2018’s technology trends and the question of trust

Johan Paulsson

You might have read other posts or research on some of the key trends that will affect our business and industry during 2018, including some recently posted thoughts of my own. What I find interesting, however, is how these trends reflect and link into broader macro trends that are affecting industry – and indeed society – more broadly.

Taking a step back for a broader perspective, if you take each of the elements from the strategic business planning tool, the PEST analysis, (these being Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors) it is clear that every one of these is in a state of almost unparalleled disruption, and changes in one area have an impact in another.

Take, for instance, global unrest and an increase in attacks from terrorists in more numerous locations. This leads to governments putting in place legislation to place citizens under greater surveillance and controls, and demand access to previously private personal data. It can also lead to an increase in nationalism, an ultimate result of which can be restrictions on the free movement of labour which inevitably has an economic impact. Even more ‘natural’ changes – such as an ageing population, which is the case in most developed countries – have an impact economically through demands on healthcare services and pension provision, and politically, as different demographics mean different opinions and voting behaviors. Everything is interrelated.

Of course, one of the key foundations that allow so many aspects of today’s world to be interconnected is the digitilization of almost every aspect of society and business and, within that, the sharing, collection and use of data. Indeed, it is now accepted that data is the world’s most valuable commodity, a point demonstrated by the fact that the ‘Big 5’ tech companies, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Apple, Microsoft and Facebook are five of the world’s six most valuable organizations. All have business models built around data. (The sixth company in this list is Warren Buffett’s investment company Berkshire Hathaway, which we can assume has several stakes in data companies!)

These organizations have made a virtue of being ‘open’; encouraging consumers and businesses to hand over their data in exchange for free services or a better, more tailored user experience. And, in the main, consumers are happy to trust these organisations to use their data responsibly, and protect it well. And technology trends that we highlighted, such as edge computing, cloud-to-cloud computing, deep learning, and the potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities, support this open and positive use of data.

On the flip side, there is an increasing feeling that we’re living in a less democratic world; one which is more ‘closed’. In this environment, access to and use of data for less positive or even nefarious means by nation states, is a genuine source of worry and mistrust for citizens. This is why we see data privacy and cybersecurity as so important in the coming months and years, and why new legislation such as General Data Protection Legislation (GDPR) is regarded as essential.

Ultimately, it’s a question of trust and who you want to be associated with. People appear to be happier to allow commercial organizations to gather, manage, use and keep the data that we seem happy to share so freely, rather than governments and state bodies. But they are also increasingly aware and sensitive about how their data is used, and the ethical behavior of those businesses they choose to deal with.