Megatrends are “large, transformative global forces that impact everyone on the planet” (Ernst & Young, 2015, p. 2). These trends are fundamentally changing business models, consumer models, and the workforce. Competitive pressure has never been higher. The need for dexterity and agility in the marketplace has put stress on organizations. Project managers are critical for corporate success, but the skills of a project manager have to be disciplined yet flexible. Project managers have to learn what these megatrends mean to organizations and the economy, and how they will impact the project management role and demand new skill sets going forward.
Massive shifts in organizations are fundamentally altering how business is done. The business world is changing to become a global economy. Technology changes are more rapid than ever and new workforce models and demographic shifts require us to understand new ways to communicate and collaborate. Project managers must understand how megatrends impact businesses from a strategic level and how projects support the business changes driven by these new opportunities.
Megatrends are long-term changes that impact us all globally on a permanent basis. Today we are seeing organizations strive to be agile and stay relevant. Today's top companies could become the dinosaurs of tomorrow if they do not learn how to adapt and survive in this new marketplace (think how quickly Blockbuster came and went and how fast Netflix and Hulu emerged). Opportunities to innovate are greater than ever as we look at digital technologies like cloud and how much we can understand about consumer trends through big data analytics.
Every research firm has its own description and study of the megatrends that are impacting our world. Each year they are updated; things are changing in such a rapid manner that the trends of five years ago may no longer be relevant. For this paper, we will be looking at the megatrends defined by Ernst and Young. These are digital future, entrepreneurship rising, global marketplace, urban world, resourceful planet, and health reimagined (Ernst & Young, 2015). Although these will all be briefly defined, this paper will focus on the digital future megatrend as this will impact all organizations regardless of verticals and will influence each of the other megatrends.
By reviewing the trends within the digital future megatrend with the common programs and projects that emerge as these trends impact organizations, you will gain a better understanding of what may be occurring within your organization.
As a project manager, it is essential to understand the forces that impact organizations and cause the changes that drive projects. By having the business acumen to relate project work to strategic objectives to megatrends, project managers have better insight into how to manage stakeholders because they will understand what drives stakeholder needs. A greater appreciation of the competitive landscape can also help project managers understand why projects are being forced toward a more agile approach—with or without the formal adoption of an agile methodology.
As the market becomes more competitive and fluid, and consumer demands for new form and function increase with greater requirements for personalization, projects have to respond in kind. That means project managers must adopt flexible approaches to project work, team members, and stakeholder management.
Digital future impacts organizations everywhere and underlies almost every other megatrend in some way. It is the disruption of technology, as we know it and is often illustrated through the implementation of cloud, mobile technologies, social focus and tools, and big data and the insight that analytics offer when it comes to consumer trends.
Innovation and competition are at an all-time high. Companies have new ways to leverage technology to become faster and more agile in how they interact with their customers. Old companies have the opportunity to capitalize on the digital disruptors. If they cannot find ways to take advantage of the technologies, then they will fade. Think of how quickly Amazon.com become the number-three retailer of home improvement products—with no storefronts and no way for consumers to see the tiles or light fixtures in person. For traditional companies like Lowe's Home Improvement and Home Depot, Amazon is pressuring them into finding ways to capitalize on new technologies and innovate to keep their market share and leading position.
For all current companies, the fear is also that someone who doesn't even exist yet can start with zero infrastructure, low overhead costs, and a new digital strategy and move into a leader position in record time. Think of how Instagram, a social media platform started in 2010, has become the fastest-growing social network and is now used by more than 26% of all online adults (Duggan, Ellison, Lampe, Lenhart & Madden, 2015).
The world is becoming a global marketplace. The divide between emerging countries and advanced economies is shrinking. Technology innovation will come from all regions as the technology divide falls because of the disruptive digital future. “With growing economies, and supported by socioeconomic trends such as urban migration, declining dependency rations, favourable demographics and growing income levels, rapid-growth markets will become increasingly important venues for conducting global business. For all companies with global ambitions—both established multinationals and their rapid-growth market challengers—this great shift in economic power will force major adjustments in strategy” (Ernst & Young, 2015, p. 24).
The world is becoming less rural and more urban. As the number and size of cities continues to grow, and a rising middle class moves into those urban marketplaces, the consumer demand increases. These cities must be prepared with infrastructure to support the growing population numbers. “The United Nations (UN) reports that 54% of the world's population currently live in cities, and by 2050, this proportion will increase to 66%” (Ernst & Young, 2015, p. 31). In addition, the rising middle class in these urban areas will spend their money on nonessential items more than essential items—adding to the consumerism and potential profit for many corporations. Taking advantage of this emerging urban world is essential for global marketplace success.
Population growth, a rising middle class, and more urbanization lead to additional need for resources to sustain the population. This means we must innovate how we acquire and manage finite natural resources. Corporations are adopting green policies for IT, looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, and trying to leverage renewable resources whenever possible. In addition, governments and corporations are looking to adopt sustainability policies so that we can encourage new resource production and reduce our reliance on natural resources.
Healthcare is going through a remarkable transformation. Because of increasing cost pressure and a rising middle class with more healthcare demands, healthcare providers are looking for ways to innovate and become more sustainable, with lower costs. The shift is to leverage patient data and trends by using big data analytics so providers can focus on wellness care instead of disease management. This trend to be proactive means that healthcare providers can spend money on making sure the population knows how to be healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle, reducing chronic illnesses and long-term care costs.
In-Depth Focus on the Digital Future
Digital future is possibly the most immediate impacting megatrend today. Technology disruptors such as cloud, social, mobile, and big data are not just changing but revolutionizing the world of IT and business. This technological disruption threatens the corporate future if it cannot capitalize on the technology evolution. New competitors can rapidly enter the marketplace and take over market share in record time.
Cloud computing is “a model for enabling ubiquitous network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources” (Wikipedia, 2015). What that means is that cloud allows organizations to get new technology in a model that pays for what you need at the moment you need it. It changes corporate IT expense from CapEx to OpEx. It is preconfigured, so there is no setup time, and teams can be up and running with new technologies in minutes instead of months. Cloud has three models: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Infrastructure as a Service allows individuals and organizations to acquire computer, storage, and networking technologies on demand. The cloud provider sets up the servers and technology and is responsible for setup, maintenance, backup, redundancy, and troubleshooting. The consumer purchases the configuration they want in the amount of space and power required.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Platform as a Service is where “cloud providers deliver a computing platform, typically including operating system, programming language execution environment, database, and web server. Application developers can develop and run their software solutions on a cloud platform without the cost and complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware and software layers” (Wikipedia, 2015). A customer of Global Knowledge's found great success in leveraging PaaS for innovation within the IT department. They enabled programmers to work within a PaaS environment and within a record time the teams had created new mobile devices that were adopted for mainstream deployment. In a traditional environment, it would have taken more than 18 months to set up the environment in which the programmers developed. The cost of a new environment would have been millions of dollars, and a new product from initiation to deployment could take two years to complete. It is a testament to the power of PaaS for development to be able to cut cycles of innovation from 24 months down to 2 months.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Software as a Service allows individuals and organizations to leverage common software systems without having to install and maintain them on local machines. It is typically a subscription-based model paid via a monthly fee per user. Common SaaS applications that enterprises use include email, Microsoft Office applications, and customer relationship management, such as salesforce.com.
Cloud and the Project Manager
Infrastructure as a Service often is used to increase capacity for organizations—so during a project it may be used as a development arena. This means the project manager has to be aware of the vendor relationship and how the economics of that relationship are set up. IaaS providers sometimes charge by the hour or by the amount of machine capacity that is being used. If IaaS is going to be used long-term for the project deliverables, then the project manager has to understand how an IaaS model will change ongoing operational support. Not only will finance have to change its operational planning and tracking mechanisms but the system administration and service desk will have to create new operational approaches for supporting the infrastructure because they will not have the ability to monitor and troubleshoot the environment. “Because IaaS providers own the infrastructure, systems management and monitoring may become more difficult for users. Also, if an IaaS provider experiences downtime users’ workloads may suffer” (Rouse, 2013).
Platform as a Service is a wonderful approach for teams to use to develop in a new technology environment. Project managers need to be aware of the challenges that setting up in a traditional environment will do to a timeline. If a team decides to leverage PaaS during development, then a business decision has to be made as to whether the deployed product will be in a PaaS environment or if it is going to be brought in house for more traditional deployment. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. PaaS allows organizations to have finances as an operational expense instead of a capital expense (so there is less investment up front and costs can be planned on a monthly basis). It also allows organizations to scale rapidly if a new demand is identified in the market (so if you have 100,000 additional users, a PaaS environment can immediately stretch to handle the additional load requirements). Disadvantages include the fact that organizations lose the control of the environment. System administrators cannot directly monitor performance and identify any issues. The service desk has to coordinate with a provider for any incidents or problems reported, and that can slow a resolution time frame and lead to user downtime. If a PaaS provider experiences downtime, user downtime is impacted as well.
For project managers, Software as a Service allows teams to work together in innovative new ways. Teams can subscribe to Google Docs, share information across cloud-based file transfer systems such as Dropbox, or collaborate through SharePoint workflows. Even core project management technologies that manage risks, work breakdown structures, and team documents may be provisions through SaaS models. Note: Whatever technology your team chooses to use should be supported by your IT policies and comply with your corporate data security and privacy standards.
Cloud has also changed economic models for both corporations and consumers. Corporations are accustomed to spending large sums of money up front for technology investments (capital expenditure model), and cloud means they spend as they consume (an operational expense model). Consumers are learning to expect subscription models instead of purchase models for software and services—and that is fundamentally changing the way they buy. Corporations have to adjust both their purchase approach and sales approach—and the project manager has to be aware of these new models and how they will impact project budget planning as well as how they need to be considered for project product cost models (for operational support and for consumer purchase approach).
Consumers are now able to access more information about companies, products, and services than ever before. Social platforms are leveraged not just to interact with friends and peers, but also to conduct research and make product decisions before even engaging directly with the company that creates the product. “Individual ‘prosumers’ may serve as powerful brand or product ambassadors, and online communities may provide key platforms for introducing and testing products, or for communicating important messages” (Ernst and Young, 2015, p. 10). As powerful as the social media can be in building a corporate reputation, they can be equally destructive because companies cannot control the voice of the customer.
Corporations must find a way to socially engage with customers, be ready for open criticism, and handle that criticism smoothly in a very public eye. Organizations have to establish social media policies for employees—so that behavior on and off the job remains appropriate for representing the corporation. There are countless examples of how off-hours employee behavior reflects on the corporation and requires an immediate response in social media. Take, for instance, the executive at J. Crew who had to lay off team members and then made the poor decision to go out and celebrate the fact that he himself was not fired—documenting his celebration and the reason for it on Facebook. Needless to say, J. Crew not only found the behavior unacceptable but the executive in question is no longer employed by the company (Fickenscher, Rosenbaum, & Golding, 2015).
Social Media and the Project Manager
For the project manager, social media offer new ways to communicate with project teams. Yammer groups and Facebook groups allow teams to have a less formal means of communicating and discussing ideas than more traditional discussion forums. Most corporations today have some type of social media that can be leveraged internally for project teams. The challenge is for the project manager to discover the tools available and then determine how best to use them and how often.
As project managers work through a project plan, internal corporate social networks are a great way to handle some aspects of organizational change management. Regular updates as to the status of a project, milestone accomplishments, or key happenings can keep an organization going through changes engaged and excited.
Social media should also be part of the project communication plan for team members, internal stakeholders, and external stakeholders. As the work product from a project is defined, project team members should be identified who are responsible for the social media aspect of communication. For a new consumer product, it may be the marketing team that has to identify tasks and activities needed in the social media space. For internal services, a member of the operations team might take on the activity of social media communication. Regardless of whether the end customer is internal or external, the project manager needs to include social media in communication planning.
Today there are 2.2 billion broadband connections globally. That number is expected to grow to 7.7 billion by 2020 (Ericsson, 2015). Companies must have mobile applications that allow consumers to engage with the corporation in meaningful ways—this means for product, information, guidance, customer service, and records management. For many companies, the mobile demands require a new set of skills within the organization. Rapid application development to respond to a marketplace that reinvents needs on a daily basis is a challenge for even the most agile organization. For companies with traditional waterfall methodologies, it is a herculean task.
Take banks, for example. Today, almost every bank has mobile applications for consumers. Yet, “73% of millennials say they would be more excited by a new offering in financial services from Google, Amazon, Apple, PayPal, or Square than from their own nationwide bank in the United States and 33% believe they won't need a bank at all in five years” (Slavin, 2015). For traditional banks that are already struggling to keep up with mobile consumer demands, the idea that the next generation doesn't even believe banks will remain relevant has to be threatening. Banks have to reinvent their relationship with the consumer to stay relevant and keep ahead of emerging consumer needs.
Mobile and the Project Manager
The cloud-based PaaS model allows organizations a lower-risk and lower-investment model to create technologies that can keep up with mobile user demand. However, those application development efforts often require moving to a more agile development and deployment methodology. Applications have to deploy in weeks, not months, and that means requirements must be defined as the systems are built. Agile methodologies are critical to understand in the emerging development space—even if a project management organization does not adopt the methodology in full, the fluidity of how a project manager approaches work must be agile in nature.
Another major impact to the project manager is that communication with a team is rarely face-to-face or meeting based anymore. Project teams are global, in disparate time zones, and often include remote employees with different workday structures as organizations embrace a work–life balanced approach that enables team members to set their own hours as long as they put in the effort required and get work done. This difference in project team work times makes synchronous meetings a challenge. Collaboration technologies that require video cameras and high bandwidth are often not possible in a global team. Instead, project managers have to be creative in the communication approach and realize that often their team will communicate only through mobile technologies. This means adapting messages and content to the platform, considering smaller group meetings for updates and status calls, and relying less on synchronous interactions and more on email and workflow notices.
A project manager's communication planning is now more critical than ever. Identifying the stakeholders and their communication capabilities and preferences is essential to determining the right way to work with a project team.
The digital disruption and evolution of communication technology to allow people to interact socially through mobile devices, and with companies through mobile devices, creates a proliferation of data that can provide great insight into consumer patterns—if an organization has the ability to analyze the data effectively. “Firms that can extract value from this information using data analytics will benefit greatly. They will gain a more precise understanding of customer segments. Products and services can be tailored to the level of the individual” (Ernst and Young, 2015, p. 10).
Given that consumers today expect personalized service, available on demand, through mobile technologies, big data are key to this success. By analyzing data, companies can know the patterns and what the consumer will want before the consumer even knows. This allows organizations to push offers to consumers that are compelling and relevant.
Big Data and the Project Manager
For most project managers, big data are relatively early in the adoption curve. Many of us will be managing projects that are implementing big data infrastructure, creating new organizations to handle the analysis and reporting of findings within the data, or working with smaller aspects of a larger big data corporate initiative. Cutting-edge project management offices (PMOs) will start looking at historical project data and determining how big data analytics can be applied to make smarter project decisions.
Cutting-edge PMOs need to start looking at project data and how they can be analyzed for further insight through analytics applications. Project managers’ ability to capture information on team interaction, stakeholder requirements, task estimation, and change management is growing through our use of social, mobile, and cloud-based technologies. As this data pool increases, it is important for the project manager to look for how analytics can improve future project work and increase the effectiveness of the profession.
Since the industrial age, there has not been such a disruptive time in the world as the present. Today's megatrends are changing the global economy, consumer models, and how people engage with one another and with organizations. The megatrends impact us all, and the technology shifts within the digital future are particularly influencial because they form the foundation that enables all the megatrends to happen, to some degree or other.
As organizations try to remain relevant and be more adaptive to a changing consumer base, the role of the project manager becomes even more essential. Project managers must be able to keep a pulse on how the trends impact their organizations and society—and capitalize on the trends to make projects more effective and efficient.
By leveraging cloud technologies, project managers can have new team communication and collaboration vehicles. Cloud can enable development teams to more rapidly succeed in meeting a project timeline. Social media also allow for new engagement models for teams and with consumers. Project managers have to look at mobile solutions for communication models as well—for both local and international stakeholders. All of this innovation within the project management realm will create new opportunities for growth as data are generated through the use of cloud, social, and mobile technologies and those data can be analyzed to improve future project efforts.