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Building Strategic Assumptions? Don't Ignore These 7 Drivers of Change

October 06, 2022

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

As you craft enterprise strategy, make sure to scope these seven sources of disruption.

Future-fit organizations actively sense and respond to disruptions and anticipate change, but that requires a rigorous, deliberate — and expansive — approach to scouting for trends that can upend your strategic assumptions and plans. It also means that executive leaders must look far beyond the trends and disruptions that exist within their core responsibilities.

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“Organizations are in the midst of transformational change that is reshaping our world and expanding our reach into worlds we create and those we have yet to explore,” says Gartner VP Analyst Marty Resnick. “This degree of change will force shifts in how people, and businesses, relate to each other. Old challenges remain, new challenges unfold and endless opportunities abound."

“Take the industrialization of space,” Resnick says. “Commercial activity outside of earth’s atmosphere may seem like science fiction, but it could be just the kind of wild card to totally shake up industry. Think about the possibilities for commercial space mining, laboratories and manufacturing.” 

Gartner expects that by 2027, low-Earth-orbit satellite mesh will be considered as “critical infrastructure” by the U.S. and Chinese governments, so what will this — and any number of other disruptive trends — mean for your long-term strategic plans?

A “tapestry” of interconnected strategic assumptions

The Gartner “TPESTRE” of trends offers a framework to scope for environmental and macro trends that weave together a story in seven interrelated categories:

  1. Technological. The evolution, impact and disruption of technology change.

  2. Political. Attitudes, institutions and legislation shifting the political environment.

  3. Economic. Factors in the local and global economic environment that influence businesses and governments.

  4. Social/Cultural. Attitudes, behaviors and lifestyles of individuals and societal groups.

  5. Trust/Ethics. Ethical expectations, behaviors, duties and biases of people and companies toward one another and society.

  6. Regulatory/Legal. Changes in laws and governmental policies and regulations to reward or punish particular behaviors.

  7. Environmental. Technical, political, economic, cultural, ethical and legal changes supporting environmental protection and sustainability

Within each category are multiple trends key to scenario planning, strategic planning and decisions about the direction of your business models, people/capabilities and IT systems. 

“Some trends are far better known than others, but each represents a potential piece of the future and should prompt us to reexamine our assumptions about how we work, play, socialize, communicate and transact,” says Resnick.

Three very different types of economic disruptors

Consider just three of the trends in the economic category — all potentially relevant to your scenario planning and strategic planning, regardless of how remote they may seem today.

No. 1: Industrialization of space 

Talk of outer space may conjure images of “Star Trek” or “Star Wars,” but low earth orbit is already teeming with commerce. 

A rapidly growing number of mass-produced satellites launched by commercial vehicles already support a growing set of for-profit activities. And the cost of launching a satellite has declined by 70% and could soon drop exponentially, bringing the cost down to 1% of what it once was.

In the medium term, commercial space mining, laboratories and manufacturing are increasingly likely. Opportunities include mining asteroids for useful raw materials, developing safe venues for scientific experiments and upcycling/sequestering hazardous but valuable debris currently in space. 

The risks are also plentiful, of course, not least that increased space activity could spark new forms of geopolitical conflict, and that space pollution and waste could create environmental concerns that outweigh investment optimism. 

Still, Gartner argues it’s time to consider new business models related directly or indirectly to space exploration — from leveraging satellites to tapping space-based clean energy sources.

No. 2: Digitally dominant productivity

Once seen as highly futuristic, digitally dominant productivity is emerging front and center as a much-needed driver of growth. These productivity gains will largely come from machines alone, rather than human-operated machines or humans themselves, and will lean heavily on advances in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and hyperautomation.

Gartner expects that:

  • By 2028, machines will account for 20% of the global workforce and 40% of all economic productivity.

  • By 2025, negative growth rates in human-driven economic productivity will become permanent as labor force participation rates drop. 

The business impact includes opportunities and disruptions. For example:

  • In the short term, certain industries with segments of lesser-skilled workers, like shipping, will see efficiency gains as machines take over human tasks.

  • Longer-term, even high-skill service industries, such as legal and medicine, will see unsupervised machines assume human tasks, leading to drops in labor participation. 

  • Startup firms with nearly full nonhuman workforces will hone capabilities that challenge larger firms and cause new rounds of M&A activity. 

  • Entrepreneurs who can find ways to scale startups using nonhuman workforces will have a comparative advantage. 

Enterprises that provide services should begin, if they aren’t doing so already, to invest in capabilities to produce and deliver those services using non-human entities — and integrate those entities into their workforce planning strategies and resource management plans. 

Governments must consider how to regulate and address issues of workforce displacement and potential solutions like reskilling or minimum incomes.

No. 3: Aging population

Changing demographics represent a well-known but no less disruptive force. Most developed-economy populations are aging, and while greater proportions of these populations will need medical and age-suitable support in the next 10 to 20 years, the decline in the working-age population will reduce tax revenues and savings rates. The same demographic changes are already adding to global labor costs.

Gartner expects that:

  • By 2028, the tax bases of developed economies will contract 10%, leaving less for public-sector spending plans.

  • By 2030, health costs will grow 1.5x from the current percentage of total public spending.

Organizations must continue to monitor new market opportunities that will emerge as a result of these demographic shifts, whether catering to the changing consumer behaviors of the young or the demands of the aging. 

Governments with advanced economies should consider immigration policies to attract skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants, which could include streamlining visa processes and reducing capital requirements.

In short:

  • To sense and respond to disruptions and anticipate change, executive leaders must look far beyond the trends and disruptions that exist within their core responsibilities.

  • The Gartner “TPESTRE” of trends offers a framework to scope for environmental and macro trends that weave together a story in seven interrelated categories.

  • The latest report highlights a diverse set of trends — in timeline and scope — ranging from the well-known (population aging) to the little known (industrialization of space).

This article has been updated annually since it was originally published in July 2021 to reflect new events, conditions and research.

Marty Resnick, VP Analyst at Gartner, primarily studies the futuristic disruptions that impact enterprise mission-critical priorities, with a special focus on how to spot, select and implement emerging and futuristic technologies through trendspotting and tech radars.

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