so right now. Here are four major areas to look into:

1. The next of globalisation: what would global self-reliance look like?

The current crisis has taught us that it is important for every nation to become self-reliant, in order to lead the world together.

The future is one of digital marketplaces where the producer and the end consumer will be connected hyper-efficiently – enabled by technologies such as 5G and its next generations, blockchain and automation.

—CP Gurnani

A case in point is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call to “Make in India” and “Make for the World”. It further reinforces the existing belief that local value additions can help India become a manufacturing hub and an exporter of finished products.

The right technology and an adequate focus on research and development will be the linchpins for success in this area. Enterprises will need to assess whether their operating models are truly digital, and build self-reliant supply chains.

The importance of India’s inter-connectedness in global as well as local production networks has been underscored by how it has handled demand revival across multiple segments.

The future is one of digital marketplaces where the producer and the end consumer will be connected hyper-efficiently – enabled by technologies such as 5G and its next generations, blockchain and automation.

2. The next of connectivity: how could human connection in a virtual world evolve?

India has made unparalleled progress in the telecommunications industry over the last two decades with its various generations of mobile technologies, network penetration and infrastructure upgrades.

Reductions in data and voice rates, as well as in handset costs, have accelerated mobile and internet adoption across the nation while making a mobile a must-have device for human existence.

With virtual becoming the new normal, digital tools are making this world a truly global village. New-age technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality and 5G will power disruptive, fluid, real-time experiences as well as seamless transactions everywhere from the workplace and shops to banks and hospitals.

We will witness more ‘smart’ with the interplay of technologies including emotional artificial intelligence that captures human expressions via Computer Vision (CV). Voice analysis and biometric sensors will help us analyse, process and respond to these emotions.

It's not about technology replacing humans; it is about humanising technology and enhancing the experience of day-to-day interactions.

The value of 5G to the global economy is set to reach $13.2 trillion by 2035
Image: WEF Future Series: Cybersecurity, emerging technology and systemic risk Insight Report

3. The next of customer experience: what would it mean to make personalisation ethical?

Ensuring a perfect blend of personalisation with enhanced security measures is the holy grail of customer experience, which can elevate end-user experience to a whole new level. Organisations need to strive to reach a balance here.

The potential of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) in driving customer experience are tremendous, and by 2024, AI's ability to identify emotions will influence more than half of the online advertisements we see.

Studying consumer behaviour across offline and digital platforms through augmented analytics and AI will help in turning the data collected into more consumable forms.

Technology can thus play a pivotal role in decision-making and curating meaningful customer experiences.

4. The next of work: how's the future workplace likely to evolve?

During the pandemic, we saw a brilliant preview of the all-pervasive, seamlessly integrated future workplace offering a superior experience to employees with enhanced automation and security.

Now, with access to information across multiple devices, anytime and anywhere, we will witness the widespread adoption of best IT (Information Technology) practices.

However, as the world becomes increasingly digital, it is important to improve cyber resilience. It is estimated that collective global spending on cybersecurity has now reached $145 billion a year and is predicted to exceed $1 trillion by 2035.

With a focus on collaborative intelligence, creativity and the right skilling, we will continue to see a surge in gig and hybrid models of working. This will in turn drive the adoption of technologies such as digital twin, which can create a virtual model of physical things, thus enabling the creation of smart workspaces.

It will also see cobots (collaborative robots intended for direct human robot interaction within a shared space) and humans working together to create more ‘human centric experiences’.

Additionally, with the help of AI and emerging technologies, we will see a rise in the number of people with disabilities being employed, as these technologies can reduce barriers to accessibility.

To reinvent, businesses need to realign environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities to improve financial returns. At the same time, they must lower downside risk by deciding how to allocate capital and resources to minimise any adverse effects on the environment or on the lives of our future generations. Resource efficiency can improve operating profits by up to 60 percent.

Workplaces of future, built this way, will be more productive, secure and sustainable.

Riding the winds of change requires the ability to adapt

The pandemic has pushed many businesses, including SMEs, to embrace digital.

The example of India is interesting because it is an economy that has the potential to be a self-reliant technology powerhouse. But becoming so will depend on collaborative efforts to embrace technology made by the government, industry and citizens. It will also require a constant focus on research and innovation across industries; and ensuring the right skilling of its people.

As we step into a new year, let us remind ourselves that it is our readiness to adapt and be agile that will enable us to ride through the winds of change to survive and thrive in the next decade of opportunities.