Thought Leaders – Bill Gates: Pre-millennial Predictions


In the second of our Thought Leaders series of articles, we follow up part one of our Bill Gates blogs with a look at some of the predictions he made in his 1999 book, “Business @ the Speed of Thought”.

We've already focussed on the concept of a digital nervous system and how it can provide a flow of information to various parts of an organisation. But Bill Gates also went on to make some prescient observations on how he saw this impacting on business.

Here are his thoughts on how companies would have to evolve in the fast-moving digital future that we now live in.

business at the speed of thought

Shifting needs

With a focus on recognising the ever-changing requirements of a business, we source the ERP partner who can offer the business management software that best meets a company’s needs.

Any number of elements, on a local, regional or global scale, can create a shift in a company’s priorities. Almost 20 years ago, Bill Gates anticipated three fundamental business shifts that could occur in the commercial world, each of which is just as relevant today. He projected that:

  • Most transactions between business and consumers, business and business, and consumers and government would become self-service digital transactions. Intermediaries would evolve to add value or perish.
  • Customer service would become the primary value-added function in every business.   Human involvement in service would shift from routine, low-value tasks to a high-value and personal consultancy on important issues, problems or desires for the customer.
  • The pace of transactions and the need for more personalised attention to customers would drive companies to adopt digital processes internally if they hadn’t already adopted them for efficiency reasons. Companies would use a digital nervous system to regularly transform their internal business processes in order to adapt to the constantly-evolving environment.

Bill’s pre-millennial predictions

After the launch of this book, and in the dawn of the new millennium, technology would advance at an increasing rate of knots. Bill Gates made numerous predictions, most of which have subsequently become reality. Here are just a few examples:

  • Automated price comparison services will be developed where people can see prices across multiple websites, making it easy to see the cheapest product.
  • People will carry smaller devices that allow them to be constantly in touch and to do electronic business from wherever they are.
  • People will pay their bills, take care of their finances and communicate with others across the internet.

 business data on tablet device

  • Devices will have smart advertising that knows your purchasing trends and will display adverts that are tailored to your preferences.
  • Personal companions will be developed that connect and sync devices in a smart way to be used either at home or in the office.
  • Private websites for friends and family will allow for discussions and planning events.
  • Software that knows you have booked a trip will use this information to suggest activities at the destination.
  • While watching a sports competition on TV you can discuss what is going on in a live format.
  • Television broadcasts will link to websites that display information relevant to what you are watching.

 TV and Technology

  • Residents of countries and locations will have internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning or safety.
  • Online communities will be influenced by interest rather than location.
  • Project managers will be able to go online to describe their project and get recommendations that best fit their requirements.
  • People looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interests, needs and specialist skills.
  • Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for big companies that want to outsource work that they don’t usually deal with. It will also benefit businesses looking for new clients and corporations that don’t have a go-to provider for a service.

Since the book was written, it’s clear to see that the above predictions have become an everyday reality.

With almost supernatural accuracy, he managed to predict the emergence and success of social media platforms, smartphones, the Internet of Things, programmatic advertising, remarketing, streaming media and the use of mobile and tablet devices in media and digital marketing campaigns.

Wearable technology

What can we learn from the book?

Bill Gates challenges us to embrace the concept of the digital nervous system, which unites all systems and processes under one common infrastructure. This will allow companies to improve productivity, growth and profit. Lots of examples are given as to how Microsoft and other companies have transformed their businesses, particularly in relation to customer and partner relationships, employees and business processes.

A worldwide digital nervous system

The internet has created a new universal space for information sharing, collaboration and commerce. The shared flow of data is seen as critical to the success of an organisation. One-dimensional workflows are overtaken when employees gain additional knowledge through company-wide, industry-wide or worldwide ideas sharing. In a nutshell, information sharing ultimately leads to the empowerment of employees.

global network

Smart systems, productivity, digital webs & risk

Bill Gates was and is a proponent of the belief that the best way to differentiate your company from the competition is to put distance between you and the crowd. You can do this by ensuring that you use the information you have effectively and efficiently.

With smart systems in place, you are able to shift people away from repetitive, non-thinking tasks so that they can focus on more productive activities.

A web of partnerships is required, creating a value network where digital information flows freely and allows everyone involved to add value.

The digital nervous system supports the decision to take risks and experiment. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Embracing risk can ultimately lead to breakthroughs and the creation of new products. Research, development and testing may take years but the end result is often worth the effort.

What does the future hold?

It’s both insightful and enlightening to reflect back on the thinking of Bill Gates in 1999 and naturally makes us wonder what the future has in store for us. The digital nervous system will undoubtedly evolve in relation to advances such as life sciences, robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Here’s hoping that he writes another book to inspire another generation.

 


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