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Picking up signals at Mobile World Congress

The McKinsey booth at Mobile World Congress 2017

Mobile World Congress is one of the world’s largest technology shows, right up there with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Berlin’s IFA and Taipei’s Computex, as a highlight of the tech calendar. Among the 100,000 visitors who descended this week on Barcelona were sizeable contingents of executives from across the high tech, telecoms and internet sector. If you don’t mind crowds, this made it a great opportunity to listen, learn, and compare notes with the industry’s leading lights.

This year about 100 McKinsey experts made the trip, and for the first time found a home base at a McKinsey booth. Venkat Atluri, the global leader of our Internet of Things work, moderated two panels on the main stage. Our Growth Tech hosted a workshop for start-up founders, investors and corporate innovators. Other McKinsey people split their time between bi-lateral meetings and ad-hoc conversations on our exhibition stand.

Peter Dahlstrom, senior partner and a leader of Digital McKinsey

“Mobile World Congress is a pressure cooker of interactions and new ideas coming together,” explains Philipp Nattermann, a senior partner and global leader of our Telecom Practice. “Telecom leaders are concerned about the old model, but there are also huge opportunities with intelligent 5G networks and the Internet of Things transforming sectors like education, healthcare, manufacturing, travel and logistics. But these opportunities require new skills, and so we are here talking about the best way to approach this intersection of old model and new opportunities.”

These themes were echoed by Peter Dahlstrom, a senior partner and a leader of Digital McKinsey. “Most of my conversations centered around digital, not surprisingly,” says Peter, “but because the telecom sector is at a tipping point – mobile prices falling, customers using more data and services, and capital spending rising – there is more urgency now to really embed digital and analytics in organizations, as this is how they’ll do more with less.”

On the topic of IoT, conversations turned to the need to build alliances and partnerships, says Venkat. “Going in we knew there was a lot of interest—even anxiety— on the new business models that are emerging in IoT– and people were asking a lot of questions about how to get the IoT data they need to create value. For example, telcos might partner with retailers or CPG companies to combine datasets. But how do you identify the right partners? How do you get started? How do you create value for consumers?”

Peter Weed, McKinsey partner, leads 4YFN workshop for startups.

And over at Mobile World’s startup conference, 4YFN (Four Years From Now), our Growth Tech consultants hosted a workshop for 75 company founders, venture capital companies and corporate innovators. “Innovation was top of mind as large companies are realizing how difficult it is to sustain internal innovation “labs” and groups,” says Ken Fenyo, one of our Growth Tech experts. “There’s a sense that they need to act quickly to keep up with the disruptive innovations coming out of startups but that is much easier said than done. While many companies are turning to corporate venture capital to keep pace, there is no ‘right’ way to work with start ups. A range of approaches, including corporate investing, partnerships, joint ventures (and even M&A) can all play a role in helping larger companies innovate.”

Same time, same place in 2018?

“We heard a really positive reaction to our increased participation this year. Our expert group on the ground in our booth covered all of the topics people were asking about – IoT, design, analytics, digital, transformation – and as a result, we offered participants an integrated view on how mobile technology will affect their business,” noted Peter. “And of course, we were happy to have the opportunity to show off our growing capabilities in these areas, which not everyone knows about yet. So, yes, I am pretty sure we'll be back in 2018.”

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