Australia Markets close in 33 mins

The top 3 business themes for 2019, from BI / Research

Greg McKenna

It's that time of year when we relax a little, spend time with our families, and think about the year ahead. It's also the time of year when many of us can get the downtime to recap some of the things we did (or wanted to do).

Here at Business Insider / Research, we've collated the themes that resonated and which ones we think are going to be the most influential as we head into 2019.

Culture is King

One of the more remarkable aspects of the research we did this year on digitisation, on companies, on their workforce, on stakeholders, and customers, is the paramount place culture now holds in both external and internal stakeholders' minds.

Back in February Kate Allan reported that "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" and that a McKinsey report highlighted how executives need to be aware “when creating a strategy for your organisation there are many obstacles. It’s important to know what they are and how to get around them.”

The point, McKinsey says, is that managers need to understand why the "social side of strategy [is] so pervasive". The answer lies in understanding the inherent behavioural biases that impact decision making.

But the message hasn't got through yet. The piece was nicely book-ended with a PwC survey which showed 80% of workers say workplace culture has to change. Less talk-the-talk and more walk-the-walk was the key take away from my piece in December.

PwC's survey suggests management is listening to the wrong people and should “challenge and foster healthy debate and real feedback from people across departments and across levels. Connect with people who are emotionally astute and who have insight into what people care about most”.

Out with the legacy hierarchical structures and in with the more flexible, diverse and inclusive regimes that are powered by ideas not rungs on the ladder.

And a culture of diversity can actually help build more successful businesses, as Mia Kwok reported in October.

Jeffery Hollender, professor of sustainability at NYU Stern, told Business Insider:

“The truth is you will perform better financially by doing things like having a great sustainability program, by having women on your board and in your senior management and by treating your employees well and ensuring that they’re owners of the company. Those things translate into better financial performance.”

Bitcoin's bubble has burst but Blockchain is a game changer across so many industries

Just a year ago Bitcoin was trading somewhere north of $18,000 per coin against the US dollar, as the frenzy of excitement about the transformative nature of cryptocurrencies was at its own peak. The underlying technology on which it sits - blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT) - was less exciting at the time.

Fast forward 12 months and the price of Bitcoin is languishing around USD$3,500 as the bubble has burst and miners turn their mining rigs off.

But as Bitcoin lost its luster, so blockchain and other forms of DLT's star has risen.

Bitcoin was the proof of concept of the technology in the years up to the end of 2017, this years saw the transformative impact of DLT on business.

Chris Pash reported in April that Australian farmers have started to use blockchain to track produce from paddock to plate. Blockgrain, he wrote, "allows farmers, their brokers and logistic companies to track grain from a farm during harvest to an end user. It also provides farmers the ability to create, manage and track commodity contracts".

It's a global phenomenon David McDonald reported in June highlighting Brookings Institute research which showed "IBM, Walmart, and the Chinese retailer JD.com together with Tsinghua University have announced a blockchain food safety alliance to improve food tracking and safety in China. Decentralised ledger technology can trace back the origin of food products in a few seconds instead of a few weeks, making it easier to combat fraud".

Business Insider Australia's research partner, the Commonwealth Bank, has been at the forefront of the advances in blockchain and DLT in agriculture and beyond. We reported in August that the Commonwealth Bank has overseen the delivery of agricultural goods to Europe using blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) technology. They tracked a shipment of almonds in a blockchain experiment that participants believe has the potential to reimagine global trade.

Sylvia Preda, Executive Director, Industrials and Logistics at the Commonwealth Bank, told Business Insider:

"One of the key objectives in distinguishing this experiment from other work done in this space was the level of cooperation between parties. This is the only genuine multi-participant supply chain experiment that we’re aware of currently."

Collaboration is important as Melissa Poon, general manager for trade development at the Port of Melbourne, told Business Insider, because the experiment has shown blockchain could simplify many existing processes and drive productivity gains for the businesses involved in the supply chain.

In October, Chris Pash reported the Commonwealth Bank was involved with Wells Fargo in the world's first global trade transaction between independent banks for a shipment of cotton from Texas to Qingdao in China. That was after the Commonwealth Bank announced it will be the lead arranger for the issuance of a blockchain bond by the World Bank during August.

Data is creating opportunities but it still needs insight

One of the core themes that pops up consistently in our research is the ubiquitousness of data, its collection, collation, and availability to businesses. That, and the the coming of the internet of things looks set to provide a tsunami of information for businesses about themselves and their customers.

As Peter Farquhar reported in September, that means the IoT could throw up enough data to generate a $308 billion opportunity for Australian businesses.

"Australia’s IoT Opportunity: Driving Future Growth”, a report commissioned by the Australian Computer Society and prepared by PwC revealed that in five key sectors – construction, mining, healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture – IoT has “the potential to reinvigorate Australia’s stagnant productivity growth”.

"As IoT has matured, the highest value of an IoT solution is no longer sensors and actuators, rather in artificial intelligence,” ACS President Yohan Ramasundara said, noting “we often hear that data is the new fuel for the digital economy, it is however crude oil, and needs to be refined".

It is that refining which I touched on in November's piece, highlighting that Insights -- not data -- are the key to understanding your customer.

Exactly how the relationship between data, customers, and businesses have changed and what this means is explored in our latest Business Insider / Research study looking at “Data and value in modern retail”

“There is no shortage of information, no shortage of data. Retailers are long on data, long on information, but short on insight,” says Jerry Macey, National Retail Lead at the Commonwealth Bank.

And finally, in case you missed it:

I've been in banking for more than 30 years. Here's what I've learned speaking to some of the world's leading fintech companies.

We'll be back in 2019 - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.