How trends such as the metaverse are changing the face of business

12 May 2022

Jillian Slyfield, chief innovation officer with Aon. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Jillian Slyfield, chief innovation officer at Aon, told the Future Human audience how tech innovations are changing the way we do business.

“Innovation looks different in so many different places,” Jillian Slyfield, chief innovation officer at Aon, said in her opening remarks at Future Human today (12 May).

She was referring to her experience working with Aon client Uber in around 2015, when the company faced insurance regulation challenges in new markets it was trying to enter with its technology offering.

“During that time of transition, we had to innovate how to get this done. And it wasn’t a cookie-cutter solution because every time we went into a new geography, the new geography would say, ‘Well, actually this is highly regulated.’”

Slyfield joined Aon in 2015 and was its digital economy practice leader until she moved into her current role at the end of 2021.

In the digital economy practice, Slyfield helped companies address digital disruption in their industries, particularly in mobility-as-a-service, future of work and platform marketplaces.

Since then, Aon has built a practice around those challenges and made programmes to help facilitate business for Uber, Airbnb, Just Eat Takeaway and companies in the autonomous vehicle space.

Intangible assets

In the first talk delivered at Future Human 2022, Slyfield told the audience how different macroeconomic trends are changing the way leaders approach business and the risks associated with these.

“The world is becoming increasingly volatile, and the uncertainty that all our CEOs are facing – it’s in the news every single day. That provides us with an opportunity to think differently about how we serve them and the role that we play in the new world.”

Slyfield said that there is a disparity between what her clients think their biggest risks are, such as cyber insurance and property, and what their real risks are – such as the climate crisis, new mobility issues and intangible assets.

“We’ve had this historic rotation in value to intangible assets, where 90pc of the value of the S&P 500 list of companies is in intangible assets,” she told the audience, referring to the shift in value from companies that sold physical products to tech companies working with data.

Along with this shift came new ways in which businesses interact with their customers, such as through hyper-personalisation – or the curation of content based on how users have interacted with the internet. “This means that your Instagram and Facebook feeds – even what Google gives you – looks different from mine,” Slyfield explained.

New ways of making payments, new currencies and new places to spend are changing the face of business – creating many opportunities, but not without risks. Cybercrime damage, she noted, collectively costs businesses on average $16.4bn daily.

Metaverse and ESG

But it’s not all risks and damage when it comes to global trends that are changing business. Slyfield said that new innovations such as the metaverse potentially present many possibilities for business to evolve for the better.

“The metaverse is the baseline for intangible assets. What if you wanted to learn how to build a helicopter? Wouldn’t it be cool to go into the metaverse and learn it?” she asked the Future Human audience.

Practising real-world techniques in the metaverse could be beneficial for medical students, for example, and could prove to be a cost and time-effective way to do things. “We can even do this event in the metaverse!” she noted.

From a climate perspective, especially in the mobility space, Slyfield said things may be turning around for the better.

She said that people aren’t buying cars as much any more, there are more electric vehicles on the road than ever, and ride-sharing is taking off. In Slyfield’s hometown of San Francisco, autonomous cars are now taking people around – changing the face of urban transport.

“Even things like ESG [environment, social and governance] may not have been important to businesses five years ago. Today, every time I go to a client, if I do nothing else before I go in, I read their ESG report,” she told the audience. “You have to know how they’re thinking about this.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic