The Digital Economy Will be Built on Connections Lessons from Davos

Earlier this week five of the tech industry’s leading executives took the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Their panel opened the conference whose theme was “Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business.”

Sound boring? Trust me, it wasn’t.

While Nobel laureates and professors used to be the stars of Davos, they have had to yield the stage to tech celebrities. This year’s cast: Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Cisco’s John Chambers and British Telecom’s Gavin Patterson.

These leaders talked not about starvation in Africa or the unrest in Kiev, but Benioff’s Fitbit, Mayer’s iPhone, Stephenson’s bandwidth and Chambers' IoT sales pitch (which is currently on world tour.)

These things, or the concepts behind them, impact our lives and our world. And they, or things like them, are creating the digital economy, where data may actually be the new gold.

Here’s why we think so.

Fundamental Changes as Shown by a Fitbit

During the panel, moderator George Colony, of Forrester Research, asked the execs which personal technology had changed their lives the most.

Benioff picked Fitbit over his Phillips toothbrush.

I lost 30 pounds wearing the Fitbit; I do 10,000 steps a day. But here’s the amazing thing: Last week I got a call from Michael Dell. He asked if I’m feeling okay. ‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘I’m worried about you,’ he said, ‘because I’m your friend on the Fitbit network and noticed you hadn’t worked out in the last three days and wanted to make sure you’re okay.'"

Benioff then explained that he had had a cold and joked that Dell was in his Fitbit “business” because of his competitive nature; but all kidding aside, he made an important point:

Here I am a public company CEO and people know if I have a cold. People are maybe going to know my heart rate, glucose level. The personal enlightenment you get from this technology today is so awesome but what does it mean when everyone knows everything? That call from Michael changed my view.”

And while there’s privacy to consider (we’ll address that at a later time if you tell us there’s interest) for marketers, data like Benioff’s opens a very valuable window. Nike, if it’s watching Benioff’s footsteps should know when he’ll need a new pair of shoes. If Benioff lived in a cold climate and he wasn’t exercising, a gym could invite him in for a jog on the treadmill and then sell him a membership. And so on ….

Mayer said the personal technology that impacted her life the most was her iPhone. She threw out a stat: the average person checks their smartphone 150 times a day. Mobile traffic, according to Mayer, will exceed PC traffic by the end of the year.

During the panel, she also talked about the app economy and how it, combined with the Internet of things, is enabling a “sharing economy,”

2014 … is a tipping point. When you look at mobile, when you look at bandwidth, when you look at the Internet of things, it’s going to change everyone’s daily routines really fundamentally. And I think what it really comes down to is apps. Because it’s not just how you connect, how it inspires you, how it entertains you, but there’s really fundamental things happening.

For example, on a recent Friday night, 150,000 people let strangers stay in their houses -- through Airbnb and the sharing economy. More than 1.5 million people have hired strangers to do daily errands for them on Task Rabbit. Fifty-six percent of people would consider renting out their car to a stranger, because when you have the Internet of things, and you know where your car is and what’s happening in our home … it makes connecting and trusting those people that much easier. It’s going to change everything, really, very fundamentally. “

Well said, we agree.

New Horizons for Video

Chambers personal technology pick was video. Like other CEOs he provided an answer we can all relate to, “(Video) It’s how I do business. It’s how I watch my grandchild. How I can see if a sales person hesitates on a forecast.”

But what he said later, though it was a tad self-serving, would really appeal to a Davos conference from any era:

Almost every government leader I’ve talked to … understands that this technology (video) can change their countries. And they’re not going to play catch-up. Many emerging markets will skip a generation or two. Watch what China is doing on health care. Sichuan Province. They already take people who have never seen a doctor and connect them with the best doctors, video-conferencing wise … You see this understood in India, you see this understood in Brazil, you see it clearly understood in Russia … I’m very optimistic.”

AT&T’s Stephenson went with video too; his pitch was mobile broadband, but his example was also personal. He shared about seeing his one-year old grandchild kiss his wife’s iPad. “Video changes how we all behave and interact.”

Choosing Next Steps

Data and technology are indeed reshaping our world and the opportunities and implications are huge. The next steps we, as an industry and a society, make matter greatly. That’s why the tech execs were first on deck at Davos.

Title image by World Economic Forum (Flickr) via a Creative Commons license