On January 1, 2020, we predicted that the forthcoming decade would be characterized by a tech driven ‘fragmentation’ megatrend, which would pervade all aspects of society. Covid-19 has not only massively accelerated this megatrend, it has introduced a consequential layer of disintermediation. These interconnected trends have monumental ramifications for business and society.
Following are some (among many) areas where these trends can best be observed:
- Automation is fragmenting traditional jobs, as it replaces an ever growing number of tasks within a given role. This, in turn, is driving the shift to gig work, where a worker can perform the remaining, non-automated tasks, for a larger set of clients
- Automation is also, with the immense increase in work from home, dispersing work, and employee overhead costs into individual homes. This is leading to a disintermediation of the tradition work aggregator: the office
- The conventional 4-year degree is increasingly less useful in a longer working lifespan, compounded by a need for continual learning. The trend is towards online, disaggregated learning courses, for more flexible learning modules, with cumulative accreditation across a multi-year trajectory
- The number of university and college professors who are no longer employed at one institution, but rather work as independent contractors at multiple universities and colleges, is increasing. When coupled with the prior trend, it is leading to the disintermediation of universities and their campuses
- The established newspaper and media conglomerates are fragmenting, as individuals acquire their own megaphone, through social media and blogging sites. In addition, the advent of self-publishing is disaggregating the traditional publishing house business model, with gig-consultants available to duplicate other aspects of a publisher’s role, as required
- This is leading to the disintermediation of the traditional media business models with direct to consumer news and publishing channels arising
- The traditional vertically integrated utility business model is virtually dead. Where utilities used to aggregate consumer demand, capital raising and asset building/operating, the renewable energy model disaggregates all the parts
- Individuals have now become power generators through their rooftop solar, raising their own capital and using gig contractors to install and maintain these assets
- The energy pathway demonstrates how innovations in tech come in waves, where there is fast progress in various sized nodes (e.g. rooftop solar, wind farms), that are then held back by slower progress in the web connecting them (e.g. transmission networks). This can also be observed in the rapid progress of IoT goods, while 5G networks lag
- Progress in telemedicine and the ability of individuals to monitor their own health and self-diagnose, is democratizing (i.e. fragmenting) the traditional role of general practitioners, dieticians, and nutritionists, just to name a few. Furthermore, the advent of remote medical procedures is fracturing the centralized model of medical care
- There is an increasing number of smaller specialized clinics emerging, which will disintermediate the traditional hospital and aggregated health care hubs
These examples illustrate only the beginning of a mega shift from the traditional command-and-control, hierarchical and centralized structures of the industrial age, to the ‘webbed-node’, flexi and flat structures of the Digital Age. This massive restructuring will arrive in fits and starts, with some part or another holding back progress at various points along the trajectory. It will require considerable trial and error and inevitably result in new winners and losers, for industries, businesses and society at large. The key is to find agile processes, fruitful partnerships and strategic mindsets that anticipate and reflect this new paradigm, while ensuring nimble correction from the inevitable unintended consequences.