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Are You on Top of the Trends That Will Change Your Business?

How Digital Tools Can Help You Stay Ahead

November 30, 2017, Ville Vanhala

As a member of your organization, when you gaze into the future, there will be at least a few dozen developments in sight that you can expect to cause significant changes in your markets and product or service ecosystem in the years to come. Some drivers of change that almost all leadership teams must deal with include rapid urbanization, value shifts, digitization, new materials, artificial intelligence, robotics, AR and VR, autonomous vehicles, climate change, and (de)globalization, to mention just a few of the usual suspects. But then there are always smaller trends and more specific issues unique to one’s own micro-environment. Everyone in charge of planning will need to consider all these changes on the horizon when striving to make plans that are future-proof.

It may look like an overwhelming task to map out all the relevant developments, collect opinions and people’s views on the significance of each, and to distill a shared view of what are the most critical emerging opportunities and risks that may make or break future success. And then the remaining question is, how do you keep that picture of the future up to date, fueled by latest information on how key developments are unfolding?

Digital tools can make all this quicker, easier, and more visual. But besides making the process easier and more comprehensive, they can also lead to valuable strategic ideas that would not have emerged otherwise. In this article, we point out seven ways digital tools are helping teams of professionals who need to know what lies ahead.

The advantages of using digital tools to support strategic foresight

Engage stakeholders with ease.

  • A shared vision of the future is usually better to work with than a single person’s expectation of what the future holds. So, getting people involved is the first important thing. Professional foresight tools offer possibilities to invite people to participate in foresight work. Technology alone doesn’t ensure participation, but it certainly helps in its enabling, especially if you are working in an organization that is scattered geographically and across time zones.
  • A tool may also help get people to contribute more often compared to relying on meetings as the only way to share ideas and discuss, which are often time-constrained and rely on participants’ willingness to speak up.
  • Digital tools allow people to express their views in a greater variety of ways, such as commenting on different topics, creating online dialogs and voting on the relevance, importance, and urgency of different trends, which may then be prioritized.

 

Explore trends efficiently.

  • When creating future proof plans, you need to identify all the trends and emerging issues which will have an impact on your landscape and the strategy you will be executing. While megatrends are naturally a key thing to consider, many smaller-scale changes will need to be taken into consideration as well. Urbanization, ageing population, the enormous expansion of the middle class in South East Asia and other growth markets, the applications of IoT, the proliferation of 3D printing, the rise of consumer-to-consumer…
  • You don’t need to start from scratch, making lists and descriptions of such well-known trends. There is no reason to invest the time and energy needed to list the trends, describe them and gather basic information on them. All of this should be quickly and easily available to you as part of a good foresight tool. A good tool will also allow you to edit the material or add your own trends, in case you feel you can complement the available material with additional observations or more firm-specific data. 

 

Create visual structures.

  • One thing that aids in discussing and interpreting possible futures is the organization of likely developments into helpful structures.
  • For example, instead of looking at just long lists of trends, clustering smaller trends and phenomena according to the larger megatrends they relate to is one way to make it easier to see the big picture.
  • Furthermore, portraying selected trends and over-arching themes as a visual mapping of the future also makes it easier to see a holistic picture of what the future holds.
  • Yet another helpful task, which technology makes easily possible, is to construct several different pictures of the future, one being, for instance, “wild” scenarios (based on multiple extreme events taking place) and another assuming smaller, incremental changes and fewer disruptive changes. Digital tools make it easy to work with raw material, like selected trends as the basic building blocks. Then you can quickly get up to speed in illustrating possible futures.

 

Prioritize, with as much brain power as you want.

  • To move from broad-based trend awareness towards understanding the specific future market environment you will be facing, you will need to focus attention on the things that are likely to have the highest impact in your field of activity.
  • You could do that by making your own ranking of the top key trends and disruptive forces that you think are likely to change the game for your organization. A good foresight tool will allow you to do that, to easily pick and assemble your own shortlists of key trends.
  • But a good foresight tool will also allow you to do more, to expand your assessment to include the combined judgement of many people with knowledge of your market environment. So ideally you can invite your colleagues, team members or stakeholders in a broad sense to prioritize together (by voting, for example), and run a Delphi-like process in which a group of participants converge around a selection of key trends and emerging issues with the highest relevance in the coming years.

 

Assess key trends and emerging issues along key dimensions.

  • Once you have a clear understanding of which trends deserve most attention, it is usually helpful to consider their nature, along selected dimensions, in order to assess what kind of impact each trend will have. A digital foresight tool can help you do that efficiently.
  • Here are some examples of characteristics you can use to categorize each development:
    1. Will it have impact in the short term or in the longer term for you?
    2. Is it an opportunity or threat to your organization?
    3. Is the change in line with your strategic assumptions or a previously unconsidered change?
    4. Is your organization well or poorly equipped to deal with the change?
    5. Will the change drive existing businesses or is it a driver for a new businesses?
    6. Think of something like 3D printing, or artificial intelligence & robot co-workers, or the increasing impact of climate change. How would you rate those changes along some of the above-mentioned dimensions, from your organization’s perspective?
  • With a digital foresight tool like Futures Platform, you can select any two dimensions and create a visual two-by-two matrix for the key trends you are assessing. You can position your key trends into a visual framework (based on multiple people’s ratings of each trend) and make it easy to observe the nature of each change on the horizon. It then becomes evident which ones require more attention, planning and the development of new capabilities and which ones have less of an impact. You can also see which ones may play out to become a golden opportunity or the next big thing.

 

Make conclusions and influence your organization’s future planning.

  • Foresight is not truly valuable until it influences decisions and action plans. A digital tool can help you reach conclusions and effectively communicate key points to audiences of many kinds, both inside and outside your organization.
  • In a collaborative foresight tool, you will have accumulated a plethora of evidence, ideally with some visually compelling illustrations of key trends or scenarios.
  • You should also be able to refer to a documented exchange of stakeholder opinions and assessments when presenting how the changing landscape will require your organization to take new action in order to thrive.
  • A digital foresight tool will also serve as a useful repository of previously conducted foresight work, which you’ll be able to use as a starting point whenever you need to analyze or reconsider any necessary strategic shifts.

 

Monitor key trends to keep your future plans aligned with the changes coming into view.

  • Accelerating change is a fact that all organizations must live with. In a quickly evolving operating environment, foresight work is never finished and final—continuous attention needs to be paid to it.
  • Luckily digital tools can help make foresight a continuous activity. Technology can automate routines and bring cost- and time-savings into the work of monitoring the latest data on your organization’s priorities or the developments affecting it.
  • A professional foresight tool will allow your team to receive regular alerts on how changes are manifesting themselves in the form of, for example, research breakthroughs, product and service innovations, latest market forecasts and new regulatory changes in anticipation of the future.

 

As the story of the future unfolds, your team will be well equipped to fine-tune the assumptions on which the road ahead lies. And when a critical mass of significant developments emerges, you can initiate a new round of discussion and analysis around it, making sure your organization continues to position itself well for an ever-changing, yet rife with opportunities, future. 

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