Joachim De Vos

Expand your horizon

25 October 2018

digital transformation

'An open view towards the future is extremely important', says Joachim De Vos, CEO of Living Tomorrow and TomorrowLab. ‘Only those who fully prepare for this will be able to capture a leading position in their sector.’

As the former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates said at the opening of Living Tomorrow in March ‘95: ‘We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.’

Joachim De Vos

This hardly happens in reality, notes De Vos, who’s been following the latest technological developments closely since Living Tomorrow was founded in 1995. As well as showcasing new technologies, Living Tomorrow researches developments that will determine the future world of business together with other companies and educational institutions.

Information is the key to success

It comes down to detecting the areas in which the organization is ready for innovation,’ says De Vos. ‘Reflecting together with various stakeholders about the possible changes on the long term is a critical exercise. Only in this way, you can estimate the impact of new technologies. I would recommend starting by setting up structural meetings with people from your own sector and elsewhere,’ explains De Vos. ‘This exchange of ideas with people from different backgrounds, with different disciplines and alternative visions of the future, can be very fruitful.’

Technology is of no value in itself, the strength lies in its application.

Information will be the key to success in the future, as well as the basis for innovation more than ever before. A company needs to plot out the vision and strategy that determines what we’re going to do with all this information or data. The ultimate goal is to build an innovation culture.

‘The challenge is to extract valuable ‘wisdom’ to distinguish yourself from the competition. Which new data sources do you need to tap into, and how can you process them to reach better decisions faster? Innovation makes the difference here.’ Tesla uses for instance the real-time data of its users to make improvements to their product, it is therefore a huge source of knowledge that just enters there every single day.

Future scenario’s

Meetings with other people don’t give you a vision of the future alone, of course. De Vos therefore also advocates a pragmatic approach to ensure this apparent mission impossible succeeds: ‘The best thing is to work with scenarios. Take, by way of example a hospital for which you want to build an IT infrastructure that’s still relevant ten years from now. You could invite a trend watcher to a meeting, but they can only talk about trends that are already visible. So it’s a much better idea to go deeper and question what the core tasks of your hospital are. Will we still get sick in the future? Are we all going to become bionic people? Is AI going to determine everything?'

The next big thing is a lot of small things.

De Vos believes you need to plot these possible scenarios on a double axis – one ranked on a scale of uncertain to definite, and one according to impact on your organization. ‘The most interesting scenario is the one with the biggest impact that is also uncertain. Choose two or three developments from this, and determine what the most and least favorable outcomes would be. Then comes the hard work: preparing for each of these scenarios, checking what you need for them, and so on.’

partnership

A new role for the IT partner

While a company is looking at all these future scenarios, today’s IT also needs to keep running smoothly, of course. And De Vos believes IT partners can play a major role here. ‘Organizations often look for the risks in the wrong places. A lot of focus goes to the past and current situation, a strategy for tomorrow is often placed at the bottom of the 'to do' list. Yet there are a lot of time-consuming daily worries that can be outsourced.’

But De Vos believes the IT partner can do more than just unburden a company. ‘A real partner is also a supplier of ideas, a sounding board. As an IT partner, you can often offer insights into evolutions that the CIO has less view of because you work for multiple customers and in different sectors. You can learn lessons from a block chain project with one customer that can also be useful for other customers, for example. A good IT partner can also play a role in developing a vision for the future and converting strategy into useful actions.’

Give yourself time and space to think about the future

Time is scarce and can only be spent once. Operational tasks often require so much attention that the development of an innovation strategy is pushed forward every time in agendas. Together with Realdolmen as a partner, you can look at what you can do more and better if you do not have to worry about anything else.

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The following blogs also appeared in this series: