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Sustainability and tech post COVID-19

Looking to the future from Collision 2020

Sustainability and tech post COVID-19

Kevin Smith | Leadership,

I’m pleased to have an opportunity to share some of the fresh thinking and important insights about the acceleration of technology that were revealed at the recent Collision at Home conference.1 We at KPMG Private Enterprise have been longstanding contributors and participants in the Collision conferences, Web Summit (Lisbon) and RISE (Hong Kong). At every conference, every year, we’re able hear directly from founders, entrepreneurs, and CEOs about what’s top-of-mind. Even though we had to gather virtually this year, Collision was as engaging as ever.

Despite the challenges that the entire world has faced over the past few, months one of the positive outcomes of COVID-19 that people were talking about was the acceleration of digital transformation, especially artificial intelligence and machine learning. As Asheem Chandna, at Greylock Partners observed, these technologies will, in fact, be instrumental in collecting and analyzing the enormous sets of data that will be vital to our post COVID-19 recovery.

Another theme I heard frequently connected climate change and technology under the umbrella of sustainability and development of green technologies. The collective belief is that both will continue to rise on the world’s agenda and help to protect the planet, transform entire industries, and create a host of new ones.

It was encouraging to be able to take a pause and consider the opportunities on the other side of COVID-19 throughout the conference. Here are a few highlights of what I heard and learned this week.

The next industrial revolution – 5G

In a conversation with Marcus Weldon (CTO, Nokia and President, Nokia Bell Labs) he declared that 5G is accelerating the fourth industrial revolution. He referred to 5G as ‘the nerve system of the future’, merging man and machine to augment reality and talked about the shift from mobile to broadband since broadband has become such a critical part of our lives for working remotely. This, he said, is not likely to change.

No one really knows how deep and how long the COVID-19 economic downturn will last. There are so many complex moving parts. Some are out of business’ control, others are not. But we do know this. The companies that ultimately became today’s big tech players invested in and focused on becoming amazing digital organizations during the 2008 financial crisis. Others hunkered down and waited for the crisis to end. When it did, the tech giants were poised and ready to deliver an exceptional digital experience to their customers. They’ve continued to grow at an enviable pace quarter after quarter ever since.

At KPMG we share Marcus Weldon’s view of the 5G revolution, and we refer to companies that lead in this area as the ‘outpacers.’ These are the organizations that have ambitious visions and disruptive models. They seem to glide effortlessly through the digital economy, achieving astounding earnings, customer growth rates and market share targets time and time again. Telcos have that same opportunity today by investing in 5G and edge computing and becoming the ‘outpacers’ of the next decade.

Find out more about 5G and its role in the global economic recovery on our KPMG 5G edge computing value opportunity insights page. 

 
 

The importance of going green

Sustainable climate change was also a key theme during the conference, with a notable focus on how to leverage the lessons we’ve learned from the crisis. For example, panel members from Skanska USA, Art Center College of Design, and Cronan emphasized the need to come together to start solving for the next crisis by learning from COVID-19, especially when it comes to sustainable climate change. The panelists agreed that renewable energy is key, but so is the approach to pivoting current manufacturing processes so they’re cleaner and more focused on health and sustainability.

There were healthy discussions about green technologies; how they will create the sought-after products of tomorrow and transform entire industries. But funding and scaling green technology companies is still a challenge because of the fragmentation of the market as well as limited investor experience with the type of investments that are needed. The point was made, too, that many of the most promising new technologies are just coming out of the lab, and that means it may be difficult for growth companies to commercialize their innovations during the financial ambiguity of the new reality.

We at KPMG Private Enterprise have a firsthand understanding of that challenge. We recently collaborated with the World Economic Forum’s Digital Leaders of Europe community to produce a report called “Bridging the Gap in European Scale-Up Funding: The Green Imperative in an Unprecedented Time”. The report details the steps that will be necessary for Europe’s road to economic recovery and signals that innovation funding to scale up green technology and sustainability will be essential. I couldn’t agree more.

Collision conversations regarding sustainability and green technologies were encouraging. As one presenter said, “Let’s come out of this crisis as better human beings. And for our own health, we must take better care of our planet.”

If you are interested in learning more about “Bridging the Gap in European Scale-Up Funding”, read a summary of the report.

The strength to lead

As John Chambers, Founder and CEO of J2 Ventures, reminded us, very few current CEOs and government leaders were in their positions during the 2008 financial crisis. Most business leaders have never experienced a crisis of the magnitude we are facing today. What lies ahead for future generations of leaders in the digital age is guaranteed to be profound. It will be essential to invest in young CEOs to help them build, scale, and lead the market transitions ahead.

Sairah Ashman, Global CEO at Wolff Olins, remarked that leadership matters most during times of crisis. This is where you see if the potential can come to the forefront. This where we need to step up as leaders and help where we can. This really resonated with me.

Collision at Home provided a unique conferencing experience to all who attended. With this year’s online format, we were able to come together with leaders from the venture capital community, Silicon Valley giants, entrepreneurs, tech startups, and emerging growth companies to hear and learn about some of the most pressing concerns and opportunities that the entire world is confronting.

I found it inspiring, and I am confident that we will be continuing this important dialogue in many different ways for the foreseeable future.

I encourage you to follow our regular KPMG Private Enterprise series of blog posts as we share insights from across the KPMG global network of member firms on the impact that COVID-19 may have on your business strategy and operations, and how to embrace the new reality of a post COVID-19 world.

Footnotes

Collision Conference 2020: https://collisionconf.com/