Collaborative planning in an uncertain world
This report explores how companies worldwide conduct strategic enterprise planning—particularly in uncertain times. MIT Technology Review Insights, in association with Oracle, surveyed 860 executives in various departments including finance, supply chain and logistics, human resources (HR), and information technology.
We also spoke in depth with leaders at several companies to learn how they plan and collaborate, from general business processes to their investment in artificial intelligence and cloud-based applications, and how finance, HR, and operations are evolving to support those efforts. The executives share their own processes and help readers identify techniques to adopt. Here are the key findings from our research:
Months after the outbreak, most organizations are still coping with the initial challenges. Half of surveyed organizations are still in the process of dealing with the current emergency, responding to short-term issues and addressing financial resilience, such as staff availability and income disruption. At the same time, some businesses, such as cleaning supplies manufacturers, have seen sales spike precipitously and are struggling to meet demand. Organizations experiencing both sides of the challenge may have ideas about how to move forward, but they have yet to materialize.
Organizations are working on formulating plans to move forward. Nearly a quarter are making the necessary adjustments with a future plan in mind, and another quarter are actively working toward a new plan: 16% have reached a “reimagine the future” stage, and 6% are looking at how their new direction might affect practical matters such as standards and compliance.
Technology is seen as a useful aid in planning endeavors. As a result of the pandemic, more than half of organizations accelerated cloud adoption. This segment is 50% more likely to have addressed pandemic challenges to business, the workforce, and customers. The survey also shows that AI and machine learning have gained the trust of large companies worldwide. And three quarters of respondents expect connected enterprise planning—which combines financial, operational, and workforce planning with cloud-based internet of things, AI, and prescriptive analytics—to improve collaboration and decision-making.
Planning is an all-hands-on-deck effort. All business departments have a part to play in planning for future success, including HR and supply chain—and finance is the glue that bonds them. But for collaboration to work, data can’t exist in silos spread across the business—consistent, accessible, and accurate data drives business planning and execution.
Some organizations are more welcoming to technology than others. A minority, 10%, are reducing their use of cloud technologies as a result of the pandemic. They’re technology laggards in several ways, from keeping HR and finance data in separate silos to eschewing connected enterprise systems in favor of spreadsheets. Such old-school ways may have made the companies weaker; for example, if they have not digitized their businesses, they may lack the insights that would give them more justification to invest at this critical time.
The road to recovery
It’s a huge understatement to say the pandemic upended everything. The worldwide economy has been affected, every industry was blindsided, and most organizations needed to make painful decisions. Others benefited, such as detergent manufacturers, workout equipment companies, and recreational vehicle sellers, but even those faced supply chain challenges.
Yet, organizations must move on. “In this unprecedented new reality, we will witness a dramatic restructuring of the economic and social order in which business and society have traditionally operated,” write McKinsey & Company’s Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal in “Beyond coronavirus: The path to the next normal.”
After the initial survival-response questions, businesses and individuals are puzzling over a long list of additional concerns: How can we continue to thrive? How will we handle new employee onboarding as we scale? What’s the next market we want to enter? What changes do we need to make to cope with the long-lasting social effects of the virus?
A survey of 860 business professionals conducted by MIT Technology Review Insights, in association with Oracle, shows that after the initial shock, most organizations are hard at work planning, looking for—and sometimes finding—a road to recovery and a return to growth. It also suggests the ones that are the most enthusiastic about cloud and advanced technologies such as AI and machine learning are not only more likely to get past the roadblocks the pandemic threw up but to course-correct toward success.
Author Maya Angelou might have been speaking of individuals when she said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”—but the sentiment applies equally well to communities and organizations during this unprecedented time.
Download the full report.
This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) funds high-risk, high-reward energy research projects, and each year the agency hosts a summit where funding recipients and other researchers and companies in energy can gather to talk about what’s new in the field.
As I listened to presentations, met with researchers, and—especially—wandered around the showcase, I often had a vague feeling of whiplash. Standing at one booth trying to wrap my head around how we might measure carbon stored by plants, I would look over and see another group focused on making nuclear fusion a more practical way to power the world.
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. But as we knock out the easy wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. Here are a few intriguing projects from the ARPA-E showcase that caught my eye.
“I heard you have rocks here!” I exclaimed as I approached the Quaise Energy station.
Quaise’s booth featured a screen flashing through some fast facts and demonstration videos. And sure enough, laid out on the table were two slabs of rock. They looked a bit worse for wear, each sporting a hole about the size of a quarter in the middle, singed around the edges.
These rocks earned their scorch marks in service of a big goal: making geothermal power possible anywhere. Today, the high temperatures needed to generate electricity using heat from the Earth are only accessible close to the surface in certain places on the planet, like Iceland or the western US.
Geothermal power could in theory be deployed anywhere, if we could drill deep enough. Getting there won’t be easy, though, and could require drilling 20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the surface. That’s deeper than any oil and gas drilling done today.
Rather than grinding through layers of granite with conventional drilling technology, Quaise plans to get through the more obstinate parts of the Earth’s crust by using high-powered millimeter waves to vaporize rock. (It’s sort of like lasers, but not quite.)
The emergent industrial metaverse
Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world.
The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.
“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.”
While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing.
This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows:
• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits.
• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems.
• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training.
The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears
Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.
The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles.
It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.
Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:
+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.