Google at 20: two decades that transformed modern industry

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Future Insights Network’s VP of Content, Tim Coulthard, reflects on the impact of Google on manufacturing and supply chains in its first 20 years…

“I thought he was pretty obnoxious”. So began the first exchanges of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the college grad students whose creation, Google, undeniably transformed the worlds of consumers, and by association, industry, over the following 20 years.

As Google hits its 20th birthday, it’s worth reflecting on how a creation designed to index and search web pages has become a ubiquitous, multi-service, multi-platform giant (it had the search engine game wrapped up comfortably inside its first decade).

In some ways, Google is a flag-bearer for the way the internet has transformed every aspect of modern life – personal and professional. Without Google democratising the internet, would we have had the same acceleration of digitally native businesses like Amazon, Airbnb, Uber etc? Google made the internet part of everyday living and working, and in its dominance, created the playing field on which nearly all businesses compete for consumers’ attention. When marketers, digital leaders and supply chain planners talk about SEO and online visibility, it is a synonym for Google ranking – that’s how all-powerful it has become.

E-commerce, underpinned and propelled by Google, has changed the game for manufacturers and supply chains. Consumers expect speed and visibility in delivery, personalisation and customisation in products, and naturally, 100% reliability in inventory availability. Fail on any one of these measures, and consumers will leave your brand behind, not come back, and share their discontent publicly across social networks.

In its acquisitions, Google has also accelerated new ways of doing business. When it purchased YouTube for $1.6bn of stock in 2006, there were a few eyebrows raised at the price. But now, YouTube is itself a hugely powerful consumer hub, with reviews, un-packaging vlogs and native content dovetailing with Amazon and fellow online leaders to create the 21st century consumer ecosystem.

The next phase of Google’s impact on industry is likely to be in the direct provision of software, services and platforms for businesses - from e-commerce platforms, autonomous vehicles, Virtual and Augmented Reality systems, to smart robotics, GIS mapping and mind-blowingly powerful cloud computing systems that will unlock new capability in AI-based planning and demand sensing.

As the digital world accelerates ever faster, you can be sure that the next 20 years of Google will lead us to places most of us can’t even imagine.