As we start closing the first quarter of 2018, I wanted to share a look at the trends and complex business issues that are currently dominating business and political dialogue. We asked our friends in the field about what they’re hearing and seeing from governments, businesses and influencers – and to share an update across borders so that we may compare field notes. Below is a quick snapshot of my conversations, relative to the issues we predicted would materialize in the New Year, and a look at the technology innovation and regulation that’s continuing to unfold and take shape as we move into Q2. 

Our findings speak volumes to the need for multinational enterprises to keep their finger on the pulse of policy movement, globally, relative to growth and innovation goals, echoing much of what we heard at the World Economic Forum about  Agile Governance. Legislative and regulatory education and influence, as well as strengthened internal and external communication, will continue to be paramount through 2018, as will closer partnerships with emerging technology innovators. As seen below in the EU AI example, many businesses and governments are moving at speed and scale to shape rather than follow legislation for future innovation. Businesses know they must engage with audiences differently and attract and retain talent differently, while keeping governments and the public comfortable with the pace of innovation.

A few overarching themes emerged across the global playfield: tension between legacy infrastructure and growth, including fragmented approaches by companies, technology categories and geographies to move the world closer a true 4th Industrial Revolution. As this plays out, many businesses and governments are aggressively working to define new measures of value for themselves and their solutions and products to strengthen relevancy and gain competitive advantage.

We see data privacy and security, AI, Industry 4.0 and IoT/connected ecosystems dominating the conversation about the local market, global standards and regulation. Here are some deeper insight into local markets. 


  • "Industry 4.0" is maturing in Germany, likely faster than in other parts of the world. This is partially due to the movement being prioritized by influencers as key for global competitiveness.   
  • The “Platform Economy” is something Germany is evaluating politically and across society as a continued area for growth and consumer engagement as it leads in innovation.
  • AI is very important to the car industry and, therefore, Germany, which is becoming a major R&D hub. 
  • Data privacy and security is a point of tension for citizens who are concerned about how their data is being used and stored.   


  • Israel, a country of less than 9 million citizens, punches above its weight in the technology world with the most start-ups per capita, the most companies outside of the United States listed on NASDAQ, and hosting more than 300 R&D facilities of multinational companies. As a result, Israel is quickly establishing itself as a global VC-backed innovation launch pad for the 4th Industrial Revolution. 
  • One industry particularly impacted by this is smart transportation, an estimated USD $7.9 trillion industry, that was put on the map with Google’s US$1.3 billion purchase of Waze. Intel, too, has found innovation here with the purchase of the autonomous driving solutions company Mobileye for US$15 billion, by far the largest-ever buyout of an Israeli technology company. 

European Union  

  • European manufacturing industries are looking to reap the full benefits of the digital society through automation and data exchange. Related to this, the European Commission is actively promoting a move towards “Industry 4.0” and has launched a European platform of national initiatives on digitizing industry – all reliant upon 5G mobile technology and IoT advancements.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a buzzword in EU policy circles. The European Parliament was one of the first parliaments in the world to draft a report on AI, calling upon the European Commission to propose rules on robotics and AI to fully exploit the innovation while ensuring safety and security. The group is currently working on a European strategy, planned for late April, that will look at how best to promote AI to benefit Europe's people, businesses, society and economy. It will also address ethical and legal aspects. 

United Kingdom

  • Voice is becoming recognized as a more sophisticated function by consumers and the enterprise – and being taken more seriously as an interface that will displace manual inputs.
  • There is a significant amount of hype around quantum computing, encryption and bionics, although realizing the potential of in these areas is taking place more slowly. 
  • An anticipated backlash against big tech and the concentration of power across a few ecosystem giants is localizing around a general sympathy for greater decentralization of the internet.
  • The UK continues speculation regarding the influence of crypto-currency and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) on the financial services and commerce establishments. 


  • Japanese legislation on “data banks” will create new business models and change the way big data companies operate in the country. Under the new system, consent-based information sharing will increase and span purchase history, health care records and may other categories of personal data. This legislation is an important experiment that attempts to create more transparency and accelerate the exchange of big data. It also shows a relative openness and initiative to use data for business, especially when compared with the EU, where consumer privacy concerns are more prominent. The certification program provides new opportunities backed on a system of trusted information providers that may lead to the consolidation of power by major players.  


  • The push for localization continues to force foreign companies to partner and share technology, something that has not come easy for both sides previously and will test new working models.
  • Data privacy and security is supremely important for China and is complex for foreign partners, especially across industries that are highly regulated, such as financial services and health care.
  • AI has been identified as a top priority for China, which has notable global innovation advantages due in part to significant investment in this area.
  • The three big companies dominating the internet and big data industries: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, together, called BAT, continue to lead consumer engagements.

United States

  • The Trump administration recently committed to AI research as a priority for R&D and executives know they must address employee concerns about the impact of AI and automation on jobs. Gartner predicts that the workforce will experience an augmentation of jobs rather than mass eliminations, however, predicting the elimination of 1.8 million jobs vs. creation of 2.3 million new jobs.
  • The newly-formed Congressional Caucus on Smart Cities that aims to “bring American communities into the 21st Century through innovation and technological change” reflects growing trend among cities to adopt connected technologies, as part of IoT strategies.
Michael Ann Thomas

Michael Thomas leads APCO’s global Technology practice and is based in the firm's Seattle office. Read More