Innovation

Blockchain Trends: Exciting Opportunities for Ledger Technology

23 August, 2019
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"Amid the rapidly evolving digital landscape, one thing is clear: is in a state of metamorphosis with many disruptive trends on the horizon."

Blockchain has potential to make a huge impact. Learn about fascinating blockchain trends that are emerging in 2019 and beyond.

Blockchain technology was invented to safeguard the cryptocurrency infrastructure (e.g. Bitcoin), enabling secure financial transactions without the need for a bank or a middleman. But blockchain’s ledger technology is now expanding beyond digital currency and financial services, offering great potential to improve upon many areas of our lives. 

As blockchain matures and becomes more accessible, companies across various industries are finding compelling use cases for blockchain to make businesses processes more efficient. For example, banks can now reduce infrastructure cost by 30% throughblockchain solutions. This is achieved by encrypting millions of storage points, none of which contain a full name or an account number. 

While blockchain is currently only being used by 0.5% of the global population, emerging trends are making it more scalable. It is anticipated that 80% of the population will be using blockchain technology in some capacity within 10 years. 

Because the HR department is charged with managing so much sensitive data, blockchain technology will be integrated directly into the HR function through a multitude of possible use cases—adding transparency and trust to an organization’s operations. The evolution of blockchain will also mean companies need a workforce with new skills, so HR will be kept busy with recruitment and talent management. 

The following blockchain trends are lifting ledger technology from the obscurity of cryptocurrency and making blockchain part of the mainstream conversation.  

1.  More potential real-world uses on the horizon will raise the visibility of blockchain. 

While cryptocurrency and financial institutions are the pioneers of blockchain, it is important to note that tokenization and securing payments are just precursors to many potential real-world uses for ledger technology. 

Every transaction on the blockchain is on public record and its enhanced security makes it a virtually incorruptible platform. Because no central party will ever be in control of all of the record keeping, blockchain can be used to mitigate financial, political and institutional corruption in corporations and governments, alike. 

Blockchain may also be able to improve the political sphere in terms of voting systems. Because records cannot be altered in any way, blockchain is ideal for voter registration, identification and vote tallying. Election corruption and voter fraud would be eliminated, ensuring a more accurate, fair electoral process.  

The general public will also be drawn to blockchain’s ability to eliminate transactions fees. Owing to decentralization, sending and receiving money can be expedited and enhanced. This has implications for automated legal procedures, customs payments, ownership transfers and business transactions—allowing widespread disintermediation across industries and economies. 

Another mainstream use could be in public records of ownership, citizenship and identity. Even in the thriving digital era, these records are stored in centralized databases for security. However, this exposes them to tampering because of the intermediaries it engages. Blockchain opens up the possibility of a decentralized, public, fixed and consensus-driven ledger of records that could nullify the need for intermediaries. A groundbreaking example of this is Estonia’s E-Citizenship Program, which stores citizens’ information on a blockchain. 

The application of blockchain can also be extended to include organizational information for the HR department, where one day a company can maintain one identity stored in a master Blockchain. This could be safely accessed by all stakeholders including vendors, employees, customers and tax authorities.

2.  Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) will facilitate business adoption.

A Blockchain-as-a-Service (BAAS) platform is a full-service cloud-based solution that connects developers, entrepreneurs and enterprises on one platform. On the BaaS, stakeholders can develop, test and deploy blockchain applications and smart contracts. Moreover, the BaaS platform provides all the necessary infrastructure and operational support, ensuring that the applications run efficiently. 

BaaS providers include major companies like Microsoft, IBM, SAP, Amazon, Oracle, and Hewlett Packard. These providers are nurturing blockchain adoption among business because the platforms enable companies to engage blockchain projects without having to spend anywhere near as much money as they would developing customized blockchain solutions independently. 

As more businesses look for convenient and cost-effective ways to implement blockchain technology, BaaS collections will most likely continue to expand. Keeping an eye on the emerging BaaS space can help an HR department choose the right provider for (future) company needs. 

3.  Blockchain will be less associated with cryptocurrency & possibly rebranded. 

Blockchain was born and bred to protect Bitcoin’s infrastructure— but now ledger technology is leaving the cryptocurrency nest to explore more business endeavors. 

Blockchain’s association with the volatile cryptocurrency market has potentially diluted its reputation. There are still negative connotations with cryptocurrencies, including wild price swings and the perceived link to people buying illegal items from the dark web. 

But mainstream industries, such as manufacturing and retail, are proving the power of blockchain to improve supply chain management and ownership tracking. To break out of the cryptocurrency pigeonhole, it is expected that the blockchain industry will make a concerted effort to establish an identity that’s separate from cryptocurrency—and better educate the business sphere on the advantages it offers, beyond financial transactions. 

To take the rebrand a step further, research from Forrester suggests that it might be beneficial for the blockchain industry to drop the name blockchain and replace it with distributed ledger technology (DLT). 

4.  Blockchain enabled Internet of Things (IoT) systems.

Gartner predicts that the number of installed Internet of Thing (IoT) will exceed 20 billion by 2020. As HR departments integrate more IoT into companies, there is growing concern because these connected devices often open the door for hackers. The same vigilance applied to computers is sometimes overlooked when ensuring the security of the IoT infrastructure. As a company’s digital ecosystem expands to include more IoT devices, they can be left vulnerable to hacks. Blockchain offers strong protections against data tampering by locking access to IoT devices and shutting down compromised devices within the IoT infrastructure if a security event is suspected. 

Blockchain serves to effectively decentralize data, which provides a safety net from hacks and fraud. In the digital age, data is fast becoming the most prized asset a company has. If you store all your jewelry, cash and other valuables in one location of your home, what happens if a burglar enters your home and is able to find this location? Because it spreads data across a large network of computer storage spaces, storing records on a blockchain network is like placing your most valuable digital assets across a multitude of places to mitigate your risk of being severely impacted or wiped out by a hacking event. 

One of the first blockchain IoT-specific platforms is IOTA, which provides transaction settlements and data transfer layering for IoT devices. IOTA has launched its Tangle platform, which developers describe as “going beyond blockchain.” This serves as a blockless, cryptographic, decentralized network, where, rather than outsourcing network verification to data miners, users verify transactions of other users.

Such IoT platforms promote greater scalability while also eliminating the need to pay transaction fees to data miners. These are both essential factors in a practical IoT network, which could potentially require the processing of billions of micro-transactions between devices daily. 

5.  Hybrid blockchains are promising the best of public & private networks. 

As blockchain rapidly comes of age, there are generally two communities that have been established. On one side of the tracks, there is a large community supporting public blockchains and arguing for decentralization. On the other side, there is a more niche community—comprised mostly of businesses and their clients—pushing for private blockchains operated by a single entity that also grants permissions to users.  

Traditional blockchains (e.g. Bitcoin and Ethereum) are public and completely open, meaning anyone can join the consensus protocol and participate in maintaining the shared ledger. Users often join public blockchains because, apart from operating in a decentralized system, they can offer incentives for mining or staking.  

But public blockchain have limitations, including visibility. Data is completely transparent so anyone can access it, presenting a privacy concern for many uses. In some blockchain use cases, data would need to be restricted and a public blockchain cannot do this. Public blockchains also demand high computational power and consume large amounts of electricity. There are also scalability concerns for public blockchains because the consensus protocol places limits on speed and the number of transactions it can process. 

Private blockchains operate similarly to public blockchains with an important exception: they are not open to everyone and require an invitation to join. These blockchains are also permissioned networks and can be customized to interact with certain users differently than the general users. Unlike in the public blockchain, provisions can be outlined to determine who is allowed to participate in the network and what specific transactions they are authorized to conduct. While private blockchains address some data security concerns, the main drawback is that they are not as decentralized as the public blockchains.  

To build a bridge, hybrid blockchains are being developed to offer decentralized platforms that can restrict visibility of some information on the network. In particular, this model is appealing to regulated markets because it offers the benefits of public and private blockchains in one network.  

Through a hybrid blockchain solution, a company can conduct transactions from certain short-term partners and vendors on the public blockchain side. Since the transaction timeline of these partners is shorter, public blockchain is an ideal solution. It would not require the level of trust needed with a private blockchain. The private side of a hybrid blockchain solution can be used to conduct transactions with long term partners. It would operate with a classic permissioned setup, where authorized parties can view, transact and make changes based on permissions they are given. This private network is fast, scalable and secure. However, adding more parties and establishing their trust takes longer than on a public blockchain so it would only be reserved for transactions with designated users.  

6.  Sidechains are improving scalability.

For all their power and complexity, blockchains face challenges in scalability and speed. These limit some applications of the relatively new technology. One solution that seeks to improve blockchain efficiency and scalability is the sidechain. As its name indicates, a sidechain is a type of blockchain that accompanies a master chain. In the relationship, the master chain is the parent chain and the sidechain is the child chain.  

In order to trade assets from the master chain for assets from the sidechain, the user would first need to send their assets on the master chain to a certain location. This would effectively place a lock on the assets for the time being. After the transaction completes, the sidechain would receive a confirmation and release a designated amount of the sidechain to the user—equivalent to the amount of assets locked up by the main chain times the exchange rate. This also works in reverse to trade assets from the sidechain to the master chain.  

As sidechains store data and process transactions, they help to uphold the integrity of the master blockchain while making it smaller and more agile. When implemented correctly, sidechains relieve the master chain of some of the work, helping to solve the inherent scaling problem associated with blockchain solutions. Sidechains have practical applications for stock exchanges.  

7.  Artificial intelligence (AI) & blockchain are teaming up.  

While both AI and blockchain involve high levels of distinct technical complexity, there is potential for these two technologies to team up and score major technological victories in the next five to ten years.  

The first change win might be in optimizing data management. Blockchain currently relies on hashing algorithms for data mining and these operate in a brute force style, meaning the algorithm inputs all possible sequences of characters until it finds the one that matches with the verification process. This demands extra steps, lags and effort. AI can step in to offer an intelligent data mining system that streamlines the entire process and cuts down total costs exponentially. This streamlining also has implications for improved energy consumption for blockchains.  

AI can infuse natural language processing, image recognition and multi-dimensional real-time data transformation capabilities into a blockchain’s peer-to-peer linking. This allows data miners to turn a large-scale system into a series of micro-economic environments. In turn, this can optimize data transactions in a secure and effective manner. Most importantly, machine learning intelligence adds flexibility to the process.  

On the flipside, blockchain’s data decentralization technology can help AI step up its game in creating better machine learning models. Introducing secure data sharing across systems, which have traditionally stored and operated data in an isolated manner, introduces higher quality data. Richer data means better models, better predictions and better insights.  

Data decentralization will offer companies of all sizes access to analytics and insights they could not possibly generate from an individual data source. When AI’s deep learning algorithms gain access to multiple data points from multiple data pools that have been standardized by blockchain, the competitive advantage of an AI technology will no longer be about finding the data itself. Nor will it be about having the resources and funds to gather the most data. Instead the focus will be on writing the most innovative algorithms. This evolution ushers in a new era of scalability for deep learning where AI finds itself in new marketplaces, opens doors for smaller players and gains trust with the public at large.  

The future looks bright for blockchain and it will likely innovate business processes in many industries, including human resources. However, its widespread adoption and full potential have yet to be seen. The next phase of development for blockchain will be in addressing scalability and accessibility challenges, which will pave the way for more applications and varied use cases across more industries.  

Amid the rapidly evolving digital landscape, one thing is clear: blockchain is in a state of metamorphosis with many disruptive trends on the horizon. For HR professionals, it is important to keep an eye out on how this nascent technology is impacting various industries and making its way to the world of work.  

more in innovation

Jackson Kam | 30 Jan 2020

China is fostering a culture of innovation throughout its society — but most notably in its startup businesses. Multinationals can take advantage of this increased energy by investing in Chinese startups or taking a cue from how the successful ones — the "unicorns" — are meeting the demands of a growing Chinese consumer base. Multinationals must also be mindful of what Chinese workers desire most from employers, which is the ability to have a healthy work-life balance, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 study. Currently, this is a very real challenge for employees working at tech startups. Developing a Culture of Innovation   To foster this culture of innovation within its industries, the Chinese government is making it easier for entrepreneurs to experiment and grow by implementing more "benign" business regulations. It's also ensuring that there is efficient infrastructure and local support in place.1 One sector that is particularly thriving under this new spirit is insurtech. For example: ZhongAn Online, a digital insurer backed by Ping An, Tencent and Alibaba, has launched a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for insurance companies, giving them rapid access to ZhongAn's accumulated data on medical claims, medical insurance directories, drug prescriptions and local hospital information across the country.2 Another insurtech example is the partnership between Rui Xin Insurance Technology and China Lending, which aims to help the insurance company develop its own consumer financial platform offering China Lending's products. The two companies will also collaborate to develop more insurance products and attract more customers on both of their platforms.3 These insurtech partnerships exemplify how China is now setting the stage for experimental collaboration and innovation that challenges the status quo. Taking a Cue From Chinese Unicorns   Across many sectors, thousands of Chinese startups are disrupting industries — and stealing customers from established companies — by developing innovative business models to sell even more innovative products.4 Indeed, China has 120 successful startups, more than half of the 234 unicorns globally.5 Chinese startups are excelling because they can quickly reach scale in the large market, and they can tap a growing talent pool, particularly professionals with PhDs — twice as many as those in the U.S. They are also exhibiting a higher risk tolerance that's enabling them to conduct "fearless experimentation" to push out new products as fast as possible. With the rise of digital disruption, these unicorns are eager to take big risks and put their country back on the map as an innovator.5 How Multinationals Can Leverage This Energy   Hengyuan Zhu, associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Tsinghua University, believes that startups are successful because they are practicing "contextualized innovation." This entails collaborating with local customers within the country to make sure products meet the specific demands of those localities — and multinational companies operating in China should take a cue.6 "If they want to be successful, multinational companies will have to give more decision-making power to their local branches in China," Zhu said. "They need to do this so that they can leverage global resources, integrate into the innovation system and innovate in China for Chinese customers." An innovative workplace culture must be counterbalanced for organizations to be successful. For instance, organizations need to be willing to experiment but in a highly disciplined manner. Carefully taking this line of thought into consideration in all aspects of the workplace will ensure the success and application of a productive, innovative culture. Dealing with 996: An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance   There is a rising backlash occurring in the Chinese tech community, particularly among startups, that centers on what is known as "996.ICU." The name comes from the typical work schedule for Chinese programmers: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.7 Some startups are forcing their workers to abide by this schedule, either explicitly or by demanding certain KPIs in an unreasonable amount of time. Others are encouraging these schedules by appealing to long-held beliefs within the Chinese culture. For example, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has stated, "No company should or can force employees into working 996 . . . But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don't defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!"7 These sentiments are contrary to what the majority of polled Chinese workers shared during the Global Talent Trends 2019 study — that the foremost condition that would help them thrive in the workplace is the ability to manage their work-life balance. This also ranks ahead of their desire to have opportunities to learn new skills and technologies and have a fun work environment. Multinationals considering investment in Chinese startups or taking cues from unicorns may consider adopting many of the attributes of those successfully innovating while fostering a healthier work-life balance for Chinese workers — which can ultimately benefit the organization's bottom line, as well. Sources: 1. Jun, Zie. "Whole-of-society effort drives technology development in China," Global Times, 25 Jun. 2019, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1155732.shtml. 2. Fintech News Hong Kong. "ZhongAn Technology Launches AI-Powered Data Platform for China's Insurance Industry," Fintech News, 14 Aug. 2018, http://fintechnews.hk/6308/insurtech/zhongan-technology-saas-insurance-data/. 3. China Lending Corporation. "China Lending Forges Strategic Partnership with Rui Xin Insurance Technology to Develop Online Financial Services Platform," PR Newswire, 15 Jul. 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/china-lending-forges-strategic-partnership-with-rui-xin-insurance-technology-to-develop-online-financial-services-platform-300884622.html. 4. Greeven, Mark J; Yip, George S. and Wei, Wei. "Understanding China's Next Wave of Innovation," MIT Sloan Management Review, 7 Feb. 2019, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/understanding-chinas-next-wave-of-innovation/. 5. Nheu, Christopher. "The Secret Behind How Chinese Startups are Winning," Startup Grind, 1 May 2018, https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-secret-behind-how-chinese-startups-are-winning-44876b196626. 6. Zhu, Hengyuan and Euchner, Jim. "The Evolution of China's Innovation Capability," Research-Technology Management, 10 May 2018, http://china.enrichcentres.eu/sharedResources/users/4807/The%20Evolution%20of%20China%20s%20Innovation%20Capability.pdf. 7. Liao, Rita. "China's startup ecosystem is hitting back at demand-working hours," TechCrunch, Apr. 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/12/china-996/.

Nancy Mann Jackson | 30 Jan 2020

Blockchain technology is not just for high-tech industries; it's gradually becoming an important part of even the most traditional professions, including agriculture. For example, India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry recently announced a blockchain-based e-marketplace for coffee producers. The marketplace is helping bridge the gap between coffee growers and buyers, allowing farmers to drastically increase their income. This initiative reflects a global trend of merging technological advances with agriculture. Blockchain Is Boosting India's Coffee Producers   Coffee produced in India is a premium product, produced by farmers who grow their beans under shade, hand pick them and dry them in the sun. The coffee is sold at premium prices around the world, but the farmers receive only a small portion of the profits, because there are many layers of buying and selling between the grower and the final consumer. The new blockchain-based marketplace app for trading Indian coffee brings growers closer to their ultimate customers, helping them earn fair pay and provide reliable traceability that allows consumers to trace their coffee from bean to cup. For customers, the ability to track the journey of the product they are buying can build trust. From the business perspective, that traceability can result in faster and more accurate recalls, reducing risk of food poisoning. By using the online marketplace, growers no longer have to depend on intermediaries. They can interact directly with buyers and earn fair prices for their products. Exporters can also use the online marketplace to quickly find reliable suppliers and traceable coffee products to meet their needs. When the Indian Coffee Board, a division of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, introduced the e-marketplace in March 2019, a group of about 20 coffee farmers, exporters, importers, roasters and retailers were already registered on the platform from India and abroad.1 From a user perspective, the platform is easy to use. Coffee farmers can log their product credentials, including their relevant certificates, growing location and elevation, details about the crop and other information. For each lot of coffee sold on the marketplace, the system creates a block. That block and its credentials are then stored on the blockchain throughout its journey and are unalterable, creating a record known as a blockchain ledger. A blockchain ledger is useful for all types of agricultural products because of its ability to record and update the status of crops — from planting and harvesting to storage and delivery. A secure, immutable ledger ensures that large agricultural operators never lose a load and that consumers can access the history and details of their food's background. Agricultural Uses of Blockchain Are Expanding Globally   India isn't the only place where the benefits of blockchain technology are having a positive impact on agriculture. France and Ethiopia have also instituted blockchain marketplaces for coffee, and similar marketplaces are operating or under development around the world for other crops and agricultural products. In China, for instance, e-commerce platform JD.com traces the production, selling and delivery process for beef raised in Inner Mongolia and purchased by customers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. By scanning a QR code, a consumer or retailer can see the size and age of the cow, its diet, when it was slaughtered, when the meat was packaged and what the results of the food safety tests were. Another Chinese company uses ankle bracelets on chickens to record the details of each chicken's life using blockchain, providing assurance to consumers that the free-range chicken they're paying for is actually free-range.2 Analysts expect that the blockchain technology market for agriculture around the world will continue to escalate, growing 56.4% from 2018 to 2022.3 Blockchain marketplaces allow producers and buyers to view trade history, local prices and other information that allow them to negotiate prices with confidence. As food producers around the world continue adopting blockchain technology, they bring more efficiency to their supply chains, improving food safety and traceability, as well as profit margins and consumer trust. Clearly, blockchain can bring about positive change in a variety of ways, but adopting and implementing the technology is much easier said than done. In an industry like agriculture, blockchain will have to reshape a decades-old framework, and that won't happen overnight. It's up to leaders everywhere to understand the value of this technology and get their teams on board with implementing it to achieve that value — even if it means starting small. Sources: 1. "Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India." Press Information Bureau, 28 Mar. 2019, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=189586. 2. Peters, Adele. "In China, You Can Track Your Chicken On–You Guessed It–The Blockchain." Fast Company, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/40515999/in-china-you-can-track-your-chicken-on-you-guessed-it-the-blockchain. 3. "Global Blockchain Technology Market in the Agriculture Sector 2018-2022." Global Banking & Finance Review, 26 Sep. 2018, https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/global-blockchain-technology-market-in-the-agriculture-sector-2018-2022-market-to-grow-at-a-cagr-of-56-4-with-agriledger-full-profile-ibm-microsoft-ripe-technology-te-food-dominating-rese/.

Andre Maxnuk | 30 Jan 2020

The megacity will define economic growth in the coming years. Citing Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico, as examples, these emerging centers of business and commerce are positioned to grow quickly and possibly outpace traditional capitals of commerce. They also have the potential to learn from the mistakes of traditional big cities and engineer smart, long-term, sustainable growth. Urbanization is developing at such a rate that nearly half (47 percent) of GDP growth will come from 443 growth economy cities between 2010 and 2025, as Mercer's People First report notes. These cities are also on a trajectory to amass 1 billion new consumers and, between now and 2030, will significantly change the way people live and work. How Urbanization Changes Local Economies   While widespread adoption of the internet and interconnected technologies was predicted to enable people to live and work anywhere, it's actually had the opposite effect. Instead, more people have been drawn into cities for work. Innovative workers are seeking one another to collaborate in developing new industries in today's rapidly evolving global economy. They want an environment in which they can be more productive and more creative with like-minded peers. As all these bright minds flock to growing metropolitan areas, cities have become the crucible of collaboration. Take Guadalajara, for instance. The city's technology industry traces its roots back to the 1960s, when high-tech foreign companies looking for cheap labor moved manufacturing operations there. These companies included Kodak, Motorola, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Siemens. Yet, when many of those operations moved to Asia in the early 2000s, the city still found a way to persevere as a hub for technology. As Andrew Selee from the Smithsonian Institution notes, "Guadalajara reinvented itself as a major center for research and development, programming, design and other high-skilled tech occupations, building on the foundation that had been laid years earlier."1 Guadalajara's highly trained engineers "inverted the model," designing components in Mexico and having them manufactured in Asia, as one engineer told Selee. Today, many Silicon Valley–based tech companies maintain research, development and programming facilities in Guadalajara, and the city — now known for its engineering talent and creativity — is home to a wide range of technology startups. How Cities Can Prepare and Respond   Rapid growth in jobs and economic opportunities is positive yet challenging for cities such as Guadalajara, also known as "Mexico's Silicon Valley." The city's population has grown to include more than 8 million people and is now the second biggest metropolitan area in Mexico, just behind Mexico City.2 The population is expected to expand even more (over 15%) in the next decade. It is also the third largest economy in Mexico, with a GDP of $81 billion.3 Comparatively, Monterrey has a population of 5 million and is the third largest metropolitan area in Mexico.2 Monterrey's population is also expected to increase over 16% in the next decade. Its GDP is valued at $123 billion — making it the highest GDP per capita city in Mexico and the second highest in Latin America.3 Both Guadalajara and Monterrey will continue to grow and expand, as will their workforces, so it will be vital to understand what today's and tomorrow's employees want. New residents don't just bring creativity and an interest in collaborating with other like-minded individuals; they also bring needs for healthcare, education, recreation, infrastructure and security. In order to keep bright individuals in the city, contributing to the growing economy, an emerging megacity must be able to provide the environment and services those individuals and their families want for a satisfying life. While business leaders often assume that a good salary will motivate people to move to a city and stay there, human and social factors are actually more important for the workers making those decisions. To attract and keep people, a city must create an environment for them to thrive across multiple dimensions, focusing on what matters most to them. Most cities, despite their rapid economic growth, are not doing a great job meeting the needs of the people who live there, which creates tension between what people value and what a city is able to deliver. Mercer found a 30+ point gap between workers' quality-of-life expectations and how a city is meeting them. To reverse that trend, city leaders must understand their importance for future economic growth and adopt a new outlook that includes these three components: 1.  Focus on people first. As technology continues to enable people to work smarter and make faster decisions, jobs will continue to change. Technology, automation and digitization will make work more efficient, but unique human capabilities will propel growing cities. If the people needed to operate and manage artificial intelligence don't want to live in a city, all the automation won't matter. Cities — as well as employers — must focus on the value of human qualities and skills and how to help those humans find satisfaction. 2.  Understand what people want. More than a good job and a good salary, people want a high quality of life. That includes the ability to feel safe and access good schools for their children, quality healthcare, recreation, clean air and water, and other lifestyle factors. Companies may be able to attract top employees, but cities must focus on providing the environment and lifestyle that will keep those employees. 3.  Prioritize partnerships. Most cities have big challenges to overcome to provide the quality of life that people want. No single entity can solve systemic problems, so public-private partnerships are crucial to address macro issues and gaps, such as in infrastructure, as well as safety and housing, and overcome challenges before they become exacerbated. Public-private partnerships are essential for cities, businesses and people to succeed. Increased urbanization and the blossom of new megacities will send waves throughout the global economy in the years to come. But to foster positive growth and innovation, successful megacities must acknowledge and act upon the wants and needs of those skilled workers who will call these cities home. Sources: 1. Selee, Andrew. "How Guadalajara Reinvented Itself as a Technology Hub," The Smithsonian Institution. 12 Jun. 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-guadalajara-reinvented-itself-technology-hub-180969314/#kc531GtO4OwhOKDi.99. 2. "World Urbanization Prospects 2018," United Nations, https://population.un.org/wup/DataQuery/. 3. Berube, Alan; Trujillo, Jesus L.; Ran, Tao; Parilla, Joseph. "Global Metro Monitor report," Brookings, 22 Jan. 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/research/global-metro-monitor/.

More from Voice on Growth

Lewis Garrad | 30 Jan 2020

Employee engagement has become a critical topic for HR over the last 10 years as leaders have become convinced by two fundamental management ideas: having the best talent is essential to the future success of any organization, and having a highly engaged workforce is the most effective route to mobilize that talent to deliver what is needed. The result is that many organizations now invest in programs to boost engagement — mostly via an annual employee feedback survey. Yet, many organizations struggle to improve engagement and productivity in their workforce — no matter how much attention leaders and HR teams pay. Organizational inertia (or "drag") is a widespread phenomenon impacting progress on multiple levels.1 Most organizations find that people prefer to maintain the status quo rather than push for real change. This has led many HR leaders to explore what factors create more relevant and meaningful employee engagement. What Does the Science Say?   In a recent meta-analysis, scientists set out to understand how much of someone's engagement at work is predicted by personality.2 With so many organizations focusing on cultural and environmental factors, they wondered to what extent individual differences influence the way people engage with their organization. Their analysis showed that around half of someone's engagement at work is predicted by personality — with enthusiastic, upbeat and conscientious people generally displaying higher levels of engagement. This finding helps us understand why engagement can be so difficult to change. If half of engagement is predicted by personality, then organizational initiatives targeting work practices or work environment can only succeed if they include some impact at the individual level. If engagement is driven by both employee perception and personality, a shift needs to occur at the manager level. Initiatives should be implemented to target the individual employee to help create a stronger connection between that person and the work they do. Cultural/collective changes should also occur to improve conditions, like wellbeing, collaboration, creativity and productivity. This does not mean that hiring "engagable" people is a strategy for success. Diversity in an organization is an incredibly important resource. People who are more skeptical and critical might be more difficult to engage — but they are also far more likely to challenge the status quo. These people are just as important to have in the workplace, and screening them out is not an effective approach. Job Design Can Make Work More Engaging   Recently, the Facebook HR team published research that examined some of the reasons people at the company quit.3 The main reason is that employees find the day-to-day work they are doing less interesting and engaging than they want. For Facebook, it's not managers that are disengaging — it's the jobs. However, job design is typically something that managers do, and they often do it poorly. Managers are rarely given any guidance about how to do it, especially compared to the amount of training they are given about other factors, like performance management. But job design has the potential to be a more important function in people management. As AI becomes more accessible, organizations will outsource transactional work. This creates substantial opportunities to rethink how work gets done, which means we can actually use technology to help us redesign work to make it more interesting and engaging. The second opportunity in this area is adopting evidence-based management. The science behind effective job design is well established. Implementing a simple process and framework is important in empowering managers to assess current job design and improve the quality of work they create. While designing work might seem like an easy task for managers, very few employees will stick to their specific job description. By making job design a collaborative process between manager and employee, research has shown that people who craft their roles are more engaged, productive and see more meaning in what they do. Careers Can Connect Employees With the Future of Your Organization   Most organizations have been focusing on career trajectory for years. Talent reviews, internal job boards, career development conversations with your manager — all these things are designed to enable a more optimistic view about career progression. The problem is these actions do not work as well as they should. Why? Because many people are not clear about the realistic career options available to them at any one time, and the careers that are available now quickly become outdated as the organization changes structure and requirements. Carefully planned careers end up becoming irrelevant as talent demands shift. This is a really challenging topic. Even educators in schools and universities struggle with this problem — what jobs and future careers are available to students now and in the future? Constant social, technological and economic changes make this question impossible to answer. Businesses have the best opportunity to help with this challenge — but it requires a shift in focus from jobs to skills. If organizations can move from thinking of jobs as a list of functions to a bundle of adaptable skills that provide value to customers, then we can start to understand where the valuable and transferable skills are in the business. Making this shift also helps leaders talk to employees in a different way about career progression. Using technology, we can help people see the valuable skills they have, the skills that are decreasing in value and skills they need to stay relevant. Technology can also use individual engagement data to help advise employees which experiences excite them and coach them in a direction that will be the best fit for their personality. In addition to technical skills, organizations also need to think about talent for leadership. Maximizing leadership potential is a topic that many organizations care about but that few do well. As the volume of people data increases, helping people build stronger self-awareness is critical, so those who are best fit for people leadership roles can focus on developing the necessary capabilities. The Benefits of Building a More Holistic Employee Value Proposition   Work needs to be elevated from a list of tasks to be completed and instead viewed as a set of actions that have both personal meaning and commercial value. This shift isn't possible unless the HR function starts to think of the employee value proposition in a vastly different way. The most effective value propositions appreciate the whole employee experience rather than just the narrow "economic" role that work plays. It's relatively easy to make a living but it's hard to do work worth doing. A compelling employee value proposition makes an effort to do both. This means thinking past the transactional elements of the employee (pay and benefits) to incorporate more future-oriented elements of the relationships — the opportunity to innovate and create, experience a sense of sustainable wellbeing and develop new skills. The Value of Thriving at Work   Currently, many engagement programs are focused on answering how to get employees to do more for the organization. But the question that should be asked is, "How can the organization and the employee create a shared future together, using technology to create a healthier and more productive experience?" This changes the relationship dynamic and starts to value the contribution people make in a much broader way. HR leaders should look at building tools that help improve employee self-awareness, connecting what employees think about their work and how they behave in a powerful way. In summary, employee survey programs have been failing for years, in part because they have been so narrowly focused on outcomes, like an "engagement index." As technology starts to democratize the way we use employee feedback data, there is an opportunity to use it in a more two-way fashion to coach both individuals and managers. Keeping improved personal experience at the heart of innovations in employee surveys and feedback can help HR leaders make better decisions in adopting tools that will really work. For more information connect with us here: https://www.mercer.com/what-we-do/workforce-and-careers/talent-strategy/allegro-pulse-survey-platform.html Sources: 1. Garton, Eric. "Your Organization Wastes Time: Here's How to Fix It." Harvard Business Review, 13 Mar. 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/03/your-organization-wastes-time-heres-how-to-fix-it. 2. Young, Henry R.; Glerum, David R.; Wang, Wei; Joseph, Dana L. "Who Are the Most Engaged at Work? A Meta‐Analysis of Personality and Employee Engagement." Wiley Online Library, 23 Jul. 2018, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/job.2303. 3. Goler, Lori; Gale, Janelle; Harrington, Brynn; Grant, Adam. "Why People Really Quit Their Jobs." Harvard Business Review, 11 Jan. 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/01/why-people-really-quit-their-jobs.

Nancy Mann Jackson | 30 Jan 2020

Blockchain technology is not just for high-tech industries; it's gradually becoming an important part of even the most traditional professions, including agriculture. For example, India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry recently announced a blockchain-based e-marketplace for coffee producers. The marketplace is helping bridge the gap between coffee growers and buyers, allowing farmers to drastically increase their income. This initiative reflects a global trend of merging technological advances with agriculture. Blockchain Is Boosting India's Coffee Producers   Coffee produced in India is a premium product, produced by farmers who grow their beans under shade, hand pick them and dry them in the sun. The coffee is sold at premium prices around the world, but the farmers receive only a small portion of the profits, because there are many layers of buying and selling between the grower and the final consumer. The new blockchain-based marketplace app for trading Indian coffee brings growers closer to their ultimate customers, helping them earn fair pay and provide reliable traceability that allows consumers to trace their coffee from bean to cup. For customers, the ability to track the journey of the product they are buying can build trust. From the business perspective, that traceability can result in faster and more accurate recalls, reducing risk of food poisoning. By using the online marketplace, growers no longer have to depend on intermediaries. They can interact directly with buyers and earn fair prices for their products. Exporters can also use the online marketplace to quickly find reliable suppliers and traceable coffee products to meet their needs. When the Indian Coffee Board, a division of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, introduced the e-marketplace in March 2019, a group of about 20 coffee farmers, exporters, importers, roasters and retailers were already registered on the platform from India and abroad.1 From a user perspective, the platform is easy to use. Coffee farmers can log their product credentials, including their relevant certificates, growing location and elevation, details about the crop and other information. For each lot of coffee sold on the marketplace, the system creates a block. That block and its credentials are then stored on the blockchain throughout its journey and are unalterable, creating a record known as a blockchain ledger. A blockchain ledger is useful for all types of agricultural products because of its ability to record and update the status of crops — from planting and harvesting to storage and delivery. A secure, immutable ledger ensures that large agricultural operators never lose a load and that consumers can access the history and details of their food's background. Agricultural Uses of Blockchain Are Expanding Globally   India isn't the only place where the benefits of blockchain technology are having a positive impact on agriculture. France and Ethiopia have also instituted blockchain marketplaces for coffee, and similar marketplaces are operating or under development around the world for other crops and agricultural products. In China, for instance, e-commerce platform JD.com traces the production, selling and delivery process for beef raised in Inner Mongolia and purchased by customers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. By scanning a QR code, a consumer or retailer can see the size and age of the cow, its diet, when it was slaughtered, when the meat was packaged and what the results of the food safety tests were. Another Chinese company uses ankle bracelets on chickens to record the details of each chicken's life using blockchain, providing assurance to consumers that the free-range chicken they're paying for is actually free-range.2 Analysts expect that the blockchain technology market for agriculture around the world will continue to escalate, growing 56.4% from 2018 to 2022.3 Blockchain marketplaces allow producers and buyers to view trade history, local prices and other information that allow them to negotiate prices with confidence. As food producers around the world continue adopting blockchain technology, they bring more efficiency to their supply chains, improving food safety and traceability, as well as profit margins and consumer trust. Clearly, blockchain can bring about positive change in a variety of ways, but adopting and implementing the technology is much easier said than done. In an industry like agriculture, blockchain will have to reshape a decades-old framework, and that won't happen overnight. It's up to leaders everywhere to understand the value of this technology and get their teams on board with implementing it to achieve that value — even if it means starting small. Sources: 1. "Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India." Press Information Bureau, 28 Mar. 2019, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=189586. 2. Peters, Adele. "In China, You Can Track Your Chicken On–You Guessed It–The Blockchain." Fast Company, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/40515999/in-china-you-can-track-your-chicken-on-you-guessed-it-the-blockchain. 3. "Global Blockchain Technology Market in the Agriculture Sector 2018-2022." Global Banking & Finance Review, 26 Sep. 2018, https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/global-blockchain-technology-market-in-the-agriculture-sector-2018-2022-market-to-grow-at-a-cagr-of-56-4-with-agriledger-full-profile-ibm-microsoft-ripe-technology-te-food-dominating-rese/.

Jackson Kam | 30 Jan 2020

China is fostering a culture of innovation throughout its society — but most notably in its startup businesses. Multinationals can take advantage of this increased energy by investing in Chinese startups or taking a cue from how the successful ones — the "unicorns" — are meeting the demands of a growing Chinese consumer base. Multinationals must also be mindful of what Chinese workers desire most from employers, which is the ability to have a healthy work-life balance, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 study. Currently, this is a very real challenge for employees working at tech startups. Developing a Culture of Innovation   To foster this culture of innovation within its industries, the Chinese government is making it easier for entrepreneurs to experiment and grow by implementing more "benign" business regulations. It's also ensuring that there is efficient infrastructure and local support in place.1 One sector that is particularly thriving under this new spirit is insurtech. For example: ZhongAn Online, a digital insurer backed by Ping An, Tencent and Alibaba, has launched a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for insurance companies, giving them rapid access to ZhongAn's accumulated data on medical claims, medical insurance directories, drug prescriptions and local hospital information across the country.2 Another insurtech example is the partnership between Rui Xin Insurance Technology and China Lending, which aims to help the insurance company develop its own consumer financial platform offering China Lending's products. The two companies will also collaborate to develop more insurance products and attract more customers on both of their platforms.3 These insurtech partnerships exemplify how China is now setting the stage for experimental collaboration and innovation that challenges the status quo. Taking a Cue From Chinese Unicorns   Across many sectors, thousands of Chinese startups are disrupting industries — and stealing customers from established companies — by developing innovative business models to sell even more innovative products.4 Indeed, China has 120 successful startups, more than half of the 234 unicorns globally.5 Chinese startups are excelling because they can quickly reach scale in the large market, and they can tap a growing talent pool, particularly professionals with PhDs — twice as many as those in the U.S. They are also exhibiting a higher risk tolerance that's enabling them to conduct "fearless experimentation" to push out new products as fast as possible. With the rise of digital disruption, these unicorns are eager to take big risks and put their country back on the map as an innovator.5 How Multinationals Can Leverage This Energy   Hengyuan Zhu, associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Tsinghua University, believes that startups are successful because they are practicing "contextualized innovation." This entails collaborating with local customers within the country to make sure products meet the specific demands of those localities — and multinational companies operating in China should take a cue.6 "If they want to be successful, multinational companies will have to give more decision-making power to their local branches in China," Zhu said. "They need to do this so that they can leverage global resources, integrate into the innovation system and innovate in China for Chinese customers." An innovative workplace culture must be counterbalanced for organizations to be successful. For instance, organizations need to be willing to experiment but in a highly disciplined manner. Carefully taking this line of thought into consideration in all aspects of the workplace will ensure the success and application of a productive, innovative culture. Dealing with 996: An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance   There is a rising backlash occurring in the Chinese tech community, particularly among startups, that centers on what is known as "996.ICU." The name comes from the typical work schedule for Chinese programmers: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.7 Some startups are forcing their workers to abide by this schedule, either explicitly or by demanding certain KPIs in an unreasonable amount of time. Others are encouraging these schedules by appealing to long-held beliefs within the Chinese culture. For example, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has stated, "No company should or can force employees into working 996 . . . But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don't defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!"7 These sentiments are contrary to what the majority of polled Chinese workers shared during the Global Talent Trends 2019 study — that the foremost condition that would help them thrive in the workplace is the ability to manage their work-life balance. This also ranks ahead of their desire to have opportunities to learn new skills and technologies and have a fun work environment. Multinationals considering investment in Chinese startups or taking cues from unicorns may consider adopting many of the attributes of those successfully innovating while fostering a healthier work-life balance for Chinese workers — which can ultimately benefit the organization's bottom line, as well. Sources: 1. Jun, Zie. "Whole-of-society effort drives technology development in China," Global Times, 25 Jun. 2019, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1155732.shtml. 2. Fintech News Hong Kong. "ZhongAn Technology Launches AI-Powered Data Platform for China's Insurance Industry," Fintech News, 14 Aug. 2018, http://fintechnews.hk/6308/insurtech/zhongan-technology-saas-insurance-data/. 3. China Lending Corporation. "China Lending Forges Strategic Partnership with Rui Xin Insurance Technology to Develop Online Financial Services Platform," PR Newswire, 15 Jul. 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/china-lending-forges-strategic-partnership-with-rui-xin-insurance-technology-to-develop-online-financial-services-platform-300884622.html. 4. Greeven, Mark J; Yip, George S. and Wei, Wei. "Understanding China's Next Wave of Innovation," MIT Sloan Management Review, 7 Feb. 2019, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/understanding-chinas-next-wave-of-innovation/. 5. Nheu, Christopher. "The Secret Behind How Chinese Startups are Winning," Startup Grind, 1 May 2018, https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-secret-behind-how-chinese-startups-are-winning-44876b196626. 6. Zhu, Hengyuan and Euchner, Jim. "The Evolution of China's Innovation Capability," Research-Technology Management, 10 May 2018, http://china.enrichcentres.eu/sharedResources/users/4807/The%20Evolution%20of%20China%20s%20Innovation%20Capability.pdf. 7. Liao, Rita. "China's startup ecosystem is hitting back at demand-working hours," TechCrunch, Apr. 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/12/china-996/.

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