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Why CIOs need to take on the megatrend challenge

Kenny MacIver – October 2015
Jon Wrennall, CTO of Fujitsu in the UK & Ireland, outlines how IT leaders need to respond to the global changes that are reshaping business and society.

A historically unprecedented wave of economic and social trends is sweeping through business and society. And according to Jon Wrennall, CTO for Fujitsu in the UK and Ireland, IT leaders have a major role to play in helping their organizations address the opportunities and challenges presented by these global megatrends.

Urban migration, world population growth, rapidly aging societies, the need for sustainable energy and healthcare provision are just some of the interconnected phenomena that have come to the fore in recent years, says Wrennall. These are already having an impact on many people’s lives, on business and across society, he observes. But while we are only at the start of many of those trends, their emergence needs to be set within the context of a digital revolution that will be instrumental in dealing with such upheaval.

Wrennall, a former technology head at several UK government agencies, portrays how some of these megatrends will evolve. “Right now there are over 7 billion people in the world. But that is going to rise to over 9.6 billion by 2050. By then, it’s estimated that we’ll have over 66% of the entire global population living in urban environments, [largely] in megacities,” he outlines.

In many mature economies, those demographics will be compounded by a rise in the proportion of older citizens, with all the associated healthcare and welfare support requirements. Wrennall cites the experience of Japan as a pointer to how those will develop elsewhere. “In the world’s third largest economy over 25% of the population are now over 65. In only 15 years that’s going to rise to one in three. So you have to look at the sustainability of that entire society when a third of the population is over the typical age of retirement — especially when that demographic will need the majority of the support in expensive areas like healthcare.” (See Fujitsu’s Dr Martin Schulz onHow Japan is steering a path through the challenges of a maturing economy.)
Shifting business models

As well as government agencies, businesses of all types will need to respond to how megatrends will reshape markets and competitive landscapes. “Megatrends can completely disrupt business models,” says Wrennall. “If existing businesses don’t change, then new upstarts and new business models will usurp traditional ones. So businesses really need to look at each facet of these megatrends and [define] how they will react in order to leverage the opportunities and challenges.”

Given the potential role of technology in that, Wrennall argues that IT leaders are uniquely positioned to address both.

“I would absolutely attest that given many of the tools in the IT leader’s toolbox today, the ability to address and harness those opportunities are, in the main, both technology-enabled and entrepreneurial-led,” he says. “So the technology leader is probably in the best place to grasp these opportunities, take centre stage and help drive those changes into the business and create the future for that business.”

As that suggests, megatrends raise the stakes. “Businesses that don’t embrace technology’s ability to impact those megatrends will, in the short- to medium-term, no longer exist; they’ll find themselves completely undercut by new entrants.” On the other hand, he argues: “Those that truly take to heart these megatrends — and the corporate social responsibility elements that lie within them — are going to be the future winners.”

• Access whitepapers, videos and infographics exploring how megatrends are shaping business and society.
First published October 2015
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