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Tomorrow’s technology will be clean and smart but is “big brother” knowing our every move worth the benefits?

By IMD Professor Cyril Bouquet and Chloé Renault - August 2014

The world is moving fast, and leaders who don't take change into account will see their business decline. Nobody knows how we will move around or what our cities will look like in 50 years. But, like Peter Drucker said, "the best way to predict the future is to make it happen". Between rising gas prices, the need for ever-faster transportation, the explosion of international business and the expected boom in urbanization, along with the pollution and congestion that will come with it, our needs for new modes of transportation are enormous. Between science fiction and reality, tomorrow's transportation is sure to surprise us.


Transportation will be smart  

Drones, cars, and public transportation will all be equipped with automated navigation; Google has already begun to build a driverless car. These systems will make us safer. The World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 1.2 million deaths on the world's roads each year and that 93% of these are due to human error. If we no longer need to drive, we will be free to shop and educate or entertain ourselves during our rides.  

It will be clean 

In tomorrow's world, resources will be rarer and more expensive. We will be forced to "do more or better with less". This means using less energy resources, especially gas, with fewer negative consequences – especially CO2. There will be a boom in energy-saving clean modes of transportation. Roads will be filled with electric cars and modular hydrogen-fuelled trucks. Airships will return to the skies to transport the cargo generated by globalization. Green cargo ships covered with solar panels and container ships equipped with sails will travel our oceans. Transportation companies are being forced to find innovative solutions. 

It will be connected 

There will be product innovation, but also the explosion of business models. Many historic auto companies, such as Ford or Peugeot-Citroen, are already looking at how to provide the multimodal transportation of the future – combining the use of public transportation with electric cars and bicycles. All actors in the field of transportation are changing their mentalities and transforming into transportation service providers rather than product makers. New collaborative consumption models will take off and become more attractive – in 2020 there will be 26 million car sharers and a fleet of 500,000 shared vehicles throughout the world. 

IT tools like websites and mobile applications will be at the heart of platforms linking different types of transportation and providers. Modularity will go hand in hand with connectivity. Each will have its own technology, its own digital menu and its own app. This won't be limited to transportation; our houses and cities will also be connected. By 2020, the world will have 5 billion internet users and 80 billion connected devices.  

There will be innovative urban ecosystems  

Cities are going to be the centers of innovation. According to the World Trade Organization, 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. The world will have 25 cities with 10 million or more residents. These megacities will face huge challenges in finding ways to avoid congestion. Many future urban transportation initiatives are in the sky: delivery drones, flying cars or even human-powered monorails. Finding the best way to manage movement will be a main concern. The ability to create algorithms to manage transit and fleets will become an essential skill. To work properly, these algorithms will have to collect data on individuals' daily movement patterns. GPS, mobile technology and radio frequency identification will make your every move traceable. This "big data" will be analyzed and used to make cities easier to navigate.  

Big Brother will be watching (and helping) you  

If used right, big data will influence public policy. Thanks to this data, our quality of life should improve. On the other hand, we will face hard questions like: who owns this precious information? How do public authorities regulate it? How do we keep it from falling into the wrong hands? 

You will be geolocalized, quantified, observed, and analyzed everywhere you go. Anonymity will disappear. But in the best of worlds, this information will improve our day-to-day lives: less pollution, fewer traffic jams, faster commutes, and real-time solutions adapted to our situations. Users will be able to personalize their modes of transport. With cars, trams, bikes, or scooters, the time has come for complementary forms of mobility. At the same time, collaborative models of consumption will be developed as economic and practical solutions. The individual mobility of tomorrow will be multimodal and will respond to a strong demand for personalization. The majority of emerging innovative concepts are focused on improving the individual itineraries of small groups of people. The days of mass public transportation will be behind us.  

The world is changing…what about you?  

The changes of the future have already begun. Those who think the future is all science fiction should look no further than the transportation sector to understand that the opportunities for innovation are real. We are living in extraordinary times.  

What does your industry look like today? What are the major changes it faces? What are you doing to take advantage?  

Cyril Bouquet is Professor of Strategy at IMD. His major interest is the interface between organizational psychology, strategy and leadership. He will be leading a stream on how "Alien Thinking" can help your business at IMD's upcoming Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) program in Singapore on 17-22 November 2014.

Chloé Renault is a researcher, facilitator and graphic recorder. She works on innovation and organizational transformations.

A version of this article first appeared in 'Harvard Business Review France'.

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