Visions by Siemens

German-based Siemens is another company which has persistently explored radical innovation opportunities. Since 2001 they have bi-annually published the corporate magazine Pictures of the Future which for each issue presents three future scenarios set ten to 20 years ahead in time. The so-called ‘communication scenarios’ aim to create a basis for dialogue with the public by presenting a wide range of topics and offering a large number of starting points for debate about the future. Each scenario is followed by eight to ten articles explaining the technological and socio-cultural conditions it is based upon and linking the scenario to research projects currently taking place among Siemens +30.000 researchers.

Over the years the magazine has presented an extensive collection of more than 50 scenarios, each of which has the potential for several concrete innovation opportunities. Each scenario evolves around an everyday situation and skilfully integrates solutions relevant to its main business divisions: automation, power, transportation, medical, information and communication. Given that much of Siemens business is directed towards serving professionals, most of the scenarios envision the everyday lives of professionals, such as a maintenance worker, doctor, entrepreneur, energy detective, or other professions that may exist in the future.

Entertainment scenario.
‘Always-on’ scenario.
Cooking scenario.

A recurrent theme is the creation of a sustainable world. Therefore, many concepts aim to manage energy or reduce the environmental pollutants of industry and cities around the world. Rather than concrete products, the scenarios propose new infrastructures and service systems, which assume large scale interventions. Given Siemens’ position as Europe’s largest engineering conglomerate it is, however, not an unrealistic proposal. To a large degree such interventions cannot be performed unless the general public changes attitudes or political regulations are introduced – topics which are also addressed in the scenarios.

These large-scale interventions also have a direct impact on people’s private everyday lives. Flexible power infrastructures make it possible to manage their own energy consumption, but also to feed energy back into the system. A clean nature opens up for many outdoor recreational activities, and new medical systems, make it possible for people to monitor and prevent illness as part of their everyday. In the field of information and communication scenarios envision new experiences during cooking, watching sports, staying at a hotel, or simply staying in touch with others. These concepts address feelings of being a community, the joy of sharing with others, the comfort of being at home, and safety in people’s private everyday lives.

The continuous stream of scenarios is supported by a foundation of thorough analysis of the future, which was documented in the Horizons 2020 project conducted in 2004. The project began with the selection of five “important life areas” which were expected to drive change for the next 16 years and were not likely to be negated by events in the shorter term. The five areas were: politics, society, economy, environment, and technology. Through an extensive trend analysis two general scenarios of life and society in 2020 were presented (Scharioth et al. 2004).

The first scenario was called ‘The decelerated society’ with the keywords: equality, freedom and modesty. It focused on social responsibility and contribution to community, as well as strong government to ensure security, equal opportunities and freedom.

The decelerated society.

The second scenario was named ‘The performance-oriented ‘me’ society’. In contrast to the first scenario, it assumed the withdrawal of government from much public life. Industry’s need take centre stage, with individuals becoming more welcoming towards continual change. The keywords of this scenario were: speed, network and risk.

The scenarios, which were commissioned by an external consultancy, were complemented by a technical report from Siemens itself on the future of its main technological domains. The social and technological reports were merged and further elaborated into an overview of future opportunities for each of Siemens business divisions. For each of the scenarios there was a detailed description of lifestyle, family, work, consumption, travel, leisure, health care, eating, education and security.

Medical opportunities.
Communication opportunities.
Transport opportunities.

Overview

The scenarios represent different areas of focus such as: general society, everyday situations, people’s lifestyle or new technologies. In some cases the scenarios are related. The general society and the business specific scenarios are, for example, provide the fundamental backdrop for ongoing development of everyday scenarios.

Generally, Siemens does not present attention-grabbing sleek prototypes like other companies, however a subsidiary of Siemens has created a handful of prototypes around future communication.

Future concepts for Siemens Communications.

Methodology

Siemens’ vision projects employ two complementary approaches to explore different horizons of the future (Siemens AG 2004). Extrapolation, the first approach starts from the present and analyses emerging trends for technologies, products and user behaviour in the near future. The aim is to anticipate the possible and develop road maps. However, Siemens has realized that in a complex business environment a leading global player cannot only rely on forecasting trends. They must strive to be an innovation trendsetter and to be “Inventing the Future”. Anticipation alone cannot reveal sudden discontinuities or radical innovation opportunities, so Siemens uses scenario techniques to explore the far future. The scenario methodology looks into influential factors such as social, political, environmental and technological future developments in 10 to 30 years as a basis of developing coherent visions of the future. The subsequent challenge is to connect the scenarios for the far future with anticipated near futures through a process called “retropolation”, so that the challenges that must be overcome to achieve the far future scenario are identified. Finally, experts draw up specific visions of how changes will impact Siemens’ different areas of activity.

Siemens foresight methodology. (Volkmar Dimpfl & Frank Krull 2004)

Horizon2020

In 2004 Siemens initiated the “Horizon2020” project which used a scenario methodology to examine possible changes in the way Europeans live (Scharioth et al. 2004). An external consultancy, which was given the assignment, analysed political, social, economical, environmental and technological changes over a 16 year period. For each domain a number of qualitative or quantitative descriptors was assigned. An optimism index provided two separate scenarios that contained negative as well as positive elements. From the pools of descriptors, and a process of discussion, the consultancy developed two scenarios as described earlier.

This review will only cover the scenario methodology, because the main challenge is to create an overview of alternatives and innovation teams are already familiar with design methodologies.

Extract from PhD thesis “Everyday-Oriented Innovation”

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