MedTech, autonomous driving and other disruptive technologies will be in focus at the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS Europe), 31 March - 2 April 2019 in Milan, Italy, as top European executives, researchers and academics gather to explore solutions to the region’s most pressing strategic, economic and social challenges. Ahead of ISS Europe, SEMI spoke with Mark Purdy, managing director and chief economist at Accenture Research, about Accenture’s Business Futures – four different future worlds set in 2025 based on the collision of trends across demographics, geopolitics, technology, and economics – and what these futures will mean for markets, workforces, operating models and industry value chains.
SEMI: At ISS Europe in Milan, you will kick off the symposium highlighting market opportunities of the digital economy and how companies must adapt to competitive challenges. What inspired Accenture’s Business Futures four world scenarios?
Purdy: The impetus for our Business Futures really stemmed from a certain dissatisfaction with current approaches to thinking about the future. We were struck by the following puzzle. First, there is no shortage of techniques for looking at the future, from forecasting to trends analysis to conventional scenarios. Second, most decision-makers have more or less the same access to information on global trends. Yet, time and again, we hear stories of businesses going bust or facing major challenges precisely because they failed to anticipate major changes in their industry.
The paradox is that we have so much information, but so little real understanding of how the future actually unfolds. So that set us thinking about how to develop a new approach, based on a combination of detailed trend analysis, expert input and creative storytelling – which is what we call “Business Futures.”
SEMI: Of demographics, geopolitics, technology, and economics, which trend do you see as particularly critical?
Purdy: Actually, the essence of our Business Futures thinking is that it is the collision or combination of different trends – across economics, technology, demography, etc. – that shapes future outcomes, rather than individual trends per se. To a certain extent we tend to become fixated on specific trends and this can lead us astray or cause bad decision-making. For example, in the early 2000s many people saw very favorable trends in the U.S. economy – strong capital inflows, rapidly rising consumer spending, surging stock markets, and rising home ownership rates. Each trend in isolation looked strong and sustainable. But we failed to see how the combination of these trends was fueling risky financial innovation that would eventually lead to the financial crisis and great recession.
Technology of course is a key trend. We are seeing tremendous advances in next-wave technologies such as robotics, machine learning, intelligent objects, 5G and virtualization. But we can only truly understand the impact of the technologies – and the business opportunities and challenges they create – by viewing them against a wider backdrop of changes in society, demography, geopolitics and economics. That is what Business Futures strives to do.
SEMI: What will these different futures mean for markets, workforce, operating models and industry value chains?
Purdy: There will be profound changes in how we think about all of these areas. Markets will become much more personalized and interactive. Technology will be increasingly integrated with humans, fueling innovation in areas such as personalized healthcare and preventative medicine. Our notions of distance and capacity will be upended, as new virtualized services enable new ways of reaching underserved customers. Consumers will become increasingly involved in the creation and design of products and services. New methods of innovation, powered by AI and virtualization, will come to the fore. New entrants will come from unexpected quarters, enabled by new technology. The upshot will be massive disruption and disintermediation of value chains across many sectors.
SEMI: What can Europe do to prepare?
Purdy: There are no simple answers, and the correct course will vary by country, but there are some basic things to get right. First, different countries need to understand their comparative advantage – for example, whether it is in services, new technologies, advanced manufacturing or resources – and work with the grain of these different futures. Second, countries need to ensure that they have the basic conditions – regulation, organizational adaptability, workforce flexibility, skills, and innovation infrastructure – to capitalize on the productive potential of new technologies such as AI, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Third, we need to create educational systems and workforce learning methods that emphasize creativity, problem solving and innovation – precisely the skills that will be most needed in an age of intelligent machines.
SEMI: What are your expectations for the summit in Milan and for the future?
Purdy: I’m very much looking forward to the ISS Europe Summit in Milan. As an economist, I believe we are at a pivotal moment in the semi-conductor industry, driven by waves of technological change and rising geopolitical frictions and uncertainty. With so many industry leaders and experts coming together at the Summit, I’m confident that our discussions will help point a way forward!
Mark Purdy is managing director of economic research at Accenture Research. His research examines issues at the intersection of economics, technology and business. He has published widely in tier-1 media and specialised publications on topics such as China’s economy, emerging-market geographic strategy, inclusive economic growth, business futures and the economic impact of new technologies such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, he speaks on these topics at conferences and seminars around the world.
Serena Brischetto is a marketing and communications manager at SEMI Europe.