Advances in science and technology are going to reshape the commercial landscape over the next decade. Exciting, sometimes controversial, opportunities will come with the internet, mobile technology, automation, robotics, virtual reality, emerging industries, neuroscience and genetic profiling.
With low-cost smartphones possibly taking the internet to almost every citizen on the planet in 10 years, the web’s true potential has yet to reveal itself. But it is already transforming industry supply chains and threatening to reinvent some industries. At the same time, social media are creating new opportunities to engage the public and expand individual social spheres in a manner once thought unthinkable.
The web allows users to rent processing capacity, applications and storage via cloud computing. It also produces electronic assets and spawns virtual currencies. But all isn’t positive. With it come risks, including cybercrime, workplace distraction and shortened attention spans. Mobile devices may increase the geographical flexibility of staff, but also present data security challenges.
As automation spreads through every aspect of business and private life, vast quantities of data are being amassed. The ability to exploit big data and infer future behaviours from past patterns offers the potential to transform the cost and effectiveness of processes such as new product development, market targeting and price setting. For the accountancy profession, adoption of intelligent tools that can analyse and interpret large volumes of data could rapidly transform activities such as audit and forensic accounting.
There are other changes afoot too, some of which involve serious ethical considerations. New business sectors include human augmentation, personal genetics, vertical farming, 3D printing and laboratory-grown meat, and all have the potential to become trillion-dollar industries in 20 years or less.
Meanwhile, development in neuroscience could lead to the widespread use of brain-machine interfaces that allow information to be directly uploaded to and downloaded from our memory. As a result, businesses may come under pressure to employ staff who have had their mental faculties enhanced so they can ‘out-think’ their competitors. Genetic profiling of the workforce could theoretically enable firms to assess employee health risks more accurately and reduce health and insurance costs.
As the above examples suggest, the scientific and technological revolution that is taking place offers the potential for disruptive innovation in every aspect of human life, society and work. For the accountancy profession, the ability to master these developments could be the key differentiator between failure and success.
Faye Chua is ACCA’s head of future research and leads its global research and insights programme that focuses on the future of business and the accountancy profession. She is the staff expert on ACCA’s Accountancy Futures Academy.
This article first appeared in Accountancy Futures, Edition 6, 2013