2020 vision: Accenture's top trends fueling innovation and growth
Laura Gurski, senior managing director and global lead of Consumer Goods & Services practice at Accenture, shares with us her top three tech trends that she sees driving innovation and growth across the technology sector.
We’re on the cusp of a new era in brand-consumer relationships. Digital is becoming so entrenched in customer expectations that it no longer really offers a competitive advantage – it’s just part of the baseline every brand is expected to meet. In this technology-dominated “post-digital” world, consumers can communicate their individual needs instantly – and they expect gratification immediately.
Leaders of consumer goods companies are used to hearing that change in their industry is constant – and fast. And, according to Accenture’s 2019 Technology Vision, 92% of industry executives think innovation is happening faster than it was three years ago. Times are set to get even more turbulent for manufacturers. But there is a way ahead.
The innovation imperative
Innovation has always been important in this sector, of course. But in the post-digital world, it’s essential.
Yet the nature of innovation has changed. Whereas once it meant creating an R&D arm or acquiring an up-and-coming brand, innovation today requires companies to go further. That means innovating the whole business model to develop the exceptional levels of responsiveness needed to meet individual consumer needs at each specific moment in time.
Capabilities like hyper-personalization and on-demand fulfillment thus become just as important as developing products for mass retail. Notably, a large majority (87%) of industry leaders agree that customization and on-demand delivery will be the drivers of future competitive advantage.
Here are three tech-led trends set to fuel the next wave of innovation and growth for consumer goods manufacturers:
Leaders are preparing for the next wave
Companies have the chance to use the inherent strengths of both their people and intelligent technologies to create a powerful advantage.
Leaders will recognize that next-generation growth requires next-generation workforce models that integrate employees, machines and freelancers. They now have access to a wealth of technologies that let their employees do entirely new things, particularly with artificial intelligence and big data analytics now at the forefront of the “human+” workplace revolution.
Many will rethink their talent acquisition and upskilling strategies, refocusing on digital skills while establishing new workforce models that integrate employee expertise with on-demand external resources and intelligent digital technologies.
The emergence of “momentary markets”
The innovators also understand a fundamental truth about consumer goods manufacturing: that competitive advantage increasingly lies in capturing the fleeting “momentary markets of one”. These are the highly specific individual consumer opportunities that arise in the moment – and disappear just as fast.
With direct digital access to consumers (and consumers’ data), companies can understand these markets better than ever before. This is critical in an environment where smaller, nimbler and more innovative brands are making aggressive moves.
That means viewing each moment as if it is an individual market—a momentary market. Miss the moment, and there is no second chance.
The only way to capture those momentary markets is to develop extremely well-attuned sense-detecting mechanisms that enable a brand to identify consumer needs before the competition – and sometimes before consumers themselves.
Look at PepsiCo’s development of an AI-enabled trend predictor engine to analyze online conversations and guide the company’s future product, ingredient, and brand innovations. Or how Coca-Cola’s marketers are using big data analytics from a staggeringly high number of data points all around the world (right down to individual vending machines) to influence and enhance their brand and marketing decisions.
The evolution of Markets of One
Before companies can create the in-the-moment, just-in-time products and services consumers crave, they have to know the opportunity exists. That means identifying consumer needs before their competitors do—and potentially before consumers themselves do. It means predicting human desires and then thinking outside the box to make those desires come true for every individual. It means owning the direct channel to the consumer.
Technology-driven interactions are increasingly important sources of information about the next generation of consumers. And increasingly companies acknowledge that consumers’ digital identities and digital demographics are allowing them to pursue markets of one like never before.
Consider how Beam Dental has created a smart toothbrush which tracks usage to help customers improve their brushing technique. The resulting personalized data can also support lower premiums on the company’s dental plans.
Shining a light on future success
Technology experimentation is critical to this, and manufacturers should be exploring every possible tool in the digital toolbox, including new and upcoming technologies.
Specifically, that means understanding how distributed ledgers, AI, extended reality and quantum computing (the so-called “DARQ” technologies) are going to fundamentally change what consumer brands do, and how they do it. The good news is that almost nine in ten industry executives say they’re already experimenting with at least one of these technologies.
It’s also essential to rethink enterprise security for a world in which ecosystems of partner organizations are increasingly central. Ecosystems enable consumer goods companies to innovate far more effectively than by going it alone. But the extent of data sharing this relies on means companies must double down on data security – not just for their own organizations but also for the whole ecosystem.
The road ahead
As we race headlong into the post-digital era, hyper-personalized and instantaneous digital experiences will increasingly determine competitive advantage for consumer goods brands to deliver relevance at scale. That’s why forward-looking companies are rethinking innovation – in the workplace, in business models, and in ecosystem partnerships. They’re using it as a lever to push their brands to new heights of in-the-moment consumer relevance.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”