x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

What's around the corner is both cloudy and clear

The Life: What are the next big business trends? Ask a futurologist.

Dr Nichola Millard, 'futureologist' predicts consumer trends. BT headquarters, Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National
Dr Nichola Millard, 'futureologist' predicts consumer trends. BT headquarters, Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

A psychologist by training, Dr Nicola Millard is now "a customer experience futurologist" with British Telecom. In the UAE recently to meet staff at the company's Dubai office, she explained why she gets paid to see around the corner.

What exactly is a futurologist?

I was meeting with another futurologist from another company the other week and he described his job as "a DJ of trends". That is kind of what I do. A lot of my work is to just try and fathom out what's coming around the corner. My title does not assume that I'm going 25 years into the future, in actual fact my brand of futurology starts in maybe two weeks and then maybe goes out a maximum of five years.

How did you get into that?

It was an accident. I was in a situation where I was doing a lot of work which was really trying to get a lot of the real innovative research out to customers. So I was doing that role and then it sort of became the futurology role.

What are the most trends you are seeing just now?

Because smartphones are quite sophisticated devices, you're starting to get weird behaviours, particularly if you start to couple social media and the smartphone together. This was actually a trend we tracked in Japan a while back. Not everything in Japan translates to the rest of the world, but they were very early adopters of "let's marry the smartphone and the social network together". They had apps where if you were walking down the street, it knew who you were and it also knew where your social network was so it would make suggestions like "why don't you meet up". We're almost getting that behaviour now through things like Foursquare, Google Latitude and Facebook Places.

What will the world look like in five years' time?

Cloud computing is a very popular thing to talk about from an IT perspective. In the cloud you don't own anything anymore. If you have a company with very few assets and that can mobilise those assets very quickly, you get very agile companies that appear from nothing but can use very powerful technology on a pay-as-you-go basis.

You mean companies starting up with no assets and no buildings?

Yes, completely. They will buy all their technology from the cloud and bring together people who they maybe don't even know, people who are passionate about what they want to do. That's beginning to happen now, but I think it's going to become a lot more common in the future. That's a scary type of organisation because they really can move fast. They can start to gain market share in new markets fast, faster than big corporates can.

* Gillian Duncan