Looking back to the future: a 88mph journey into 2023 and beyond
07th December 2022
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In episode 8 of our Connected Thinking podcast — How do you make the future? - our resident host, Danny Hicks, takes three Virgin Media O2 Business senior leaders on a trip back to the 1980s before looking forward to discussing technology predictions for 2023 and beyond. Here are the highlights of the conversation:
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Danny: As children of the 1980s and 1990s — I’m wondering what you imagine the 2020s would look like, and how different or close we are to that reality today?
Ant: As a big sci-fi fan, and a child with a vivid imagination, I thought the sky really was the limit for what the future would bring. I imagined electric flying cars, space tourism becoming routine, and aircraft capable of the most fantastic speeds.
Today's reality is very different to how I imagined it. If you had told me back then that a regular family car would be powered by batteries, and be able to accelerate faster than a Ferrari, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Andrew: For me, we were just starting to get computers in the home. I had an Atari, and then a ZX spectrum (a very early British made home PC). Both didn’t do very much other than play some basic games. But it was enough to get me excited about where the world of computing was going.
I certainly didn’t imagine the significance of mobile connectivity or the influence it would have. The idea of having a small, connected device in your pocket, able to help with just about everything in your home and working life, was beyond my imagination.
Jez: I don’t think I really thought about the 2020s when I was growing up, but I have watched the graphic design world of my student days change beyond recognition. My early pieces of design had to be typeset, with photographic plates made before they could be printed. Haven’t we progressed since then?!
Danny: Andrew, given that it takes time to bring a product to market, how much do you have to look at the balance between the customer experience and the market need? And how do you identify what’s likely to take off over the next couple of years?
Andrew: I can't remember where I read it, but I came across a definition of technology recently, which was 'stuff that doesn't work properly yet'. I love that, because there are massive market opportunities simply in improving the way stuff works for customers and businesses.
That's very much what we try to encourage in our product and partner team. How can we really improve the way our connectivity or technology works for our customers? How our customers consume, access or make changes to our services, whether it’s connectivity, mobile, or cloud security, plays a huge part in how we conceive and test new custom propositions and bring them to market.
Jez: When we run workshops with customers, we're often dealing with current, day to day problems and trying to solve them innovatively. And I often think about how we might look further ahead. So instead of being reactive, how do we become more proactive? How do we explore the future state of a particular scenario?
An obvious example is the pandemic, where no one really considered the impact it could have. Yet there have been plenty of dystopian style flims that have focused on global pandemics. We might try and learn lessons from these, but we tend not to. I don’t think we give ourselves enough time in business to explore potential future states.
Tests and exams have conditioned us to believe that there is only ever one right answer, but in a creative environment there are multiple solutions depending on your starting point.
Andrew: That’s a good point, and I think it’s worth saying that establishing a creative environment can also mean that you adapt a range of ways to work and collaborate with partners and clients.
For example, we have some really strong global technology partners, and over time we've built up the ability to collaborate and co-create with them, and really optimise our value across those key partnerships.
Collaboration has become key in a faster evolving technology ecosystem.
Danny: I see how collaboration and partnerships can lead to better solutions and to greater innovation, but how do organisations differentiate in a world that is digitally noisier than ever, and with everyone doing things in the digital space?
Ant: In terms of the focus, I see too many organisations looking in the wrong place for innovation. We tend to get into the rhythm of day to day trading and focus on keeping the business operating. We don’t look far enough ahead, questioning where disruption might come from.
The obvious example was Blockbuster, who famously never regarded Netflix as a competitor. At the time, they were probably right. But a little future gazing, and they might have predicted how the various technologies at play would collide.
Fortunately, innovation is now much higher on the agenda. It’s a board level function, asking questions like, what would be possible if…?
Danny: I agree that innovation is a board level responsibility, but I think everyone across the organisation has a role to play.
A friend explained to me recently how a reduction in rainfall of one millimetre in South America can impact coffee bean growth, and its knock-on effects of the coffee industry, related logistics and, ultimately, the economy.
Everything is connected. And talking of connection, what do you feel the joint venture between Virgin Media and O2 enables in terms of innovation, and looking at things differently?
Andrew: It has been an exciting transition, and over the past year we’ve been focused on how we evolve the combined portfolios for our customers. From O2 Business, there is a significant depth in mobile, IOT, endpoint security and for Microsoft Productivity. And from Virgin Media Business, we have the connectivity, fibre networking, broadband, as well as some complimentary unified comms collaboration and security capabilities.
We’re also seeing the potential of combining fibre and 5G. For example, for our small business customers, we're just bringing to market solutions for small and medium business customers that integrate pervasive fibre, and pervasive 5G, in a service that delivers the right business security, as well as Wi-Fi overlay.
It’s exciting to be bringing together those components and providing even stronger integrated solutions to enable businesses to be where they need to be post-Covid.
Jez: I think that the impact of Covid-19 went beyond businesses needing to adapt quickly, and people having to work from home where they could. The impact redefined our personal lives as well, our social behaviours, work-life balance, family lives and new routines.
Now that we're going back to the office, we need to focus on those working environments, and define how they need to change as well.
Danny: Let's pick up on that point. We should ask, why do people need to be in the office? People often cite the social element. Well, what about VR? We can all get together using VR, sharing the same cyberspace rather than physical space. Is that where you see new technology supporting some of the challenges we face regarding where and how we work?
Jez: I think we are still on a learning curve, and VR has been around for so long already. If you look at NASA back in 1985, they deployed haptic gloves that look like the haptic gloves of today.
Organisations like Meta have renewed interest in the technology, and the price point of a standard VR headset has come down. It feels like the early days of the mobile phone when it was seen as a tool for the wealthy rather than the essential device it has since become.
So I think the challenge is to ask: Is this a fad? Or is there real potential in this? In the Lab we are exploring what the real use cases for this environment might be.
Returning to the question you asked about the office; VR is certainly capable of bringing multiple people into an environment to experience the same experiences at the same time without the need to travel. But I think we're like new children trying to crawl or walk in this environment right now.
Danny: What are some products emerging that you see the most opportunity for? And what technologies bubbling under the surface do you think will become mainstream?
Andrew: I see growth opportunity in adding product, service and expertise to transition and support customers achieve digital workplace and enterprise mobility. That involves mobile connectivity, aligning our awesome 5G network, with a service capability to adding endpoint security.
It’s a multi-product, multi-step transition. So, for example, we are adding much improved device recycling and sustainability into our devices, service capability, residual values, and logistics. So it's not necessarily about doing something new, but supporting that strategic journey from straight mobile to a broader digital workplace partner. I think that’s a powerful opportunity.
Ant: For me, XR is going be the biggest transformational technology of our lifetimes and beyond.
I think virtual reality still has to find its home, or its niche. But it will come.
The other aspect of XR is AR (Augmented Reality). And I think this will be the biggest change in transformative technology for us. I believe it's likely to become what I call the 'third field of notification'. So, the first field is you look at your phone. The second is you look at your watch. And the third, which you might call 'glass technology' rather than AR, is where a notification appears in your peripheral vision.
You'll be able to control what you see, and what you don’t. So imagine going into a superstore, or just walking down the high street in an unfamiliar town, and asking for directions by simply tapping on the arm of the glass. Or you might say, “I’m thirsty, I'd like a coffee”, and recommendations and directions appear.
It will demand new attitudes to data sharing, where we trade data in exchange for ease of use or functionality, but the monetisation of the data is what will drive investment in the technology. Our vision will become the best marketing space in the world. The only obstacle we must overcome is perhaps a reluctance to wear glass devices. Will they become fashionable, and who will design them? That apart, I think it is going to be a game changing technology in the future.
Jez: I love what we have been talking about today, because it brings home a lot of what we are currently thinking about in the Lab. I remember several years ago I bought my son the Quest One headset. And one of the things we did as an organisation was to start up a community and workplace for people who owned VR headsets and mixed reality headsets. We wanted to understand how many of our employees were actually using them.
It gave us considerable insight into what the employer of the future might look like.
Ant: One thing I think we should acknowledge is that we have a key responsibility to ensure that these emerging technologies open up access to work to people who've previously been locked down. That might be through caring for somebody, childcare commitments, or mobility issues.
There's a massive talent pool who, for various reasons, cannot accommodate a 9-5, five day working schedule. It’s vital that these technologies broaden recruitment to them.
Listen now to the full unedited discussion on our Connected Thinking podcast: