This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue of Disruptive Telecoms World Report by Telecom Drive.

COVID-19 may have stopped us from being able to rock out at a live concert, but for those in the technology space, the coming decade is primed to rock. Get ready for a fist-pumping, heart-thumping ride. The roaring ‘20s are here again, and opportunities will abound. Entering a new decade, we stand at a unique point in history. Trillions of dollars in economic output and value is up for grabs.

The age of Aquarius

Technology faces the most dramatic period of innovation in a century with potentially six General Purpose Technologies (GPTs) converging — think 5G, blockchain, artificial intelligence, energy storage, robotics, and DNA sequencing – that hold the promise of supercharging economic growth and transforming the world. The closest comparison to this time of innovation was the second half of the twentieth century when the internal combustion engine, electricity, and the telephone changed everything. There is now a massive impact on the demand for software.

From a socioeconomic perspective, there are significant power shifts across geographies, demographics, consumption patterns, and business model innovation. Concern for the planet, its resources, and sustainability dominate top-of-mind awareness. Change is coming fast as governments, corporations, investors, and consumers are positioned to redefine our world.

As the world progresses into the unknown, software rises to the top as the catalyst for emerging technologies. However, the bar has been raised.

Innovative technologies enable new levels of experience and value.

Challenging the status quo

New experiences defy the status quo. 2019 saw the launch of the first public company dedicated to space tourism, with a backlog of paying tourists to ride the near edge of space. And a duo of DNA technologies demonstrated that it is possible to cure some long-standing incurable diseases. How much would we pay for a personalized pill or procedure that gives back decades of lost life? We may soon witness Life-as-a-Service (LIFEaaS) paid by monthly subscription. 

Innovative technologies enable new levels of experience and value. Combined with other exponential technologies, the pace of disruption accelerates. The foundations of industry are shifting at hyper-speed, creating a vortex of change across everything we know. Some will capture the opportunity. Some are already dead and just don’t know it. 

As an industry, we must do better. In recent years, share price and market cap growth for telecoms have been subpar against the S&P 500. Despite the massive spending on communications services and the technology cycles of 3G, 4G, and now 5G, we must ask, “Where’s the Beef?!” As crucial as connectivity is, we don’t want to pay much for it.  

Is technology nearing a plateau with 5G? As we approach speed limits, we need to focus on intelligence, using software to innovate “within” connectivity instead of merely letting others innovate “with” connectivity. 

In the 2020s, roaring louder and prouder than the 1920s means jumping past our comfort zones. Organizations must break the repetitive cycle of using buzzwords and table stakes to differentiate. Competitors seem to be building the same solutions and are depending on marketing to define the differentiation.

Champions of change approach rules with a new mindset, and when rules change, things that were impossible become possible. Connecting the unconnected was unrealistic without a rule change to rockets. The 30-second restaurant drive-thru remained a commuter dream until an innovator created a drive-thru serving digital orders only. 

Black swans change the status quo. What black swans? The World Wide Web turned 30 in 2019. Twenty years ago, Google was in its infancy, and Twitter and Facebook didn’t even exist. While we could argue that COVID-19 is not a classic black swan event, remote working sparked a sharp turn toward the cloud, connectivity, and advanced security. For our industry, the swans are already in flight.

Innovators see past the collective blind spots and accepted rules of industries. The telecom industry cannot rest on its laurels.

The digital horizon

Nearly a decade into Marc Andreessen’s proclamation, software continues to eat the world. We are entering a new horizon, a digital horizon. Innovative digital technology is everywhere, across all industries, and it’s moving fast. 

COVID-19 has only accelerated the appetite for disruption. New technologies scaled overnight instead of years. In a few short months, we’ve adopted new behaviors for how we work, commute, shop, educate and learn, conduct financial transactions, seek healthcare, dine, entertain, and more. Software stepped in to solve some of the challenges caused by COVID-19, including our human need to connect.

Who will reap the rewards? Despite the economic upheaval of COVID-19, the tech-heavy NASDAQ continues to set new highs as technology trends take hold. Is Wall Street disconnected from Main Street? Not really. The spoils belong to the innovators that harness software’s power to redefine experiences and the meaning of value.

Companies and entire industries are in the crosshairs of disruptive innovation and formative shifts. As we journey into the unknown, we know smarter software will play a leading role and drive change at hyper speed. Companies embracing change, innovating by design, and creating human-centered experiences will thrive. Understanding what digital transformation means and moving customers into the fast lane of innovation and disruption is critical to success. Software is hungry for telecom. Now is the time to challenge the status quo.

Are you ready to rock!?