Accenture recently released Fjord Trends 2020, our annual list of emerging trends in business, tech and design. These trends help shed light on how people and businesses can succeed in the context of the changing world around them.

The 2020 trends will have profound implications for veterans and their spouses, as well as for those in the VA committed to serving this unique population.

This year, we will see greater social and political turbulence. People’s expectations will increase, as they seek out products and services that are meaningful to them. And technology will continue to fuel unprecedented change.

In short, the 2020 trends indicate a complete realignment of the fundamentals driving business and government. How the VA responds to these changes could have a deep impact on the lives of veterans and across the veteran-related community.

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Designing for Veteran’s Lives

Consumer demand is driving a shift in focus, as individuals seek to emphasize purpose above profit. Government has a unique role to play in how these fundamentals will be realigned. For example, the New Zealand government recently unveiled its first “well-being budget” – a new economic goal to make the country both a great place to make a living and a great place to make a life.

By focusing on the long-term care of the Veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mission is very much aligned to this emerging outlook. The Office of Veterans Experience was created specifically to make sure that the service of Veterans remains at the forefront of the mission.

The 2020 Trends report likewise defines success in this new era as the ability to embrace the systemic complexity of the world. This raises profound questions for an agency like the VA. How does the VA ensure that its people can continue to service the Veteran in a rapidly changing world? In part this will happen through a shift from “user-centered” design toward a philosophy of “designing for life.” In this approach, it’s understood that everything affects everything else in one way or another. Like other organizations, VA will increasingly need to apply such a “systems” mindset when dealing with complex problem-solving. Thanks to the multi-disciplinary, facilitatory role that design plays, designers are well-placed to bring a fresh mindset to any business. Yet in today’s fast-changing landscape, designers themselves must change, too.

For years, the use of user-centered and human-centered design has often separated people from ecosystems – focusing on the individual but missing the broader context. Now designers must address people as part of an ecosystem, rather than as the center of everything. This means designing for two sets of values: Personal and collective. In short, design must now extend beyond its own ecosystem.

Humans as Barcodes?

As with design, technology from outside of the VA’s own ecosystem is likewise impacting the way that Veterans access benefits and interact with the VA.

Humans are increasingly leaving digital footprints of our physical selves. More organizations, including the Pentagon, are using digital recognition technologies to better identify individuals. Improved facial and body language recognition can deliver invaluable new and enhanced services. UK health start-up Babylon, for instance, uses AI to help gauge whether patients fully understand the advice they receive.

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Imagine the possibility of bringing that technology to Veterans, caregivers and providers. Seamless identification could help to speed care delivery, highlight emerging problem situations, and ensure continuity of care across multiple care delivery systems.

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Technology At 5G Speed

5G expands the opportunity to connect people and things more quickly. This has clear implications for the VA and for veterans. Using contextually relevant mobile data to surface better experiences to people on-the-go will offer significant opportunities in telehealth. Enhanced connectivity can improve access to care, maximize provider efficiency and ensure greater compliance for the best health outcomes possible.

Moving to Digital Duplicates

In life sciences, digital twins (virtual models) will eventually be used to project, predict or validate the outcomes of medications, operations and lifestyle choices. The Living Heart Project is revolutionizing cardiovascular science by deploying advanced simulation technology to analyze patients’ health and plan therapies and surgeries. This virtual model, may be something to consider as part of the VA’s Precision Oncology Program.

Changes at Work

Individuals have liquid expectations at work, too, to which employers must respond – measuring employee experience and satisfaction as they have long done with customers. In the words of author Miya Tokumitsu: “There’s little doubt that 'do what you love' is now the unofficial work mantra for our time.” For the VA, serving veterans is an easy thing to love doing, and 2020 may offer new opportunities to support and encourage those at the front lines of the effort. As new employee expectations emerge, VA’s personnel practices likely will see further refinements.

Designing Intelligence

As we look to improve the employee experience, some will be quick to look to automation tools and Artificial Intelligence (AI). But a rush to automation risks missing much of the power that AI offers. As a complement to human intelligence, AI can be used to create experiences that are not just personalized but help us extend our perceptual capabilities, enhancing our vision, extending our understanding, and making us better learners. In short, enhancing the human experience.

What does this mean in practical terms? As described in the Babylon example above, AI can help to ensure that doctor’s directions are understood by patients and caregivers.

AI also has the ability to empower people in complex systems, by mapping systems relationships and designing interfaces that make the logic of AI visible and open to human direction. Tokyo’s Railways Technical Research Institute (RTRI) and the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) are researching the use of neural networks and AI applications to help dispatchers and controllers combat train delays and optimize train scheduling. Imagine using that same power to help Veterans navigate the expansive and complex systems of benefits across the VA, from health to education benefits.

As AI is applied to more complex activities, like simulation and decision support, innovation will accelerate the design of new products, services and even entire business models. Healthcare will be among the early beneficiaries of these advances, and VA is uniquely positioned to take advantage of enhancements around the efficiency, availability and effectiveness of care.

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I invite you to explore all of the Fjord Trends. We welcome discussion and exploration in our studios on how the Trends can help fuel the future of the VA, and how we can work together on delivering meaningful outcomes for veterans.

Shubber Ali

Innovation Ninja

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