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Google Country Director and Tech-Possibilist Thierry Geerts on Digital Transformation and Reinvention

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Imagine a world where geographical borders are no longer boundaries, where the exchange of information and knowledge is instant, where technology is an integral part of the lives of an interconnected society of 4 billion people, all connected in real time by the internet. By understanding technology, we can use it to reinvent business models and positively impact humanity by unravelling simpler issues and creating opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs. Welcome to Digitalis – a reality that’s closer than we think.   

Digitalis is a book written by the Country Director of Google Belgium and Luxembourg, Thierry Geerts, which he presented at EU Business School Munich as part of EU’s inspirational ‘Learning from Leaders’ series. It describes life in the fictional state of Digitalis, where a global network of citizens is connected by the internet and aided by the latest in technological advancement. It encourages us to be positive about the digital future and to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Digital Transformation: The Fourth Industrial Revolution

According to Thierry Geerts, we are progressing from the mobile revolution, where our lives are contained on small electronic devices, to the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a move into the digital era, propelled by extraordinary technological advances. “Don’t be afraid of it. These are new tools to solve our problems,” said Mr. Geerts, who encouraged us all to embrace the digital revolution as change is inevitable.

Access to the internet allows for the flow of information, better education, healthcare and culture,” he says, adding that this will contribute to a more efficient, educated and healthier global population. This revolution, unlike its predecessors which relied heavily on the use of raw materials, is based on an economy of knowledge. And, according to Thierry, knowledge-sharing has the potential to resolve the biggest humanitarian issues.

A profound change can be instigated if we embrace the revolution fully and understand technology and its potential to affect both positive and negative change. However, he encourages us to grasp the potential of technological advances for addressing the world’s biggest problems and improving society.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been welcomed differently on different continents. In his book, Mr. Geerts sets Europe as the capital of Digitalis, even though Europe is currently falling behind due to its stringent data protection laws which are allowing the US and Asia to lead technological advancement. While Silicon Valley is innovating, and China is inventing and producing, Europe is more focussed on legislating technology, which is hampering the creation and enhancement of new tech. Thierry urges Europe to take the lead – as it has already done successfully in B2B –  and says that European countries need to work together in order to create a technologically borderless state and progress.

Artificial Intelligence & Our Jobs

Uncertainty is always a factor during times of revolution. As a result, the digital revolution and the progression of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, along with the Internet of Things (IoT), have caused some to have negative feelings towards technology and the impact it will have on our jobs and, even more importantly, society.

Mr. Geerts argues that AI and machine learning have already changed the way we work and the nature of our jobs: people are no longer being paid to do simple calculations. ATMs have replaced many functions of the cashier at the bank and online stores do not require shop assistants. Machines and AI have taken over routine administrative tasks such as creating accounting algorithms and have also replaced humans in dangerous working situations such as the AI-enhanced robots to disarm or detonate explosives.

digital interconnections

AI is also very present in our everyday lives: we already use it in the form of iPhone’s Siri, web chatbots, filters in Gmail and in social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. We switch on the lights in our homes using Google Home, we use Google Translate to assist with language barriers and Google Maps to navigate our commutes.

These services use AI to learn customer behavior in order to continuously update and improve systems. “AI is what that will finally make computers work for us,” commented Mr. Geerts. Given the increasing use of artificial intelligence in many traditional job roles, the skills and qualities that will be most essential in the future are creativity, communication, inventiveness and innovation.

Digital Development & Business Model Innovation

Now is the time to innovate and be an entrepreneur”, urges Mr. Geerts. “Just look at the toaster, for example. People throw away burnt toast every morning, so why haven’t we reinvented the toaster? It’s 2019, we send people to the moon, we make self-driving cars, we make amazing apps, but we are not capable of making a toaster that stops in time.” You can revolutionize a simple task such as making toast by connecting the toaster to the internet, allowing you to use voice commands to place an order of toast. Innovation, even when it comes to the insignificant like making the perfect morning slice of toast, becomes essential.

digital transformation

Often described as a ‘tech-optimist’, Mr. Geerts prefers ‘possibilist’, a term he coined himself.  “Everything must be reinvented,” says Mr. Geerts, which means that the possibilities to be innovative are infinite. Mr. Geerts wishes that he could be a student today, to be in the middle of the revolution and to learn about the new advancements and to experience how industries are evolving and essentially be a part of the change that tech will bring. He thinks that now is an ideal time to start a business career because we need innovators, creative startups and entrepreneurs to develop new ideas and to assist big companies to transform themselves to be current in the digital era.

Clean drinking water for all, a cleaner environment and preventing disease are all real possibilities as technology advances. With artificial intelligence, programs and machinery being developed to address the issues we are facing, the reality is that we might soon can solve many of our problems, things like curing diseases before people get sick are becoming real possibilities.

To achieve this, we need brilliant minds who will completely reinvent the way things are done. Thierry mentions the evolution of mobility. Google, for example, is in the process of developing more ecofriendly and self-driving car, which are cheaper, most sustainable and safer than current options.

Mr. Geerts emphasized that traditional businesses are losing touch with what people want. For example, entities like Airbnb are interacting with people and understanding their basic needs, offering a seamless and convenient service. This approach is now more closely aligned with customer needs than the hotel sector. Technology allows for more opportunities in the world of product innovation and business. Ensuring that your skillset is relevant in a constantly changing, globalized world is essential today and the opportunities are endless.

Getting connected, having an entrepreneurial mindset and being innovative will allow you to take advantage of the opportunities that these new and emerging technology presents. Are you the future of international business? You need to have the right set of skills, an international mindset and a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. Become a game changer and prepare yourself for an exciting and successful business career at EU Business School. Find out more about our English-taught programs here.

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