Welcome to the new Roaring 20s: A transformation tipping point

Are the 21st century's "Roaring 20s" as exciting as the 20th century's? Jeff Nicholson -- CRM leader, industry veteran and visionary -- forsees everything from autonomous experiences to bionic workforces. See the world through Jeff's eyes.
Written by Paul Greenberg, Contributor

I've known Jeff Nicholson for almost 20 years. He's one of my oldest and dearest friends in the industry, and not only a friend, but a visionary. Currently, he's the global leader for CRM at Pegasystems, and of course, he does a great job. No shock there. But he retains that visionary picture of the world as it evolves. I've done several events jointly with him at varying live and virtual events that Pega sponsors -- mostly variations of PegaWorld -- and he is a true delight to work with on stage. 

Every year, despite how well I know him, he surprises me. Last year, for example, I found out that Jeff was a great singer. He sang as one of the leads for Pega's band, the Layer Cakes, who won the CRM Playaz Bring Your Own Band (BYOB) 2020 competition, which was global and fierce. Here are Jeff's vocals (watch "Shut Up and Dance with Me").

He also builds cars. That's a story for another day.

But for the industry's purposes, he remains that visionary I've known for 20 years, and what he is presenting here is the vision for the next decade of technological advance and human interaction. Look at what he says. What you read is what you may be seeing in real life by the time we start talking about the 30s. Let Jeff (and I) know what you think. 

Take it away, dear bud!

We've been here before: A moment in which seemingly everything accelerated due to rapid societal and technological advances, from which nothing would ever be the same. Interestingly, about a century ago, the world went through a similar technological moment which would eventually be referred to as "the roaring 20s."

Strangely and coincidently, after emerging from the massive 1918 to 1919 worldwide influenza pandemic, the world was launched into one of its greatest inflection points. The first roaring 20s was comprised of economic prosperity, along with a major burst of social, artistic, technological, and cultural shifts. New forms of communication emerged, including the advent of radio and television, which brought the world closer together. It was also the birth of mass-scale automobile production and a soon-to-explode aviation era, both of which would change the world of transportation forever.

Now, fast-forward 100 years, and the next "20s" promises to be just as transformational, if not more. Today, artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to change nearly all facets of life. From self-driving cars to self-writing articles, to recommending the next great program to binge-watch, to augmented reality (AR), the world will never look the same.

In the next 20s, here are just a few of the technological shifts that are poised to forever change the way we live and work:

The transformation of transportation

After a decade of tinkering with Hybrid engines, automobile manufacturers around the globe are now quickly rushing to deliver fully electric vehicle (EV) offerings. Ford is now showcasing its all-new electric Mustang. Mercedes is planning no less than 10 EVs by the end of 2022, and Audi at least 20 EVs by 2025. Of course, not to be outdone, GM is targeting 30 by 2025 as well.

Thanks to major advances in AI and automation, autonomous vehicles are on the doorstep of becoming a reality, with the ability to literally drive themselves without any human intervention (unless you really, really want it). Yes, the Johnny Cab concept of the 1990 movie Total Recall is almost a real thing. We'll discuss more on the subject of autonomous experiences later.

Meanwhile, the concept of transportation is quickly becoming one of personal mobility. Look no further than the masses of Bird electric scooters, Zipcars, and of course Uber and Lyft. It's not just the modes of transportation. When it comes to automobiles, thanks to new subscription models like Zipcar, we no longer even have to own (or even rent) one.

The birth of the bionic workforce

In the last 20s, the nature of work itself was forever transformed by the advent of true mass production. And for decades now, physical robots have been reshaping the shop floors of industries such as manufacturing, leading to both higher quality for consumers and dramatic shifts to outcomes. Now, 100 years later, we are entering the new era of the "bionic workforce." Now, while exoskeletons and microchip implants may sound exciting, not all bionics will necessarily be physical in nature. A new era of artificial intelligence is presenting the ability to infuse new levels of productivity and effectiveness into human capability. Software-based robots that apply a technology called Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can automatically enter data on behalf of employees across both front-end and back-end systems, without employees needing to lift a finger.

Your frontline service workers may even be supported by a new form of AI-powered "co-pilot," where the systems they interact with serve as their own personal wingman -- analyzing both customer and business data in real-time, surfacing relevant insights into view, with the opportunity to remove friction from both the customer and employee experience. With this new technology, it's likely many roles will evolve into new forms of career opportunities.

Autonomous experiences

Flanked by the IoT explosion and advances in conversational AI, autonomous experiences such as autonomous service and autonomous commerce will firmly take root. Thanks to IoT and advances in machine learning and complex event detection, systems will quite literally heal themselves. We'll see a proliferation of proactive and preemptive service with the capability to resolve issues entirely automatically, often before the customer even realizes there is an issue. 

Consider a timely example where, in recent pandemic-influenced months, a life-long banking customer may accidentally overdraw their bank account due to a lack of available funds, only to be hit with financial penalties in the form of overdraft fees. This experience is not in the bank's or the customers' best long-term interest, but it's entirely avoidable with this new form of preemptive autonomous service. The answer lies within the bank's own data. 

A bank's systems can monitor customers' scheduled deposit withdrawals and available balances, and present real-time notifications of potential issues before they happen, along with a suggested resolution, such as to transfer funds or an overdraft protection product. Don't we all want to feel like someone's looking out for us right now? This will become the new normal for customer expectations. And these autonomous experiences can scale almost infinitely while costing a fraction of current alternatives.

And in a world filled with digital assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and others, it's likely to get even more interesting when it comes to autonomous experiences. Soon enough, personal digital assistants will begin seamlessly communicating with each other using spoken language (not just backend APIs), acting on the behalf of their respective "owners" -- making dinner reservations, refilling prescriptions, filing insurance claims, and yes, even transferring funds between accounts.

Innovation acceleration

Low-code tools will soon become no-code tools, empowering a new generation of citizen developers to take on the world's tough process and application development challenges. Writing applications will in effect become as easy to build as it is for a ninth-grader today to build a flashy new website with WordPress. Here, the deciding factor in executing on technology innovation will no longer be one's coding ability, or even programming language, but rather the appetite for innovation itself.

From reinventing processes to challenging entire business models, digital disruptors will quite literally come from all directions, as previous barriers come down. Paraphrasing the great Disney movie Ratatouille, in this new decade, "anyone can innovate."

From mass communication to micro communication

While the first roaring 20s sparked a new era of mass communication, this next decade will continue the momentum toward micro communication. Conversations between businesses and consumers will become much more personal as they leverage the personal data they have to recalibrate their dialogue around what is truly important to their customers.

However, this era of micro-communication will not only include more effective 1:1 messaging between individuals but also the increasingly siloed and narrow-casted means of consuming information at large. With this trend, individuals are able to block out differing opinions and are only exposed to viewpoints much like their own. Whether pertaining to societal information, political information, or other categories of interests, only a small part of the available information may be breaking through. And for better or worse, information will feel both more personalized and more affirming.

Personal data will become… personal

The subject of personal data continues to be a very sensitive area for customers, and rightfully so. For the longest time, customer data has been perceived to be the property of the organization holding it. And as such, many businesses have pretty much done whatever they want with it. The result?  Lackadaisical data sharing under the guise of the pursuit of personalization. And an onslaught of news about the next big data breach. And the next. And the next.

In these 20s, the sun may finally begin to set upon these practices. This is not necessarily because of a change of heart. Legislation is now beginning to (finally) emerge across the globe: From the EU's GDPR to California's CCPA, to Brazil's LGPD, to India's PDPB, change is coming. The difference-maker here is the potential fines that may be attached for infringing business, which can be as much as 5% of a business' revenue and, in some cases, no limit whatsoever.

As power slowly transitions back to consumers and technologies such as blockchain mature, it is conceivable that you may possess a "key" to your own data. Imagine a world in which you didn't have to enter your personal data every time you filled in a form (only to forget where you entered it). Or a world in which you didn't have to worry how many businesses now possess your real birth date… or mother's maiden name. Providing a personal data key, along with time-bound and purpose-bound access can serve as a new way forward, with the potential to provide both greater control and greater protection.

These are just some of the changes coming our way in this next roaring 20s. Are we in a world full of flying cars like some predicted? Not just yet. But we will likely see a boom in productivity, the likes of which we have not seen before. Robotics, AI, low code tools, automation, and regulation are poised to fuel a sea change of transformation and innovation. If there's one thing for certain, the upcoming decade will look in all likeliness very, very different from the last.

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