When I started my consulting career in 1998, I recall my folks being very excited. In retrospect, they were mostly happy that I wouldn’t be living in their basement. That said, they didn’t have the foggiest idea as to what I would actually be doing for a living.
“He… He helps other companies!” Mom would explain to family over the holidays, with equal parts pride and confusion. “Isn’t that right, honey?”
Grasping for a frame that built on the enthusiasm, but stamped out the ambiguity, I offered, “Yes. We’re sort of like business doctors.”
Aunts and uncles leaned in.
“We work with big companies to diagnose their symptoms. Then we administer the best treatment for what’s ailing them.”
Mom beamed. Finally, a physician in the family.
For years, this diagnosis/treatment analogy more or less captured the essence of our work as technology consultants. Or in our own industry parlance, requirements/delivery.
And then gradually, by degrees, it didn’t.
In the 11 years Deloitte has been writing Tech Trends, tech itself has, of course, changed substantially. We’ve seen dramatic revolutions from the primacy of mobile to the ascendance of analytics and cognitive. We’ve also witnessed subtle evolutions: Digital quietly pivoting from adjective to noun; cloud steadily moving from “why” to “why not?”
Another sea change, no less substantial, has been a change in mindset. A generation ago, enterprise technology was, as per my metaphor above, medicine to be taken in response to a business problem. A necessary intervention. A cost of doing business. Tech Trends 2020 features candid stories from pioneering executives moving beyond best practices towards next practices. Aspiring not to emulate, but instead to innovate. To out-create rather than out-compete. Which is all to say that leaders look at technology less like a fix for today’s maladies and more like a fuel for tomorrow’s opportunities.
I’m energized by this year’s edition of Tech Trends, in part, because of this subtle orientation towards tomorrow. Take our closing chapter: Horizon next: A future look at the trends. Bill Briggs, Global CTO, Deloitte Consulting LLP; Scott Buchholz, CTO of Government and Public Services, Deloitte Consulting LLP; and I co-authored this chapter with a recognition that many of our clients are at once deeply curious about the future of tech, yet at the same time skeptical of efforts to predict it. The paradox is understandable: When we resort to looking at next gen tech as a blizzard of a la carte buzzwords, the future feels opaque and unknowable. Is quantum for real? Is blockchain business-ready? What about AR? Are the robots coming, and if so, are they coming for my job? It can all feel very alarmist, or at the very least, noisy and distracting. Better, perhaps, to throw our hands up and retreat to the present.
Our chapter offers a path forward: A principled proposal for futurism, responsibly practiced, that allows organizations to better see the forest for the trees. Specifically, we share pragmatic processes for sensing—and critically, making-sense-of—emerging technologies. A play in three acts, Chapter 7 establishes the “What,” “So What,” and “Now What” of a practical foray into futurism. Specifically, we first detail the attributes one might track to sense an emerging tech’s ascendance from possibility to profitability. We then discuss the art and science of macro-synthesis: Bundling individual technologies into an abstracted portfolio that, like a financial portfolio, diversifies and de-risks. Finally, we lay out a plan for getting started with such an endeavor in your own organization.
It’s said that hindsight is 20/20; the idea that the past eventually converges into clarity. Conversely, the future feels fuzzy, doomed to divergence. It’s our humble assertion that, given the right level of rigor, foresight can approach 20/20 as well.
As sparkly and magical as they may seem, emerging technologies are, and have only ever been, ingredients. Ingredients mixed together by talented souls into recipes that surprise, delight, and sustain.
It’s not about the tech. It’s about the dishes we can cook up with it.
Fortunate to share dinner over the weekend with family, the conversation turns, very briefly, to work.
“Your mom tells me you’re a consultant again,” says Uncle Larry. “Back to practicing business medicine?”
My ten-year-old daughter, Annabelle, interjects before I have a chance to swallow and reply.
“Dad’s not a business doctor anymore. He says he’s more like a cook.”
I spy a look of unease in my mom’s eyes.
“A chef, honey,” I offer.
Here’s to concocting some creative, compelling, and lucrative recipes together in 2020 and beyond.
Read the full Tech Trends 2020 report here.
Mike Bechtel is a managing director with Deloitte Consulting LLP. In his role as futurist, he helps leading organizations sense, and make sense of, novel and experimental technologies three or more years from broad business impact. A former inventor and investor, he also helps direct Deloitte’s engagement with the startup and venture community.