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Why The Entire Economy Will Be Run By Digital Giants – Forbes

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In his new book, Everybody Wants to Rule the World (HarperCollins, July 2021), business analyst Ray Wang describes the future of business. His book predicts that by 2050, the global marketplace will comprise around 50 giant duopolies. In each market, there will be only two dominant giants.

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Sector after sector, writes Wang, has already become “a bloodbath” with one-or-two winner-takes-all. “Facebook dominated social media. Amazon took over commerce. Google ruled search. Netflix won the streaming wars. Add the global COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, and the gaps between winners and losers not only widened, but the pace of change also accelerated.” And this, says Wang, is just the beginning.

In effect, Wang foresees that the same economic and technological forces that created today’s handful of digital giants will work its way throughout the whole global economy. This should be not a surprise to any who understand why digital assets tend inexorably towards winner-take-all outcomes. (If Google offers the best search, why should I use anything else?)

Wang argues that we all need to “understand the digital giants’ DNA, how they operate, why they continue to build exponential barriers to entry, and where their next foray will take them.” In business, the rise of duopolies, says Wang, “represents a life-or-death challenge for your company—no matter what sector you’re in or how long you’ve held a secure position.” In the public sector, regulators need to understand them to effectively regulate them.

Whatever Happened To ‘Digital Transformations’?

Wang notes that “the most popular business buzz-phrase of the 2010s was “digital transformation.” Wang himself led the charge to help firms with their digital transformations. But it didn’t work for most firms. “We did all the right things,” he writes. “We transformed business models. We changed engagement. We were supposed to come out winners. And yet only a few of us made it past the finish line. Suddenly successfully embracing digital transformation was not enough.”

It turned out that the game itself had changed. “Our competition was no longer whom we thought it was,” writes Wang. “Even as direct competitors fall by the wayside and pose less of a threat, competition from nontraditional players continues to increase. In many cases, adjacent value chains compete head on with our companies.”

The New Game: Data-Driven Digital Networks (DDDNs)

The new game, says Wang, involves a recognition that the most important asset in the digital age is data. The winners already are, and will continue to be, those who are able to exploit data in what Wang calls Data-Driven Digital Networks or DDDNs.

“DDDNs apply these massive digital feedback loops to all of their stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, partners — and use data – driven insights to mitigate risk, identify new opportunities, improve operational efficiency, anticipate customer demands, and drive dynamic pricing. For example, Google can automatically and dynamically adjust ad pricing based on the popularity of a search term or engagement in a topic. Amazon can identify which routes and markets to expand based on logistic costs and profit margins. By relying on technologies such as AI and the cloud at scale, DDDNs automate many data-driven decisions—such as what products and services to promote in what markets and at what price. This gives them an unfair competitive advantage and makes it even harder for non-DDDNs to succeed.”

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Only Three Options

There are only three options for business, says Wang.

Option 1: Become a data-driven digital network and be one of the lucky-few victorious firms over the next decade. “It won’t be easy, but it is doable. You’ll need to innovate both technology and business models. It will require mustering resources, willpower, and ingenuity to attain data supremacy…. Without a business model that generates huge amounts of data at every decision point, you’re dead on arrival.” This in turn will require “benevolent dictator” governance.

Option 2: If that is too difficult, you can “join a coalition of smaller players in your industry that can collaborate on creating a DDDN. These coalitions will play an increasingly important role in enabling competition against the digital monopolies and duopolies.” As examples, Wang cites “Microsoft’s attempt to challenge Amazon through partnerships with retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, and Kroger” and the American Booksellers Association, a coalition of independent local bookstores. Wang foresees that most firms “will choose option two—to partner with others to build a DDDN—to get started. But, sadly, many will not make the investments in resources and money necessary to succeed.”

Option 3: There is no option 3, says Wang. “Can I choose to quietly run my business in my small niche, without the backing of a DDDN and without provoking the giants? The answer,” says Wang, “is no…Like it or not, the only options are to build your own duopoly, join a coalition that can hold its own against the dominant DDDNs in your market, or give up and wait for the grim reaper.”

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Social Implications

“While the massive rise of digital duopolies will foster the next wave of disruption and innovation, it will also leave behind a path of destruction. Why? Digital duopolies will usher an era of super-efficient yet extreme capitalism.”

“Policymakers and responsible organizations building duopolies,” says Wang, “must take steps to keep fair competition alive. Successful duopolies will have to abide by guidelines that require: Open technology standards that prevent market lock-in and integration capabilities. Access rights that ensure smaller players can compete on their own merits without being duly excluded. Personal data ownership to ensure users have control over consent and usage of their personal information, transaction history, and other metadata.”

Business implications

“More than 90% of the current Fortune 500,” says Wang, “will be merged, acquired, or go bankrupt by 2050 in deals that will add up to quadrillions of investment capital. The rich (measured in capital, customers, technology, talent, and data) will get richer, and everyone else will have to scrounge for scraps.”

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“Building a DDDN is hard,” says Wang. “It requires a combination of massive computing power, products or services that engage users, AI, and billions in capital investment—a high barrier to entry that ensures only a few players in any market succeed in doing so. If a DDDN already has a foothold in a market, the power of its virtuous digital data feedback loop makes it harder and harder for competitors to catch up to it. Even if they are not already in a market, DDDNs can use their dominance in another market and their value chains to enter new ones much more easily. Most of their competitors are taken by surprise and fail to react.”

Firms attempting to create a DDDN will need to upend their business thinking as shown in Figure 3.1.

“Even those who try to mount a defense have found it an uphill battle, especially since their ability to do the very thing that could save them — investing in innovation — has been largely quashed by a hostile investment environment.”

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“The story of how established companies got hung out to dry by investors begins in the 2010s,” says Wang. “That decade saw the financial markets skewed by the concentration of more and more investment capital among the ‘mega-investor’ class. The mega-investors who should have been pushing the Fortune 500 to invest more in digital transformation to compete against these DDDNs, instead became more conservative, demanding higher and higher quarterly profits.

There is a risk that firms attempting to create a DDDN they will fall into seven well-known traps, as shown in Figure 3.2.

See part 2 of this article: (coming soon) an interview with Ray Wang in which we discuss the further implications of this illuminating book.

And read also:

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Why Agile Is Eating The World

Why Digital Transformations are Failing

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UK Economy Faces $6.3 Billion Hit From Pingdemic, CEBR Says – BNN

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(Bloomberg) —

The U.K.’s economy could face a loss of more than 4.6 billion pounds ($6.3 billions) in just four weeks if rules on self-isolation following a “ping” from the NHS app aren’t relaxed, according to data from Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Since July 19 “freedom day,” the surge of Covid cases in the U.K. implies has caused increasing number of people will need self-isolate after being contacted by the NHS app, triggering disruption in supply chains. Figures released this week from the NHS track-and-trace app, covering the period from July 8-14, show a record 607,486 self-isolation pings were sent within a week in England.

The government may need to speed up its overhaul of the NHS App, as exemptions introduced for key workers would reduce the overall cost by only 300 million pounds over the period, CEBR said, whereas more than half could be saved by relaxing isolation for those who have had their second vaccination by at least two weeks, they added.

Britain’s economy already showed signs of slowing in July as euphoria following the easing of coronavirus restrictions eased and a resurgence of the coronavirus caused widespread staff shortages. An index based on a survey of purchasing managers by IHS Markit fell unexpectedly to its lowest since March.

Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged Boris Johnson’s government to relax isolation rules for vaccinated people who come into contact with a Covid-19 case, with the U.K. capital facing major disruption.

Politicians and scientists are now concerned that people are deleting the official Covid-19 mobile phone app, or at least switching off its tracing function, to avoid having to self-isolate.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Virus resurgence menaces economy just as rescue programs unravel – POLITICO

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The resurgence of the coronavirus is threatening to undercut the U.S. economic recovery and upend Americans’ plans to return to work just as the sweeping social safety net that Congress built during the pandemic is unraveling.

That one-two punch — a new wave of cases followed by the looming expiration of enhanced jobless benefits, a ban on evictions and other rescue programs — is sparking concern among lawmakers and economists who say that while widespread business shutdowns are unlikely, renewed fears of the virus alone can slow the economy just as it’s getting back on track.

That could dampen hiring and keep some workers on the sidelines of the job market — stalling or even reversing the labor recovery, the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. New unemployment claims jumped last week to 419,000, well above expectations and the highest since mid-May, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

Biden — whose Gallup approval rating dropped to 50 percent this week, its lowest yet — is already drawing attacks from Republicans over the issue. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top GOP tax writer in Congress, said the president has focused too much on pushing his “$4 trillion spending binge” and not enough on the virus.

Jason Furman, a former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama who is close to the current White House economic team, said the West Wing is very aware of the risks to the economy from the spike in Covid cases.

“Any problem that has a 5 to 10 percent chance to derail the economic recovery you are looking at very closely and are worried about,” Furman said.

He said that concern isn’t especially high, however, because even under “the most plausible worst-case scenario,” the risk is that the Delta variant “takes what was a very fast recovery and turns it into just a fast recovery.”

Another person familiar with the economic team’s discussions confirmed that the White House is paying close attention but doesn’t consider the virus a significant threat. Biden has been calling on Americans to get vaccinated, mainly out of concern for people’s safety but also with an eye out for the economy, the person said.

Biden, speaking on Monday after the stock market tumbled as investors braced for a potential rebound of the virus, said, “We can’t let up, especially because of the Delta variant, which is more transmissible and more dangerous.”

Coronavirus cases have been rising nationwide and are back to their highest level since early May as the highly contagious variant spreads across the country. The sharp uptick has reignited fears of the pandemic, particularly as cases rise among young children who are unable to get a vaccine and even among those who have been fully vaccinated.

“If people don’t feel safe, they’re going to close schools. If people don’t feel safe, they’re not going to go back to work,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist. “The recovery — it’s going, but it’s still vulnerable.”

While it’s far too early to gauge the fallout from the increase in cases, any Delta-driven jobs slowdown is likely to be most pronounced in blue states, where higher percentages of residents are vaccinated but where people are also less willing to take risks as coronavirus cases rise. A CBS News poll this week showed that nearly 3 in 4 fully vaccinated Americans are worried about the Delta variant, compared to less than half of those who are not fully vaccinated or who have not received any shots at all.

Those same Democratic-led states also have the most jobs left to recover since they had stricter shutdown orders in place initially and then reopened more slowly. Roughly 8 million of the 10 million jobs that are still missing in the economy from before the pandemic are in blue states, said Arindrajit Dube, a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The slowdown in jobs growth, then, is likely to be most acute in the states where the need is greatest. And given how much economic activity those states generate, the ripple effects on the macroeconomy will be more severe.

“If you have highly populous parts of the country who have taken Covid seriously the entire time, and those people get afraid, then you have at least a noticeable slowing in the recovery,” said Sahm, now a senior fellow at the Jain Family Institute.

If Delta continues to spread, the economic shock would come as huge swaths of Americans are still struggling to get back on their feet.

While wages have been rising, particularly for low-income workers in leisure and hospitality, those gains have been outpaced by inflation. And more than 1 in 3 American adults have less in emergency savings now than before the pandemic, despite the more than $5 trillion Congress has pumped into the economy since March 2020 in stimulus and relief funds, according to a Bankrate.com survey released on Wednesday.

“That really underscores how much we need to restore jobs,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “All of those issues that really plague low-income households have not gone away. We bought some time, but the clock is expiring.”

The end of various social safety net programs will affect tens of millions of Americans. Survey data from the Census Bureau shows 3.6 million households say they are somewhat or very likely to face eviction in the next two months as the nationwide moratorium expires at the end of July. More than 12 million Americans continue to receive some form of jobless benefits, which will be slashed or cut entirely by Labor Day.

And some 42 million student loan borrowers will need to resume payments in October unless the Biden administration acts — and 2 in 3 say it will be difficult for them to pay the bill, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts survey this month.

The ultimate risk is if those and other programs run out at the same time that a major coronavirus outbreak leads to a pullback in economic spending, a slowdown in hiring or an increased hesitancy to find work for fear of catching the virus.

“If we are to see a significant wave in the end of summer, early fall, then we are likely to see an environment where the economic impact will be much greater if there isn’t additional fiscal support,” said Gregory Daco, the chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

Congress has been preoccupied in recent months not with short-term stimulus but longer-term initiatives, namely a bipartisan infrastructure plan and a multitrillion-dollar spending package for child care, health care, education and climate, Daco said. In short order, too, lawmakers will also have to take action on urgent items including the budget and the debt ceiling.

“Those are likely to be the key focus,” he said. “So there might be a significant disconnect between the potential need for additional fiscal stimulus and Congress’ focus on more medium-term plans.”

In the meantime, the Delta variant is giving Republicans fresh ammunition to rail against the multitrillion spending package they have long slammed as an expensive Democratic wishlist. Brady, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said Tuesday he’s hopeful the president will now “turn away from his distraction on another $4 trillion spending binge” to focus on coronavirus and the economy.

“I’m worried that almost since Day One, six months ago, [Biden] took his eye off defeating the virus and rebuilding the economy,” Brady said. “The president is scrambling now to make up for that lack of attention, but I worry that it’s too late.”

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A 'delta' chill in the air? The economy is still booming, but it faces new uncertainty – MarketWatch

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The U.S. economy caught fire in the spring and it’s still running pretty hot this summer, but a new strain of the coronavirus is threatening to cast a chill over the recovery.

Worries about the so-called delta strain sent a shiver through investors last week after the number of people catching the virus quickly climbed from a pandemic low. The stock market
DJIA,
+0.68%

posted its biggest decline in almost 10 months before recovering and bond yields also fell.

Although the U.S. Covid caseload is still quite low, the delta variant has introduced new uncertainty into the economic outlook and forced households, businesses and government to consider how to respond.

The reaction so far? Not much. Los Angeles County recommended that residents wear masks again, but it’s one of the few governments to do so.

By and large, the delta variant has drawn a wait-and-see reaction. Just look at the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average recovered all of its losses in just a few days and was back at an all-time high.

A chief reason for the optimism, it seems, is that the White House and Federal Reserve will do whatever it takes to keep the economy propped up.

“As long as the government and the Fed keep pumping things up, it is hard to see how the markets can stay down for an extended period,” said chief economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors.

Massive government financial stimulus played a huge role in what’s expected to be a very strong U.S. economic performance in the second quarter. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal estimate that gross domestic product soared at a 9.1% annual rate in the period stretching from April to June.

See: MarketWatch Economic Calendar

That would be one of the strongest American growth rates ever and help compensate for the devastating economic losses early in the pandemic. GDP, the official scorecard for the U.S. economy, will be released on Thursday.

More important, of course, is what happens next. GDP is mostly a look in the rearview mirror.

Other reports next week are likely to show the U.S. sustaining its recent momentum. Consumer spending data and orders for manufactured goods in June are also expected to point to underlying strength in the economic recovery.

Read: Takeout and dining out has never been so popular – how U.S. restaurants survived and even thrive

Households are spending freely and businesses just can’t keep up with demand. One of their biggest problems is finding enough workers.

What about the delta strain?

So far most people who are catching it are unvaccinated. So-called break-though cases among the vaccinated, meanwhile, are not inducing many severe reactions or deaths.

So it seems the prognosis for broader economy — not to mention the health of the public — is still pretty good with more than 68% of the adult U.S. population having received at least one shot.

Yet if there’s one thing that’s been learned during the pandemic, nothing can be taken for granted. The virus could mutate again, for instance, or individuals, businesses and government could adopt defensive measures that take some steam out of the recovery.

Perhaps the most realistic danger for now is that the delta variant will spread more rapidly around the world and further disrupt global suppy chains that have been strained by the pandemic.

These supply-chain problems — a notable example is a shortage of computer chips — could exacerbate the surge in U.S. inflation this year and further raise costs for consumers and businesses alike.

Already higher inflation is hurting Americans financially and undermining confidence in the recovery. A key inflation report next week, known as the PCE price index, due on Friday, is expected to show another large increase.

The Fed, for its part, is likely to try to reassure consumers and investors next week that the spike in inflation is just temporary after its latest big meeting on the economy. That’s been the Fed’s mantra for months.

Read: Prices are soaring and Americans aren’t happy about it

Also: The cost of living posts biggest surge since 2008 as inflation spreads

Yet the central bank badly underestimated how much prices would rise this year and even some top Fed officials are starting to get worried.

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