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Future of Digital Disruption - conference summary and key themes June 29, 2018

Digital Leadership Forum -- The Future of Digital Disruption

June 28, 2018

The transformative power of technology was a key theme. A wide-ranging set of presentations and panel discussions painted a vivid picture of tomorrow’s world - covering topics from machine-learning to drones and asking how companies and individuals can harness those technologies to boost growth and productivity. Examples were given of how technology is already disrupting many sectors and how this is only set to increase.

 The economy featured heavily, with a focus on how technology can enhance productivity, decrease business risk and create jobs. For example, in the drone sector, participants predicted opportunities for new roles in designing the technology and in data harvesting and manipulation. While the focus with technology is often on job destruction, the panels and speakers focused on the opportunities that were likely to be created.

Education about drones was also cited as a key factor, to build public trust in the technology and guard against risks. Elaine Whyte, a director and drones’ specialist at PwC said the huge potential of drones could only be unlocked if public trust was fostered. Teaching about drones could also help businesses to understand how useful they could be in all sectors.

Data and privacy featured in the discussions, with participants discussing how personal data could be captured inadvertently and how that data might be used. The privacy regulator is still evolving its thinking on this topic, the participants said, and the different usages depend on the type of data and the circumstances under which it has been collected. There’s a tradeoff between privacy and the benefits derived from data sharing.

Regulation was a focus -- how is can be helpful and how it can be a hindrance when it slows things down. One participant noted that regulatory differences between countries meant that businesses operating in the technology sectors were not always on a level playing field, however being well regulated was seen as a cornerstone to shoring up public trust.

 Pressure to digitalize is being felt by many industries and will transform many, including insurance, legal, media, agriculture, transport and healthcare. Large corporations are recognising the need to work with startups to innovate and experiment.

What’s the Future of Commercial Drones

Key takeaways:

  • By 2030, PwC envisages a world where drones are part of everyday life and more than 70,000 drones fly above the UK
  • Economic benefits to increased drone use include the creation of 628,000 jobs by 2030 and a £42 billion increase in UK gross domestic product
  • Before the real potential of drones can be unlocked, public trust and confidence in the technology needs to be assured

 Elaine Whyte, a director and drone’s specialist at PwC invited the audience to imagine the world in 2030: a world that has been revolutionised by technology and where drones are part of everyday life. Drones are inexpensive, agile and relatively easy to be trained to operate, she said. While they offer huge potential, and will be a disruptive force, public trust needs to be fostered before that can happen. 

Whyte highlighted positive drone use and some potential future uses. For example, television show Blue Planet 2 used drones to film dramatic images of sea creatures. In the oil & gas industry, drones can assess potential problems on rigs, keeping them open for longer and saving as much as £4 million per day. In rail, fleets of drones covering the UK railway lines could flag up potential problems and help keep trains running on time.

Elaine Whyte at the Future of Digital Disruption event

A PwC study envisaged that by 2030 there will be 76,000 drones operating in the sky and 628,000 jobs will have been created in the drones’ economy. It also predicted a £42 billion increase in UK gross domestic product and cost savings £16 billion.

One of the risks to the potential of drones is that people feel uncomfortable with the prospect of them flying over. To foster trust and understanding, three elements need to converge:

  1. Technology improvements - better data collection and optimizing the use of that data to give more useful insights
  2. Regulation - Drones are already regulated - that will help to build trust.
  3. Education about the positive uses for drones - showing examples of how drones can revolutionise areas like search and rescue will gradually build acceptance

What factors will affect the growth of drones?

Key takeaways:

  • Drones are creating many of the jobs of the future -- including for data scientists
  • Safety is a key benefit of drone use - employees don’t have to go in to dangerous situations
  • There are lots of drone startups - and many are named after birds!
  • Legal challenges include intellectual property, insurance, regulatory compliance and privacy
  • Regulations were developed before the current boom in the drone market - are they still fit for purpose?
  • Many sectors can benefit from drone use -- construction, agriculture, transport

 A panel considered the uses of drones. Gareth Evans, head of supply chain management in rail at Costain Group gave a case study where drones had helped to scan a damaged sea wall in Dover and helped devise a strategy to repair the line. He estimated using the drone saved three months of time and helped ensure no lives were put at risk.

 Laurence Kalman, a partner at law firm, CMS, outlined the legal challenges in the area, including protecting intellectual property, navigating the regulatory maze and data protection and privacy. Among his clients is a business that focuses on the agricultural sector using drones to help plan land usage.

Adam Bailey, director of drone company Kingfisher APS, noted how fast the technology is moving. Regulations were put in place before the current boom in the industry, he said, and now it’s important to assess whether those regulations are fit for purpose. He said drones can save on the cost of scaffolding in the building sector. His company helped survey Covent Garden market, using drones to assess the condition of the lead and glazing in the roof of the building.

Gavin Wishart, chairman of ARPAS, the drone association of the UK explained how drones can deliver a detailed picture of a situation, very quickly. He cited insurers and farmers as some of the key areas in which he had seen benefits. In farming, large technology driven agriculture companies are looking at fields every day, using drones in conjunction with soil experts and other methodology to decide where to plant different crops and assess plant health.

What are the latest AI applications for your company and industry?

Key takeaways

  • Artificial intelligence is set to disrupt many sectors and change the nature of many jobs
  • Natural language processing and natural language generation are major shifts on the horizon
  • AI is not without challenges - it is only as good as the data it is based on, and at present many of these data sets include bias and aren’t diverse
  • There’s a tradeoff between privacy and the benefits you derive from giving over your data
  • Countries with less rigorous privacy legislation and controls, e.g. China, have the potential to advance more rapidly

David Kelnar, a partner and head of research at MMC Ventures outlined how machine learning has evolved to learn in a similar way to humans and no longer has to follow a rigid set of rules. He discussed several industries in which artificial intelligence will be disruptive:

  1. Financial services - AI can revolutionise investment strategy, portfolio construction, risk management and client services. For example, the role of the analyst, where currently a large proportion of time is spent looking at data, will change materially as machines can crunch the data and find more subtle patterns
  2. Transport - in the next two decades autonomous vehicles will become prevalent and this will disrupt many value chains and business models, for example petrol stations and car maintenance businesses will totally change. The insurance industry will also change as at present 42% of all insurance premiums are for car vehicles
  3. Media and publishing - machine learning can help personalise the content a reader sees, a newspaper site could be completely personalised depending on the readers’ interests
  4. Energy -- machine learning can predict flows in cycles and therefore help reduce waste by about 25%. For example Google has used technology to reduce use of energy in its data centres by about 25%
  5. Legal -- this sector will be transformed by AI, for example automated contract analysis, machine learning can scan documents in minutes. Technology can also be used to predict outcomes in a case - for example, to work out how harsh a judge is likely to be or how likely an opponent is to settle

 Asked about how AI related to privacy concerns, Kelnar said there is a tradeoff between what the benefits derived from handing over your data vs the compromises you make by handing it over. He made the point that in regimes where data privacy is given less regard - e.g. China - AI can advance more rapidly because there a fewer barriers to using the data


Meet the AI and blockchain innovators

Key takeaways

  • Big companies are recognising the need to work with startups to innovate
  • Experimentation in this area is key and partnerships between companies are helpful
  • Pressure to digitalize will transform many industries, including insurance
  • There will probably always be a need for a human element to transactions, since banks are in the business of trust and mitigating risk

Magdalena Kron, head of Rise London and Vice President of Open Innovation said Barclays is trying to bring together the thinkers and entrepreneurs that are building the future of financial services to foster innovation. The objective is to help them grow and scale their businesses, with a productive relationship being one that benefitted both sides, she said. On blockchain she said Barclays was looking at how it could leverage blockchain and had a few blockchain companies in its accelerator program.

Payson Johnston, chief executive of Crowdz, a firm trying to digitize supply chains for businesses, said lots of companies are interested in blockchain but they uptake is mixed and they are often unsure of how it will scale up.

Nkiru Uwaje, a senior consultant at Dell Technologies said scalability and performance were two of the main challenges. It is important to innovate and experiment with blockchain and she was hopeful things would improve over time, she said. She noted that some industries are under a lot of pressure to digitalize, e.g. insurance. She said now insurance companies are starting to invest, with Axa being an example of one who has an ecosystem for startups to experiment.

Julian Wilson, Product Owner, Group Innovation at Barclays said tolerance of failure among large companies is on the up and that would foster innovation. He said banks are in the business of selling trust and that meant that there would probably always be a human element to transactions. Banks are custodians of consumer confidence so, even with large shifts in technology there would still be scope to “package trust”

Here are some more highlights from the session

This article was brought to you by Formative Content - you can find more of their articles here.

We hope this gave you some insight and continued curiosity for our future events which include sessions on Ai, Blockchain, Analytics, Innovation and more.