The best leaders can anticipate the future by recognizing the most important business shifts before these early stage changes become widely recognized trends by everyone else. These leaders are said to be visionary. Their businesses create new products and services and establish new markets and industries--think Ford, Branson and Jobs.

If you want to be one of those leaders, here are eight early stage business developments that will likely mature over the next few years and serve to re-shape 2020 businesses. The way that you choose to respond to these could, very well, separate your company from the rest.

Here are eight of the most critical considerations to ponder:

1. 24/7 Customer Access - Customers want, what they want, when they want it. Consequently, businesses are challenged to provide their customers with access 24 hours a day, seven days per week. Fortunately, current mobile, social and web technology enables the creation of customer-centric portals that, together, can enable businesses to deliver this 24/7 capability. The challenge, now, is to craft a solution that can evolve and mature to accommodate tomorrow's latest technological innovations.

By the way, the sensor in my sneakers just sent me message asking me to verify that it's OK for it to place an order for a new pair--I guess the treads are worn below the recommended level required for optimum traction!

2. Freelancer Workforce--Because Millennials are willing to trade the security of traditional work arrangements for the independence that comes with free agency, business leaders should anticipate the continuation and growth of the free agent workforce and, therefore, need to head towards the creation of freelancer-rich operating models that accommodates project-based or durational work. This trend, once fully realized, provides an additional benefit in that it enables a business' workforce to flex higher and lower as needed to better manage natural business fluctuations.

3. Location Independence--The trend towards virtual offices which takes advantage of remote computing and video meeting capabilities enables a business to more effectively run independent of physical location. Now, of course, store fronts, manufacturing facilities and distribution centers, and the like, are less able to be virtual. They require bricks and mortar. But, to the degree that a business can operate through a remote workforce, the more likely it is to attract the best and brightest talent available on the planet.

4. Hyper workday flexibility--The combination of a freelancer-rich operating model and location independent operations enables a new level of workday flexibility. Work can be done on a worker's schedule. The traditional 9 to 5 workday is beginning to be surpassed by one that accommodates work being performed by remote workers throughout the entire day. By optimizing this trend, a business can also be better positioned to deliver on the 24/7 customer access requirements described above.

5. Collaboration-based innovation and development- All of the above trends adds up to another tremendous game changer--collaborative innovation and product development. Think of it as crowdsourcing the R&D function. This type of business model holds great promise because it can lead to the creation of products that have built-in demand. After all, the product was conceived and developed by collaborators from outside of the business, including potential customers.

6. Customized product and service offerings--The next logical step of the concepts already outlined, is the building the capability to deliver personalized products and services that are customized to a customer's explicit specifications. This capability, of course, increases customer satisfaction and loyalty. There are many examples of this taking shape in the marketplace, including everything from jewelry to insurance to surfboards.

7. Flatter, team-based organizational structures--A team-based, networked structure organizes work into projects. Projects are grouped into portfolios. A team is assigned to each portfolio. Key knowledge workers can be permanently assigned to a team, facilitating deep rooted understanding of a portfolio's particular focus, while subject matter experts are moved in and out of teams on a just-in-time basis--providing a means for the enterprise to better leverage specialized expertise across all of its work. This design, of course, empowers staff and enables them to become more responsive to the demands of the customer.

8. Cloud computing--Cloud computing has the potential to dramatically change the way businesses use computer technology--replacing the need to buy and maintain computing systems and hardware with a much more cost effective, on-demand model, similar in nature to the ways in which utilities provide water and electricity to businesses today. When fully realized, cloud-computing promises to level the playing field by enabling smaller firms to compete with their biggest competitors on a pay-as-you-go basis.

In closing, your challenge as a 2020 leader, regardless of the industry in which your business currently competes, is to use these 8 considerations to reimagine your strategic direction and make your business indispensable by 2020. You have 5 years to conceive and execute your plan. Are you ready? GO!

Published on: Apr 13, 2015
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