What we heard at MWC Barcelona 2019

Amid foldable phones, augmented reality, and an incessant 5G buzz, more than 180 McKinsey colleagues joined some 100,000 telecom, mobility, digital, design, and analytics executives at MWC Barcelona (formerly Mobile World Congress) this week.

This marked our firm’s third year at the exhibition, the world’s largest for the mobile industry. In between sessions, client workshops, and a mini robot challenge for tech recruits, three of our attendees took a moment to share a few of their takeaways from the event.

The ethics of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is like electricity: it’s transforming the way we live, and it’s lightning fast. AI technology is already being used to diagnose illness, detect fraud, and improve customer service. And according to Chris Wigley, a partner at our advanced analytics firm QuantumBlack, now is the time to make sure that the application of AI is ethical and fair.

Chris Wigley, far right, a partner at QuantumBlack, moderating a panel on the ethics of artificial intelligence

"It was great to see the number of very tangible practices already underway across organizations around the world," says Chris. These practices include the creation of public-informed AI principles, the definition of appropriate transparency levels, and standardized AI-governance models.

“As the use of AI grows, organizations need to sharpen their values on this topic,” Chris explains, “to the point that they can help guide practitioners as they consider ‘should we do X, or should we do Y?’

“Those decisions won’t always be easy or without tension, and that’s ok,” Chris adds. “But we owe practitioners a framework to think those decisions through.”

Blockchain for supply chains

“We think there are lots of opportunities to use blockchain for logistics in the coming years, but it’s still early days, ” says Brett May, a vice president in our Internet of Things practice. Any industry that needs a trusted intermediary to legitimize transactions, ownership, or provenance, Brett explains, stands to reap the greatest benefits.

Still, Brett reminds us, blockchain isn’t an immediate solution to all of today’s logistics challenges. “From a technical standpoint, the transaction volume available in current technology is not yet enough for what most companies need at scale,” explains Brett. “This will change over time. We’ve already seen tremendous improvement in just five years, but it’s not sufficient just yet for large volume deployment.”

Then there’s the issue around trust, which Brett says has less to do with the technology and its improved security and more to do with getting companies that handle expensive transactions to trust a blockchain distributed ledger.

“It’s a total mind-set shift that’s coming for people in the logistics business,” says Brett. “They’ll have to trust that the distributed ledger will be reliable once there’s no longer a middleman to be held accountable. And that will just take some time for people to get used to.”

Data analytics in healthcare

Healthcare data are perhaps richer and more abundant today than ever. But according to McKinsey partner and telecommunications expert Harrison Lung, there has been a lack of an overall holistic view that could reveal insights hidden in that information.

“We’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unlocking medical data’s value,” Harrison says.

Telcos, Harrison says, can play an important role in enabling better data sharing. “They can act as data brokers and convene the stakeholder community, the government, and other regulatory bodies,” he explains. “And they can operate the analytics platform itself and integrate the various IT systems out there today.”

Consumer devices that compile health data, including wearables, continue to rise in popularity. Harrison sees opportunities for data analytics to play a significant role in healthcare areas like R&D, prevention, diagnostics, and even insurance.

“Think of Apple’s latest ECG feature on its watch,” says Harrison. “It can communicate with doctors who can intervene proactively and then activate stakeholders across an individual’s entire patient journey to ensure he or she gets the best care.”

But Chris, Brett, and Harrison’s views are just a sample of the ideas our colleagues will bring back to clients and teams from an event that continues to expand with the industry it covers. “MWC has become much larger and broader than just telecommunications,” says Philipp Nattermann, a senior partner and expert in telecommunications. “It’s truly become the internet of things conference.”

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