What’s on the Future Agenda? Three business innovations for UAE

Following his recent appearance at the Global Innovation Summit in Dubai, Dr. Tim Jones, the programme director of Future Agenda, the world’s largest open foresight initiative, highlights the trends ripe for innovation.

It was good to be back in Dubai last week to deliver the opening keynote at the Global Innovation Summit at Atlantis, The Palm. I was sharing insights from our new book ‘Six Key Challenges for the Next Decade’.

Written with Caroline Dewing this is our personal take on what we heard in 120 Future Agenda discussions around the world last year. As well as highlighting the main global shifts, the keynote also focused on some core areas of potential innovation opportunity for the UAE and the wider Middle East. In particular we explored areas ripe for business model innovation as well as technology development. Of the issues shared at the event, three significant trends seemed to resonate particularly well with the audience and led to more detailed discussions afterwards:

Education Revolution

Firstly, broader access to improved education is seen as a major catalyst for empowerment, sustained economic growth, overcoming inequality and reducing conflict. Many see that we need an education system fit for the digital revolution, not one still based on practices from a century or so ago. The idea of ‘teacher-less’ classrooms where learning comes from the likes of YouTube, Coursera.com and multiple ‘MOOC’s is rapidly gaining traction and, with it, the shift in the role of the teacher from the source of content and information to that of coach and curator. Implicit within this is a change in standards and accreditation away from traditional exam bodies to a world where knowledge and skills are gained from multiple sources. While many are keen to accelerate this shift and help better prepare the next generation for the world ahead, the challenge in some regions is in finding parents willing to let their own children be the pioneers, and experiment with this new model. As governments seek to improve the human capital of their nation, balancing this is key.

Energy Storage

Secondly, energy storage, and particularly electricity storage, is now seen as the missing piece in the renewables jigsaw. If solved, it can enable truly distributed solar energy as well as accelerate the electrification of the transport industry. Core to this is the overnight, localised storage most often associated with batteries and an area where lithium-ion and air technology is rapidly improving performance. However, it is not just batteries that are undergoing innovation as there are multiple other options for alternative energy storage including hydrogen, hydro, heat and momentum. Bringing to the market a low-cost, highly efficient solution that can be adopted in many applications is a focus for many researchers and success will drive a major change across the whole energy landscape.

Data Marketplaces

Thirdly, as many see that data is now becoming a currency, it has a value and a price, and therefore requires a market place. An ecosystem for trading data is now emerging and several leaders see that anything that is information can be represented in new data marketplaces. Especially as we shift from bi-lateral sharing of data to a more open and transparent approach, how a stock exchange for data would work is being debated around the world. The challenge is that unlike a simple time vs. value market as exists for shares or commodities, a data market place would have an extra two dimensions of variance. Many would only want to access data and not own it and the value that one party would place on a particular piece of information will not necessarily be the same as another party. Solving this conundrum is no easy task, but if achieved it could change the way business and society interact.

All three of these are clearly major global opportunities but also areas with significant potential to help move things forward. Whether by proactively trailing new approaches to education, investing in the most promising energy storage technologies or even creating the supportive environment for a data marketplace. As we continue regular visits to Dubai, it will be interesting to keep track of developments and see what emerges going forward.