How Should Retail CEOs Tackle Sustainability?
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As is often at this time of year, we ask ourselves, what cultural and technology trends look set to impact the innovation agenda in 2023? Rather than navel-gazing predictions, we spoke to six leaders working on the front lines of corporate innovation to understand what they see as the key area of opportunity for the year ahead.
“Supply chain volatility and turbulence has become mainstream news – from the lingering effects of Covid-19 to other supply chain disruptions such as growing labour shortages, capacity constraints and the impact of global tensions. Findings from an insights paper published by Wincanton in October 2022 indicated that 85% of retail and eCommerce business leaders in the UK believe they can build more resilience in their supply chains.
Supply chains are made of multiple, intimately related, complex connections. Leaders now recognise the role of innovation in transforming the resilience of supply chains, enabling competitiveness and, in some cases, business survival. Innovating and developing essential tools such as technology, automation of processes and activities, visibility of physical assets and data is critical to maintain continuity and achieve growth in the face of change.
Through W2 Labs Wincanton has worked collaboratively to harness the benefits of early-stage businesses and new thinking in areas such as automation, robotics and ESG to support resilience but also drive improvements for our customers, our colleagues, our business and our industry as a whole.”
Trade and political tensions, both between and within countries, looks set to heighten throughout 2023, putting even more emphasis on the need to sure up your supply chain. Innovation that increases resilience or creates alternative pathways to production could be one of the defining factors for business growth and survival this year.
“We can expect more companies and professionals to leverage the benefits of immersive technologies (Extended Reality, Mixed Reality, Virtual Reality) to enable better training, collaboration, creation, and beyond to drive better outcomes at work.
Consumer adoption of Extended Reality for entertainment will also continue to grow, and businesses big and small will want to develop a deep understanding and thoughtful strategy for how best to position for the 3D spatial Internet that is currently coined as the metaverse.
Meanwhile, professional and recreational users alike will want to be reassured that they have full control over their personal data and privacy while engaging with the new realm of virtual world experiences.”
As Pearly alludes to, the applications of immersive technology are far-reaching. It will be interesting to see how corporations consider such technologies as consumer adoption increases. Use cases for XR technologies include;
Training and education: creating realistic and engaging training simulations, allowing employees to practice their skills in a safe and controlled environment. For example, virtual simulations of surgeries allowing doctors to practice procedures before performing them on real patients.
Retail and e-commerce: creating virtual storefronts or interactive 3D products, allowing customers to browse and make purchases in a virtual environment.
Architecture and construction: creating virtual walkthroughs of buildings, allowing architects and builders to visualise and test designs before construction begins.
“One key global trend that tech and innovation leaders must prioritize in 2023 is the focus on Cybersecurity. There are multiple fronts on why this must be a priority:
1. Using AI capabilities is becoming increasingly important. These technologies can identify and respond to threats in real-time, allowing organizations to proactively defend against cyberattacks.
2. There’s growing adoption of a zero-trust security model. This approach assumes that all network traffic and access requests are untrusted and verifies the identity of users and devices before granting access. This model can be more effective in preventing breaches, assuming that attackers may already be inside the network.
3. Cloud Security. As more and more organizations move to cloud infrastructure, they must implement security measures that protect their data and systems in the cloud. This can include using encryption to protect data in transit and at rest and implementing security controls like multi-factor authentication and network segmentation.
4. The trend of remote work is likely to continue. This makes it essential for companies to implement security measures that protect their networks and data even when employees are accessing them from outside the office. This may include VPNs, secure remote access solutions, and endpoint security.”
These security-focused innovation trends don’t only apply to businesses working in cybersecurity but many organisations building proprietary technologies. To put the problem into perspective, cybercrime was estimated to have cost businesses and individuals $6 trillion USD globally in 2021. Considering the reputational damage, impact on business continuity, fines and financial loss, businesses need to consider their approach to increasingly sophisticated digital attacks. After all, prevention is a much better strategy than dealing with the aftermath
“A megatrend that has been really important in the last few years and will continue to gain even more prominence in the coming year is sustainability. This was validated in my recent visit to Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January, where for the first time, there was a sustainability panel discussion, and I had the honour to participate in it. Various aspects of sustainability and nuances of the trend were a very strong presence and a driver for technology innovations that received a lot of attention at the show.
We seem to be at an inflection point as employees are inspired to work on sustainable innovation in inclusive cultures, the public is beginning to expect or demand it, and leaders will have to prioritize it for many reasons, including maintaining their reputation, meeting regulations or environmental impact reduction and remediation.
Organizations will need to commit to upskilling and digital transformation to support their sustainability goals and commitments. Making sustainability a priority will help attract and retain talent, while sustainable innovations can help drive business results. It will also require leaders to develop stronger relationships within the supply chain, and collaboration may have to be prioritized to bring truly sustainable innovations to life.
In fact, leaders may need to prioritize linking sustainability and climate leadership with the very purpose of an organization and a driver for innovation. I like to say, now more than ever before in our lifetime, innovation is a lifesaver for business, inspiration is the lifeblood for innovation, and purpose is the lifeline for inspiration.”
As Dr Seth points out, we’re at a tipping point for sustainability, both in terms of environmental damage and collective awareness. Often, innovations in this area can help reduce operational and production costs as well as potentially opening up your organisation to new business opportunities. Sustainability-focused innovations also help to create a more resilient and stable business environment, which can benefit the company in the long term.
“The innovation team at Sodexo continuously monitors technology evolution to make sure we are aware and able to test the latest developments. One of the technologies that has made a major leap and will likely continue to develop quickly is Artificial Intelligence (AI).
This technology is becoming more sophisticated with the latest developments coming from Open AI. For instance, ChatGPT (GPT-3) is an AI chat that assists users in answering questions and understanding various topics by providing information and explanations in a consistent and clear way. Another example is DALL·E, a generative model which is trained to generate images from text prompts. These new developments are so smart that a person cannot tell if the article or image was created by a human or a machine.
This might have many implications for the future of work. In the past, we thought that AI and robotisation would take on repetitive manual tasks. We see now that it might have further applications for creative tasks such as writing articles, presentations and creating images and movies. This technology will gradually enter our work environment and will be able to help many employees in their daily tasks.”
These creative AI applications can, as Neta points out, assist us in our daily work, and some roles will be impacted as these technologies advance. Innovation is also needed outside of the directly impacted industries. For example, education providers need to consider how they assess candidates when MBA passable papers can be generated in a matter of seconds. I expect to see these technologies continuing to assist in process automation and customer service, to name but a few areas.
“At last count, there’s about 10 trillion gigabytes of data on earth. Much of this data is stored in massive storage facilities that are very energy intensive and subject to (relatively) short-term data degradation.
But what if only a few grams of genetically modified DNA could answer all of humanity’s data storage needs? Yes, DNA can be encoded with data and used to store it for hundreds of years.
We aren’t there yet. Encoding data into DNA inexpensively enough is still a challenge, as well as being able to retrieve that data without data loss. But my personal opinion is that this is going to happen in our lifetime. And it’s going to be revolutionary.”
While DNA data storage is still a relatively new technology and is currently more expensive and less practical than traditional data storage methods, it is expected to become more cost-effective and widely used in the future. Applications of this technology are likely to centre around cold data storage, such as archival or backup storage, where large amounts of data need to be preserved for a long period of time.
In summary, the top six innovation trends to consider in 2023 are;
1. The importance of supply chain reliance
2. Leveraging immersive technologies
3. Smarter cybersecurity approaches and technologies
4. Sustainability focus in innovation and leadership
5. Creative applications of AI
6. The growing data storage challenge
A big thank you to the six leaders who contributed their thoughts to this article. I hope the above provides some insights into the trends that are top of mind for those working in the field of innovation over the next 12 months.
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