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The “Future Reimagined” presentation at CES 2021 included Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, and Michael Miebach, CEO of Mastercard. Accenture, with over 500,000 employees worldwide, provides capabilities in the areas of digital, cloud, and security. Mastercard has around 20,000 employees and is headquartered in Purchase, New York.

How has the COVID pandemic affected business?

When moderator Daniel Roth, Editor-in-Chief of LinkedIn asked this question, Sweet responded that it has accelerated their approach toward digital. She described how, for many people, technology has become a lifeline, and that people who never thought they could work remotely are doing just that.

Sweet said that COVID also accelerated companies’ shift to using the cloud. She said that currently, 20% of businesses are using the cloud, but estimated that by 2025, 80% of companies will be in the cloud.

Sweet also discussed the increasing use of AI, or Artificial Intelligence, by government agencies. COVID caused millions of people worldwide to contact their governments, and that emphasized that AI is being used to answer inquiries increasingly. AI is also being used to make predictions in order to avoid supply chain disruptions.

Sweet said she thought the next 12 to 18 months would differentiate those business leaders who are investing in the cloud and AI, and those who aren’t.

Michael Miebach said that consumer behavior, especially the way people pay for goods and services, has been dramatically affected by the COVID pandemic. Miebach said that years of digital acceleration has been compressed into mere months.

According to Miebach, the year before, e-commerce accounted for 20% of purchases while it was only at 13% the year before that, and that this shows explosive growth. COVID forced people who had never shopped online before to use e-commerce.

Miebach said that Mastercard’s data showed that consumer confidence had risen during the summer months 2020, and that people had expressed a desire to shop at brick and mortar stores as well as online. He predicted that 2/3 of people will continue to use e-commerce.

Do companies have what they need to use the cloud and AI?

Sweet responded to this question by saying that the COVID pandemic had caused “compressed disruption,” with companies having to transform multiple parts of their business all at once, rather than sequentially. Accenture’s latest survey, done this January, shows that 56% of people who were not working remotely before the pandemic expect that they will continue to work remotely even after the pandemic.

Sweet said that 10% of companies are doing better than other companies at moving into a digital future, and that this gap has widened almost overnight. Asked if companies who were digital leaders can capitalize on that, Sweet responded that it’s a question of companies’ leadership and if they have the courage to do a compressed disruption of their business, and if they have the humility to partner with other companies to accomplish it.

Sweet said she thought investors should value companies based on the quality of their leadership, and the gap between companies, both big and small, that have “figured it out” and those who haven’t will only increase.

Miebach said that some people don’t have the privilege of working at home. He also spoke to the need to create solutions for the increasingly large number of gig workers, such as providing them with benefits. Miebach said that small- and medium-sized companies provide an increased sense of partnership.

Miebach said that back in March 2020, COVID caused the entire world to move online, and that payments continued to move seamlessly. He sees the safety of data as being a fundamental, underlying question going into the future, and that payments companies must ensure that there is trust in this new digital world, trust in networks, security, and data.

What is the corporate role in making sure of equality in the workplace?

Sweet said we experienced “two pandemics” during 2020, COVID and a pandemic of racial inequality. She said it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to get ahead, and that this year, Accenture took a fresh look at how they approached diversity.

Accenture is focused on equality and on providing equal opportunities for advancement. Sweet said she thought that linking with other companies was key to having the greatest and fastest impact on diversity.

Miebach spoke about financial inclusion, and that many disadvantaged people don’t have a financial identity which means they can’t partake in e-commerce. At Mastercard, they are making a systemic approach to diversity by increasing it at their VP level, and by examining any pay gaps. They are also looking for black-owned suppliers.

What does your business think about its role?

Sweet responded to this question by saying that companies must not put their shareholders first, but rather their stakeholders. She thinks that we are now at a tipping point, where we’re seeing not only a commitment to diversity, but also action from companies.

She said that a commitment to diversity is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a smart business move. Companies need to tap into a larger employee base.

Miebach said that stakeholder capitalism is different from that of shareholder capitalism, and that going forward requires partnerships with like minded companies. He felt that increased diversity creates new markets for talent, customers, and learning. Miebach also thought that post COVID, we have a need to rebuild and get back on our feet in terms of growth.

What technologies are you betting on?

Sweet said that Accenture has found that 8 out of 10 executives it surveyed believe that 5G will have a significant impact on business, with 57% of them saying it will have an enormous impact. Sweet said she believes 5G’s zero latency and always-on devices will have an impact on supply chains, autonomous driving, and people’s ability to use technology. Sweet also thought that 3D printing would allow people to print devices when and where they want them.

Miebach also thought that 5G, along with the cloud and AI, would also have an impact. He thought that IoT, or the Internet of Things, would bring together tens of billions of connected devices through 5G, making services such as telemedicine and micropayments a reality.

Miebach also thought that blockchain technology would aid in trust, helping to identify who is at either end of a transaction.

Our takeaways

IE’s takeaways from this presentation are that the companies currently incorporating AI and the cloud were the ones most likely to be successful going forward. Another takeaway was that AI, the cloud, 5G, and blockchain were the technologies to watch in the coming years.

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