The Future of Work – The Global Challenge

The global challenge of work is two-fold. First, will automation, in its various forms, destroy jobs? And second, even if not, will workers be paid enough to sustain the global economic system? This is why the former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has said the problem of “good jobs” is the central problem of the richer economies.

The combination of economic stagnation, global competition and digital technology has created something of a social and public panic about work. We are losing “the race against the machine,” or reaching “the end of labor”. But there are two diverging stories about the future of work, one dystopian, one utopian, as Flipchart Rick has observed. On the one hand: it “will revolutionise the workplace … and enable us to have more fulfilled working lives.” And on the other: a future “of factories without people, of vanishing jobs, of a hollowed out labour market and … vast profits with few employees.”

Our present model of work is, broadly, a creature of the industrial revolution, dominated by the division of labour, the supervision of labour, and payment of workers for their time or their tasks. This includes so-called “new economy” models such as Uber, whose casualisation of its workforce would be recognised by any 19th or 20th century dock-worker. Some of the big shifts shaping work reinforce this model. Others are starting to reshape it, potentially marking the start of a transition beyond it.

To understand how this is likely to change over the next decade and beyond, we need to understand the global landscape of work. These are a shift towards services, the globalisation of supply chains, the growth of ubiquitous technology, an increased squeeze on resources, and a shift in social values towards well-being. These pull in different directions.

Globalisation and digitisation take you towards rawer forms of capitalism, whereas resources and values take you towards more inclusive versions. The way you deliver services depends on which model of these two that you prefer. The version of the story about the future of work you subscribe to tends to depend on your assumptions about how these drivers will play out.

The shift to services: The deep shift in the global economy is in the long-term rise of services to “become the dominant economic activity” (UNIDO, 2009). The economists Timmer and Akkus (2008) describe this as a “powerful historical pathway of structural transformation,” which every country follows.

One of the reasons for the long boom in living standards in the 20th century was because of the long boom in manufacturing, the dominant economic trend for much of the century. Productivity growth and economic growth tends to fall as services become dominant, and the influence of trades unions, which are effective in maintaining the value of wages, tends to decline.

The globalisation of the supply chain: Manufacturing is also tradable, meaning that it is open to export competition. The growth of the Asian economies, in particular China, has been extensively driven by manufacturing. Taking a long view, Asia’s share of world production almost doubled between 1970 to 2008, from 15.5% to 28.5%, at the expense of Europe and North America. (Unido, 2009). This growth was driven largely by the development of containerisation, not digital technology, because it transformed shipping costs.

But globalisation is reaching its limits. Wages in export sectors in both China and India are now relatively high (a pattern seen in other emerging economies in the past) and companies are moving their production closer to their markets, both anticipating rising transport costs and wanting to be able to respond more flexibly to demand.

The other effect of globalisation, of course, is an increase in migration: more than 500 million people globally now live in a country they weren’t born in. Economists generally agree that immigration is good for economies. Migrants tend to be younger, more enterprising, and economically active, and their effect on wages, economic growth and tax contributions is almost completely positive. However, in weak labour markets migration also tends to push down unskilled wages by increasing competition for such jobs; such competition is gamed by unscrupulous employers.

The growth of ubiquitous technology: There is a widespread fear that the rise of robots – or more exactly, a combination of computing power, algorithms and robotics – will destroy the labour market, even, possibly, the very idea of labour value. A widely publicised study by Oxford University academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne argued that for the United States jobs are at high risk of being automated in 47% of the conventional occupational classifications (Frey and Osborne, 2013). In The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andy McAfee suggest a reason: that computing power is capable of exponential growth in performance over time, and that we’re just at the start of that progression. If robotics did for blue-collar work, then artificial intelligence will do for white collar work.

This argument, however, tends to miss the fact that technological innovation, historically, has created new jobs, typically after a period of turbulent transition. In his analysis of the labour market, David Autor (2014) finds that between 1999 and 2007 “routine task-intensive” jobs were indeed largely removed by computerisation, while knowledge jobs (“abstract task-intensive”) tended to survive or increase where human knowledge was complemented by computers. “Manual task-intensive” jobs, at the less-skilled end of the market, were much less affected by computerisation, and demand for them seemed to be rising. Yet their wages fell. His explanation: labour supply for these jobs increased because of the collapse in demand for “routine task-intensive” jobs.

The squeeze on resources: Population and consumption pressures mean that we are breaching many of the natural planetary boundaries. For capitalism this is a new game: traditionally it has been able to use resources without worrying much about the consequences. And after a century of cheap energy, the long-run trend is up, despite the current downward blip in the oil price. In our recent Futures Company report The 21st Century Business, Jules Peck and I argue that this resource shift is changing the way that companies behave; we are moving to post-sustainability (socially, economically, and environmentally). An important element is a shift from consumers to citizens, among both customers and employees, where the overall impact of a business matters. An example: it’s argued that one of the reasons why McDonald’s sales are slumping among Millennials is that eating there is depressing, because of “the feeling that the people behind the counter, flipping burgers and taking orders, have dead-end jobs where they’re treated poorly.”

The shift to wellbeing: One of the long trends is a trend towards wellbeing, physical and psychological, individual and social. This complements one of the strong workplace trends: that significant competitive performance is typically produced only by empowered and engaged employees, who are intrinsically motivated to work for the business. This is true of lower-wage environments as well as higher-wage businesses.

Striking research by Zeynep Ton (2014) has found that companies such as Costco in the United States and Mercadona in Spain out-perform their sectors – by some margin – through a combination of better wages, significant investment in training, and appropriate technological investment to support staff. With such a “good jobs” strategy, increases in wages translate directly into far larger sales increases. High value work benefits individuals, businesses, as well as society as a whole.

The Future of the Company – The Global Challenge

Big business has become disconnected from the broader society within which it operates. A narrow focus on short-term returns has prevented businesses from investing in innovation to foster long-term sustainable growth.

The common understanding of the purpose of publicly listed companies, particularly in Anglo-American markets, is that they exist to maximize shareholder value. Publicly listed companies are under tremendous pressure from activist shareholders, takeover threats, and general market dynamics to generate short-term value by spinning off parts of the company, buying back shares, and laying off staff. External pressure is compounded by executive compensation schemes that are heavily weighted towards stock options. In theory, incentive compensation systems should reduce agency costs so that managers will act in the interests of shareholders. In practice, they create perverse incentives to extract value from the company at the expense of customers, employees, organizational health, the community in which the business operates, and ultimately society as a whole.

A number of unintended consequences result, including:

  • The failure of companies to adequately consider and respond to societal challenges, such as environmental damage and climate change, due to the perceived cost;
  • Erosion of trust between society and the corporate sector, including the role of corporations in shaping public policy, which in turn leads to a loss of trust in democratic processes; and
  • Firm mismanagement through stock manipulation, insider trading and tax evasion, with a number of associated firm-level and macroeconomic risks including treating employees as disposable; undermining investment, research and development; hollowing out whole organisations; turning executives into caricatures of self-interest and greed powered by narrowly focused remuneration schemes; focusing talent in the corporate world on systematically extracting value rather than creating it; stock price manipulation; and fueling market failure and economic crash.

Inequality has greatly increased in the last twenty years, in part due to the failure to translate corporate profits into increased salaries across the firm. Even as worker productivity has continued to rise, real worker wages have essentially flat-lined. At the same time, executive compensation has markedly increased due to the afore-mentioned stock option schemes. Rising inequality within companies has in turn contributed to macro-level inequality that threatens to concentrate economic and political power in the hands of a privileged few.

The biggest questions we face go to the very core of business: what is the purpose of the corporation, and specifically of the large listed company with dispersed shareholders? Will the current model of large publicly listed companies survive the next decade, and if not, what will it be replaced by?

Another question is about the alternatives to public companies, such as B-corporations, co-operatives, companies controlled by foundations, privately held companies, partnerships and family-owned businesses. Many of these alternatives have shown themselves to be capable substitutes for corporate bodies, but will they pick up momentum and drive the way forward? Will they eventually eclipse publicly listed companies? Research by the CFA Institute shows that global equity listings have declined by 17% between 1998 and the end of 2012, from 56,119 to 46,674. US stock exchanges were hardest hit, losing nearly 50% of their listings from their high of 9,253 in 1997. Europe has also seen a significant decline of 23% of its listed companies, while Asian exchanges have seen the least change with less than 5% lost. Given the sharp decline in number and longevity of public companies, it is unsurprising that many ask if a model of public limited company will survive the next decade.

Perhaps the most pressing issue today for financial regulators is the question of how to address short-termism in the markets and its significant influence on the strategies of public companies. It is widely acknowledged that an excessive focus on quarterly returns fed into the 2008 crisis but opinions vary widely on the causes of and solutions to short-termism. What is the role of financial markets and investors in promoting responsible capitalism? Can we turn institutional investors into patient capital, willing to invest in innovative research that will yield returns in the long-term? And conversely, is it possible to limit short-term trading, or at least to reduce its impact on the governance of companies?

Stewardship has become a central focus of regulators seeking to push markets to a long-term orientation. What do good stewardship and responsible investment look like in practice? Is it reasonable to expect institutional investors and corporate managers to serve as good stewards and act sustainability?

The Future of Work – Options and Possibilities

The current discussion about the future of work seems to be monopolised by the version of the future in which technology destroys jobs. It has gained an air of inevitability, as if it is the only possible future. NESTA’s open minded report suggested that the “robots hypothesis” resonated because it connected “two powerful themes in popular culture: the rapid advance of IT, and the startling growth in inequality.” But there is a problem: it hasn’t happened before.

Indeed, the idea that investment in more productive technologies leads to unemployment is dismissed by economists as “the lump of labour fallacy.” In the past, investment in the new technologies has created new capacity and new wealth, which was re-invested to create more, higher value jobs. If this time is different, we need to understand why this is so.

There are candidates. Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s claim that digital technologies are different because they create exponential growth is one. Another is that companies can no longer draw on plentiful resources or cheap energy to drive new investment platforms. A third is that previous waves were driven by manufacturing, which generated new value through productivity gains and created the social conditions for trades unions.

However, it is also the case that this fear typically recurs after a crisis. It is not coincidence that Keynes wrote his famous essay on the challenge of technological unemployment just after the 1929 crash.

So it is also worth considering reasons why it might just be a phase. The economic historian Carlota Perez has a model of technological development that describes five long waves, or surges, since the Industrial Revolution. Each is around 50-60 years and follows an S-curve pattern; the last quarter of each is marked by saturated markets, diminishing investment opportunities and declining returns. The first part of the 20th century was dominated by the oil and auto surge; the latter part by ICT. The ICT wave is now reaching the turning point at which returns start to fall.

On this model, finance is looking for new opportunities, and although it is too early to say what the next platform will be, and we’re still 10-15 years away from it, it is possible to imagine that the next technological surge might be built around, say, a material such as graphene.

David Autor concludes that much of “the labor market woes” of the past decade are not down to computerisation, but to the financial crisis and reduced investment (starting with the dot.com collapse) and the impact of globalisation on labour markets. And he suggests that many middle-skill jobs will prove more resistant to unbundling than advertised; while computers can do specific tasks, turning collections of tasks into self-contained jobs, and then automating them, requires substantial investment. In the long run, people are both more flexible and cheaper.

One implication is that the question of the future of work may actually be about power in the labour market. This leads to broadly political interpretations of the future of working conditions, ranging from Guy Standing’s formulation of the fragile “precariat”, facing intermittent, insecure work, David Weil’s description of the “fissured workplace”, in which many functions are sub-contracted, and the rise of campaigns for the Living Wage. Perhaps the dividing line is best-expressed in Alex Payne’s widely circulated open letter to the tech venture capitalist Marc Andreesen: “You seem to think everyone’s worried about robots. But what everyone’s worried about is you, Marc. Not just you, but people like you. Robots aren’t at the levers of financial and political influence today, but folks like you sure are.”

The Future of the Company – Options and Possibilities

There is little that is guaranteed but change is certain. In the words of Lawrence Bloom, the co-founder of B.e Energy (a triple bottom line energy company), we are no longer in an age of change but in a change of age. The world faces three converging crises – economic, environmental and social – that require urgent and visionary action. Behind these crises are the failure of a worldview based on the single-minded pursuit of growth and the failure to work collaboratively to ensure that benefits are shared widely.

In the next decade, we will certainly see the effects of our failure to proactively address challenges such as inequality, the regulation of financial markets and youth unemployment. The effects of our failure to make capitalism inclusive will become apparent: we have a generation of young people with uncertain prospects and we face rising inequality with a rising share going to the wealthy even as our wages stagnate. The corporation will be increasingly associated with these problems due to its status as the place where much of the distribution of the benefits of capitalism take place.

We have already started to see the effects of climate change and business has started to sit up and take notice. How will we react and will we be able to turn the ship around? The answer to this question largely depends on the readiness of the corporate sector to support progressive political solutions. It is becoming patently clear that exhausting the planet’s resources is not an option – a growing number of politicians and business leaders recognize we cannot burn our fossil fuel reserves without destroying the world as we know it.

Not all is grim; in the next decade we will witness the continued rise of a new generation of leaders pushing for responsible business, broader recognition of the need for gender and racial diversity in boardrooms and C-suites, and the shift of power from the global north to south and from west to east. Companies from emerging economies will certainly take on a key role in the global economy. They will bring with them different models of governance which might be more able to respond to changing conditions, although they will also introduce new challenges. Finally, the line between public and private will continue to blur. There will be mounting pressure from civil society and the general public for sustainability in business and for corporations to take responsibility for the impacts generated by their value chains and off-shore operations. The reordering of transnational legal and political frameworks will offer us the opportunity to revision the respective roles of the State, the corporation and civil society. Concerted effort is needed to nudge the process in the direction of democracy and broad-based participation.

On our current path, another crash of the financial markets is highly likely. We have not addressed the root causes of the 2008 crisis and momentum for a significant overhaul of the markets has slowed to a crawl. Will the erosion of trust in business caused by the cyclical boom-and-bust nature of markets have an impact on policy-making? It’s hard to say.

The relative power of stakeholders within companies is similarly uncertain: will employees regain their voice? Will responsible investors play a more important role in influencing companies?

There are several events that could occur at the world stage that would have a profound impact on the global economy: another global energy crisis, the eclipse of Western economies by emerging economies, and the dissolution of the European Union.

The overarching uncertainties are whether we will see a rebalancing of power between different stakeholders, whether big business and key interested parties will lead or resist a rebalancing of influence, and how big a crisis is needed to jar us from our current trajectory. The risk is that entrenched interests that benefit from the current state of play will thwart reforms that threaten to limit their influence.

The Future of the Company – Proposed Way Forward

The backlash against big corporations has already fostered interest in alternative business models that will continue to gain momentum over the next decade. There is not one perfect alternative to publicly listed companies but rather a plurality of legal structures that each have certain benefits and drawbacks, including privately held companies, partnerships, benefit corporations, cooperatives, and worker-owned enterprises.

Major changes are on the way for company boards. Although problematic, the concept of stewardship has become the go-to response for regulators seeking to address short-termism in the markets, along with increasing shareholder rights. In theory, strengthening ‘shareholder democracy’ by giving shareholders additional powers such as a say-on-pay seems like a good way to encourage institutional investors like pensions and sovereign funds to steer companies in the right direction. In practice, however, it is unclear whether we can expect investors to take on this responsibility. A slight variation on this would be to assign different powers to different classes of shares.

It may be that other stakeholders besides shareholders will take on an increasingly important role. Board level employee representation is well established in much of continental Europe and has started to receive some attention at the EU level. Board diversity is also a key topic now and will almost certainly be into the future. We may see reserved seats for women, visible minorities, and other traditionally under-represented groups.

The classic maxim says that what is measured is what matters. The traditional focus of firms on measuring and reporting on almost exclusively financial indicators is changing to look at a broader set of indicators. In the EU, the recently adopted Non-Financial Reporting Directive requires certain large European companies to disclose information about environmental matters, social and employee-related matters, respect for human rights, anti-corruption and bribery matters. Integrated Reporting (<IR>) was devised less than a decade ago but has been picked up by an increasing number of companies who welcome the ability to tell a story about the whole picture of the company, which is often overlooked in quarterly reports. Closely related is the question of how to share information about companies to potential investors and the public. There are several ideas out there for developing benchmarks and labeling standards to identify sustainable companies and financial products, similar to what has been done for Fair Trade products.

There are two main ways to influence behaviour: sticks and carrots. Ideally, we will push companies to be pro-social through a combination of both regulatory policy and economic incentives. For example, there has been a lot of discussion in the context of climate change about introducing taxation of externalities, e.g. carbon taxes, as well as a carbon market. The EU has also considered proposals to impose a transaction tax on financial markets to reduce volatility and generate revenue, which has been used in other jurisdictions with inconclusive results. We may see requirements imposed to devote a certain percentage of revenue to CSR, as is being implemented in parts of Asia.

The Benefit Corporation and similar models might be supported by governments, either by tax incentives or by preferential treatment in public procurement. Farsighted States may reform their company law to introduce mandatory elements of corporate purpose, such as, for example, the concept of making decisions with an aim to remaining within our planetary boundaries, and adjusting directors’ duties and responsibilities accordingly. These changes have the potential to have high impact because they could shift economic activity to a new model – and for that reason, they are unlikely to be implemented. Other debated regulatory reforms include caps on executive pay and/or pegging executive pay to non-financial returns; changing the rules on the legal liability of multinational enterprises to allow parent companies to be held legally liable for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries; and restrictions on firms’ right to buy back their shares. Each of these reforms is potentially important but it is only when they are taken together that they have a chance to lead to system-wide changes to business conduct.

In terms of incentives, almost any of the regulatory reforms discussed in the previous paragraph could be framed instead as an incentive with a bit of ingenuity. Additional ideas include introducing incentives for boards to change their composition or to balance the short-term financial interests of the company with long-term and/or non-financial interests. Thoughtful policymaking is needed; indeed, perhaps the best we can do is to try to ‘nudge’ behaviour in the right direction and closely monitor the results, ever ready to react to changes.

The Future of Work – Proposed Way Forward

The way forward depends on how you prefer to read this bifurcation between the technologists and the sceptics. We don’t know which group is right: there are no future facts. But there are some observations that can help shape our perspectives on this.

The first is that these widely divergent views are a feature of this point in the technology cycle. The most the most excitable projections of the future of the car were seen at just this point on the oil and auto curve in the 1950s. The technology S-curve in Figure 1, based on the work of Carlota Perez, helps us to understand why. At this point, when the S-curve is at or approaching its second inflection point, people have been experiencing rapid technological change for the best part of two generations. The notion that “the only constant is change” has become a breathless platitude in the public discourse. So, the technologists’ perspective (point ’t’ in Figure 1) is a projection of this steep ramp. The sceptics note instead sign of falling returns and declining customer utility – and see a flattening of the line (point ’s). The gap is large, and one’s perspective on it is a matter of worldview, not evidence.

Figure 1

fig1

Source: Carlota Perez/ additional analysis by The Futures Company

Second, almost all business innovation and new business value is driven by the application of knowledge, and the way it is embedded in individuals, teams, and systems. The Futures Company has explored this in recent research with the Association of Finnish Work on the idea of ‘high value work.’ The important point here is that this is true of a whole range of knowledge, including knowledge of service and customers, and knowledge of culture and place, as well as technological knowledge. The most successful businesses use technology to complement and enhance this knowledge, not to replace it.

Third, the trend towards is a deep and powerful one. If Millennials express a desire for meaningful work, this is also true more broadly. We are on the cusp of a transition to a world where, as Hardin Tibbs (2011) has argued, half of the populations of Europe and the United States subscribe to post-modern values (drawing on Inglehart) of autonomy and diversity. The workplace will not escape this trend. One way in which this is expressed is in a transition from consumer or employee to citizen. Increasingly, anyone with any degree of choice in the labour market is choosing employees who recognise them as a whole person, not just as a unit of labour. The evidence suggests that the engagement that the employer gets in return (even, say, in retail) is a powerful driver of performance and profitability.

Fourth, the bargain that businesses struck in the 1980s and 1990s, as they enforced flexibility and “downsized” headcount, may turn out to be a Faustian pact. Shedding jobs and exerting tight control of labour markets increased short-run profits. But at the same time that same control squeezed out their sources of growth. And as both the OECD (Cingano, 2014) and the IMF (Ostry et al, 2014) have noted recently, wage inequality has been a further drag on economic growth. To regain growth, they are likely to have to increase wages and give back some control and power to their workforces.

My own best guess is that we are not headed for long-run technological unemployment. I have changed my mind about this over the past year as I have spent more time with the evidence.

The explanation that seems best to fit present state of work and labour markets is that it has been through a “perfect storm” of a globalised workforce, the deskilling of routine work (which was highly vulnerable to automation) and the shift of these workers into manual or service work, and aggressive deregulation of labour markets driven by a neoliberal political agenda.

The discourse around technological unemployment is not persuasive to me. The “abstract” jobs (using David Autor’s analysis above) will be complemented by technology, and so, in a different way, will be the manual jobs. Meanwhile, the projected gains from Artificial Intelligence and analytics are going to be harder to achieve than currently anticipated. As an example, big data gets less useful as the data sets get larger, and the driverless car, the poster child for the tech future, is a far tougher proposition than Google lets on. Meanwhile, these tech scenarios never seem to include the new jobs that will emerge as we understand better the potential of the technologies, other, sometimes, than as a panic about the possible speed of change.

But, and it is a big but, we’re only part of the way through the dislocation to work and to labour markets caused by this perfect storm. Things will not get better quickly.

The Future of Work – Impacts and Implications

Looking at the shorter-term impacts, then, it’s possible to see a range of approaches to this turbulence in the world of work. Government have options, largely about whether to intervene in labour markets to influence work outcomes, or not. But employers are also moving to new strategies not out of goodwill but through self-interest.

These options, highly simplified, are shown in the matrix (Figure 2), which contrasts laisser-faire approaches with interventionist approaches.

Figure 2

fig2

Source: Andrew Curry/The Futures Company

The race to the bottom: This laisser-faire option operates on the principle that labour market flexibility is the secret to increased employment in a globalised labour market. In practice, nearly all countries have increased flexibility and permitted more casualised work over the past decade – even somewhere with a strong tradition of labour protection such as Germany. The evidence increasingly suggests, however, that the pursuit of low value jobs leads to a vicious cycle of low productivity, low investment, low growth, and low tax and social contribution from business.

This policy approach also involves government subsidy to employers, as low-paid workers are supported by state payments. In the United States, a study showed that the fast food sector was effectively subsidised to the tune of $6 billion because its low paid workers were dependent on food stamps and subsidised housing. Increasingly this looks like a political choice that is no longer supported by economic evidence.

Enlightened self interest: It appears that employers who pay better and create better working environments do better financially. Walmart is a relevant case. Over the last decade, its share price has been broadly stagnant, while Costco has outperformed it “by a considerable margin”, in terms of sales, earnings or stock market returns. One reason: according to HBR, far lower staff turnover means knowledge is kept in the company – and drives customer engagement. Such employers also invest in technology to enhance the performance of their staff, using each to complement the other. The Spanish retailer Mercadona similarly invests heavily both in training and stock management systems.

Wages and labour performance are also becoming part of businesses’ reputational capital. See, for example, the increasing success of the UK Living Wage campaign in signing up large companies as “living wage employers”. The public sector can encourage this, for example by giving tax breaks or other forms of support to companies who deliver such commitments, and sharing evidence of business benefits.

Keeping the market honest: Turning to more interventionist approaches, the state can take the view that it wants to drive unscrupulous low-wage employers out of the market as a way of driving up standards and investment (because low-wage, employers are unlikely to commit to training, and have little incentive to invest in capital equipment, which reduces productivity.) This leads to approaches such as enforcing (and increasing) minimum wages, both through regulation and legal frameworks, and also through public procurement rules.

Such a policy complements the “enlightened self-interest” approach by removing free-riders from the market. Although conventional wisdom has argued in the past that minimum wage legislation costs jobs, this seems to be a weaker effect than claimed.

Re-imagining work: Much of our intervention in the labour market is driven by a view that it creates social goods, both from an economic perspective and also from a social perspective (over a long period studies have shown that worklessness produces adverse psychological and physical effects). But it is possible that such findings are linked to a set of “modernist” social values that are rapidly giving way to “post-materialist” values. Certainly, people with some income and a degree of social capital who do not have to work find worthwhile things to do, including volunteering. This is part of the argument for the Basic Income: that as we move to the “post-industrial” world envisioned by Daniel Bell, in which skills are more embodied in personal knowledge, that encouraging traditional work is no longer the only, or the best, way to get the social benefits from productive engagement.

The rise of the basic income: Until very recently, the idea of a basic income, a minimum sum paid to all people regardless of their work status, was right of the fringe of political discourse. But it has been moving rapidly towards the mainstream. The idea has deep roots:  George Bernard Shaw promoted it as “a vagabond’s wage” a century ago.

The analysis in this provocation helps to explain why. It is a policy idea that helps to improve outcomes whether the technologists or the sceptics turn out to be right. And in the meantime it helps to shore up economies, and individuals, that are struggling in the slow readjustment of labour markets.

If the “robots” hypothesis is right, we’ll need a basic income to make the economy work (markets need people who can afford to buy products). If the market power argument is right, then basic income keeps employers honest, by ensuring they have to pay good enough wages, in good enough conditions, to attract and keep their workers. One interesting side effect is that it would mean that our fundamental notions of the value of paid work could be about to shift, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. A recurring feature of the ICT era has been that questions of power and politics have frequently been diagnosed as issues of technology. The future of work is just the same.

The Future of the Company – Impacts and Implications

Tailored solutions will be needed to respond to the unique characteristics of each region. For example, the continental European, Chinese, Japanese and Anglo-American economics and business models are each very different. Germany is characterized by a small number (less than 700) publicly listed companies with worker representation on company boards, whereas mandatory board-level employee representation would be a controversial proposition in the UK or the US. The EU will be forced to confront and reconcile these types of discrepancies in the corporate governance models of its Member States as it asserts an increasingly active role in company law, which has traditionally been under the purview of national governments.

Outside of the EU, we need to bring Asia, the Middle East and Africa into the discussion of sustainability, workers’ rights and human rights more generally. This will require thoughtful balancing of the local context with international standards. In the context of human rights, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights outline the responsibilities of States to enforce the principles of international human rights law and of companies to respect those principles. But more work is needed to translate the framework into context- and industry-specific guidelines. It is in the implementation of general principles and the reconciliation of potentially contradictory rights that compromises will be most needed.

If this process is successful, we may see a gradual reduction in inequality leading to less social unrest and less partisan politics. We may also see an increasingly prominent role for business in developing both soft and hard law in a transparent way, acting individually and in concert through more progressive collaborative initiatives than the current trade and industry associations that dominate policy circles in Brussels, Washington and London.

We need a new vision for the role of business in society. Part of the reason why the focus on maximizing shareholder value and short-term profits has captured business for so long is due to the failure to create consensus around an alternative conception of the purpose of the corporation. A model of corporate governance narrowly focused on maximizing shareholder value in the short-term is unbalanced and self-destructive. The paradigm that will rise to replace the current one will need to have a more holistic understanding of profit as one indicator of the long-term health of the organization, amongst others. The profit-making motive will sit comfortably alongside a consideration of a broader responsibility to the interests of society.

This new paradigm must be translated into the existing framework of incentives and regulations for corporate governance and accountability. It needs to be reflected in market mechanisms, in particular in the way that financial markets interact and influence companies. The role of shareholders in corporate governance will have to be rethought in order to protect their role in ensuring management accountability, whilst freeing companies from the imperative to maximise the stock price as at all costs.

In order to achieve transparency and accountability, companies will need to provide an accurate accounting of their environmental and social impacts, through required disclosure and through increased pressure for meaningful information from consumers. Boards of directors will also need to revise their decision-making process to consider the effect of the company on the environment and society. Companies should be expected, encouraged and even required to develop long-term plans charting their way towards environmental and economic sustainability. It will be necessary to devise holistic measures for measuring corporate success in the long-term, reflecting their ability to create value in a responsible manner. These metrics should be reflected in incentives for corporate executives as well as for institutional investors. We need to consider whether the current level of public investment in research and development is sufficient and properly allocated to achieve transformative change. Public-private partnerships, while not without flaws, are one path to support and stimulate green growth.

At some point, we will be forced to acknowledge that the current approach to governing companies is broken. Perhaps after the next financial crisis, but hopefully sooner. Certainly as we are forced to respond to climate change, which cannot be addressed by governments alone without the support and investment of business.

The Future of Water – The Global Challenge

Climate change, population growth and increased urbanization pose great challenges to the provision of water for human use. Since 1950 cities have increased their water usage fivefold, not only through population growth, but considerably through increased per capita demand.  Currently half of the world’s cities with more than 100,000 in habitants are situated in areas experiencing water scarcity[1].  To date neither governments nor businesses have done enough to prepare for this. Collectively we did not recognize the macro trends soon enough and so opportunities to counter water scarcity have been lost, infrastructure investments have been inadequate, and climate change adaption measures too local and often only reactive.

At the same time as access to water decreases, world energy consumption is projected to grow by 56% between 2010 and 2040. This matters because approximately 90% of global power generation is water intensive so a country’s energy mix has fundamental implications for its water industry. Water security has therefore become one of the most tangible and fastest growing social and economic challenges faced today.

So, how can we meet the water needs of the future? Will it be possible to provide equitable access to water and sanitation services when by 2030 the world will face a 40% global shortfall between forecast demand and available supply?[2] Can we make the water cycle respond to the challenges of climate change and energy need?  How can we do more with less water?

[1] Brian D. Richter, David Abell, Emily Bacha, Kate Brauman, Stavros Calos, Alex Cohn, Carlos Disla, Sarah Friedlander O’Brien, David Hodges, Scott Kaiser, Maria Loughran, Christina Mestre, Melissa Reardon, Emma Siegfried. Tapped out: how can cities secure their water future? Water Policy. 2013;(15):335–63
[2] World Economic Forum 2014

The Future of Water – Options and Possibilities

The UN has sagely noted that “water is the primary medium through which climate change impacts will be felt by humans, society and the environment” and accordingly climate change will necessitate improvements in water resilience systems in cities across the globe. Increasingly they will have to focus on local water sourcing, reuse and recycling in order to sustain their ever-expanding population. There are multiple ways in which efficiency can be improved not least through significant investments in green infrastructure, the adaption of smart technology and widespread public education which will help to manage water demand through a broader understanding about its natural process. Water is a key contributor to life. We need to be constantly reminding ourselves of this and take action.

Many countries are currently working to maintain and improve the quality of their sources.  About 96% of the earth’s total water supply is found in oceans and there is broad agreement that extensive use of desalination will be required to meet the needs of growing world population.  Worldwide desalination plants are producing over 323 million cubic metres of fresh water per day, however energy costs are currently the principal barrier to its greater use. The State of Singapore has innovative water technology, aiming, despite its size and population density, to become fully self-sufficient by 2061.  Plans include tripling its desalinated water supply by 2030, the large-scale collection of rainwater, and the collection of recycled water which, as well as the standard procedures, uses micro filtration processes, reverse osmosis and UV treatment to deliver potable water to its citizens. In short they are converting their city into a catchment and focusing on source diversity.

Elsewhere efficiencies will be improved by the use of intelligent robots, which will play a greater role in the inspection of infrastructure.  New materials, such as graphene, that are lighter, stronger, smarter and greener will also become more popular replacing traditional materials such as stainless steel pipes.

Growing concern for the environment and for public health means that water companies will be held to greater account for their environmental impact and water quality. A stronger emphasis on green infrastructure will support a trend for companies to transform from providing base utilities to creating a system of amenities that support the water cycle. An example of this can be found at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Rain gardens have been reutilized as communal meeting spaces, through-ways turned in to permeable walkways and three acres of new native plant communities with underground cisterns collect rainwater for future non potable reuse. Once all the changes are implemented the IIT predicts a 70 – 80% reduction of run-off into Chicago’s sewer system while making the collected non-potable water available for irrigation. Expect this repurposing of public spaces for multi-functionality for both amenity and wider sustainability purposes to be widely adopted.

Alongside making improvements to the infrastructure, there is a pressing need to do more with less water. Smart technology and big data will help. Changing public behavior is a huge challenge however.  Although there is widespread understanding that rising consumption of raw materials is both intensifying resource scarcity and increasing competition, most people, certainly in the developed world, live materialistic lifestyles resulting in high levels of waste.  In Australia for example, on average around 20 million tonnes of waste per year is thrown away at a value of AUD10.5 bn. Digital lifestyles can increasingly link consumer behavior to consumption and growing connectivity, utilizing the Internet of Things, will mean that it will be possible to monitor the consumption and cost of water in real time allowing consumers to understand their impacts and take action.

Data analytics can help build understanding on how to use the water cycle to respond to the challenges of climate change. It can also lead to increased scrutiny of water utilities and a better understanding of cost. Companies will therefore be able to integrate the true cost of water into their decision-making. In addition the availability of data provides an opportunity to educate customers about consumption. Publicity campaigns and a growing sense of urgency will nudge consumers to reduce consumption and should be used in partnership with economic levers that recognize the true value of water.

Growing populations and changes in diet mean that we need to produce more food. Water is a fundamental part of this process. In Australia, for example, the agricultural sector accounts for around 65% of total water consumption.  This could be greatly reduced if we could change consumer behaviour. It is estimated that Australians throw away AUD5.3bn of food waste every year. This is simultaneously wastewater. There is a real need to change this approach and developments in this sector will continue to have tangible knock on effects for the water supply industry and the natural environment from which this water is sourced.

Science will also have a key role in reducing the amount of water we use. Nano and biotechnology is a potential game-changer for the water industry, and can enable breakthrough products and technologies to tackle pressing global challenges such as reducing environmental footprints, using less and cleaner energy and decreasing water usage and waste generation. For example microorganisms are now being used to treat water that has been contaminated by hazardous materials. The global market for nanostructured product used in water treatment was worth an estimated USD1.4bn in 2010 and is expected to rise to USD2.1bn in 2015.[1]  Initial success in this area has also raised the possibility of the utility as a self-healing ecosystem.

Greater efficiency is the driving force for manufacturing companies where energy and water can be as much as 50% of the total manufacturing cost.  In the future expect more green manufacturing and increased co-operation when companies forge alliances across traditional boundaries, for example to share common costs. In the water industry this will manifest itself in knowledge sharing and contributions to joint research and development across catchment boundaries.  Through using resources more efficiently countries could also become more active trading partners; this would allow for more equal water redistribution amongst users. This could include a water balance concept similar to carbon emissions reduction strategies where water saved in one country offsets additional water use in another.

Looking ahead, users are likely to have to pay for the real cost of infrastructure. One short-term option is the financial recycling of assets and capital where old assets are sold or leased to fund the new. However, in the longer-term we will have to pay the true value for key resources. This shift could also lead to the greater application of the circular economy, which will help stretch resources through end of life recycling and reuse. More awareness will lead to increased scrutiny of water utilities and pricing of services as the widespread availability of data provides the opportunity to educate customers about consumption and managing resource use.  Looking through an international lens, water trading would allow for the efficient redistribution of water amongst users, so countries could become active trading partners. As the amount of water used in agriculture in arid regions is two to three times higher than in rain fed regions water trade could help save water on a global scale.

Once efficiencies and improvements are made, consideration should be given to the most cost effective way to provide access to basic services.  The fixed nature of water supply infrastructure and its history as an essential government supplied service gives rise to natural monopolies within supply areas. Governments need to ensure the pricing policy is appropriate to balance the essential need for water, the impacts on consumers (particularly those on lower incomes) and the requirements of the suppliers to remain financially viable.  To do this there should be better integration between urban water planning and urban development planning with considerations on limitation to green-field development.

Recognizing innovation opportunities for the future more and more companies are tapping into the public’s intellectual capital by crowdsourcing product ideas and solutions.  In exchange they are giving creative consumers a direct say in what gets developed, designed or manufactured. Crowd-funding added at around 270,000 jobs and injected more than US$65bn into the global economy by the end of 2014 with an expected industry growth of 92%.

[1] . Nanotechnology Now. Nanotechnology in Water Treatment. 2012; Available from: http://www.nanotech-now.com/news.cgi?story_id=45894

The Future of Water – Proposed Way Forward

Over the next ten years our waterways and other water sources will continue to suffer from over-extraction. This will continue to compromise the quality of the environment and the organisms it supports. In particular mining and other activities will continue to move into our water supply catchments affecting water quality and altering inflows. This will mean that we may be obliged to move water long distances in times of drought to services existing cities. In turn this could lead to increased GHG emissions at the very time when we are trying to reduce these.

We need to change this trajectory.   In doing so it is important that we reconnect ourselves with water in its pure elemental form. We should all be able to enjoy access to clean water, not just for drinking, but also for recreation and connection to nature. Putting water at the centre of the urban design process and re designing our cities and towns to respond positively to water is fundamental to ensuring a better understanding of the water cycle.  We need to develop better Green infrastructures – the networks of green and blue spaces such as parks, agriculture, woods, rivers and ponds in and around cities systems – that replicate nature and enable communities to connect with water.  The benefits include the reduction of flood risk, improved health and well being as well as providing a habitat for wildlife. Extensive green networks can be formed over time to create encompassing city ecosystems that can support the sustainable movement of people, rebuild biodiversity and provide substantial climate change adaption and resilience.

The focus should extend to solutions that do more with less: irrigation efficiency, automated farming techniques and demand management in our cities.  Smart infrastructure will help responding intelligently to changes in its environment to improve performance. Smart water networks could save the industry USD12.5bn a year.  In Israel, data analytic company TaKaDu takes information supplied by sensors and meters dotted around a water company’s supply network to build a sophisticated picture of how the network is performing.  It can spot anomalies in its behaviour from a small leak to a burst water main.

We should also start to re-think our traditional approach to drainage.  Working with natural site conditions for example, water, wastewater and storm water could be combined into one cycle. The AJ Lewis Centre for Environmental Studies ecologically treats and recycles wastewater within its buildings, integrating processes of wetland ecosystems with conventional procedures and in so doing recycling wastewater into reusable grey water.  While conventionally supplied water is used for drinking and hand washing, the recycled non-potable water is used in the Centre’s toilets and for landscape irrigation and recharging the wetland pond. Others should and are following suit.

A multitude of new tools are available to help us.  Alongside smart technology there are new biodegradable materials made from natural fibres that can provide greater resilience at less energy and lower cost. Beyond this, innovations will transform wastewater into a resource for energy generation and humidity into a source of drinking water.  We can see the beginnings of this already; consider, for example, the Israeli company, Water Gen, which has developed a device for extracting drinking water from air. Other advances including fog catchers, thick mesh nets that collect the water contained in fog, will soon be more widely adopted.[1]

We need increased investment in basic water and sanitation services both in new and the renewal of existing services.  Water treatment can come at a high price. The OECD has estimated that around USD50 trillion would be needed worldwide in the period to 2030 to satisfy the global demand for infrastructure[2]. However, accessing funding is an ever-present challenge.  In the US alone, if current trends continue, the investment needed by 2040 will amount to USD195bn and the funding gap will be USD144bn[3].  While most infrastructure investments are local, the sources of finance are increasingly global.

Beyond everything we must improve public understanding about the value of water and the services it provides. Globally public opinion still varies on the issue of climate change.  Better engagement with customers including education and information will have a large effect on calls to action around water. Education is fundamental to help the public to accept the need to reduce overall water use and to increase the use of wastewater for potable purposes. In particular city dwellers must learn to conserve more or utilize different sources of water such as storm water to provide for their needs, allowing potable water to be freed up to feed a growing population. Small adaptions by multiple individuals will make a difference.

[1] National Geographic. Fog Catchers Bring Water to Parched Villages. 2009; Available from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/07/090709-fog-catchers-peru-water-missions.html
[2] OECD. Infrastructure to 2030: Telecom, Land Transport, Water and Electricity. 2006; Available from: http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-AssetManagement/oecd/economics/infrastructure-to-2030_9789264023994-en#page4
[3] American Society of Civil Engineers. Failure to act: the economic impact of current investment trends in water and wastewater treatment infrastructure. 2011; Available from: http://www.asce.org/uploadedfiles/infrastructure/failure_to_act/asce%20water%20report%20final.pdf

The Future of Water – Impacts and Implications

In the future it is clear urban water utility companies must prepare to operate in a world which is expected to be utterly different from the one that we are experiencing today. It is necessary to acknowledge and prepare for this.

We know that there is a growing urban population; we know that the impact climate change is now taking effect and that the volatility in water supply can only be partially mitigated by improved efficiency.  We have yet to collectively decide how to address the problem.

Water is inter-twined with everything we do; energy, food, health and wellbeing, manufacturing are all dependent on its availability. At the very least we need to start a public conversation about its real role in our lives. We need to understand how people currently value water and then work with them so they understand its true value and all the services it provides.

Providing access to water is one of the greatest challenges we face and one of the defining moral and cultural issues facing the planet. To address it governments must develop national water strategies, businesses must consider the impact of water in their products, and individuals must change their behavior.  There should be investment in large scale recycling schemes, green infrastructure should have priority when planning new developments and renovating old: All this at a time of population growth and climate change. No one says it will be easy, but it is most certainly possible.

The Future of Privacy – The Global Challenge

The right to privacy finds its expression in all the major international human right instruments. They were all, without exception, drafted and agreed in different times to those we find ourselves in today. Even as we contemplate the years ahead, there is almost universal acknowledgement of the continuing value and relevance of these instruments and the rights enshrined. Yet, the subject of privacy has never been more in flux, facing a seemingly endless barrage of pressures. Privacy is becoming one of the most vexing public issues of our time, and will remain so in 2020.

Contemporary concerns and debates about privacy are essentially debates about technology and the role and impact of technology on our lives and societies. Practically every mega-trend in the world of technology is creating tensions for privacy, personal freedom and autonomy – ubiquitous connectivity, big data, the cloud, wearable tech, artificial intelligence, the internet of everything, connected health, drones – the list goes on.

It’s no longer just a case of leaving digital footprints from our movements around a digital landscape. As the size of computing continues to shrink to nanotech levels, and the cost continues to fall, technology will become embedded in both the physical world and our physical bodies. We will be living in a world where we are ‘surrounded by computational intelligence’[1].

Technology is becoming invisible. And its unobtrusiveness will aid its pervasiveness – there are already estimated to be 16 billion connected objects today and this is predicted to reach 40 billion by 2020[2]. And this pervasive connected technology will create ever more data. IDC estimates that by 2020 people and connected objects will generate 40 trillion gigabytes of data that will have an impact on daily life in one way or another[3]. This data will make known about us things that were previously unknown or unknowable (including to ourselves). And in doing that, it will enable actions and decisions to be taken about us that will have profound consequences far beyond the display of adverts on our variously sized screens, or personalised pricing based on profiles of our income and propensity to pay[4].

Evgeny Morozov, the author[5] and researcher, gave an example of this recently in his talk at the Observer Ideas festival 2014 in London[6]. In the Philippines, sensors have been placed in public toilets which emit an alarm if someone uses one of the stalls and then tries to leave without using the soap dispenser. You can only turn off the alarm by using the soap dispenser. The sensor thereby has a deliberately regulating effect on the behaviour of users, in this case encouraging hand washing. This is just a logical extension of the seat belt alarms fitted to most new cars built today or the use of speed cameras, the purpose in both cases being to use technology to regulate our behaviour and thereby reduce injury and the cost to health services of car accidents.

Let’s stick with cars for a moment. The installation of a wide range of new sensors in vehicles is already transforming other aspects of motoring, such as insurance. Usage based insurance schemes utilise sensors that collect data on location, speed, braking and acceleration to determine the risk profile of the driver, and consequently their insurance premium. The other touted benefit is that such technology acts to discourage  risky driving behaviours. In return, we subject ourselves to a degree of surveillance. It is not long before we can see the same technology being used for other ostensibly worthy purposes, e.g. perhaps identifying if you are too tired to drive and automatically disabling the engine.

Of course, it might be argued that none of this compels us to allow sensors into our cars, homes and other parts of our lives, and the collection of data about us – we are not compelled to use usage based insurance or drive “intelligent” cars, and so we have a choice. But if refusing to allow the collection of data by sensors begins to become a costly decision (e.g. increased car, home or health insurance[7] premiums), it’s a choice that is easier to make for those who can afford it. And, of course, once sensors and data-generating technologies become embedded in products as standard, there will come a point when there are few realistic alternatives.

This rise of technology that not only observes, but intervenes (I’ll term it “bossy tech”), is a consequence of placing sensing technology in more and more places where these ‘interventions’ can be automated, based upon the exponential increase in data sources that can be analysed in real time with intelligent computing. And as bossy tech gets a lot smarter it will no doubt get bossier, as public authorities acquiesce in the notion that technology can regulate our behaviour far more efficiently than traditional enforcement methods – why waste money on policing public spaces if cameras and audio sensors can detect potentially unsociable behaviours, use facial and voice recognition to identify the individuals involved, and then order them to stop or else face the consequences?

The value of digital identity, i.e. the sum of all digitally available information about an individual, has been estimated to be worth €1 trillion to the European economy by 2020[8]. The internet of things is predicted to generate a value-add of $1.9 trillion globally by 2020[9]. Much of that value is not likely to be from the ‘things’, but from data derived about those things that promise to transform every sector, bringing efficiencies and cost savings, but also entirely new service possibilities[10]. Whatever the figures, there is undoubtedly a huge economic incentive to generate and collect data from whatever sources it becomes available. As more data from more things becomes available, we can expect to see a data “land grab” by organisations.

The control of data provides organisations with valuable insights and enables influence over purchasing decisions and other behaviours. Increasingly, therefore, data is power, economic or otherwise. But there is already undoubtedly an asymmetry in power between organisations and individuals today, as organisations have an abundance of information about consumers and analytics tools to interrogate it, while consumers suffer information scarcity and possess few tools to make any sense of their own data[11]. And this appears to be getting worse, according to Sir Tim Berners-Lee[12]. In the 2014 – 15 Web Index, an annual report measuring the Web’s contribution to social, economic and political progress published by the World Wide Web Foundation, it is revealed that the web is becoming less free and more unequal.

In the absence of any countervailing forces, the current technology mega-trends look set to create further asymmetries in power resulting in less privacy for individuals in 2020.

[1] Brian David Johnson, Intel, Wired UK retail talk, available at: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-11/24/brian-david-johnson-intel (accessed 10/12/2014)
[2] ABI Research, “The Internet of Things Will Drive Wireless Connected Devices to 40.9 Billion in 2020”, available at:  https://www.abiresearch.com/press/the-internet-of-things-will-drive-wireless-connect (accessed 10/12/2014)
[3] ICD white paper, “The Digital Universe of Opportunities: Rich Data and the Increasing Value of the Internet of Things”, April 2014, available at: http://idcdocserv.com/1678 (accessed 10/12/2014)
[4] Blogger Alistair Croll declares that “Personalization” is another word for discrimination” in his post titled “Big data is our generations civil righjts issue”, available at: http://solveforinteresting.com/big-data-is-our-generations-civil-rights-issue-and-we-dont-know-it/ (accessed 23/11/2014)
[5] Evgeny Morozov homepage, available at:  http://www.evgenymorozov.com/ (accessed 01/12/2014)
[6] Observer Ideas - A Festival for the Mind, 12 October 2014. For an introduction: http://www.theguardian.com/reader-events/2014/jul/18/observer-ideas-2014-an-intoduction (accessed 17/12/2014)
[7] Barclay Ballad, “Now you can get financial reward for your personal fitness data”, 9 December 2014, available at: http://www.itproportal.com/2014/12/09/health-insurance-firm-offering-240-year-personal-data/  (accessed 17/12/2014)
[8] Liberty Global, “The Value of Our Digital Identity”, available at: http://www.libertyglobal.com/PDF/public-policy/The-Value-of-Our-Digital-Identity.pdf (accessed 10/12/2014)
[9] Gartner, Inc. newsroom, “Gartner Says the Internet of Things Installed Base Will Grow to 26 Billion Units By 2020”, available at: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2636073 (accessed 09/12/2014)
[10] Harbour Research, “Where Will Value Be Created In The Internet Of Things & People?”, available at: http://harborresearch.com/where-will-value-be-created-in-the-internet-of-things-people/ (09/12/2014)
[11] Mark Little, Ovum, “Personal Data and the Big Trust Opportunity”, available at: http://www.ovum.com/big-trust-is-big-datas-missing-dna/ (accessed 10/11/2014)
[12] World Wide Web Foundation, “Recognise the Internet as a human right, says Sir Tim Berners-Lee as he launches annual Web Index”, available at: http://webfoundation.org/2014/12/recognise-the-internet-as-a-human-right-says-sir-tim-berners-lee-as-he-launches-annual-web-index/ (accessed 17/12/2014)

The Future of Privacy – Options and Possibilities

There are plenty of predictions about technology – from the utopian visions of a bright new hyper-efficient world where robots free humanity from drudgery, to doom-laden predictions of pervasive surveillance and the demise of personal autonomy at the hands of governments and corporations. But there are a number of counter-trends emerging that present their own narrative about how the future will play out.

Privacy is a public issue: The public’s perception of the threats to privacy, personal freedom and autonomy – whether from corporations or governments – is growing. Privacy has already emerged beyond a niche, specialist concern to being a mainstream public issue. It seems that almost weekly new research is released revealing increasing public concern about privacy and declining levels of trust in organisations’ handling of peoples’ personal data[1].

In addition, a lesson the public has learnt thanks to the revelations from Edward Snowden is that data controlled by organisations will always be susceptible to access by governments using extensive legal powers of disclosure and surveillance. This is becoming a liability for communications and technology companies, under pressure from their users, who are beginning to take measures to put some control back into the hands of their users[2].

This growing consumer and citizen awareness and distrust looks set to accelerate and will increasingly become a factor in decision making for ordinary people – decisions about the products we use or abandon, the brands we associate with, the political leaders we elect. And as data insights become increasingly actioned by bossy tech, this will exacerbate the trend – behavioural observations, and the interventions that result, will increasingly be seen as unwarranted intrusions and restrictions on personal freedom and autonomy.

Digital activism will expand the digital commons: Consumers are taking matters into their own hands. A 2013 study from the Pew Research Internet project found that “86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints—ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email, from avoiding using their name to using virtual networks that mask their internet protocol (IP) address”[3].

The plummeting cost and complexity, and increased ‘consumerisation’, of computing, processing and storage means that activists are now able to harness technology for themselves, without the aid of corporations and governments. The ‘digital commons’[4] will continue to grow, empowering more and more citizens and consumers to take matters into their own hands, such as deploying end-to-end encryption, anonymizers[5], and by “watching the watchers”[6].

Business model disruption is inevitable: The default internet business model – advertising – is showing some signs of strain, and even the biggest players such as Google are openly exploring new models[7]. Yet the value in personal data is so great, and the levels of public mistrust in organisations’ handling and use of personal data is so high, that it is inconceivable to me that entrepreneurs will not make a serious effort to exploit this disparity. What we are already witnessing is the emergence of new business models that threaten to disrupt not just the default internet business model, but more broadly the assumption that the organisation is the natural and legitimate point of control and ownership of personal data. Instead, new disruptive providers are seeking to put the individual in control of their personal data[8]. In the process, they are seeking to disintermediate data-intensive businesses from their existing sources of data.

Regulation will get tougher: Policy makers will act to toughen laws, even though they move at geological speeds compared to the rate of technology development.

New laws and regulations are being promulgated around the world, many following the European model[9]. And Europe is on a journey to update and toughen its data protection laws[10]. The EU proposals will increase fines, place tougher requirements on organisations for obtaining consent, and create a new ‘data protection by design’ obligation. The fines alone will focus attention, forcing organisations to devote more time and resources to compliance.

[1] The Royal Statistical Society, “New research finds data trust deficit with lessons for policymakers”, available at: https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3422/New-research-finds-data-trust-deficit-with-lessons-for-policymakers.aspx (accessed 10/12/2014)
[2] Apple, Inc, “A message from Tim Cook about Apple’s commitment to you privacy”, available at: https://www.apple.com/uk/privacy/ (accessed 10/12/2014)
[3] Pew Internet Research, “Anonymity, Privacy and Security Online”, 5th September 2013, available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/09/05/anonymity-privacy-and-security-online/ (accessed 12/12/2014)
[4] In her 2012 book, “Consent of the Networked”, Rebecca Mackinnon describes how activist individuals play a key role in influencing the shape of technologies and the balance of power in her chapter on the Rise of the Digital Commons. Summary available at: http://consentofthenetworked.com/about/
[5] For example, The Onion Router (TOR). See the Wikipedia entry available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tor_%28anonymity_network%29
[6] An example is the TrackMap project, whose aim is to show where data travels when people visit their favourite news websites through visualization, available at: https://github.com/vecna/trackmap (accessed 15/12/2014)
[7] CITEworld, “Google for business: Now 100 percent ad-free”, 16th May 2014, available at: http://www.citeworld.com/article/2156043/cloud-computing/gmail-ad-free.html (accessed 10/12/2014)
[8] Ctrl-Shift, “New market for ‘empowering’ personal data services will transform relationships between customers and brands”, 20th March 2014, available at: https://www.ctrl-shift.co.uk/news/2014/03/20/new-market-for-empowering-personal-data-services-will-transform-relationships-between-customers-and-brands/  (accessed 10/12/2014)
[9] For example, in South Africa the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (http://www.saflii.org/za/journals/DEREBUS/2014/84.html), in Ghana the Data Protection Act 2012 (http://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=229717) and in India proposals in the form of a Privacy Bill (http://www.dataguidance.com/dataguidance_privacy_this_week.asp?id=2233)
[10] European Commission Data Protection newsroom, available at:  http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/data-protection/news/120125_en.htm

The Future of Privacy – Impacts and Implications

Threats to privacy from new trends and developments in technology look set to continue in 2020 and beyond. But the impact of the counter-trends and the effect they may have in constraining or shaping technology has received less attention – perhaps with the exception of law and regulation. As someone who has spent most of their professional life helping large organisations comply with law and regulation, I am often surprised at the level of faith in the law or regulation alone in delivering acceptable outcomes to complex problems like the impact of technology on our privacy.

Law and regulation is very effective at creating momentum and movement. By creating fear in board rooms, it can galvanise organisations to focus on compliance. But this does not guarantee that the things organisations do as a result will be pleasing to all concerned, even if they appear to meet the requirements of the law, and organisations can claim to be fully compliant. This is the problem we have faced to date with technology and privacy – there is no lack of law, legal opinion and guidance; yet there is continuing dissatisfaction with how things are, i.e. the outcomes we are left with.

This is because very often policy makers do not know what those outcomes should be and it would be a mistake for the law to try to determine them. While we are capable of identifying what we don’t like, it’s much harder to say what we do like – or more to the point, how we would like the future to actually look.

It’s therefore a case of sticks and carrots. Hit the donkey with a stick and the donkey will move. But it’s unlikely to go in the direction we want it to. Dangle a carrot under its nose in the direction we do want it to go, and it will generally follow the carrot. Law and regulation is good at creating impetus and momentum, but it won’t guarantee that we get to a desirable destination. To do that, we need incentives. Fortunately, the green shoots of these incentives can be found among the other counter-trends.

The possibility that individuals can now begin to take control of their own personal data is upending long established norms about the control of personal data – the assumption that the organisation is the default point of control. This is heralding the emergence of new entrepreneurs that see an opportunity to strike a new deal with consumers, offering them control. But not control simply for its own sake (worthy though that may be); rather control as a way to exercise greater autonomy over many aspects of their lives that today are made too complex and too difficult by data being controlled elsewhere.  And in doing so, there is the potential to unlock enormous economic value from personal data.

This potential for economic disruption to come to the aid of privacy (if not its complete rescue) by shifting power over data from the organisation to the individual is one of the most significant trends emerging as we look to 2020. It needs to be harnessed if we want to shape the development of technology to preserve the rights enshrined in all the major human rights instruments.

The 19th August 2014 was the 25th anniversary of the Web. This year, 2015, is the 800th anniversary of one of the most important legal developments in history – the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was all about a shift in power – from the English King to the nobles, but in defining the principles for how power is distributed and constrained, it laid down the foundations of England’s legal system, and has influenced legal systems across the world. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the web and the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called for the creation of a ‘Magna Carta for the Web’ in 2015[1], and has declared that we need to “hardwire the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, affordable access and net neutrality into the rules of the game[2].

This is a fitting aspiration. But just as the Magna Carta was a response to the shift of power from King to nobles, hardwiring the web in order to protect privacy will require a shift of power over personal data from the organisation to the individual.

[1] “Tim Berners-Lee calls for internet bill of rights to ensure greater privacy”, The Guardian, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/sep/28/tim-berners-lee-internet-bill-of-rights-greater-privacy (accessed 17/12/2014)
[2] Supra note 12

Introduction: Defining loyalty

Before discussing the challenges facing those of us who work in the ‘loyalty space’ in more depth, it is probably worth providing an overview of what the term means to us.

To us, loyalty is a particular way of thinking about the relationship between brands and consumers. It is about what happens beyond the moment of simple transactions, and the specific products being bought and sold; beyond even the sometimes powerful messages contained in advertising. Instead, loyalty describes the long-term relationship and value-exchanges between brands and their customers, of which those momentary transactions are just a part.

Of course the word ‘loyalty’ covers a range of emotions and behaviours that go far beyond just the commercial space including our relationships with family and friends, political parties, nation states, religions, football teams etc. In fact, the question “where do your ‘loyalties lie’?” is one which goes a long way toward the formation of our very self identity. And we are well aware that commercial or, dare I say it, brand loyalty lies at one end (perhaps the less invested end) of the human loyalty spectrum. Nevertheless, a person’s consumer loyalty does lie on the spectrum and can still involve similar kinds of emotional attachments and accompanying behaviours. The implication of this being that even when talking solely about the future of consumer loyalty, we should still be bearing in mind the future of loyalty more generally, and the evolving ways in which people will emotionally align themselves with different values, ideas and propositions.

The Future of Loyalty – The Global Challenge

Loyalty in the future will not be like loyalty in the past. This much we know. Where once simple equations ruled (the customer collects points, the customer saves), there is now a chaotic, multi-channel hubbub increasingly driven by fast transactions and instant gratification, and the need for brands to think more deeply about the emotional, less rational, drivers behind the kinds of loyalty behaviours that might once have been exemplified by your grandmother insisting on her monthly trip to the local department store.

For brands that aspire to create customer loyalty in this new disorderly world, there is a fundamental question: quite simply, what will ‘loyalty’ in the future be? Already the conversation has long since moved on from the traditional points and prizes models, through ideas of personalised loyalty experiences for individual loyal customers, and on to the challenge of customer and context -led customisation of loyalty experiences. But where will this conversation lead us? And where, in terms of a customer’s emotional relationship with a brand, will ‘loyalty’ begin and indeed, end?

The key drivers behind the evolutionary changes to the loyalty model have been technological of course, both in terms of our ability to collect and store more customer data, and in terms of communications platforms that allow consumers to talk to each other in the same spaces (social media and mobile platforms in particular) that also allow for real-time, in-context marketing and brand-consumer interactions. These new technologies have brought new possibilities, and theoretically at least, brands now have a dizzying array of tools with which to create new kinds of long and short term, emotional connections with their customers. But those same tools have also presaged a new kind of consumer, with new and distinct expectations, some of which look determinedly dis-loyal.

However, reports of the ‘death of loyalty’, evidenced by increasingly brand-fickle consumer behaviours, perhaps driven by consumers now being empowered by access to different choices and information, may be exaggerated. It is always worth remembering the two sides of the loyalty coin: on the one, those customer behaviours that look, for all intents and purposes, like loyalty; and on the other, the brand-created, customer experiences that are designed to drive those behaviours. Brands may have been mistaken in assuming that ‘loyalty’ behaviour was ever more than ephemeral, dependent on loyalty schemes with a specific shelf-life; but that does not mean that brands cannot seek to redefine loyalty experiences and find new ways to drive loyal behaviours. The challenge lies in understanding the consumer of the future, and their redefined needs and expectations.

Loyalty has actually always been about creating an exchange of value between brands and consumers and especially about the value brands can provide beyond the specific features of a product being bought and sold, creating an emotive loyalty. This is unlikely to change. But understanding what kinds of value are likely to be exchanged in the future is a challenge. We need to answer the question fast, since, in this age of digital engagement and interaction, in which one-way advertising messages are now only part of the picture, the consumer is empowered to quickly seek, find and even demand, gratification of his or her own personal needs. Brands will need to respond to this, or find that their once ‘loyal’ customers are enticed elsewhere. In particular they will need to start seriously addressing the ‘harder to quantify’ aspects of the value exchange, and reconcile the rational value exchange with the less rational emotional value exchange.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

One of the tools that brands increasingly have at their disposal is data (or ‘big data’ to use the fashionable term).  We can now know a lot more about consumer behaviour at both the individual and group level. But we need to learn how to harness it, to make sense out of it, and to create beauty out of it. This challenge brings a number of attendant questions such as: how can we build data collection into business models? How can we know what the best or most relevant kinds of data are to collect? And of course, how can we use this data to create new kinds of loyalty experiences and value exchanges? Lurking ominously in the background there is also the question of to what extent consumers will allow us to collect and use their personal information, and what they will expect in return. The backlash is already beginning in some quarters, although the questions of whether there are generational differences in the value placed on personal information is an interesting one. Either way, it looks like, for brands, providing genuine value in new ways and making commitments to being honest and transparent look like inevitable first steps.

Assuming we answer some of these questions, we then face another immediate challenge: the ‘fat wallet’ problem. Given that data collection and storage is becoming ubiquitous, and the ability to contact and interact with customers is too, so there are more and more opportunities for brands to move in to the loyalty space and offer their own, unique, loyalty experiences. Banks, airlines and hotels are the traditional players in the space, but already we have seen multiple other entrants, not least of course, the likes of Google and Facebook, the very architects of many of the changes we are seeing in customer behaviour.

Consumers will increasingly face the literal and metaphorical problem of having a wallet (or purse) fat with loyalty cards. In this scenario, the value of loyalty may become diluted, the consumer may become overloaded, eventually disengaging from loyalty altogether, and brands will face an increasingly uphill struggle to remain ‘front of mind’, even when the value they offer is particularly relevant. One solution to this may be to start thinking away from ‘pro-active’ loyalty, in which the consumer must actively and consciously take part in a loyalty scheme (too many of these and wallets become fat), and on to more ‘passive loyalty’ models that demand less of the consumer. On the other hand, consumers may be happy to put up with fat wallets, in order to ‘smarten up’ their consumption patterns, using loyalty schemes strategically.

Behind these more broadly conceived challenges lie the questions and uncertainties surrounding the physical (or digital) mechanisms and infrastructure that will underpin loyalty experiences themselves. As already noted, technology has driven many of the changes we have already seen, and it is likely to in the future. We might for example see a proliferation of payment systems, or indeed a convergence. Loyalty currencies (points, air-miles etc.) might become instantly convertible and flexible enough to be used across contexts, and/or borders (a question which raises others around creating loyalty experiences that are relevant in different cultural contexts – are loyalty behaviours in China driven by the same set of value propositions?). The mobile wallet is a both a certainty and an uncertainty for those of us thinking about the future of loyalty. It may have little impact beyond changing the mechanism of payments, or the effects could be more profound.

Similarly, the channels for brand-consumer communication and interaction are likely to increase. Mobile is a certainty, but what about the so-called ‘internet of things’ or wearable technologies? Which inventions and innovations are the most likely to be adopted, and which will prove the most effective channels for the types of relationship-building that drive loyalty?

Associated with all this, comes the question of the impact of real-time, in-context feedback, interaction and marketing. Will the ability to make prices dynamic, rewards instant, and responses to consumer demands individually relevant, all mean that traditional, long-term, loyalty models become meaningless or (to use an excruciating pun) pointless? More likely perhaps is that short-term transactional consumer behaviours, and longer-term loyalty driven value exchanges are likely to co-exist, and it will be more a question of which consumers are looking for which type, and which sectors and brands can generate the different types of services to deliver to those different needs: providing mechanisms that address the relative simply needs of the instant transaction as well as addressing the more complex and diverse variables that go into shaping what makes a consumer loyal.

 

The Future of Loyalty – Options and Possibilities

As I have already hinted, there are a number of possibilities for the future of loyalty. Change is certain, but little else is. That said, there are some fundamentals upon which we can rely. Consumers will still shop, spend and almost certainly continue to look for value propositions beyond just the features offered by specific products. In other words, there is still likely to be a space for loyalty. The idea of ‘knowing your customer’ is also going to remain, albeit transformed into a new challenge defined by the tensions between the ubiquity (and inevitability) of having access to ever more customer data, the right to collect that data, how and where you can store or share it and the puzzle of what to do with it once you have it. Alongside this, the death of the traditional media model (if it is even still alive) will finally sink in; what are now considered novel channels of communication will become the norm.

These certainties are more than likely to lead to an enhanced role for high-quality data managers and analysts (or data management and analysis systems). They will lead to a period of re-definition, evolution and innovation in terms of the kinds of value exchanges and exchange mechanisms that define loyalty offers. They will lead to a different set of consumer expectations, perhaps to the point that brands will no longer be able to deliver to them on their own. Strategic brand alliances, designed to deliver sophisticated choice and content, to complex consumer needs, are likely to emerge.

Less certain are the changes that new technologies will bring; especially in terms of payment mechanisms, mobile wallets and communications technologies. We know that consumers will face choices in all of these areas, but which ones they will adopt en masse remains uncertain. Will consumers opt to keep personal information private, while expecting to be able to enjoy the benefits of dynamic prices and rewards from multiple brands in multiple contexts? Or will the increasing demand from consumers for relevancy and personalised content tip the balance in favour of greater sharing? Ultimately can brands manage to create sufficiently tempting, relevant offers and experiences utilising the tools at their disposal (by, for example, gamification, curating, understanding etc.) to hold the consumer’s attention and make them more willing to engage and invest? The only certainty here is that the consumer is likely to gain the upper-hand in terms of the power dynamic and principles such as ‘great customer service’ will no longer be a negotiable.

The Future of Loyalty – Proposed Way Forward

In practical terms, there are a number of ways forward. There is an immediate need to understand the changes that are being wrought on consumer needs and expectations.  Significant investment in consumer research and data management and analysis seems to be a no-brainer. These kinds of research will themselves have to be mindful of what we know is coming, and specifically aimed at solving the problems outlined already such as the question of how to understand ‘big data’ and make it useful; and how to analyse and explore the impacts of new technologies on attitudes and behaviour so as to feed directly into reformulations of truly customer-led value propositions.

In tandem with this, and utilising a method that has been made much easier by the very same technologies we have been discussing, is the need for brands to be unafraid of testing. We don’t know what will succeed in the future and what is in the market today that will fail, so brands face a dilemma: Continue to innovate and test a wide variety of solutions and technologies and see what works (which brings the risk of spreading your focus and investment too thin and failing with all); or pick your winning horse or horses, focus there, be successful, but be exposed when consumers grow tired of that platform and switch to something new.

As the pace of uptake of new solutions is increasing exponentially, especially in younger generations; it is ever harder to decide on the right strategy.  The savvy business will be prepared to fail in this environment, but also prepared to learn from that failure, just as much as they must be prepared to respond to successes quickly.

In terms of actively innovating, brands will need to explore different possibilities and be open to new models. Innovation might be encouraged through strategic alliances with unlikely bedfellows for example, perhaps from different sectors, or from clever acquisition, or investment in or promotion of (lean) start-ups or suppliers.

Above all though, brands must place the customer at the heart of business models. This is likely to involve creating new business models and organisational structures that allow for customer engagement and management to become a core function that cuts across traditional silos, and helps to focus entire businesses on the contextual needs and value opportunities for different audiences at different stages of a customer journey or experience.

The Future of Loyalty – Impacts and Implications

The implications of everything I have discussed are broad.

Consumers’ ideas of utility value and similarly expectations of loyalty are likely to move from a recognition of the value in standard and ‘always available’ loyalty propositions to dynamic, exciting, changing and variable experiences that are ‘here today’ and ‘gone tomorrow’. This will mean an increase in customer-driven engagement in order to see what is or isn’t available at any given moment, rather than the annual ‘collect, save, spend’ patterns. However, we must address exactly what kinds of emotional connections can be created between brands and consumers, and explore the levers that might brands might be able to pull to create them, that are not simply reliant on the rational economic levers of points, rewards and monetary value. In doing so, of course, we may discover that the irrational emotional connections are even more valuable than the rational economic ones that have so far dominated.

Finally, lying behind all of these discussions, and the fact of brands and consumers beginning to interact more frequently and directly, with more customer information sought, collected and utilised, we are also likely to see increases in external (governmental) intervention and the possibility of regional or national ‘balkanisation’ in terms of the different ways in which brand-consumer relationships are regulated. This could happen even as companies attempt to move against such trends by, for example, initiating cross platform integrations of customer management in which every brand touchpoint is connected (without recognition of borders) and actively collecting customer data.

In economic terms, the need for brands to have access to the resources (especially the technical resources) to take part in this new world of customer engagement may begin to crowd out smaller players, at least in the short term. And competition for loyalty is likely to mean squeezed margins even for the bigger players. In the coming years, brands will need to be disruptive in their thinking about loyalty, seeking new kinds of value proposition, exploring different models and redefining the very ways in which loyalty is conceived.

The Future of Learning – The Global Challenge

The main global challenges pertaining to learning are related to the curation, contextualisation and control of a rapidly increasing amount of data, information and learning content. As the O3B (‘other three billion’) initiatives make continuous efforts to provide internet connectivity to the world’s developing markets, there is going to be a definite shift in the use, makeup and function of the internet as its usership reaches unfathomable numbers. With this considerable expansion in connectivity, as well as the increase in widely available cheap devices at a time when 60% of online traffic is already on mobile, there is a going to be a tidal wave of content that is accessible all of the time, anywhere. As the ability to learn whatever, whenever continues to empower the individual learner, traditional learning content providers and distributors will face the challenge of repositioning themselves within the new ecosystem that is emerging.

For learners, everything they will need to know in order to progress in their chosen discipline will be available online, but it is going to be vital that there is a way of filtering and curating this overwhelming wealth of information in a way that is simple, intuitive and valuable. A learner needs to feel confident that the answers they are getting are accurate, up-to-date and the best input for meeting their needs.

With learning taking place across a vast range of content types and platforms another challenge will be providing an assessment and accreditation framework that is able to reflect the investment and aspirations of learners around the globe. The learning that takes place on a mobile device at the instigation of an inquisitive learner needs to have the same status as courses delivered in the traditional learning environments of schools and universities.

A key question that arises is whether virtual, online learning is able to replicate the powerfully immersive interactions that form the basis of face-to-face exchanges. Learning is grounded in the interplay of conversation, experience and meaning. Are applications and algorithms capable of creating meaningful and relevant learning opportunities that are based on actually understanding the learner and responding to their needs?

Furthermore, is the world in danger of losing the ability to ‘learn’ properly? With every answer to every question being only a touch screen away, does it mean that learners are only going to be threading together an uninterrupted sequence of hastily-consumed information chunks rather than internalising and applying their knowledge in ways that are personal to them? Or, conversely, is a new learning skill being developed as a result of the immense amount of information at our disposal? This skill could enable learners to locate, extract and apply precisely what they need, precisely when they need it, without having to wrack their memories for classes they took years previously. The words “I don’t know” would become redundant.

It is certain that learning material will no longer be delivered in discrete packets of content as with the print model. Instead, publishers and content creators will have all of their content available in the cloud for learners to access as and when they need to. Learning content will emulate the model of music streaming; rather than purchasing the music as a product, the listener pays for access. As such, a learner will be able to engage with valuable learning content as and when they need to without needing to subscribe to full courses or a full set of materials.

We would also predict that the flexibility and responsiveness of digital learning platforms and approaches will greatly influence the way that learning is promoted in traditional environments. As adaptive and personalised learning develops thanks to the considerable data that is being captured on the behaviours and abilities of learners, so too will classrooms and other physical learning spaces become less rigid and passive in their arrangement and use. In all levels of education, from reception to university, learning spaces will evolve into configurable, inductive interfaces that empower the learner to create an environment that works best for them. The ancient paradigm of a teacher-led learning approach as represented by rows of identical desks or chairs facing the same single point of reference at the front of the room will be replaced by a more fluid, collaborative pedagogical method.

Furthermore, we predict that there will be a movement away from a top-down, broadcast approach of learning to a hyper-collaborative global network consisting of learners, institutions and content providers. Larger entities will emerge within that network but there will no longer be any oligopolies in the learning sector. Well-established learning institutions will need to learn how to best position themselves within this new learning ecosystem.

It’s uncertain whether the adaptive learning technologies that are able to leverage the immense amount of data generated by and about each individual learner will be able to provide the same quality of learning that face-to-face instruction has done historically. An adaptive learning engine is able to identify what content a learner needs to cover in order to achieve predetermined objectives, for example, but can it help a learner discover for themselves what it is they need to learn in order to reach their own set of goals? Despite the personalisation that is provided through adaptive learning products there is still the challenge of maintaining the focus on the individual and their desires and ambitions when it comes to their learning.

It’s also uncertain how learning institutions and the hyper-collaborative network paradigm are going to exist in combination. It can be argued that there will remain a place and a use for institutions that implement a more deductive pedagogical approach, but how such institutions will communicate and contribute to the network of connected and highly-motivated learner/users is difficult to anticipate.

Furthermore, it’s not clear what the impact will be of the overwhelming amount of information that is going to going to be available once internet connectivity reaches the O3B markets and as mobile interactions continue to represent the lion’s share of internet traffic. How will learners be able to navigate and filter the overwhelming volume of material at their disposal in order to locate content that is directly going to be of benefit to them?

The Future of Learning – Options and Possibilities

With the ascension of adaptive learning in combination with increasingly digital learning environments, we would view the ‘rehumanization’ of the learning space as a compelling option for addressing the attendant challenges. This would entail the promotion of productive crowdsourcing learning networks whereby individuals are able to elicit answers or input from a globally dispersed community of learner-users. These communities would be self-organising and self-regulating and capable of providing quick and reliable feedback to an individual learner’s needs. This ecosystem of P2P connections would act as an organic filter for the learner, collaboratively curating the vast amount of information available and providing responses and recommendations based on collective experience.

An adaptive learning layer may be added to this model that would then make recommendations or suggestions based on the learner’s online history or search behaviour. Rather than making suggestions in the form of content chunks to cover, however, the adaptive learning layer could suggest topics, themes or areas of study that are relevant or related to the material the learner is choosing to interact with. In a sense the adaptive learning element would become a virtual curriculum developer that responded to the preferences of the individual learner.

In addition, the evolution of the Semantic Web by the World Wide Web Consortium (3WC) will potentially provide an in-built solution to navigating the vast amount of data when looking for applicable learning material. The Semantic Web will present online data in terms of relationships and relevance rather than as straightforward text-based search criteria. A learner will be able to engage with online content that understands what they are looking for and how it relates to and impacts other topics.

The Future of Learning – Proposed Way Forward

In the first instance, we would propose the implementation and integration of the ongoing assessment of the use of technology within traditional learning environments. It’s already apparent that technology is becoming embedded in classrooms and lecture theatres so it would seem to be a logical progression of that evolution to start observing how that tech is being used by the learners themselves. Educators could carry out regular review sessions with their students to gain an insight into how the learning tech and online resources is being leveraged in the attainment of identified learning goals. This could then contribute to a new model of adaptive curricula that are realised at the intersection of teacher and technology.

The deliberate observation of technology enabled learning would help to shift the attitudes towards educational technology to a more proactive and engaged one, as opposed to reactive and resistant. This phase of observation can be global as well as local, especially in the light of the O3B initiatives that are going to dramatically increase the number of people with access to the Internet. How are learners in India using their tablets compared to learners in Mexico, for example? Are learners gravitating towards similar sites or applications? What questions are being asked?

To complement this observation we would suggest that educators encourage their learners to source information from their own Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and to also actively contribute themselves to requests from other individuals within their communities.

We would also propose a widespread use of adaptive learning technologies in conjunction with teacher-led enquiry. This would provide the learning technologies creators to learn from the application of their products and to further refine them. The out-of-hand rejection of such technologies will result in the delay of creating more advanced, more intuitive systems that are able to better meet the needs of the learner. In the meantime, it would also capture a enormous amount of quantitative data on how learners are interacting with technology and how they are engaging with their learning materials. This will in turn help to inform how learning content can be created.

The Future of Learning – Impacts and Implications

The impact of embracing adaptive learning and the encouragement of crowd-sourced learning solutions would help to radically change the culture surrounding learning and promote the shift from a top-down model to one of collaboration and exchange. There needs to be an alignment of learning potential and practice in order to allow the extensive benefits of learning technology to be realised. This requires the active participation of all parties within the learning space: educators, learners, content creators, publishers and tech developers. We would even go so far as to predict that there will be less and less distinction between those functions across the learning space as connectivity continues to improve.

The Future of Health – The Global Challenge

The healthcare and wellness industry is going to drive the world economy of the 21st century. Globally healthcare is already well over a $6 trillion industry. But, despite its size, it only addresses about 30 per cent of the world population; nearly 70 per cent is nowhere near receiving decent healthcare services. We need a revolution in order to service the entire market.

The major issue is primarily revolving healthcare. The world’s first heart surgery was done in Oslo in 1895 – well over a century ago. A hundred and twenty years later only 10% of the world’s population can afford it. We can and must do better. The future cannot be just an extension of the past. It must embrace new technology, implement innovative approaches and aim higher than people previously thought possible.

The 21st century will see a rapidly growing demand for healthcare, but this demand looks unlikely to be met in the way the past century was. For one thing, to treat the 21st century’s problems with a 20th century approach to healthcare would require an impossible number of doctors. For another, caring for the chronic diseases that are growing in prevalence are not what doctors are best at.

Before we explore the future challenges and options, we should however recognize that over recent years we have already achieved a good deal. Globally, on average, we have never been so healthy, wealthy and educated. Although there have been long-term improvements in health delivery and care, it is over the past few decades that progress has really started to build momentum. This has happened partly because advances in technology, public health and governance have all aligned, and partly because there has been shared understanding of what the big issues are and how to address them. As the IMF has highlighted, child death rates have fallen by more than 30%, with about three million children’s lives saved each year compared to 2000. Deaths from malaria have fallen by one quarter in the same period.

But, as the WHO points out, we still have major challenges to address:

  • The average annual rate of decline of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth is far below target to reach the Millennium Development Goal
  • While HIV infections have declined by 33% globally, sub-Saharan Africa still accounts for 70% of all new infections
  • Although the global tuberculosis mortality rate has fallen by 45% since 1990, multi-drug resistance TB continues to pose problems with an estimated 450,000 per year developing it.
  • In 2012 almost half the world’s population were still estimated to be at risk of malaria with Africa bearing 80% of new cases and 90% of associated deaths
  • Moreover, as the current e-bola pandemic in West Africa highlights, our ability to prevent such disease epidemics is limited, primarily due to low levels of public health in many key centres of major population.

Increasing access to affordable essential medicines is vitally important but several factors undermine availability in many countries. These include poor medicine supply and distribution, insufficient health facilities and staff, low investment in health and the high cost of many medicines.

Contrasting the world’s most developed healthcare market with that in India we can see many significant issues. US healthcare spend is spiraling upwards above 18% of GDP while in India, for example, the figure is just over 4% against a global average of 10%. Worldwide health spending is expected to increase by 5% next year. In India, where the government has now promised to introduce universal health insurance, spending is expected to rise by 18%.

While US life expectancy at birth is now around 80, in India we have just reached 67. Over the past thirty years, our infant mortality rates have dropped from 118 to 42 per 100,000 births compared to less than 5 in the US. In the US the prevailing market means that a healthy person can expect to spend $142,000 on out-of-pocket health expenses in the 20 years after turning 65. If they have a chronic disease this figure doubles and if they live until 90, they will need an extra $75,000. In the US there are 2.5 physicians per 10,000 population: in India we have 0.7.

The Future of Health – Options and Possibilities

Many in the ‘developed’ world are focused on the benefits of technology improving the effectiveness and the efficiency of healthcare. With many countries expecting to be spending up to a fifth of GDP on healthcare by 2050, the need for more effective use of resources is clear.

Certainly the potential to use information to drive for more personalised care may well open up access and raise quality while controlling costs. Especially in the pharmaceutical arena, personalized medicine and the prospect of customized therapies based on more sophisticated diagnostics is a major focus for many researchers and the opportunities for genetically orientated pharmacogentics are substantial. With most current medicines only working for 1 in 10 patients and many $1bn blockbuster cancer drugs effective with 25% of patients, the potential for bespoke treatments is significant. However, some see that, in the short term, these innovations will be primarily focused on the developed world’s more established healthcare markets and will take time to have global impact.

Tele-health, and especially ‘m-health’ has already shown great promise globally. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa and India but also elsewhere in Asia, the opportunity to use mobile as a platform for both curative and preventative healthcare has been attracting much attention from governments, entrepreneurs and the mobile networks alike. With real-time monitoring an increasing norm and the entrance of major global technology companies such as Apple and Google into the area of personal and remote monitoring, the potential is indeed significant. While the business model for preventative healthcare is yet to be fully defined, those such as McKinsey and the GSMA see this as a means of saving of $200bn a year just in treating chronic diseases across the OECD and BRIC countries.

Alongside these significant new platforms shifts there is also the need to improve access to effective treatment of fast rising chronic diseases. According to WHO figures, by 2020 major chronic diseases are expected to contribute to 73% of all deaths and 60% of the global disease burden. Moreover, 79% of the deaths attributed to these diseases will continue to occur in the developing countries. Addressing this requires both behavioural changes across many areas of society around consumption and exercise as well as structural change in the way healthcare and sick-care is provided. If we are going to stem the rising tide of chronic disease and deal with its consequences we need a far more integrated approach to wellness and healthcare that works across all societies and not just a select few. We need to integrate primary, secondary and tertiary prevention and health promotion across sectors and different disciplines.

The Future of Health – Impacts and Implications

Healthcare is a unique industry that creates millions of jobs for millions of households, both skilled and unskilled.  Unlike manufacturing, healthcare is not dependent on any finite components. It is dependent mostly on human skill. And human skill is replenishable. We can technically reduce the price of any service to any level we want: Surgeons are like technicians – the more surgeries they perform, the better they get at it. But behind every skilled doctor you need to have at least two highly skilled nurses, at least four or five technicians, and good administrators.

By 2022 India needs to have 200,000 specialists, 450,000 doctors and over 1.2m nurses. If every country has an adequate number of surgeons, radiologists, anaesthetists and cardiac surgeons, believe me, costs will come down by more than 50%. It is a question of demand and supply.

In global forums everyone talks about reducing the cost of healthcare. But no one knows how much they are spending today. At Narayana Health we have invested in technology. Every day at noon I get an SMS on my cell phone with yesterday’s revenue, expenses and EBIDTA (earnings before interest, depreciation, taxation and amortization) margin. For us looking at a profit and loss account at the end of the month is like reading a post-mortem report. You cannot do anything about it. Whereas, if you monitor it on a daily basis, it works as a diagnostic tool. You can take remedial measures.

The principles that we have developed and refined in India can certainly be applied elsewhere. We have developed what some see as a ‘frugal’ innovation approach to several healthcare challenges and hence have proven design solutions for low-income populations. These solutions can also be applied to higher income economies with even greater efficiency benefits.

As an example of how the Indian approach can provide more efficient high quality healthcare, you can look at Health City in the Cayman Islands that we opened in 2014. Health City is not only a lower cost alternative for patients needing heart, cancer and eye surgery in North and South America, it will make clear how over priced and inefficient hospitals in the US really are. Health City in the Cayman Islands will show that lower costs and better outcomes can be done outside India just as well as in Bangalore. In the US it currently costs approximately $1.25 million per bed to build a hospital. Health City is costing only $250,000 per bed. Furthermore, in the Cayman facility prices are less than half the average US costs for surgical procedures with quality outcomes matching the very best.

Global healthcare affordability will not come from the Unites States or any of the current world leaders, but rather from those nations of the world that have little today and have no choice but to perform at the highest levels possible in the future.

The Future of Health – Proposed Way Forward

I want to enable every man, woman and child to have access to high-tech healthcare within the next 15 to 20 years, including in the poorest regions of the world. Today, most healthcare interventions are not accessible to nearly 90% of the world’s population. The way forward is not a new medicine or a new scanner or a new operation – it is a process innovation to bring healthcare to everyone.

Most countries suffer from a simple mismatch: the demand for health care is rising faster than the supply of doctors. One approach to making doctors more effective is to focus what they do. This is something that we in India have been dedicated to.

At Narayana Health our focus has been on offering as many operations as possible using the core resource without compromising on quality. Surgeons do the most complex procedures and other medical staff do everything else. In addition, by using the latest technologies such as tablets in the ICU instead of patient charts, simulations to train critical care nurses and telemedicine to access those patients in remote parts of the country, a far higher quality of healthcare is delivered than the global norm.

Alongside our process innovation priority, this means that surgeries in the organisation’s 18 hospitals across 14 Indian cities typically cost between $1600 and $2000 each – less than half that of other Indian hospitals and about one-fiftieth as much as a similar procedure in the US: Two per cent of the cost with outcomes that rival the best in the US.

Equally in other areas of Indian healthcare, similar efficiencies are also being achieved. LifeSpring hospitals have reduced the price of childbirth by augmenting doctors with less expensive midwives: Their costs are about 20% of those in a private clinic. In addition, Aravind Eyecare provides cataract surgery to about 350,000 patients each year for around $50 each: Operating rooms have at least two beds so that surgeons can quickly move from one patient to the next and, for every surgeon, there are six ‘eye-care technicians’ specifically trained by Aravind to perform many of the other tasks in the operating theatre that, in other countries, require a surgeons training.

Japanese companies reinvented the process of making cars. That’s what we are doing in healthcare: What healthcare needs is process innovation, not product innovation. It’s all about numbers. Because we do a large number of operations, our overheads are distributed over a larger number of patients. Equally, because we implant the largest number of heart valves in the world we get heart valves at a lesser price.

Looking ahead, I see that the efficiencies we have achieved through the approaches that we have taken in India can be applied globally. With an aging society and escalating costs, the 20th century model of healthcare still practiced in many countries today is unsustainable and we need to shift the model forward.

In addition, I also see a need to change the world of health insurance. There has to be an alternative way of funding healthcare. 10 years ago we convinced our local government to launch a health insurance programme and convinced 1.7m farmers to contribute 5 INR (8c) per month and the government became the reinsurer. Today the premium has risen to 18 INR (US$0.27) per month. In 10 years, 450,000 famers have had treatment and 60,000 of them have had a heart operation all because of the power of 5 rupees per month. Today we are covering high technology healthcare for nearly 3 million farmers.

Now we are trying to convince policy makers that micro-health insurance is the best model for the whole of society. In India we have 850 mobile phone subscribers who are spending 150 rupees per month just to speak on the phone. So if we can collect 20 rupees from each mobile phone subscriber, we can cover the healthcare of another 850 million people. The Indian government will soon become a health insurance provider. Not only a healthcare provider.

The Future of Government – The Global Challenge

In recent years, the debate in contemporary political science has centred around the political institutions that limit or check power, like democratic accountability and the rule of law. However, as Francis Fukuyama has pointed out in his article, “What is Governance”, little attention has been paid to the institution that actually accumulates and uses this power – the state. While there have been repeated claims of the withering of the state over the past decades, few of these have proven accurate. In fact, there has been a need for increased government capacity to deal with the increased demands placed on the state. In many countries, this has been exacerbated by an underinvestment in public sector capacity over the past few decades. We need to go beyond the usual conversation about how the state carries out the business of governance and back to the more fundamental questions of what is the role of the state and why this is important.

To understand the trends that affect the role of the state, we have to consider the context in which the state operates. Governance falls roughly between the fast- and slow-moving components of society, nature and culture on the one hand and infrastructure, commerce and fashion on the other. This presents an interesting challenge for states because the components that change quickly get all the attention, but those that change slowly have all the power. The fast learn, propose, and absorb shocks; the slow remember, integrate, and constrain. Managing the tension between the fast- and slow-moving components of society is core to the role of the state and how it will evolve. In Singapore, it might mean that while it is relatively quick to change policies with regard to home loan restrictions, cultural norms and values around home ownership can take a longer time to shifts.

In his book, “The End of Power”, Moises Naím suggested that we were “on the verge of a revolutionary wave of positive political and institutional innovations”. Naím described the shift in power through three revolutions, which in turn would impact the role of the state:

The More Revolution: As people became more numerous and were living fuller and longer lives, they became more difficult to regiment and control.

The Mobile Revolution: As people became more mobile with the ease of migration, power lost its captive audience.

The Mentality Revolution: As people became more affluent they had higher expectations of living standards.

Looking at this from the perspective of relative rates of change, one observes that these revolutions have taken place within the timespan of one to two generations, much more quickly than similar changes that have taken place in the history of societies. This has led to a compression of timescales within which the state operates. The middle-class uprising in countries like Brazil, where there has been a mismatch of expectations around the sustainability of economic growth and improved standards of living, is a manifestation of the tensions that can emerge from these revolutions.

So the key question to answer is can governance keep pace with the changes in the rest of society?

According to David Ronfeldt, new information and communication technologies have enabled dispersed, often small actors to connect, coordinate and act jointly as never before. This favours and strengthens network forms of organisation and represents a structural change in the operating environment for states.

When institutions and markets were the dominant organisational form, there were economies of scale allowing for the efficient management of large units, in many cases by the state. However, in a network, the state is but one of many stakeholders. Without economies of scale through centralisation, common market-based measures of state performance, like efficiency and productivity, also become less useful.

Not all participants in a network are equal, and leadership still matters. In a network structure, the state would have to adapt the way it exercises power and performs its role. Leaders can have a louder voice, but have to build the legitimacy to exercise it. This would increasingly become the challenge for states operating within the network. Ronfeldt therefore suggests that power and influence appear to be migrating to actors who are skilled at developing multi-organisational networks, and at operating in environments where networks are the dominant organisational form. In general, non-state actors are ahead of state actors operating in this environment and this may present a shock to established centres of power, as will be described in the following section.

In a network form, other entities compete with the state for influuence within the web, like environmental, human rights, and other activist nongovernmental groups, which operate at many levels of government around the world. This new dynamic changes the role of the state. Non-state actors are starting to have state-like power and capability, ranging from diplomacy to urban planning to provision of public services. For example, Zappos’ founder, Tony Hsieh, invested $350 million to transform the decaying and blighted part of the old Vegas Strip into the most community-focused large city in the world. The Downtown Project has already funded over 60 tech start-ups and 21 small businesses with the ultimate goal being to invest in 100-200 entrepreneurs. This makes Tony Hsieh the de-facto mayor of downtown Las Vegas. This type of activity is not limited to entrepreneurs. According to a CNN report in 2006, “Hezbollah did everything that a government should do, from collecting the garbage to running hospitals and repairing schools”.

Globalisation and the free movement of capital have enabled multi-national corporations to become a network of supranational entities, exporting goods and services as well as culture and ideology to the states in which they operate. For example, Procter & Gamble was the first company to hire women in Saudi Arabia. Although Saudi labour laws have a provision for employing women, many companies have been unwilling to cause cultural controversy. Multinationals also form the basis of connectivity in a transnational network, providing air travel, sea freight and global telecommunications capabilities. What results is that domestically, multinationals have assets and access to resources that can rival some states. They have a disproportionate say on the regulation and public policy agenda when they represent industry lobby for national safety standards as a result of their global supply chain.

The state is relatively good at dealing with the problems that are defined in terms of the Westphalian concept of state, for example, sovereignty and international trade. It typically has established mechanisms to safeguard its interest and power. However, it has become increasingly difficult to establish what the state actually has jurisdiction over and this creates new forms of market failures. While states retain the jurisdiction to manage resources within their physical and geographical boundaries, many resource and public-good problems resist a state-centric approach. For example, governance by norms, spheres of influence and interlocking societal relations rather than comparatively inflexible international law could make the management of trans-boundary problems easier.

In a G-Zero world, where every state is for itself, ineffective mechanisms to deal with the growing trans-boundary nature of problems will lead to more pressure for a distributed, bottom-up model of global governance system. Small states like Singapore have a clear interest in an open, rule-based system as they face heightened risk in a system where there are no longer strong institutional platforms to safeguard their interests. Such states may find themselves shifting from playing price-taker or “pivot” roles to advocating for strong international rule of law and no unilateral actions.

Today, many individuals regard themselves as “city-zens”, that is, their residency in a city is core to their identity regardless of their actual citizenship and voting rights. However, the current governance system is not good at taking into account factors such as the preferences of the non-voter (for example, city-zens), the environment and future generations. What results is not only rising expectations on the part of citizens (voters in the political process), but that the state increasingly also has to look at the interests of non-voters as well.

As technology expands at an ever-increasing rate, society struggles to keep up. This has led to the erosion of Social Mobility: The rise of robotics and automation is wiping out many middle-skill jobs. Coupled with the expansion in higher education opportunities in emerging markets, there will be fierce competition for such jobs. In addition, the structure of the modern economy is changing. The increased demand for high value services imposes a high barrier to entry. Only a fraction of the workforce is able to participate in value creation that these sectors provide. What results is what Kenichi Ohmae called the “M-shaped society”, where income distribution in Japan is becoming polarised due to the impact of technological change and globalisation. The ability to provide education and middle-skilled high-paying jobs was one of the state’s levers for upward social mobility in the past, but this has eroded over time.

The rise of social media and surveillance technologies has led to changing expectations of the policy making process. On the one hand, individuals are more empowered; on the other, empowered individuals demand more from the state. What results is what John Keane calls “monitory democracy”, where “the powerful consequently come to feel the constant pinch of the powerless”. New technology also presents governance challenges as the state struggles to regulate in an increasingly complex and uncertain environment. For example, stringent IP laws may become obsolete with new production technologies like 3D printing and autonomous vehicles could change the transport landscape, creating new liability issues.

The Future of Government – Options and Possibilities

What are the Implications on the Role of the State? In response to these trends, we should consider what the implications on the role of the state might be. We will also highlight weak signals that suggest how the role of the state might evolve in Singapore. Broadly, the state faces two challenges to its role, as follows:

The first is the redistribution of wealth through taxation and the provision of public services. Globally, austerity measures have forced states to cut back on their fiscal spending and this has constrained their ability to supply public services. In Singapore, one of the fiscal challenges highlighted in the “Singapore Public Sector Outcomes Review” is how to raise sufficient revenue to invest in the range of capabilities and infrastructure that Singapore needs to survive and succeed in the future. In this constrained environment, the state needs to find other ways to increase the “supply” of the state.

Secondly, governance is a competitive marketplace. There can be both private and public supply of social services and individuals are mostly free to choose which they prefer. For example, in a society where there is a widening gulf between rich and poor, the rich may live increasingly separate lives and provide for their own “public services”. On one hand, this could allow the Government greater focus in providing services for the needy; on the other, the rise of gated communities and privatised social services could signal the beginning of deterioration in the quality of public services as the rich opt out. The state also needs to consider what public services it has a role in supplying vis-a-vis other stakeholders, and how it might partner them to deliver better services. The provision of public services by the state may not necessarily keep pace with the increase in demand; in fact, sometimes the increase in supply of public services also increases the demand. In this case, the role of the state might be to play specific coordination functions, and allow civil society or private sector partners the space to grow as new providers of public services.