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Future technology

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Attempting to predict the future is always a roll of the dice. No one can see around corners but that does not stop think-tanks and other “experts” from trying to look a few years down the road. Every other week, another report or book is released telling us how tomorrow is going to unfold.

However, the future has too many variables for anyone to say with certainty what will happen. Long-promised gizmos like flying cars, robot maids and personal jetpacks have failed to materialise. Also, space travel - along with bringing cryogenically frozen corpses back to life - remain firmly in the realm of science fiction.

History shows that some innovations turn the world upside down while others flop spectacularly. Determining which ones will disrupt the status quo is fraught with danger. This is particularly the case with digital technologies - like autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence – which are taking us into uncharted waters.

I’m not a seer when it comes to the future of technology. But experience has taught me that for an innovation to be truly successful, it must solve some human problem or need. Yet time and time again technological solutions are developed for problems which do not exist.

I believe that we need to reframe the way we think about innovation. In essence, innovation is about problem solving. Smart innovators don’t look for a clever idea but for a pragmatic problem. The best ideas come in response to making people’s lives easier and better.

But many organisations make the mistake of developing products and services without reference to customers. This results in organisations supplying products for which there is no demand. Google Glass is an example of this - it was a solution in search of a problem.

When it comes to digital technologies, the modus operandi must be people first and technology second. The primacy of the customer in the digital age is paramount. Technology for technology’s sake is a recipe for disaster. Prioritizing innovation above solutions is rarely effective, but it happens with regular monotony.

There are two broad approaches to innovation: market-pull and technology-push. The market-pull model provides products the market demands while the technology-push approach attempts to interest people in new products. While marketers and academics debate which approach is best, I favour the market-pull innovation strategy.

I know from personal experience that innovation is not in the technology itself but in the actual use of the technology. Technology, therefore, must help people (customers) solve the challenges they face. An example from the banking industry will help here.

Over recent years there has been an explosion of FinTech companies. The term FinTech is a contraction of the words “financial” and “technology”. It has become a ubiquitous term for any technology applied to conducting financial services activities.

As crazy as this sounds, FinTech is not about technology. Rather, it is about finding new ways to solve old problems. The successful FinTech companies are giving customers greater control over how they spend, move and manage their money. But not every FinTech startup understands this imperative.

Giles Andrews, co-founder of Zopa, the UK’s oldest peer-to-peer lending service, believes that “… FinTech innovation is not in the technology, but in using the technology to create a new business model”. FinTech has spawned a whole new industry which is reinventing business models using customer centric design.

This customer-centricity is being driven by design thinking. Design thinking is an iterative process to finding solutions and requires a deep empathy for the end-user. Design thinking has been defined as matching people’s needs with what is technologically feasible.

Businesses are increasingly using design thinking to deliver customer-focussed experiences. But finding desirable solutions for customers using design thinking is challenging. It requires a business to look at what it does from the outside in by starting with the experience coveted by the end-user - and most businesses find that paradigm shift confronting.

But deeply understanding the people for whom you are designing a solution can deliver transformational change. Customers must be at the heart of every business process and decision and design thinking reframes problems through the eyes of the customer.

There’s no doubt that design thinking is an effective protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. Financial institutions need to remember that customers are humans, not numbers. Finance, money and banking are part of our daily lives and those institutions that make the human connection easier will be the winners.

Paul J. Thomas, CEO


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CEO Paul Thomas