25 companies who prove the future is more predictable than we think

One industry that is always in full bloom at the start of every year is the prediction  business. The top 10 trends for 2012 are now available for pretty much every commercial sector, whether in mainstream parts of the economy (like marketing) or in more niche areas (like 3D printing). Notwithstanding the self-serving provenance of so many of these forecasts – consultancies specialising in outsourcing predict 2012 will be the year when doing it in-house tails off (shock horror) – they do at least provide insight into the status of thinking about the future. So it’s not unreasonable to ask if there are there still reasons to be cheerful or is the future no longer an episode to bookmark (as so many indices of business confidence would currently have us believe)?

THE FUTURE HAS NO FUTURE

Ironically amidst all the apparent certainties of the next 12 months it’s somewhat ironic that the converse of prediction is also gaining in popularity. In its latest issue US business magazine Fast Company spotlights the emergence of what it describes as ‘Generation Flux’ – an evolving workforce having to contend with a declining visibility of the future. “From the rise of Facebook to the fall of Blockbuster, from the downgrading of U.S. government debt to the resurgence of Brazil, predicting what will happen next has gotten exponentially harder” the magazine argues. “Uncertainty has taken hold in boardrooms and cubicles, as executives and workers struggle with core questions: Which competitive advantages have staying power? What skills matter most? How can you weigh risk and opportunity when the fundamentals of your business may change overnight?”

Yet to some extent isn’t this view similarly self-serving? From the vantage point of the news stand a front cover proclaiming the advent of chaotic times is always likely to snare more eyeballs than one promoting business as usual. Uncertainty sells, of that one can be certain. Equally it can be a cop out to argue that so much discontinuous change in the ether makes it inevitable that things don’t unfold as we’d expect. Whilst it remains fashionable to characterise the year ahead as one laden with unpredictability, the evidence used to support this view is still quite selective and possibly too hastily assembled for comfort.

CREATING AN INDEX OF THE FUTURE

To examine this question afresh, business intelligence network Index B has taken a step back and created an index of 25 companies that regardless of the short-term macro-economic outlook are as likely as any to embody the future of business during the decade ahead. The criteria used to select them had less to do with the specific merits of each company – not that these were ignored – but instead sought to showcase firms that illustrated some of the bigger trends that are inexorably shaping the commercial landscape ahead.  In this sense each company is an exemplar of something bigger and broader rather than an isolated example of individual excellence.

So what sort of firms made the final cut?

1. THE INTERNET

Much has been written about the transition in use of the internet from serving communication and entertainment needs to now tackling more functional, less sexy areas. Three of the firms in ‘Ones to Watch’ demonstrate this admirably. Evernote offers an ingenious way of capturing fragmented scraps of information that might otherwise escape our memory, Dropbox has simplified the business of accessing the things we keep online, whilst Groupspaces does exactly what it says on the tin – makes the business of organising work and leisure activities less of a chore business.

2. MOBILE COMMERCE

With the Smartphone set to become the most iconic device of the 2nd decade of the 21st Century, companies involved in mobile applications might be expected to feature. Proxama is one of many firms involved in turning mobiles into payment devices, yet recognises this involves multiple customisable solutions rather than one killer app. Elsehwere, Metaio is a pioneer and leader in the game-changing technology of augmented reality which allows mobile users to access, understand and enjoy digital content overlaid on the physical world.

3. SUSTAINABILITY

Will anxiety about recession push anxieties about our environment to the back of the class? Maybe carbon emissions seem less important when debt and currency crises stalk the globe. Fortunately the ideas and economics of sustainability are more entrenched than they once were. Closed Loop Recycling has repurposed 20% of the UK’s plastic bottles and turned them into food-grade plastics; Whipcar has become the world’s fastest growing car club in the space of 18 months, enabling car owners to share vehicles with neighbours when they’re not in use, and Sequana Medical has designed a way to combat liver disease that cuts out chunks of unnecessary clinical time.

4. NEW CAPITALISM

Whether the challenge is finding ways to combine profitability with business principles (LRN), develop more equitable banks (BankSimple), simpler ways of funding entrepreneurs (CrowdCube) or simply businesses with better stakeholder terms (Mitie) it is clear that rethinking the way money flows is becoming a bigger industry in its own right.

5. ONE-MAN EMPIRES

In years gone by one-man businesses were often derided for not being serious ventures. Yet technology is helping them cast far longer shadows to extend their reach and influence. As a result the tools they use become more sophisticated, witness the personal CRM software of CubeSocial. At the same time, technology is becoming easier than ever to deploy, see Basekit’s software, which has slashed the cost and time involved in creating websites, making them affordable and practical for the smallest of small companies.

6. COMMUNITY MODELS

Finally the C word.  Whilst its’ over use has become a trend in its own right the business models which exemplify online communities are planting deeper roots. Whether this is at the more rarefied end of the spectrum like Kaggle, which provides a platform for data miners and researchers to collaborate on solutions to scientific challenges, or the more prosaic end, like Songkick, which enables music lovers to keep track of live events and extend their participation in the experience.

To see the complete list of companies download the full report: Ones to Watch (31.01.2012)

Obviously no report about the future would be complete with a caveat. Despite what we have said about things being more predictable than they seem, some businesses will inevitably “appear from nowhere” and others in more crowded markets may crash and burn. However the Ones To Watch index is not an attempt to have the final word on what companies will succeed in the future, but by seeing the business world throughout the lenses of the companies that could populate it we think it looks a little clearer and possibly more certain.

Index B tracks the commercial behaviour of thousands of enterprises each year and uses the information this creates to help clients generate insights and intelligence about them and inspire better ways to influence, engage and connect with them. To find out more please visit www.myindexb.com.

Comments

  1. Roger says:

    ONES TO WATCH – link is broken

  2. Roger says:

    Great to see QlikView in there and I hope this means we made the right choice when we (One QV) signed up as a QlikView Solutions Provider.

  3. Mark Bower says:

    Hi Roger & John,
    Great to see CubeSocial on the list here. We’ll be doing everything we can to live up to the listing!

    Mark,
    CubeSocial

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