The Future of Supply Chain Management, Part 10

Stephen DeAngelis

January 9, 2013

For the final segment of this series on predictions about the future of supply chains, I’d like to step outside the box a bit and look at some of the more “out there” predictions that could affect the business landscape in the future. I looked at two sources of information for these predictions. First, I looked at a list offered by The Futurist Magazine. [“THE FUTURIST Magazine Releases Its Top 10 Forecasts for 2013 and Beyond,” by Patrick Tucker, 9 October 2012] The magazine has been offering a top ten list of predictions since 1985. Second, I turned to VentureBeat to see what the world of venture capitalists is thinking. [“Silicon Valley VCs predict 2013 trends: Space, robots, self-driving cars,” by Christina Farr, 31 December 2012]

 

One of the things that I have been predicting will take off in the future is targeted marketing. The goal of targeted marketing is to put the right offer for the right product in front of the right person at the right time. Targeted marketing not only provides manufacturers and retailers with a better bang for their marketing buck, it offers consumers products and services more in line with their lifestyle and tastes. Targeted marketing, however, can’t tell a company if a consumer will actually become a purchaser. Tucker, however, believes that neuroscientists are getting closer to being able to predict what we’ll do before we do it.

 

Prediction: Neuroscientists may soon be able to predict what you’ll do before you do it.

“The intention to do something, such as grasp a cup, produces blood flow to specific areas of the brain, so studying blood-flow patterns through neuroimaging could give researchers a better idea of what people have in mind. One potential application is improved prosthetic devices that respond to signals from the brain more like actual limbs do, according to researchers at the University of Western Ontario.”

To learn more about why Tucker makes this prediction, he recommends you read an article that he wrote early in 2012 entitled “Visualizing Human Intention.” [The Futurist Magazine, January/February 2012]. If you read the article, you’ll understand that retailers aren’t going to be able to use this technology to predict your buying habits or make a sale — but they would undoubtedly like such a capability! Another of Tucker’s predictions deals with jobs.

 

Prediction: The economy may become increasingly jobless, but there will be plenty of Work

“Many recently lost jobs may never come back. Rather than worry about unemployment, however, tomorrow’s workers will focus on developing a variety of skills that could keep them working productively and continuously, whether they have jobs or not. It’ll be about finding out what other people need done, and doing it, suggests financial advisor James H. Lee.”

To understand what having no job but lots of work really means, Tucker suggests that you read Lee’s article entitled Hard at Work in the Jobless Future. [The Futurist, March/April 2012] It’s an interesting read. Another prediction Tucker makes involves Cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

 

Prediction: The “cloud” will become more intelligent, not just a place to store data

“Cloud intelligence will evolve into becoming an active resource in our daily lives, providing analysis and contextual advice. Virtual agents could, for example, design your family’s weekly menu based on everyone’s health profiles, fitness goals, and taste preferences, predict futurist consultants Chris Carbone and Kristin Nauth.”

Carbone’s and Nauth’s article is entitled “From Smart House to Networked Home.” [The Futurist, July/August 2012] Mark Woodward, CEO of E2open, predicts that 2013 is going to be “the year of the network (see Part 8) of this series. When he made that prediction, he was only thinking about the corporate environment. Carbone and Nauth believe that what is good for business is good for the home. They believe, however, that the networked home is probably a decade or more into the future. Once the home environment does become part of the Cloud, there is no telling how the relationship between supplier and consumer will change.

 

Another prediction that Tucker makes is that augmented reality could affect a business’ reputation. Imagine, for example, that you walking down the street wearing your Google glasses looking for a place to eat. Tucker predicts, “You might choose one restaurant over another when your mobile augmented-reality app flashes warnings about health-department citations or poor customer reviews.” He also predicts that robots will start taking over more healthcare duties in the future. With more and more robots being designed to interact with humans, he’s probably correct in that prediction.

 

Christina Farr turned to “a slew of the top players at well-known West Coast institutions” to see what was on their minds concerning the future. If those experts are correct, Farr reports that you should “get ready for mind-blowing, nerdgasmic tech, whether it’s augmented reality, 3D printing, self-driving cars, or space travel.” In fact, “2013 will be the year all hell breaks loose.” David Blumberg, managing partner, Blumberg Capital, was the first expert to make a prediction.

 

Prediction: Financial firms will finally embrace innovation

“The financial services sector should be highly attractive to IT entrepreneurs and investors for its size, growth, high margins, and dramatic need for greater innovation and efficiency. At more than 8.5 percent of the global GDP, the industry is measured in trillions of dollars. Despite rapid growth, the financial industry is burdened by outmoded IT systems and legacy software, extensive and increasingly punitive regulations, and taxes as well as a negative public image as being too expensive, inflexible, and inefficient. It is an industry consumers and politicians love to hate — hence it’s ripe for innovation to improve outcomes for all.”

If Blumberg is correct, companies could find themselves making future financial transactions very differently than they do today. The next expert tapped by Farr was Mike Maples, founding partner, Floodgate Capital.

 

Prediction: Computers will get smarter and more autonomous

“I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the next big tech cycle after social networking. One of the things we did right as a firm is to see that trend early [Editor’s note: Maples is an early investor in Twitter and Reputation.com]. We use the term ‘hypernet’ to describe this notion that technology will no longer be characterized by one world wide web or one search engine. Computers will exist in billions of nodes and millions of clouds. In 2013, people will expect to be hyperconnected on the hyperweb: They will want to manage content on any device. We will see user experiences that are no longer assumed to be windows on a computer screen or a smart phone.”

In other words, Maples sees the future much the same way that Tucker, Carbone, and Nauth see it. He just doesn’t call it Cloud intelligence. The next expert cited by Farr is Ross Fubini, venture partner, Canaan Partners, who also discusses a prediction relating to Cloud intelligence.

 

Prediction: ‘Big data’ won’t be a buzzword; it will be part of life

“‘Big data’ is the buzzword of the year, but 2013 will be the year that big data will be a reality across many application areas. Big data allows the user to experience magic. Anyone can ask questions of the data, and soon we’ll be using these technologies for everyday decision-making, whether it’s pricing, hiring, or managing our finances. These new applications are going to require more than an open-source computing framework like Hadoop. The shift to ‘big data’ will herald an entirely new set of infrastructures to store and process all that data. Data has been a big deal and a big market for years — SQL, hello!. But ‘big data’ is a big deal because of the sheer volume of trackable data and because it’s cheaper than ever before to build an application to make that data valuable.”

To date only big companies have really considered big data analytics a “must have.” There are more studies being conducted, however, that show the benefits of big data analytics for small and medium enterprises as well. Fubini obviously goes even further by predicting that individuals will find big data analytics indispensable in the future. Continuing with the theme of Cloud computing, Bipul Sinha, an investor in Lightspeed Venture Partners, predicts that data storage will continue to grow in importance.

 

Prediction: Storage will get even sexier

“The enterprise storage market is experiencing a tectonic shift led primarily by virtualization and storage media disruptions. The incumbents are slow to respond, and the startup activity is at an all-time high. The new year will witness two significant trends: an acceleration of storage and compute hyper-convergence and a bifurcation of performance and capacity tiers for shared enterprise storage. These trends will eventually commoditize the storage layer of the enterprise information technology stack and essentially propel the emergence of software defined, agile enterprise datacenter.”

Agility is one of those buzzwords that defines successful companies in the future. It should be clear by now that these venture capitalists don’t believe a company can be agile without having access to Cloud computing and big data analytics. Artificial intelligence will undoubtedly play a large role in many of predictions made above. The same is true for the final two predictions made by Farr’s experts. The first comes from Don Dodge, developer advocate, Google; advisor, Google Ventures.

 

Prediction: Indoor location will be the next billion-dollar market

“Indoor location will be bigger than GPS, which only works outdoors. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, whether it’s in shopping malls, offices, schools, restaurants, and so on, where GPS doesn’t work or is inaccurate. In 2013, you’ll use your smartphone to find the exact store aisle location for every item on your shopping list. With indoor location, you can find people, products, or services plotted exactly on a floor plan with walking directions to get there. You could receive coupons, advertisements, or free offers for products based on where you are in a store. … There are thousands of applications in many different market segments that will be built using accurate indoor positioning technology.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to envision how indoor location technologies could help manufacturers and retailers as well as consumers. I suspect this technology will become mainstream sooner rather than later. The final expert, Brian Singerman, partner, Founders Fund, specifically addresses artificial intelligence.

 

Prediction: A.I. and human-computer interaction

“We are always highly suspicious of trends. The best investments are often in companies and industries that others do not consider hot or trendy. Therefore, a theme for 2013 will be to not invest in trends, but rather long-lasting value. Trends come and go, but the best companies will be the ones that buck the trends and don’t look like all the others, companies that don’t appear to have much competition. To that end, we think 2013 will see some major technological breakthroughs through new ways of interacting with machines. Interface breakthrough Leap Motion will change the way we think about and operate computers of all types. Google will make huge strides in self-driving cars. We will even see the beginnings of a sophisticated A.I. The new year will be a true revenge of the nerds year, with product giving ground to actual technological innovation.”

Although Singerman isn’t predicting the arrival of sentient computers, he does underscore how valuable AI systems can be in helping us make life better (and better understood). If there is one thing striking about the two sets of predictions discussed above, it is the fact that so many of them deal with Cloud intelligence in one way or another. That should tell you something.