Disruptive Technologies Set to Transform the Way We Live and Work

We interrupt this regularly scheduled workday for a very important announcement: The latest and greatest technologies are about to disrupt business as usual. (This message is brought to you by The McKinsey Global Institute, the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Company.)

Whether it is smartphones, tablets or apps for note-taking or document scanning in the field, today’s environmental consultants have their hands full keeping up with the latest and greatest technologies. The list of new technology is a long one—and a growing one. Technology is offering myriad ways for professionals to improve efficiency in a market that demands fast turnaround—and accuracy.

Those following the technology topic will be interested to read that the McKinsey Global Institute recently released a report on disruptive technologies—referring to those that, in the institute’s words, “have the potential to disrupt the status quo, alter the way people live and work, rearrange value pools, and lead to entirely new products and services.” MGI begins its report by emphasizing the important role that business leaders, policy makers and citizens can play simply by looking ahead, anticipating the technological transformations to come and rising to meet them, with a plan in mind. The report is entitled Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business and the Global Economy.


Identifying the “Real Deal” in Technology

DisruptiveTech---Image-1.pngTechnology is advancing so quickly and on many different fronts—spanning informational technologies, biological sciences, material science, energy and other fields—it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. But not all tech tools will live up to the hype, let alone change the face of business. Regardless of what field they focus on or which scientific discipline they emerge from, MGI believes that the most important technologies share four characteristics:

  1. high rate of technology change;
  2. broad potential scope of impact;
  3. large economic value that could be affected; and
  4. substantial potential for disruptive economic impact.

Working with a list of more than 100 possible candidate technologies drawn from academic journals, the business and technology press, and interviews with relevant experts and thought leaders, among other sources, MGI identified12 technologies that it believes “have potential to affect billions of consumers, hundreds of millions of workers and trillions of dollars of economic activity across industries.” Each candidate had to meet the four criteria above and have significant potential to drive economic impact and disruption by 2025 (see shaded text box).


Using Tech Tools for Property Assessments

How might these technologies impact environmental due diligence firms?  Some won’t, of course. The two most obvious applications to the property assessment field are mobile Internet and cloud technology. (Though it is also fun to think about the application of advanced robotics like remote-controlled drone helicopters assisting with site visits, especially at properties with inaccessible spaces). Mobile Internet, for example, would allow environmental professionals to essentially work from any location, and enhance their ability to spend more time in the field and prepare reports remotely. This can result in dramatic improvements in efficiency, and quite possibly, reduce the amount of office space needed. Hand in hand with mobile apps, developments in cloud technology can revolutionize how assessment data and analysis are prepared, delivered, shared and stored over a network or via the Internet.


DisruptiveTech---Image-2.pngAs noted in the MGI report, the challenge of disruptive technologies for business leaders in any industry is to be forward thinking and adopt technologies that make sense for their industry and for future growth. The report suggests the following strategies:

  • invest in technology knowledge
  • be an early adopter or innovator
  • turn a disruptive threat into an opportunity
  • keep organizational strategies updated in the face of continually evolving technologies
  • ensure that their organizations continue to look ahead
  • use technologies to improve internal performance
  • plan for a range of scenarios, abandoning assumptions about where competition and risk could come from
  • keep employees’ skills up-to-date
  • balance the potential benefits of emerging technologies with the risks they sometimes pose

Faster than the Speed of Technology

The message in MGI’s forward-thinking report is clear: the nature of how we all live and work is changing. Technologies are advancing and to keep up, environmental professionals need to embrace the tools that will ultimately help them become more efficient, more productive and more agile overall. According to MGI, the need for high-level technical skills will only grow, even on the assembly line. Companies will need to find ways to get the workforce they need, by engaging with policy makers and their communities to shape secondary and tertiary education and by investing in talent development and training; the half-life of skills is shrinking, and companies may need to get back into the training business to keep their corporate skills fresh.

Already, relevant and valuable game-changers are taking root and being adopted by property assessment firms. The way that environmental risks are identified and assessed today could be far different than the process used just a few years from now. The challenge is for company leaders to stay abreast of new developments and leverage the technologies that make the most sense for their business model.


Interested in reading more about the technologies that could disrupt the global economy?

The complete McKinsey Global Institute report entitled Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business and the Global Economy, is available here along with other related reports on the topics, interviews, presentations and more.