3 Innovation Trends Reshaping Global Business: FedEx Conference Explores Innovation
Imagine a robotic vacuum cleaner that responds to your voice. Or “smart bandages” that use electrodes to help heal wounds and monitor healing. Or even entire smart cities that “know” to dim streetlights by sensing when sidewalks are empty.
Sound like science fiction? All are either in place now or will be before long. A recent FedEx conference led by our Innovation Team explored these and a host of related topics. Held at our Memphis headquarters, the event gathered teams from across the corporation to understand and look for ways to help our customers harness innovations that are rapidly reshaping the world.
So what innovation trends will be defining business in the coming years? The conference focused on these three:
Santander, Spain, qualifies as a smart city. Since 2010, it has installed more than 12,000 sensors that monitor everything from air pollution to traffic conditions, trash in garbage cans and park lawn moisture levels. City managers use the data for such tasks as scheduling trash pickups and calculating how much water is needed for sprinkling. Citizens can access the data as well. For example, a person waiting for a bus can simply point a smartphone at a bus stop to receive real-time arrival updates.
Sensor technology is not necessarily new. SenseAware® powered by FedEx, for example, uses it to provide near real-time access to a shipment’s vital statistics while it’s in transit. But using sensors to create a coordinated ecosystem offers powerful possibilities to save money, improve safety and, ultimately, make metro areas more livable. Other cities around the world — notably, Singapore, London and Seoul — also have embraced the technology. Look for its adoption to surge in the years ahead.
Advances in technology are also fueling innovation on a smaller but no less significant scale. The last few years have seen increased personalization in the form of products and experiences tailored to individual preferences. By now we’re all familiar with e-commerce websites that anticipate and predict our buying habits. The next iteration involves the “Internet of Things” — smart devices such as the Nest thermostat, which can learn your preferred temperature settings and adjust accordingly.
In a sense, personalization is about providing users with new levels of control. New smartphone apps let you remotely lock your front door or turn on your living-room lights. And several companies are introducing always-on home energy-monitoring systems that track usage and look for spikes in consumption. The next step will be integrating them into a connected system that users can manage via a cloud-based interface.
The Circular Economy
Consumption factors into another emerging trend: the circular economy. Broadly speaking, the term refers to an economy that reclaims and reuses practically all of its used materials. Recycling and sustainability have gained traction of late, but the industrial world still relies on a take-make-dispose approach. That consumes huge amounts of energy and generates equally huge amounts of waste — food scraps, electronics and computer components, discarded packaging and the like. In contrast, the circular-economy model proposes that reclaiming used items such as raw materials or fuel for new products becomes a fundamental element of business and manufacturing processes. By doing so, the concept of “waste” disappears entirely. It’s an ambitious idea, but one worth exploring. By some estimates, a global effort could yield more than $1 trillion each year in material savings.
Some might say this sounds far-fetched. But so did the concept of the internet to most of us back in 1994. A lot has happened in the last 20 years. A lot more will happen in the next five. Look for FedEx to stay on top of the changes.