Gone are the days of corporates and customers wielding low control over tech innovation and product choices. Accelerated by the pandemic, companies quickened organizational improvements that would usually have taken five years to complete in a period of five short months.
Our challenges now lie in identifying and capturing opportunities for individuality and human-led experiences to drive forward a new ‘prosumer’ tech-agenda. (Prosumers are those consumers who want a say in the designing of the products they plan to use.)
Prosumers have the enormous power in our present moment to set the tech agenda for the next decade. And as an industry, we not only have an opportunity, but a responsibility, to completely embrace the prosumer segment of how our technology is developed and commercialized.
Mirror the office
Business leaders experienced a dual challenge during the first phase of workplace disruption due to the pandemic - driving employee participation in work-from-home settings while reducing costs. A mounting concern for CTOs and other IT decision-makers was how to deploy technology to provide security, process management and employee engagement that mirrored that of the office.
In fact, improving remote work experiences has been the top priority for CTOs and IT leaders, according to a survey by IDG Research.
When people continue to shift from conventional offices and schools to hybrid worlds, the use of technology is more fluid than ever before. This shift offers a huge opportunity for manufacturers to explore how to pull technology capabilities across consumer and industrial markets.
What kids want
From the beginning, prosumers have a stronger voice in the design process. Take, for example, a parent who is shopping for the first PC for their child. This early learning requirement has become a major growing segment of customers with the emergence of virtual learning in the past six months and a new school year underway.
For a 10-year-old, they never had to weigh factors such as battery life, processor speed and camera efficiency for video conferencing. But we can develop highly customized products that meet a variety of needs by understanding the potential of these consumers, not only as an emerging market, but as co-designers of the future of PCs.
A bit of help from data
Meantime, the ability to use data to produce hyper-customized value propositions will also be critical. In parallel, the principles of prosumer and data-driven observations can and should work. Previously, from both a technical and consumer standpoint, the holy grail of delivering customer value meant going back and forth between the customers.
The prosumer directly influences the design and function of daily devices, as Alvin Toffler predicted. Not only can they illustrate this by the technology they buy, but even more notably, the products they chose not to purchase.
To better understand the needs of end-users, moment by moment, vendors should pay attention to feedback from consumer digital experiences. But while the emphasis has been on scaling traditional office workers' home-office environments, tech vendors must note that digital manufacturers, teachers and educators, retail staff, public sector representatives and more are all prosumers.
Not just end-user
In the design dialogue, we must involve all classes. Prosumers are emerging, even in industries like manufacturing. As digital manufacturing accelerates, many design and prototyping jobs will be performed from home, with digital access to the 3D printers with which designers communicate.
And whole factory workflows were set up using "digital twins" long before the pandemic. Therefore, software is increasingly taken into account and designed for the convenience of the workers at home.
There is another considerable chance in education to connect with a new generation of emerging prosumers. I think many who recently experienced the power of virtual learning for their kids will soon consider virtual classes and digital upskilling themselves, perhaps even in the pursuit of advanced degrees.
This next generation of older digital learners will have an enormous influence on edtech design's future.
Thinkers like Alvin Toffler's legacy and theories live on because they tap into a fundamental part of human existence, the desire to develop ourselves and our environment continually.
The emergence of prosumers is not merely an opportunity for suppliers to capture and commodify an untapped and evolving consumer segment, it is an opportunity to bring the center of how we develop technology with actual, concrete and human-driven experience.