Are you ready for the revolution?

The onrushing tidal wave of technology will affect us all. Don’t be taken by surprise.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes
We need to keep our wits about us if we want our businesses to stay profitable and growing.

Is the future approaching faster than you can handle it? Think of what Uber has done to the taxi industry – without owning a single car!

Or how many hotels have been hard hit by Airbnb, which owns no properties! Both are due to revolutionary software development and are part of a trend that is likely to disrupt most traditional businesses over the next decade.

A recent article from EmergingGrowth.com, a US-based media company providing investment advice, highlights some of the enormous changes that business will face in the foreseeable future.

IBM’s Watson, for example, is likely to render many existing legal and health services obsolete. It’s a supercomputer named after IBM’s founder, Thomas Watson, that combines artificial intelligence and analytical software to deliver ‘cognitive computing’, or the simulation of human thought processes.

Watson is already helping in the diagnosis of cancer and other ailments, and has proved to be more accurate than humans.

Motoring: a brave new world
Just as the invention of the internal combustion engine saw the end of the horse-drawn buggy, so we are likely to see the demise of the internal combustion engine.

Tesla Motors recently launched its Model 3 electric car in the US. It sells at the price of a normal family sedan and has a 500km range. Elon Musk, the South African-born CEO, claims that Tesla has already taken more than 500 000 deposits, and has a daunting backlog.

Can you imagine what this will do to the many companies that build internal combustion engines and their components, and the vehicles using these engines?

And this just happens to be in an era when electricity will become clean and cheap (although maybe not in South Africa just yet!). In 2016, more solar energy capacity was installed worldwide than fossil fuel capacity facilities.

This is just the beginning of a revolution set to overtake the motoring industry. We already have driverless tractors – albeit in concept stage – and driverless cars are expected to appear for the first time in selected locations next year.

You’ll call a car on your phone and it will pick you up and drive you to your location. You won’t even need to own a car. Accidents will decrease enormously and insurance companies will have to change their entire business model to stay viable.

Most present internal combustion engine-based car companies will be bankrupted. The entire gamut of businesses serving the car industry – fuel companies, vehicle spares suppliers and so on – will also be affected.

On the farm
We’ve already seen the effect of digital technology on almost every facet of farm production.

In his recent address at the Farmer’s Weekly’s Agribusiness Africa Conference, futurist Craig Wing drew attention to IBM’s forecast of the huge upsurge in data sensors that will enter agriculture over the next few years.

Then there’s online shopping. Customers can already have ‘Made in Karoo’ mutton sent directly to their homes, a portent of what’s to come.

On a more ominous note, there’s the spectre created by organisations such as New Harvest (new-harvest.org). Established in 2004, this US public charity is looking for ways of reinventing the way we make animal products – without animals.

That is, eggs without hens, milk without cows, beef without cattle. In fact, the first cultured beef burger patty was eaten in front of the media in London as long ago as 2013.

It wasn’t a success and whether consumers will ever accept cultured meat as ‘real’ meat is an open question, but watch this space …

While much of this change may take some years to reach us, we’ll need to keep our wits about us if we want our farming and agricultural businesses to stay profitable and growing.