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Predicting the future: Foresight as a strategic business tool

Written by Abigail Speak

Disrupting events are often a result of developments that were not on management’s “industry radar” and history is full of examples.

At the time when online media replaced traditional print media, foresight within the paper industry was not very clear. Online technology was triggering e-commerce, significantly reshaping consumer behavior and traditional retail trade, leading to increasing demand for packaging materials. The traditional paper industry, which had remained the same for many decades, shifted dramatically from newspaper production to packaging production. The business didn’t die, it just changed its form.

Very often, disruptive changes come from outside an industry, with no industry immune to change. It is a large undertaking to evaluate the surrounding world comprehensively and it is hard to see trends outside of your own industry and predict the links between trends. The acronym VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and was developed in the 1980s to describe the various destabilizing factors at play in the post Cold War world. This approach can be applied at times of industry transformation, with strategic management, foresight abilities, and agile adaptability amongst the skills that need to be developed.

Who would have guessed how much virus can change the world?

Coronavirus shut down the world in matter of weeks and these exceptional times will continue for a some time. Industries and companies have been racing to adapt to the situation and predict different outcomes. The travel industry is significantly impacted in all areas and other industries are following at various stages, many are still in the phase of uncertainty. Governments are preparing to help companies and individuals with massive support programs aimed at preventing a domino-effect. What are the new trends are arising from this? What industries will grow and what industries will change forever as a result of the pandemic?

Technology helping prediction

How can technology help answer our questions? Identifying trends from the masses of information available and filtering the data into a meaningful format is a massive task for any individual. It requires automation and big data handling that artificial intelligence can take care of. Data handling is not totally automatic, as human interpretation is required to put data on to a right context. With smart technology and industry experts, data can be shaped into meaningful foresight.

We work daily with world-leading organizations that apply methods of foresight, horizon scanning and scenario work as an integral part of their strategy, as well their daily operations. During the last 12 months, there has been a strong signal from these organizations to build continuous and automated AI-based foresight systems and solutions. These organizations realize that future-related information is vast, and should cover all domains, industries and ecosystems, as well as being easy to communicate and work with. At the same time, things are moving fast leaving less time to spend on developing foresight, planning and strategies. One way to overcome this situation is through applying the right technology and tool set, with enough and targeted leadership and facilitation work.

- Saku Koskinen, Foresight Expert & Partner Futures Platform

Predicting future trends is what we do here at AFRY Management Consulting. We have done hundreds of industry analyses for the bioindustry and collected a vast amount of data. By combining this data and examining the external trends, we can provide accurate and useful data to our clients

- Tomi Amberla, Senior Principal, Head of Biorefining Practice at AFRY Management Consulting Oy

At AFRY Management Consulting, we are in a position to combine our industry insights and data with cutting edge technologies like the Futures Platform to create a strong and broad radar, from which our consultants can create scenarios that categorize trends and phenomena and their likely affects on any specific industry. We didn’t predict that the world would shut down - but we are forming a good view of what the world will look like after the pandemic.

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