Beth Comstock (author and former vice chair at GE) started one of the early morning sessions @WIREDSmarter in London on 9 October with an audience challenge to question constants that we take for granted. Is the earth not round after all? A thought-provoking start to a day of inspiring stories on innovation, disruption, entrepreneurship and the courage to fail-fast.
The conference was split up in different stages and I spent most of my day at the money and retail stage. A couple of themes that struck me.
Getting technical – is the human element left behind?
Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of talk about how technology changes nearly every aspect of our lives. In times of AI and deep learning, it is easy to forget about the human element. That’s why it was particularly interesting to hear from Will Shu (co-founder and CEO of Deliveroo) that 40% of his time is spent on people and recruiting. This was also echoed by YOOX Net- A-Porter CEO and founder Federico Marchetti who refers to himself as a ‘hybrid type of guy’, predicting that there will only be one label conveying craftsmanship in the future – ‘made by humans’. Tech might be a people business after all!
Work from the customer backwards
That’s how Amazon’s CTO Werner Vogels summarised Amazon’s recipe for success in just five words. Lots of start-ups at the showcasing sessions were shooting to put this into practice. Some of my favourite ideas were around helping millennials to develop better saving and investment strategies and the various circular economy projects aimed at reducing vast amounts of waste. On the money showcasing stage, it was great to see how PSD2 and Open Banking are starting to have real traction, allowing new business models to emerge. This focus on the consumer was also something that was made very clear by presenters from Monzo and Revolut as driving their business models – they want to develop things that people will use.
Buy or bury the competition?
As an antitrust lawyer, I was particularly keen to hear how tech is changing the competitive dynamics across industries. To name just a few themes that came out of the sessions: network effects of platforms, opportunities and risks in collaborating with competitors and the need for interconnectivity and interoperability. Technological advances have been a hot topic for competition regulators for a number of years, with a particular focus on how AI, blockchain and algorithms change the way we do business. Very timely, the UK Competition and Markets Authority published just a week ago a detailed study into the use of pricing algorithms and associated antitrust risks. And it’s not just the UK, competition regulators around the globe are building up their expertise in the digital sector. So this is a space to watch.
Cybersecurity remains a key concern
Last but not least, with October being cybersecurity awareness month, this was a key theme at the conference. Lots to tackle in terms of readiness, technology and managing liability risks. If you are interested in a quick refresher, check out Freshfields’ thinking on the key cybersecurity risks.
And what do I take away from the day?
The only constant is change – let’s embrace it!
Amazon.com’s chief technology officer; the founder of tech business Deliveroo; and the economist reimagining GDP – these are just some of the fascinating individuals sharing compelling stories and case studies on how they’ve turned disruption into a strategy.