Top 10 Takeaways from RBC’s Global TIMT Conference

Published January 6, 2021 | 4 min read

Within a matter of weeks, the global pandemic changed everything. The way we shop, work, and interact will likely never be the same again. At our Global Technology, Internet, Media & Telecommunications Conference (which took place November 17-18, 2020), we explored the transformational role of technology in moving us faster to the future in the face of unprecedented challenges.

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The pandemic is said to have driven a decade’s worth of progress in just a year. But how is technology enabling these changes? What are the broader implications? And which developments can we expect next? Here we give our top ten takes from an invigorating conference where we heard from a range of technology leaders who’ve helped drive transformation at a speed we’ve never before experienced.

1)

The rise and surprise of remote: a hybrid approach is likely to prove most effective in the longer term

Many CEOs are surprised at the success of remote working. As a consequence, companies are transforming their view of their geographic footprints while realizing cost savings and efficiencies. What started as a survival tactic has become ingrained, with significant implications for the future of work life and home life. The most successful companies will be those that blend, to best effect, the benefits of remote working with the strengths of office-based collaboration.

I think everybody will learn that there are good things about working in an office setting, there are really good things about working in a home environment and blending the two will be the art of the future.

- Thomas Kurian, Chief Executive Officer, Google Cloud

 

2)

Necessity and invention: how Covid has driven innovation

If Covid is the mother of invention, which new arrivals are beginning to emerge, and what are their prospects? Everything from meetings, lessons, restaurants, and real-estate viewings have gone virtual to survive and thrive. Even businesses that are hugely impacted by recent restrictions have used the time to reflect, revamp, and innovate. Many companies have embraced the digital world more fundamentally than ever before. They are beginning to see it not merely as a shop window but as a vital tool for getting better customer insights and building stronger relationships.  

How do you take your physical processes and make them more efficient?  If you're in manufacturing, how do you do quality assurance better?  People cannot stand next to one another at the end of a manufacturing line to inspect products and services. Because of the pandemic, we’re seeing a long-term shift in the use of technology to solve some of these problems. 

- Thomas Kurian, Chief Executive Officer, Google Cloud

 

3)

Ethical tech: which is better, prevention or cure?

Technology poses significant ethical questions. For example, how do we balance the need for data and collaboration, with the imperatives of privacy and security? If we over-regulate in trying to prevent issues, are we doing more harm by stifling progress? In the past, we developed circuit breakers to resolve issues created by electricity, and anti-virus software to fight computer viruses. To what extent should we now trust innovation to find solutions to problems, thereby enabling beneficial progress that overregulation might prevent or significantly delay?

Any country or region that believes regulation is the only way to go, I think will only setback its AI progress and its ability to use AI for the greatest good and benefit of its traditional businesses. 

- Kai-Fu Lee, AI pioneer

 

4)

Geopolitics: a brake on tech progress

China and the US are both tech leaders, but with different strengths. China is leading in empowering education with technology – going well beyond delivering classroom lessons remotely to integrate AI and robot assistants to reimagine the learning process and directly address the needs of individual pupils. The US is ahead in empowering enterprise with advanced remote working and collaboration technology. The best interests of progress would be served by a much closer relationship between these two powerful nations, but geopolitics creates significant friction. Clearly, this friction will have an impact on the speed at which we see the benefits of global technological innovation.

Wouldn’t it be great if the tenacious entrepreneurs in China with their large user-base and data, and the top researchers in the US, could somehow work together on important apps?

- Kai-Fu Lee, AI pioneer

 

5)

AI is reaching an inflection point

AI is approaching the point of seeing and understanding many things with impressive accuracy and efficiency. It is beginning to empower humans to much greater achievements and open exciting new frontiers as a consequence. We can expect significant developments both in visual and linguistic processing driven by the rapidly-improving contextual awareness and intelligence of AI technology. For example, in addition to autonomous vehicles and significantly-improved diagnostics, we may soon be using AI to create poetry or music, or to reanimate historical characters for educational purposes. AI will reset expectations of what we can achieve with technology.

6)

If data is the new oil, the big players are better placed to mine it.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) thrives on data, and the ability to acquire and mine data is increasingly advantageous to businesses. This tends to favor larger players with more significant data footprints and greater resources to develop AI and other analytical tools. It remains to be seen how smaller players (whether smaller businesses or smaller countries) will be able to compete in a world where AI has increasing influence

7)

Big tech is empowering localism

People want to support local businesses and buy from companies that reflect their values. The pandemic has rooted people more in their home neighborhoods and driven the development of stronger local connections. A range of businesses such as Shopify, Uber Eats, and Cornershop empower local firms to recognize and serve the local demand for their products and services. It is not yet clear if this will be a trend that fades post-pandemic or whether the renewed attraction of local businesses sustains.

Our restaurant sign ups, especially from small and medium businesses, have profoundly accelerated as a result of Covid. I don’t see those restaurants getting off the platform. We plan to lean into it both in terms of food and grocery as well as other local commerce categories.

- Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber

 

8)

Tech will play a key role in reimagining cities once the pandemic has passed

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way cities operate, forcing a migration to the internet and making close physical proximity – a key strength of cities – less relevant. While we are beginning to see people return to cities, we are unlikely to see a resumption of the old normal. From local deliveries by robots to the use of AI in making transport safer and more efficient, technology is playing a vital role in helping reinvent cities for a post-covid future.

9)

Tech companies are increasingly taking a positive and proactive approach to regulation

The tech world moves fast and thrives by learning from its mistakes. Governments are slow and risk-averse. But the contrasting cultures of tech and regulation need to find a way to work together to ensure progress serves the greater good. Having learned from the issues faced by big tech and social media firms, tech growth-companies are becoming proactive. Increasingly, companies in the tech sector are engaging positively with governments and regulators to build understanding and trust.

10)

The hardiness of software: business lessons from SAAS

Software companies, once considered to be somewhat ephemeral and short-term in their prospects, have developed highly-durable income streams by adopting SAAS models. The lessons from SAAS are being taken and applied elsewhere, as a more significant number of technology businesses deploy membership and subscription-based approaches to build loyalty and establish more secure income streams.

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