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Catherine Barba: “We are Living in a World in Rupture”

“The world is changing faster than ever.” With this categorical phrase, Catherine Barba, Internet pioneer, entrepreneur and angel investor, talks about the world in which we find ourselves, a world that, in her opinion, “is in rupture or breaking down”.

In her opinion, the changes we are experiencing today force us to better understand the world around us to make the right decisions. The most traditional companies have to be aware that “all current revolutions can be represented in exponential curves,” she points out. And that is why within these organizations you need leaders and professionals who are able to adapt to new environments, to a new way of thinking, or a change in mentality. “We are used to thinking linearly and we can no longer do that,” says Barba.

Barba radiates enthusiasm describing the world we live in. “Today all technological innovations are possible: we can build houses in three hours thanks to 3D printing or we have autonomous cars,” she says. But, in addition, what is more important and historical is that at present several revolutions overlapping at the same time: artificial intelligence and robotics… There are so many changes at happening the same time and this makes it difficult, according to some comments, to be able to anticipate or predict the world of the future. Barba exemplifies this situation alluding to the incontestable fact that today companies with such great economic values did not exist ten years ago. In other words, they are companies that have not seen this exponential evolution, which were born with digital DNA.

Barba, also a member of the Renault Council, is very reluctant to talk about digital transformation. She is convinced that the adjective “digital” does not contribute anything. It does not make sense because we are facing processes of cultural and organizational changes in companies. Technology is a “driver,” it is a tool, but what is really relevant is the transformation of mentality that human teams have to develop, the leaders of these companies.

Referring to the challenges in the field of organizational transformation, Catherine Barba believes that one of the biggest challenges these companies will have is being able to attract talent, but not only capturing it, but more importantly retaining it. And look at the explanation in a crucial aspect: young people today want to work on their own or in companies such as Google or Facebook. It is increasingly difficult for traditional companies to attract this group. For this reason, that they have to adapt to new circumstances and the new language spoken by this current generation. This is where, in her opinion, the process of cultural transformation is embedded.

But, it goes much further in terms of challenges. For this entrepreneur, “thinking about the future” is key. “You can not think about today’s business, you have to think about tomorrow, about what the business will look like in the future,” she insists.

The formation of teams is key

Her journey through the United States for four years has served Barba to see that the so-called country of opportunities is not as advanced as it seems. Entrepreneurship in the United States is located in very specific places, according to reports. In recent years, she says “I have seen few companies that are prepared to face the process” of transformation, among other factors because the CEOs or company management do not have the necessary vision to lead it. This is a fundamental element for the cultural and organizational transformation of a company to come to fruition. As it is also fundamental to have a diverse board of directors. Diversity, not only of gender, is a central point to develop the sensitivity that will help face the necessary changes.

And another very important element is collaboration with the startup ecosystem. According to Barba, it is not only about talking to them, but about exchanging experiences and ideas, trying to take advantage of the best that these projects can offer and arriving later to enage with and invest in those companies.

Likewise, in order for a successful transformation process, the formation of the teams is essential. A training that, in the opinion of the investor, should focus on three pillars: digital culture, specifically focusing on new business models that are appearing in the market, the current meaning of the client (who is not only the person who buys a product or service) and entrepreneurial spirit.

Concluding our conversation, Barba emphasizes on the need to incorporate failure as an essential factor for any company or entrepreneur to advance and improve. Failure is not bad. It is quite the opposite. And it is something that has been incorporated into the process of change. A similar instance occurs with two values that are sometimes forgotten: humility and authenticity.

 


Bárbara Yuste
Directora of Digital Communication at Proa Comunicación

Does Artificial Intelligence Kill Jobs?

AI, robotics and automation in general have for decades severely affected society in general and the labor market in particular. In the near future, labor itself and the laborer will cease to be one of the more important productive forces that they are today. The time has come to consider what kind of future we want.

Technology destroys some jobs and creates others. So far both trends have been somewhat balanced. Many jobs of the past have disappeared while new ones have been created. The barcode boosted world trade, creating millions of new jobs. Others have disappeared, and to put out one of the innumerable examples there are, banking related jobs are rapidly dwindling.

The pace of job creation is not enough to counteract the destruction generated by automation. To think that we will have millions of technological jobs is delusional. When Facebook bought WhatsApp, this company had 50 employees. Can we create new jobs with such a model? The reality is that the annual hours worked in every country do not stop decreasing.

Technology is good and has helped create a better world, where by and large all indicators of societal well-being showing positive trends. Improvements have been made in overall health, life expectancy, education, crime and violence, global GDP, wealth, equality and democracy, putting forward some of the most relevant examples.

Work has ceased to be what it was. People want to work by the income they report, but very few are remunerated by such. Freeing millions of people from routine or painful jobs is good as long as economic conditions do not worsen. Millions of people live on subsidies and the universal basic income is an alternative that advances with strength.

Meanwhile, inequality is increasing: The owners of automation are getting richer and 1% of the world population has as many resources as the remaining 99%. This is unacceptable, both morally and economically.

If we don’t work in the future, what will we do with our lives? Some will have answers, but many won’t. It is essential to consider the new educational challenges. We cannot train our young people for a world that no longer exists. Being free requires effort and a plan. We cannot delay this any longer.


Antonio Orbe 
Technology Expert

 

Artificial Intelligence, A Key Element among the 50 Most Innovative Companies

For innovative companies, the current landscape is still marked by the growing importance of digital technology. In particular, a new BCG report entitled The Most Innovative Companies 2019: The Rise of AI, Platforms, and Ecosystems, reveals that companies that excel in innovation increasingly implement more AI tools to develop new products and services, and improve internal innovation. In addition, they create technological platforms and ecosystems that allow them to take advantage of external innovation sources.

“Digital technology and external innovation have become key factors,” says Ramón Baeza, BCG’s Senior Partner and co-author of the report. “The main challenge for companies will not be to identify and access cutting-edge technological development, which will have to be sought outside of organizations, but to implement that technology within the company itself, integrating it with existing processes.”

As the main conclusion of the report, companies agree that the application of artificial intelligence in their processes is gaining ground. 90% of respondents (2,500 senior managers in the innovation area) stated that their companies are investing in AI, more than 30% expect AI to be one of the innovation areas with the greatest impact on their business during the next three or five years and another 30% give AI a leading role in their respective innovation programs.

The report shows that there is a big difference in the skills that companies have in terms of AI. More than 65% of the so-called “strong” innovators claim to be above the average in this area, compared to the mere 2% of “weak” innovators. Nearly 20% of respondents consider their companies to be “strong” innovators and exceed the average in terms of AI (a group that the report calls “leaders” in IA). Among these leaders, 94% believe that AI is important for the future growth of their companies, compared to 56% of “laggards” (respondents who consider that the capacities of their companies in AI are below the average).

AI will have a substantial impact on business processes, but its greatest potential lies in its ability to develop new products and services that provide large revenue streams over time,” says Michael Ringel, BCG Senior Partner and co-author Of the report. He also affirms that “the ‘leaders’ in AI are already making their way,” noting that, in these companies, the products and services based on AI solutions introduced in the last three years had meant a much higher percentage of sales.

Some 46% of “leaders” in AI declare that products and services based on AI tools represented 16% or more of their sales, compared to a mere 10% among “laggards”. Both agree that AI will gain ground in the future: 54% of “leaders” and 22% of “laggards” expect that AI enhanced products and services will contribute more than 16% of sales in the next five years.

Great Innovators Take Advantage of External Resources

The increasing use of AI is one of the factors that have fueled interest in platforms and ecosystems. The “leaders” in AI claim that they are more likely to turn to external providers for their AI projects. Moreover, some 36% depend entirely on external suppliers and another 48% mainly uses external services or a combination of internal and external capacities. This approach may be helping “leaders” to travel quickly through the AI learning experience curve, since knowledge is still scarce at present.

This year’s report shows that companies increasingly look abroad in search of new ideas. Collaboration models are booming: between 2015 and 2018 the number of great innovators using incubators grew (from 59% to 75%), as well as collaboration in the academic realm (from 60% to 81%) and in business (from 65% to 83%).

“Digital technologies facilitate collaboration platforms and these in turn enable ecosystems that bring together a group of organizations to develop new capacities or offer new products or services, even to promote a new field of science or technology,” says Florian Grassl , BCG Partner and co-author of the report. “However, not all ecosystems are the same. Participants are united by different types of incentives/interests. Of course, one of them is financial, but the knowledge, data, skills and community can be equally important.”

Some ecosystems are mere extensions of traditional ways of organizing and doing business. They tend to revolve around an orchestrator with whom all other participants interact and have established hierarchies and structures. Other ecosystems, including many of those involved in the first phase of R&D, tend to be more dynamic. They depend less on a central orchestrator and more on versatile interactions among the participants.

Since 2004, the Boston Consulting Group has surveyed the top managers of the innovation area from a wide range of sectors and countries on 13 occasions in order to better understand the role and status of innovation in companies.

With the ranking of the 50 most innovative companies, for the first time there have been notable movements in the first five positions on the list. Following the global survey, Apple, which led the ranking in all previous editions, descended to third place, while Google (or its parent, Alphabet) and Amazon rose to first and second place respectively. At the remainder of the top 5 table were Microsoft and Samsung.

Although technology companies occupy nine of the top ten, conventional companies account for more than half the list. Adidas (10th), BASF (12th), Johnson & Johnson (14th) and DowDuPont (15th) are among the top 15 and there are newcomers such as T-Mobile (13th), DowDuPont, Stryker (35th) and Rio Tinto (49th).