Themes&Trends

Benefits and risks of exclusive reliance on domestic markets. Lessons learned from tariff wars and recent lockdowns 

Defining the new economic order around trade tariffs and standards on cutting-edge technologies. Will the US anti-trust probes upset the balance of power and the race for global tech dominance? What standards to bet on as a result?

The dramatic rise of cloud-based business processes, remote working opportunities, and omnichannel communication. Long-awaited disruption in drug development and customer care in pharma and healthcare sectors.

Supply networks designed for low-cost and minimal inventory pose a major risk.  With disruptions rising in frequency and variety – from trade wars to climate-related disasters and public health crises – is it time to bury the old-time over-dependence on lowest-cost suppliers and minimal inventory in favour of more resilient, lower-risk, flexible supply networks? 

Shift to essentials and value (trading down to buy less expensive alternatives). Brand loyalty and luxury brands under pressure. How should brands reprice for in-home consumption and smaller wallets?

Using AI/ML to optimise streaming user satisfaction is not enough. From what to how in entertainment consumption: moving beyond pre-loaded content to user-generated shared experience over social video to compensate for the lack of out-of-home socialising options. Music concerts and blockbuster movies hit online and home first, as the traditional entertainment delivery channels (physical events and movie theatres) are considered too risky health wise and are subject to government restrictions on mass events. Gaming will continue to boom, too, as attractive new formats are produced (augmented and mixed reality games), entry barriers are lowered (subscriptions, mobile applications eliminating the need for advanced hardware), and game developers partner with other entertainment providers (TV stations or video streaming providers like Netflix) to develop interrelated content. 

Rise of paid, on-demand content and on-line subscription models: How can media outlets turn mainstream users who increasingly prioritise trusted news outlets and valuable content into paying customers; How to absorb the rising trends of socially sensitive media users and community-based media? Is content still king?

E-commerce: local food and health/caring product delivery rising sharply and m-commerce becoming mainstream. Pumping up AI/ML-based personalisation – how to quickly upgrade user search to match global products with strong local preferences. Comfort, convenience and security of contactless payments outshine the charm of the brick-and-mortar store experience.  Will lifting restrictions on mobility and store operations revive the old-fashioned offline? Call for new offline business models and concepts.

Fintechs vs. brick-and-mortars: will traditional banks need to become or absorb fintechs to turn a profit on the new consumer base? Is the global customer base big enough for neobanks to survive mid-term? Payments benefiting despite Covid - how many global players can there be? 

Social distancing and hygiene concerns make private cars a big comeback, with more sustainable modes of mass public transport and shared mobility taking a midterm dip. As travel safety consciousness and healthier mobility lifestyles accelerate, consumers increasingly turn to individual and sustainable mobility modes of biking, walking and shared scooters. Mobility drivers are changing too – commuting loses in importance, as more people permanently work from home. E-commerce and home delivery will drive new mobility patterns, instead.  The shift to e-commerce, in turn, accelerates the importance of last-mile delivery networks, enabled by micromobility, microtransit, autonomous vehicles and digitalisation of the logistics value chain. Forced by national and local governments’ policies, integrated mobility applications like MaaS and electric vehicles with corresponding charging infrastructure will prevail. Owned (rather than leased or rented) cars and international airline travel will be hit hardest after Covid due to people shying from big-ticket purchases, and governments imposing all-country bans, respectively. How should mobility providers embrace new disruptive mobility drivers?

Pandemic-related consumer safety concerns make producers and service providers prioritise safety over ecology. Plastic packaging, single-person-serving products, single-use disposable utensils have become the norm. Mainstream consumer attitudes toward sustainability and ecology follow suit. How can businesses address safety concerns without discouraging more environment-conscious customers?

As wallets shrink, pending sustainable fashion trends bloom. Collaborative consumption is the most powerful trend going forward, with buying second-hand, and renting garments for occasions (on digital renting platforms) growing fast. Custom-made fashion is making a return, too. Ecology transpires across all material innovations from cruelty-free materials and recycled textiles from plastics to new organic materials and vegan leather. With greenwashing still strong in the industry, consumers offer a premium to companies that are transparent about their design and production process. While fighting to earn trust among eco-conscious customers, can fashion brands audit themselves, increase transparency and really adjust their business?

Plant-based and protein-based burgers expand beyond a few major disruptors to include large pork producers and fast-food chains. While solving one problem, another is created. The questionable nutritional profile of formulations and the sustainability of ingredient sourcing call for integrated sustainability across plant, meat and dairy production and consumption. Business and governmental support for sustainable solutions is increasingly expected.

Despite natural gas, coal, and nuclear still being key ingredients of the energy mix for most countries, solar panels, wind turbines, and other sources of renewable energy like green hydrogen will grow sharply as governments put in massive stimulus packages and China regains full capacity in its solar photovoltaic panel production.  With renewable electricity storage costs further declining, batteries getting lighter due to a higher energy density, and charging being much faster, the cost, weight and range of electric cars will provide the real boost to EC demand and electricity consumption.

As retail and supply chain data continues to grow exponentially, so does the demand for AI and machine learning technology that helps analyse this data. The technology will be particularly helpful in detecting new purchasing patterns and providing more personalised experience to online customers in the new unstable post-Covid reality. AI tools will analyse large amounts of data to learn underlying patterns, predict human behaviour, recognise images and human speech. They will be used to forecast consumers’ behaviour and organise effective logistics.

Cloud computing. Forced to work remotely, businesses, even those that have been slow on the digital transformation, will increasingly turn to cloud solutions for task collaboration, data sharing, and video conferencing. Cloud-based video conferencing is also expected to be in high demand by educational institutions worldwide, as they need a proven alternative to on-site classes in case of in-house virus detection. 

Geopolitical wars have long held the fast and widespread adoption of 5G networks in check. More importantly though, telecom providers themselves hesitated whether demand from consumers was high enough to build out capacity for the new technology. Covid-19 has suddenly provided the long awaited push for 5G. As people stay at home most of the time, they use mobile devices to the limits of traditional network capacity.  They keep up with news, download and use cloud applications for virtual meetings, play online games, use social media, consume video content, order takeaways and food delivery services. All of these calls for faster data sharing with increased connectivity speeds, creating higher demand for bandwidth.   

As people have been forced to work remotely, they often moved from secure work environments in the office to unsecured remote working environments. Home users tend to avoid using cumbersome security software that is not user-friendly and often resource-heavy. Consequently, they are more prone to cyberattacks. The post-Covid-19 volume and frequency of cyberattacks prove that this is not a theoretical threat. 

As patients and doctors alike fear contracting a virus, telemedicine solutions have taken over physical patient care. Wearable personal IoT devices track vital signs. Chatbots make initial diagnoses based on symptoms identified by patients. Remote diagnostics and physician’s consultation become commonplace not just among patients seeking preventive health check-ups or occasional treatment, but also among virus-prone elderly patients in retirement homes.

The worldwide reach and fatality rates of Covid-19 have called for turbo accelerating vaccine and drug discovery and production. Machine learning has come to the rescue by speeding up research from years to months.  As a result, carefully designed molecules called messenger RNA (mRNA) that prompt the body to make its own medicine prove to be a more secure alternative to the standard biopharma drug discovery approach, and a way cheaper to produce, too. The applicability of the new disruptive approach to a whole range of therapeutic areas promises a real breakthrough, as evidenced by the first mRNA-based therapeutics and prophylactic vaccines in clinical testing now.

Safety concerns, less commute time, and more lifestyle flexibility encourage employees to adopt remote work and work-from-home as their preferred work patterns. Convinced by technological capabilities, operational savings, and surprising productivity gains, companies are happy to embrace the forced-turn-preferred work pattern, too.  But as organisations rethink how they work and identify what can be done remotely, they will need to decide which roles must be carried out in person, and to what degree. Roles will be reclassified into employee segments either by the value of remote working (from fully remote to hybrid remote to hybrid remote by exception to on site) or by the segments’ activity profile (e.g., client-focused or sales staff with a fully mobile technological setup and a range of co-work locations to choose from). Segments’ private needs (e.g. working mothers) can also be taken into account.  As a result, work will gradually be not only remote but also flexible.

As the office is no longer the epicentre of the organisation, its role will be redefined. With most individual work done remotely, most of the office space will be redesigned to accommodate collaboration rooms. Fit-for-purpose office designs will be supplemented with a portfolio of flexible space solutions:  owned space, standard leases, flexible leases, flex space, co-working space, and main-and-satellite office setups.  More radical real estate savings beyond negotiating new lease rates on the current office space are expected, too.

Video conferencing tools and other collaboration tools have taken organisations by storm, but technology will be even more crucial when hybrid work arrangements are put in place. Organisations will need to know which employees can come to the office, when they can do so, what desks they can use, if the airflow is sufficient etc. How should the new technology be aligned with the complex new hybrid organisation?

As remote and flexible work styles are already the new norm in the organisation and flexibility-sensitive groups will be recruited to fill remote or flexible positions (e.g., mothers, professionals from out of big cities), companies will find their staff more diverse than ever. Are organisations prepared to manage such a diverse workforce?

Leaders who are meant to set direction, create opportunities, motivate and develop their staff are suddenly reduced to a frame on a video meeting computer screen.  Stripped of their formal management tools, symbols of hierarchy, body language and ambiance, they need to ensure the high performance of the team they don’t often see informally. Yet, as international business trips are cancelled, they suddenly have more time to spend with their subordinates. What are the new tricks of the trade for leaders that will help them maintain or even raise the performance of their teams in times of remote working? How unbossing should they be to really connect with their knowledge workers from a distance?

Every day employees strike a new balance between work and private life as boundaries between them are blurred in the home office setup. Employees are also confined to a computer screen for most of their work time without much social interaction with their co-workers or bosses, be it for office gossip, informal bonding, idea exchange, praise or other occasions. Work overloading, burnout and depression are all within sight. How should organisations keep their workforce at peak performance while ensuring their employees can retain their mental health and wellbeing in those unfavourable circumstances?

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