Industry And Technology Convergence: The Next Frontier

The secret to convergence on the larger scale is to view technology not as an end in itself, but as a set of tools that can be combined again and again in flexible ways to solve different problems.

In today’s world where change is constant, businesses must think big to thrive and survive. One interesting solution has emerged: convergence.

Convergence occurs when the products and services of two or more separate industries are viewed by consumers as complementary. Thanks to advances in technology, convergence is now primed to play a much bigger role in enabling transformational change.

For instance, United Airlines recently expanded its existing digital platform capabilities to help customers easily find a local Covid-19 testing provider, book appointments and receive confirmation whether their test results complied with their destination’s requirements directly from the United app and website. By adding in helpful healthcare services, the airline is elevating customer care and improving the overall customer experience.

Pulling in the experts

To hone in on how convergence is essential to business success and societal change, we launched the MIT and Accenture Convergence Initiative for Industry and Technology in late 2020 with the “Partners in Possible” forum, a five-week virtual learning and ideation workshop. The event was a collision experiment that ignited ideas across shared interests in sustainability, the future of work, supply chains, industrial clusters, digital health and changes powered by technology and artificial intelligence (AI) that will affect the world in the years to come.

Convergence will help companies unlock and map out a path towards rapid business growth in the years ahead. This will mean reshaping industries and business opportunities and powering new areas for customer and business value. The “Partners in Possible” forum attempted to discover how to prepare for the future and take advantage of these changes. During the forum, Accenture professionals and MIT academics were challenged to identify and ideate on a significant global challenge through the lens of industrial and technological convergence.

The results were inspiring and emphasized just how much can be achieved through convergence. Consider transportation and traffic. Historically, most public transit systems were built without concern for future needs, resulting in a fragmented and inefficient system. What we need is a paradigm shift to arm cities with data and AI that accurately predicts supply and demand.

Using technologies such as data-collecting sensors and machine learning, cities could build a consumption-based model for the transportation industry that creates seamless experiences for consumers. Shifts in public transportation modes, availability and routes could be quickly made based on demand, such as rerouting to account for traffic accidents. Access to data and learnings from other industries could also assist other areas of transport such as emergency healthcare responders and automated vehicles.

Where to start?

As this scenario shows, technology is an important part of the convergence story, but much of the value of technology comes from its own ability to converge. While artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT are exciting technologies by themselves, the real interest is when these technologies work together for an impact that stretches beyond one industry or function.

Looked at in this way, convergence is an exercise in innovative and future-focused thinking with the aim of discovering new ways to drive business value. The secret to convergence on this scale is to view technology not as an end in itself, but as a set of tools that can be combined again and again in flexible ways to solve different problems, often beyond what was originally intended.

For example, energy company Phillips 66 worked with Accenture and AT&T to develop a private cellular network that can enhance overall network performance. This network can also lay the foundation for potential 5G use cases, including support for the Industrial Internet of Things. This future-focused thinking means that Phillips 66 will be able to quickly act on upcoming digital opportunities across its refineries.

Convergence also requires an openness to new relationships, a willingness to be introspective and put your business models under scrutiny to reinvent and create new value. And that means accepting a certain level of discomfort and realism about where your company is falling behind and what needs to change. It also requires a commitment to being bold and trying things in radically new ways.

It is vital that organizations embrace change. Convergence can be disruptive, but it also creates new connections and ideas for collaboration. Continuous learning allows companies to create innovative and successful connections between technology and industry and to break down the silos of the past. For those that get this right, the rewards are immense: the ability to offer solutions that will make a positive change to the world and open new modes of business.

The time is now

The benefits of convergence are clear and growing every day. Companies that focus on imagining the future to create new ways of creating value for business and humanity will be the ones to thrive.

Convergence is going to become increasingly important in cultural and societal issues as well. Big topics like sustainability and social justice now top the agenda of many organizations and solving these issues is important to customers and workers alike. When it comes to sustainability, it’s increasingly clear that new value can be derived from the intersection of digital technologies and green initiatives. For instance, AI and analytics can be used to create a single source of data and sustainability reporting across multiple industries. Businesses that can successfully converge technology with sustainability will not just be doing good for the world, they will also be unlocking growth.

For businesses that recognize the value of convergence and want to start their own convergence journeys, it’s important to think about the approach in the right way. Tackle problems laterally. Partner broadly and imaginatively. Treat technology as a toolbox and remain focused on the end goal. Get this right, and you’ll be able to rebuild, renew and grow in entirely new ways. Get it right, and the whole world will benefit.

Sanjeev Vohra is the global lead of Accenture Applied Intelligence, helping clients across industries and markets evaluate, maximize and scale business value through the strategic application of data, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and automation. Anantha P. Chandrakasan is the dean of the MIT School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Koen Deryckere leads Accenture’s industry networks and programs with responsibility for industry consulting, cross-services industry programs and industry convergence globally.