Business Countdown to 2030

March 07, 2024

Why the next 6 years will make or break companies

One crisis after the other and no end in sight: the coronavirus pandemic was followed by a massive inflation, the bankruptcy of major business players, and geopolitical conflicts. Unfortunately, companies need to brace themselves for even more: forecasts suggest that the next six years until 2030 might become the toughest phase for companies in the past decades. Only those looking ahead and positioning themselves to benefit from the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence (AI), new technologies, sustainability, and strategic resilience will survive into the next decade. WU Executive Academy Dean Barbara Stöttinger and strategy and sustainability expert Vladimir Preveden have analyzed the underlying reasons of this situation and potential solutions that will help enterprises to do well also beyond 2030.

What needs to be done to still hit the mark in 2030? Image: shutterstock, meeboonstudio
What needs to be done to still hit the mark in 2030? Image: shutterstock, meeboonstudio

“Companies and their managers are finding it hard to strategically think about future developments and the opportunities and risks they will bring,” says Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy. All the more reason to prepare for the structural change ahead of us.

“The upcoming years will shake things to the core,” Stöttinger issues a word of warning. So it’s high time for companies, and particularly the C-suite, to take action if they want to stay relevant also in the future.

A Momentous Paradigm Shift and Its Implications

So what is behind this shift? Strategy and sustainability expert Vladimir Preveden explains that we are currently in the midst of the fifth and sixth wave of development since the start of the industrial revolution. In the first four waves, society was introduced to mechanization, celebrated the steam engine, and saw industrial production as well as industries such as electronics, telecommunications, and aviation take off. Since about 1985, companies have been riding the fifth wave: digitalization and the internet have had a transformative impact on the economy and society like no other development before. And for a few years now, we’ve been in the thrall of the sixth wave: sustainability and climate protection have put a spotlight on green topics and have also made us more conscious of social justice.

Business Countdown

Every new wave has prompted a fundamental reorganization of values, which in turn changed the structure of society– and with it the structure of the economy, explains Preveden, who is a lecturer at the WU Executive Academy’s compact ESG and Sustainability program. And these waves have also given rise to new enterprise forms: digitalization and the internet, for instance, midwifing big tech companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft, and OpenAI. And the current overlap of the two most recent waves will produce similar effects.

The mentioned transformation of values typically occurs in an S shape: hardly noticeable at first but then suddenly picking up speed, also taking companies by surprise. This development is likely to materialize in the current two waves as well. This development, hard as it is to grasp for us because our brains tend to think in linear ways, is an important lesson for companies.

Vladimir Preveden Portrait

Vladimir Preveden

  • Strategy and Sustainability Expert

Instead of resting on our laurels, we need to anticipate the opportunities for our business which are likely to arise from the overlap of the two current waves to stay on top of or, at the very least, a part of the game. In this respect, two fields will be particularly interesting in the next six years.

4 Key Technologies

The concurrence of two waves makes the present situation very special but, at the same time, complex and challenging to strategically deal with. Stöttinger and Preveden have identified four major technological developments that are likely to boost the transformation in the years to come:

1. Quantum Computing

What’s special about quantum computers? They don’t operate like your average computer at all. While the bits in a traditional PC only recognize 0 and 1, so-called quantum bits (or qubits) know states in between 0 and 1 and can, thanks to overlaps, be in multiple states simultaneously. This immensely speeds up computations. According to forecasts, such supercomputers will be ready for mass production by 2030 – which also means that they will have become affordable by then. “This will have an enormous impact on simulation methods, data analyses, prediction models, forecasting, and a multitude of further fields,” Preveden says. It will also turn everything we thought we had learned about cybersecurity in the past years upside down: most passwords used today, and that includes the most complex ones, could easily be deciphered using such super-fast computers. “And also the number of deepfakes will climb to hitherto unknown heights,” Stöttinger adds: “It will become so much harder to discern what’s real and what’s virtual, and we can only take a guess at the impacts this will have on society, the economy, and politics.”

Quantum computers have long been heralded as the next step in digital data processing. Soon it could actually become a reality. Image created with Dall E in ChatGPT
Quantum computers have long been heralded as the next step in digital data processing. Soon it could actually become a reality. Image created with Dall E in ChatGPT

2. Artificial Intelligence

Generative artificial intelligence based on language models has continuously and rapidly evolved in the past years. But it’s only very recently that also non-experts have become aware of the endless opportunities this affords. “Most managers have yet to start employing AI tools or to at least look into potential application scenarios. This is a huge mistake because at a certain point, it will have become impossible to close the technological gap that will have opened up,” Preveden says, convinced that AI will keep producing further new business opportunities as well as risks. Also established AI models based on machine learning are advancing at a breathtaking pace.

3. Crypto and blockchain technology

Cryptocurrencies have long been en vogue and are frequently used for ensuring unmistakable property rights (think Non Fungible Tokens, or NFT in short). “Crypto and the blockchain technology it is based on will gain more traction as fundamental technologies in the years to come,” says Preveden and names three examples to prove his point:

  • Decentralized Finances (DeFi)

Thanks to the blockchain, we will be able to decentralize traditional financial services in the future. Smart contracts will enable us to use services such as investing money to earn interest, taking out a loan, and trading without the mediation of a finance institution, which will greatly increase efficiency and accessibility.

  • Supply Chain Transparency

The blockchain can be used to reliably document transactions, which makes it ideal for managing supply chains. It will help companies to precisely track the origin and travel routes of products, contributing to both quality assurance and combating counterfeit.

  • Digital Identity

Blockchain technology can be used for the secure management of digital identities. It improves data protection and online verification processes as users gain greater control over their personal data and can share them in a secure and verifiable way.

Barbara Stöttinger

Barbara Stöttinger

  • Dean of the WU Executive Academy

These examples underscore the potential of crypto and the blockchain to disrupt established business models and transform a wide range of industries by making systems available that are more efficient, transparent, and secure.

4. Masters of the Metaverse

The metaverse is a virtual space brought to life by technologies such as virtual reality, AI, and the blockchain. An array of companies is currently working on further developing the metaverse’s digital surroundings. “The introduction of ChatGPT last year has pushed the metaverse into oblivion in both the media and public discourse. As a result, many managers believe that it was a short-lived hype or that it is only of interest for gamers or young people,” Stöttinger says. Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth: the metaverse is here to stay, and by now, whole cities have established a digital counterpart there. “Brand manufacturers such as Nike, Gucci, and Adidas are now more likely to expand to the metaverse than trying to crack a new market in the real world,” Stöttinger says.

And that’s a prudent thing to do: these companies are using the metaverse to create new customer experiences, digitalize their brands, and appeal to a younger, more tech-savvy target group. They have realized that the metaverse offers a new and innovative way of interacting with customers and presenting products in an ever-developing digital landscape.

There will be no way around these four technologies in the years to come. “It’s a common misconception among managers that they need to acquire a thorough grasp of these key technologies. They needn’t worry about that. It’s about not turning a blind eye to these trends and seeing them as an opportunity rather than a threat,” Vladimir Preveden says.

Field 2: Sustainability as a Non-Negotiable

Apart from the technological paradigm shift, there is another topic managers will be well advised to keep an eye on: the impact of the structural changes underway in the field of sustainability. The EU has made a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and 2030 is an important intermediate step on this way. As a result, there are already plenty of regulations in place for companies, many of which will change from highly recommended to mandatory in the near future.

The topic of sustainability can no longer be ignored by any company. If you want to be successful, you have to deal with it.
The topic of sustainability can no longer be ignored by any company. If you want to be successful, you have to deal with it.

“Company leaders might be moaning about this now, but the efforts required of them have an innovative force that, hopefully, will strengthen the European economy and particularly exports in the long term. Such benefits, however, will only be reaped by those companies and managers that are future-oriented, strategically agile, and proactively tackle opportunities instead of merely obsessing about satisfying regulations,” Preveden says.

Climate protection is a very wide field, and public discourse does not always do this variety justice. It’s not only about emissions; what we need to look at are energy production and dependency, the circular economy, and biodiversity. What’s more, sustainability is not just about the environment and climate protection but also extends to topics such as social responsibility, regional value creation, and ethics. “Companies simply cannot afford to look at this central, decisive issue and its wide implications from a narrow communications and marketing perspective. They need a solid and strategic approach, asking themselves: how can we contribute to the well-being of our planet and society while simultaneously creating a competitive edge for the company through sustainability measures? Finding a good answer to this question will help companies increase their strategic resilience.

Conclusion

Society is changing, and so is the economy – and companies better keep up. 2030 will come around faster than we can imagine. Companies and managers eager to future-proof their business will wait no longer to look for opportunities at the intersection of the two waves, digitalization and the internet on the one hand and sustainability on the other. There are plenty of possibilities waiting to be explored – sooner rather than later.

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