Interview with Mads Thimmer, CEO and co-founder of Innovation Lab.

AI, crossroads and a bright future

What IT trends will grab the spotlight in 2016? ConsultantNews sat down for a chat with Innovation Lab’s CEO about everything from gigantic virtual conferences and the internet in India to IT consultants’ futures.

At Innovation Lab, which numbers Samsung, Vestas and LEGO among its clients, they’re experts in predicting and communicating the technologies of the future. They know what technologies are on the way, how they can be used, and who’s farthest along with what. They turn this insight into advice for their clients, who range from small startups to international companies and government. The CEO and co-founder of Innovation Lab shares his thoughts on the trends to keep an extra eye on in 2016.

Virtual seminar with two million participants

Just a few minutes into the conversation, virtual reality comes up. Although this isn’t the first time Mads Thimmer has brought VR to center stage as one of the top stars of the year, he sees some overwhelming perspectives in the technology – based in part on the convincing learning and gaming environments being established by Facebook as well as his own participation in VR conferences:

”You’re present in a space where you can see who’s standing next to you, see the speaker and people’s gestures. It’s a completely different way of conducting meetings than staring into a screen, which doesn’t add much in relation to an ordinary phone conversation. Teaching is already transitioning to a virtual reality structure: you can invite two million participants to the same presentation – all they have to do is put on their goggles.”

Machines that train themselves

Another trend Thimmer spotlights is machine learning, where he predicts major progress in relation to the ability of technologies to learn from us. Instead of being dependent on humans constantly delivering input, machines will be able to train themselves to improve. We will also see progress in the field of artificial intelligence, which is similar to machine learning, but which is about creating systems that are capable of intelligent – that is to say, human – behaviour. Businesses like Apple and Google have designed digital butlers that are based on the technology and which can execute a limited range of tasks. And in 2015, Facebook launched M, a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence that is also supported by a team of employees who make sure that all requests get processed. And more companies will attempt to design digital helpers.

”And to an extent that leads me to believe that there will be a breakthrough this year: We will find ourselves receiving services from AI systems without knowing it. It might seem scary that we can have an intelligent conversation with a piece of software, but it’s just a logical system that’s set up to be able to decipher our emotional system and respond to it. It’s a way to make our surroundings simpler and more accessible,” explains Thimmer.

Everyone can code

If you’ve specialized in creating apps, you might want to start learning new skills before long. Some of Thimmer’s friends from Google are starting a new mobile-based business in New York, and they seem to have succeeded in creating a new way of coding that lets people create apps for smartphones without the slightest knowledge of coding.

”The software organizes itself in the background, and an intuitive user interface lets you build whatever you want. What were once the tools of the technician become yours. You design how your surroundings are going to respond. The democratization of technology will become more pronounced as more and more options materialize in the coming year,” says Thimmer.

No corner of the world left behind

Developments in non-European countries are another major focus for Innovation Lab’s CEO. Innovation Lab is starting an office in India, where internet penetration rates have received a boost thanks to Google Loon, a balloon-based project aimed at bringing internet access to the poorest regions of the world.
”This means that there are corners of the world we normally turn a blind eye to that are starting to catch up, and which may be able to get into the game on their own premises,” says Thimmer, who has just returned from a trip to India.

In 2050, the population of Europe will account for just five percent of the world’s population, a drastic drop from the fourteen percent of today. At the same time, the countries around us will experience an increase in their standard of living. And according to Thimmer, this will help kickstart exciting new developments. A country such as India, where the landline network has never really functioned, is ahead of Europe in relation to mobile infrastructure and much better at things like mobile payment solutions and mobile banking.

Down in the engine room or up on the bridge

What does the future hold for IT consultants? According to Thimmer, there’s a crossroads up ahead where it will be necessary to decide if you want to be in the engine room or up on the bridge. The focus on strategy contra technology will become an even stronger competition and efficiency parameter as companies realize that digitization isn’t just about outsourcing a few servers.

”One example is the resources that are wasted in the public sector – not because of poor technology, but because of badly thought-out organization. If you want to be successful, you have to focus much more on the circumstances and the human factors surrounding the technologies,” explains Thimmer.

This is the case for the web agency next to Innovation Lab. They have new competitors in the form of pure software: AI-based forms where you give an algorithm permission to sniff around on your computer, show it some of the things you want on your website – after which it generates a website in just a few minutes. So to survive, the web agency’s staff will have to become experts at handling people instead of software.

The freelance economy is storming aheadBut in spite of these challenges, the future is bright for IT consultants. Because the freelance economy is storming ahead: Today, 25 percent of Europeans work freelance, while the figure is 30 percent in the United States. And according to Thimmer, that figure will rise:

”Being small or being your own boss will be a strength. A lot of employers are sick of tackling the administration and fixed costs involved in having a lot of employees – it creates inertia, bureaucracy, HR departments and a lot of other overhead that makes a business less competitive. So they’d rather have freelancers who know how to orchestrate themselves.”A variety of digital platforms already support this approach, such as UpWork and HourlyNerd, where you can either do a single project or work on projects together. These platforms are a good way of making yourself more attractive to prospective clients through the kind of mutual rating systems we’re familiar with from Uber and Airbnb. Thimmer says:

”These platforms make your skills visible without you having to be a world champion marketer – you just have to be good at what you do.”

Innovation Lab

is an international knowledge center for digital trends and new technology that has built a large international network of expertise in research, product development and entrepreneurship over the past decade. Innovation Lab draws on this network to predict what technologies are on the way, what they can be used for, and who is farthest along with what – and to gain insight of the emerging trends of the future. Clients include Samsung, Vestas, LEGO, B&O, Oticon and AP Møller Mærsk.

Name: Mads Thimmer
Age: 41
Title: CEO and  co-founder of Innovation Lab
Education: MA in comparative literature, study at the University of Cambridge.