As global vice president of visionary innovation for market research firm Frost & Sullivan, Richard Sear is charged with analyzing forces and trends that will shape our future. That’s no small task, given today’s warp-speed pace of innovation and constant change. Still, his research has uncovered 10 “mega trends” that promise to radically alter the way we live and work. We sat down with him to discuss one of those trends: “convergence.”
Access: Can you describe convergence?
RICHARD SEAR: What we mean is that entire industries and markets are coming together. Traditionally, we think of industries in a very vertical manner — the logistics industry, the healthcare industry, the automotive industry, etc. But now the Internet of Things is disrupting industries to the point where they’re no longer vertical — they’re horizontal.
Access: And that allows for convergence?
RS: Yes. The mesh lies flat. Industries are impacted by each other. Each industry now is part of a mesh network, if you like.
Here’s an example: An industry such as healthcare is all about making people well. In the old context of making people well, you thought about a hospital, a doctor or a pharmaceutical product. But given how we think about the mesh at work, getting well can involve being monitored while you’re driving your car. So now an automotive manufacturer has to input a healthcare product into its vehicles so that we have constant monitoring.
The same thing applies to smartphones, which now have the ability to monitor your well-being. Or perhaps wearable consumer electronics that track your health.
Access: What are some other examples?
RS: You probably see it in the automotive industry the most. Every form of that industry has been changed, because of industries that are now impacting what a mode of transportation looks like. You’ve seen that with things like Uber, the ridesharing service that uses an app to connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire. You also see it in the logistics industry with real-time monitoring of equipment that’s being shipped or moved.
Access: What other industries are being affected?
RS: Retail for sure, with the shift from physical presence to an online one and now the merging of both. We call that “bricks and clicks” — the necessity of having multiple access points for consumers to buy goods or to engage with a company that is providing them with goods.
The defense industry is also being affected. It has seen a downturn in its income, so some of its players are now entering the consumer sector. Some are devoting up to 30 percent of their annual R&D budgets to create consumer applications of military technology.
There isn’t an industry that’s not affected by this, actually.
Access: What are some of the factors behind this trend?
RS: I think of human beings as the infrastructure for all of this convergence. Our expectations and desires are the fundamental mechanisms that are changing the way industries must behave. Companies have to react to our expectations.
Another factor is the mechanism that enabled it from a technological perspective. That of course was the introduction of IPv6, which is the Internet communications protocol that allowed for the 340 trillion unique IP addresses that created the Internet of Things.
The other thing to consider with convergence is this: Companies that are tentative on convergence will lose. Ones that think that their industry will tick along as normal are going to die. Aggressive companies will win.