2021 Business Predictions: Here’s Why A Positive Post Covid Renaissance Is Possible
Globally 2020 Was a Bad Year For Many, But I’m Optimistic & See Positive Promises Of A Renaissance in 2021 & Beyond. Here’s Why …. See My 2021 Business Predictions.
2020 hit us like a runaway train and the wreck that followed has been devastating for many businesses. But, as a futurist, I’m optimistic about our future.
I don’t want to downplay the number of deaths, business closures etc. and others will investigate them shortly. What I want to remind you about is all the positive things that have happened n 2020 and how they promise a better future.
2020 was a year of rapid innovation, as was the first 21 years of the millennia. Think of all the innovations that have appeared since 2000.
Here’s a list of just a few of them and they are are important s they put the current world into perspective. It’s so easy to think these things have always been there. They haven’t.
Camera phones, Zoom, PayPal, Google AdWords, USB Flash drives, Bluetooth, AirBNB, FitBit, Bitcoin, iPad, Chromebook, 3D printing, Virtual reality, Raspberry Pi, Blue-ray, Playstation, Blockchain, Gene editing, Facebook, YouTube, GMB, Twitter, Wii, iPhone, Amazon Echo, .. and so the list goes on.
More Recent Changes That Lead To My 2021 Business Predictions
In my own sector, education and training, in the UK we saw public sector education providers achieve in weeks, what they had previously said would take decades. Some still haven’t stepped up to the mark but the best of them, and there are many of them, moved online very quickly.
Of course, online doesn’t solve all the issues. So many vocational skills can’t be taught online, they need specialist workshops and highly experienced staff to demonstrate and teach students that then need to practice, practice and practice unless they have the muscle memory needed to deliver faultless work of the highest standard.
Speaking to one principal yesterday I heard about how a five-day college attendance week had been reduced to two days in a college doing practical work with three days at home doing academic work. And apparently, the students prefer it. They no longer have time tied up in traveling to and from college, which, in some colleges can, take three hours a day. They can study in their own time and many achieve more progress with four hours a day online than they did in six hours in college classes. This speaks volumes about wasted time, distractions etc inherent in the traditional delivery model.
A similar thing has happened in retail. The sharp retailers were already online and soon flexed their website and delivery processes to build on this. And that had a knock-on effect. Delivery companies are now delivering seven days a week and in the evenings. That was never envisaged previously, and a few are still struggling with the concept.
Royal Mail is one that is struggling. They are now talking about a seven-day parcel delivery service, but there’s no mention of the same service for letters in their brave new world. I fear by the time they implement the parcel delivery the private sector will have decimated them. Because speed is of the essence!
Change Used To Take Generations
I have a newspaper cutting of my grandfather’s first road accident. A bridle broke and his horse took off with its coach. A passenger fell out and was injured.
I wasn’t born when that happened, but I have vague recollections of going into a field with him and seeing the horses at work, gathering the harvest. It was a long time ago but it’s not ancient history.
The thing is the change from horse to internal combustion engine vehicles took ages. And that was with a World War speeding it up. The second World War speeded things even more .. but horses were still used on farms until way into the second half of the 20th century, (I’m not that ancient and still know how many beans make five).
In the last year, we’ve seen incredibly rapid change. What took decades or even a generation, now takes weeks. This is evidenced by the Covid vaccines. Developed in months rather than a decade it shows what our species is capable of when we cut the crap, get rid of long-winded processes, and focus on essentials.
Retail is going to move on even faster now they are beginning to sort themselves .. and it is only a beginning. JIT and JIS (Just in time and Just In sequence) have been the order of the day in manufacturing and, to a lesser extent, in retail for a long time now. But in future we are likely to see more machine learning being used to predict what stock should be held, to predict sales of new lines and the consequences of low stock. Low stock was certainly an issue when Covid fears saw the cross channel ferries stop taking lorries. Suddenly factories started to run out of components and grind to a halt. Large companies such as Toyota were caught out. In future, I can see machine learning investigating the stock levels, and being “intelligent” enough to forestall this.
And machine learning will impact the way we market our businesses. For example, PPC (including Google Adwords) is likely to be impacted by machine learning where future clicks are predicted rather than relying on past performance.
And machine learning will reduce call centre volumes far more accurately than at present. Perhaps the “high volumes of call” excuse will be no more! Especially when staff are working from home and can be called back to their phone very quickly due to better response planning.
2021 Business Predictions … Quantum Leaps
Quantum Computing s no longer futuristic. I already have an online quantum computing account with IBM. I’m learning to programme a quantum computer and they are so different to anything we’ve ever know.
Traditional computers work on a switch that is on or off .. a 0 or a 1. They can only be on or off. But a quantum computer has both 0 and 1 and every possible combination of the two at once. They are the Schrodinger’s Cat of computing.
Quantum power is measured in Qubits. A computer that moves from one Qubit to two doubles in power, From 2-3 doubles again, 3-4 doubles again. It’s like the old story of one grain of rice on the first chessboard square, two on the next etc. By the time toy get to square 64 there isn’t enough rice in the world to fill the squares. And quantum computers are already in double-digit qubit sizes.
the beauty of quantum is speed because it tackles problems differently. For example, say I have a list of one million customers and I want to check if your name is on it. You could be the first name I check or the last, or you might not be there at all. But on average I’d need to check half a million names to find you if you are on the list. That takes time, on a conventional computer. A quantum computer, with its not quire 0 or ! settings only has to check 1000 people on the list .. I know that sounds improbable, and I can’t explain the maths, but its true.
This means that a quantum computer can design medicine for an individual rather than the general population where some people will suffer side effects. A quantum medicine will not give you side effects. And your medicine will be unique to you.
A quantum computer will tackle viruses exactly the same. Rather than take a year to discover a vaccine it will do it in minutes. This is the Star Trek world we are potentially entering in the next few years.
And if you think it improbable go back to 2000 and consider life without the inventions I list above. They are all today “essential” and “everyday” technologies. Yet in 2000 they were futuristic improbabilities. They are like the internal combustion engine was when my grandfather had his first road accident with his horse.
Retail Is Rapidly Changing
2020 was the nemesis of traditional shopping in the UK. Several large chains closed. And in all cases, they were the businesses that were slow to recognise change and to make change as the environment changed. It wasn’t the pandemic that finished them, that just speeded the process. These household names were already doomed to fail. They were a bit like the Eastman Kodaks of previous time. Focused purely on what they know best and unable to contemplate change even when surrounded with change. Experts in film they couldn’t contemplate photography without film.
Today Kodak exists as a much smaller company. they faced bankruptcy and only then survived when they became a business imaging company with a digital arm.
Kodak was one of the rare survivors.
What we are now left with on the UK High St are businesses that are fleeter of foot. They are largely the ones that offer either excellent personal/customer service or have gone partly online. In both cases they tend to be the smaller businesses that are able to make rapid decisions.
This is why retailers, from corner shops, florists, delis, to delivery businesses, etc have thrived. While large department stores have often suffered. The small businesses adapted and the large ones didn’t. There is of course variation across sectors. For example, many catering businesses, from restaurants to pubs suffered. But some adapted. For example, my nearest Michelin starred restaurant moved to takeaway meals. It’s a new concept to me. I’d never previously seen a Michelin starred restaurant offer a takeaway service. And it wasn’t just takeaway and eat. Some meals were part prepared and you had to finish them off in the oven at home. And producing a Michelin dish from your own oven appealed to many people.
When my local pub had to close its doors as a pub it became a grocery store. They had all the contacts they needed in the supply world and were able to pivot to do this plus takeaway, newspapers, stamps, parcel collection, and several other things they started to offer. They saved many communities from being unable to shop.
Essentially what the pub had done was take an audit of its resources and skills and redeploy them. They not only survived, they thrived. People that didn’t want to catch a bus to a bigger store went to their local pub. And for those that didn’t or couldn’t travel they delivered. It started off as a sketchy service, full of systems that barely worked. But a few weeks later they had a website complete with an online shop and all the systems that go with it.
And when some of my local builders decided to stop work at the beginning of the pandemic the local builders merchant thought DIY. They realised that with people working from home they had time to undertake DIY. So they catered for them.
In fact some of the best customer service I’ve seen in recent years is from the construction industry supply chain. Retailers such as Screwfix have excelled.
And some new shops have prospered. A brave guy in my town opened a deli as lockdown started. He has prospered. People that couldn’t eat out in restaurants wanted to dine well and bought from their local deli that produced customised deli boards and smorgasbord baskets for home consumption.
Will these businesses survive after Covid? That’s where I’m optimistic. They will survive because they are entrepreneurial and prepared to change to what the customer wants. Some businesses attract this type of person. For example, a few years ago I spent time talking to a pub landlord who had opened a gastropub. He told me he had no intention to open a gastropub when he decided to open his first business. His plan was for a food business but he didn’t have any preferences. Pizza, sandwich bar, gastropub it was all the same to him. He wanted a business. It was market research that decided him on the gastropub. He was an entrepreneur.
Later he extended his chain to include a burger bar, pizza place and chicken restaurant. Each was what he could see a need for in a specific location. Each prospered.
And so I believe it will be with many other business people. Covid has shown them what they are capable of. The blue touchpaper is lit. Watch the display that is to come.
The bigger retailers are another story. So few now exist on the High St.
Bonmarche, Peacocks, Edinburgh Woolen Mill, DW Sports, Peter Jones (China), Harveys Furniture, Bensons For Beds, Lee Longlands, all gone. Some were national chains, some regional. But all have gone.
Other have thrived because of change and I predict more change is to come.
Some, such as John Lewis, are suffering but have an opportunity to thrive. JL have hit the news recently as their partners (all employees are partners) will no longer get a bonus. And their promise of Never Knowingly Undersold is coming to an end. The promise has been both a mainstay for them and a yoke that has stopped them from growing in a sensible way.
In recent years JL expanded but not necessarily wisely. Now they have contracted and closed several flagship stores. For example, Birmingham has closed. The store in our second city is no more. It sounds bad but is it? Not many miles from the Birmingham store is Touchwood in Solihull. The JL store there has a huge multi-story car park attached to it and attracts a lot of footfall. Local people don’t miss the Birmingham store and those that traveled miles along the motorways to shop at JL prefer Touchwood. When I lived in the midlands Touchwood was the store we used, Birmingham wasn’t in the running.
But of course, retail isn’t that simple and in the brave new world that is 2021, it will change even more. I don’t believe large retail outlets will have the same appeal in the future. Shops like JL were the flagship that attracted other retailers to flock around them and all benefited. But if there are no competitive retailers surrounding them then the appeal of the flagship wanes. Especially in a world where many people are social distancing and wary of mixing in crowds. Plus we’ve become programmed to shop local and shop online.
So large retailers are going to have to redefine their offer. One of our leading supermarkets, Tesco, did it several years ago. Their Tesco Metro brands offers the price structure of a large multiple with corner shop locality and ease of shopping.
My prediction is that for chains such as JL the future is to deconstruct their offer. Instead of having everything under one roof, they need to divest their centralised offer with clothes shops, furniture shops, electrical shops etc. being opened elsewhere. Linked to online where these anchor units are spread around more towns it means they have a centre for collection and return that is inherent in a good online process.
Couple that with a good delivery network and these hubs become browsing points where we can compare fabrics etc. and then have our selection supplied by a central warehouse and delivered within hours.
Technology trends are driving retail in this direction. Especially driverless vehicles.
The oil industry is being hit by driverless technology, whilst renewables are thriving. And don’t think that driverless means fleets of cars and vans on the roads. ETTT is the next big thing and could be here in volume this decade.
What Is ETTT / ET3?
Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies or ET3 is the idea based on Brunel’s atmospheric railway where a carriage was sent along a tube by pumping high-pressure air behind it whilst creating a vacuum in front of it. It started just a few miles from where I live, in the 1800s. And it failed due to rats eating the greased leather seals the system depended on. Technology 0, Rats1.
Today’s idea is to put a pressurised magnetic-levitated carriage down an evacuated tube. Trials in Japan show that speeds of 500 mph are possible with speeds of 2000 mph planned. So a trip to the other side of the world is a trip of a few hours. The carriage accelerates at a few g for half the trip with deceleration for the second half of the trip. The deceleration phase reclaims most of the energy used to accelerate it.
Carriage sizes are based on the Euro pallet and a carriage will take three pallets in a single row. 96% of the world’s cargo can be moved this way. Containers had been suggested but the problem with containers is that they are usually made up of several consignments and are too large!
For local transport of goods think about a smaller system that only travels at 100 mph and serves a town. Perhaps it will be underground or above the carriageway of the local roads. Linked to national hubs and AI-powered systems, your parcel could be waiting for you at your nearest collection point, at the end of your road, before you can drive home from your local retail hub.
Futuristic you might think. So was the internal combustion engine to a horseman. And one thing is sure, change is happening much faster now.
Future Power Systems
Oil is dying.
The future is renewables. Quantum computing will drive this forward. Fission power is stil several decades away .. as it has been for several decades.
Valuing Essential Jobs
I believe there is fast approaching a time when we value people not just for their skills but also for their essential work. For example, there is little skill needed to collect waste from our bins. But waste collection is essential. Without it we get disease and vermin.
So is an unskilled waste collector as valuable as a semiskilled shop worker? Are doctors receptionists more valuable than supermarket checkout staff? And where do florists come into the equation? Of course, this begs the question of what we regard as essential. Are flowers essential? Could a machine produce pleasing ikebana displays?
And if the need to manually collect rubbish continues is better paid, do rubbish collectors need to work five days a week? Could they work 3-4 days a week and still earn a reasonable living? And could those teachers and lecturers I started with work fewer hours a week? They teach six hours a day, AI and machine learning could take over some of the repetitive slog, allowing them to achieve far more in much less time.
Will Robots Take All The Jobs
Mention of machine learning and AI scares many people. They envisage a world where the robots take over and people are devalued.
They assume we are close to perfecting AI and they robots will take over. I see it differently. AI can be used more but is a long way from thinking for itself and gaining consciousness or anything near it. So far all AI does is handle large volumes of data and extract solutions .. PROVIDED it is programmed to do so. It can undertake specific tasks and do them far better than humans. An example would be in medicine. AI can work 24/7 scanning Xrays and scans and give very accurate answers to set questions. But it takes a human to actually understand the results in the context of the patient. AI can help radiographers and doctors. They can’t replace them.
There is another type of AI. Artificial General Intelligence. This is the AI that can, theoretically, do more than a few tasks and think for itself. It doesn’t yet exist. The reason is that we can’t yet programme a robot to undertake the breadth of skills a single human can do. Show me a single robot that can diagnose cancer, ride a bicycle, fly fish and paint a rural scene on paper. Each is just doable in a single robot but AI isnt going to ape humans yet. What we can achieve is far beyond a robot. Quantum computing will bring it closer but we are light years from it so far.
These are my 2021 Business Predictions. What are yours?