VM Summit 2014: Leading Experts Agree the ‘Future Is Now’

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Go to VisionMondaySummit.com for Summit highlights, including VM’s overview story summarizing the presentations of the day, a slide show, PDFs and videos of speaker presentations.

NEW YORK—With leaders in their fields discussing Millennials, Big Data, omnichannel retailing, and wearable technologies, the 8th annual Vision Monday Global Leadership Summit once again showed how the future is now.

Anticipating which innovations will impact the optical profession, the VM Summit hosted a sold-out crowd of 400+ of the industry’s leading executives. Sponsoring this year’s “Future/Now” Summit were Premier supporters, Essilor and Luxottica, Signature sponsor VSP Global, along with Adlens, Alcon, CareCredit, DAC Vision and ThinkAboutYourEyes.com.

Citing some predictions that have come to fruition since being introduced at previous Summits, such as the advent of health care reform, the rise of social media and profits-with-purpose, Marge Axelrad, VM’s senior VP/editorial director introduced the program.

To view an atmosphere video of the VM Summit, click here.

The morning session began with a presentation from Michell Zappa, head of the technological trend forecasting firm Envisioning Technology. “Designing and utilizing technology is at the core of what it means to be human,” he said. Zappa called technology “an upward leveling force to make our lives better,” but he observed that “It’s no wonder we’re scared to death when technology shape shifts.”

Saying he often gets new ideas about future technology from science fiction books and films, Zappa noted that “Good sci-fi can set the mind rattling.” To illustrate his point, he offered science fiction scenarios involving the wired world and virtual reality. Zappa defined himself as part of a generation of “kids with broadband” who are completely comfortable with technology and who tend to “fix everything they encounter, without intermission.” This generation is creating “a more flexible, interactive future” in which “everything is up for grabs.”

A sold-out crowd of leading optical executives sat transfixed at the VM Summit.
Session Two, Millennials, focused on the consumer attitudes and social habits of the millennial generation, or shoppers aged between 18 and 35. VM senior editor, Deirdre Carroll, set the stage for the first speaker, Jeff Fromm, who said, “your goal is to be a favorite brand, not the nearest end competitor.” Fromm, who is executive vice president of Barkley, a marketing agency, and co-author of “Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever,” emphasized that it is willingness to take risk and implement new ideas, not a big budget, that will win over Gen Y customers. “Don’t use traditional KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) when thinking about blue ocean ideas. You’re going to hit the ‘No Go’ button every time,” he said.

Steve Hartman managing director, Urban Outfitters direct and marketing, pointed out attributes of the artistically inclined clothing store that allow it to relate to millennials’ desires and expectations. One way the company effectively reaches millennial consumers, Hartman explained, is to hire them. “Give them a platform to participate in the company,” he said. “Millennial marketing takes creativity and authenticity, and speaking in a way that they can relate to and is not corporate.”

Kicking off the Leadership & Innovation session, Sarah Thurber, MS, managing partner, FourSight, LLC, a publishing firm that specializes in developing research-based tools to enhance innovation and performance, stated, “Disruptive innovation has arrived. Someone you didn’t think of as a threat, someone who may have been marginalized, has started to encroach on your area.” After explaining her three-step approach to creative innovation she said, “Innovation is a team sport. As a leader you are not responsible for having the right answer but you should come up with the right question—‘How do we stay relevant?’ This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.”

In a session on the rise of “omnichannel,” Aaron Dallek, CEO/co-founder, Opternative, introduced the concept of his company’s proprietary online refractive technology that determines sphere, cylinder, axes, Rx, and PD that “anyone anywhere can do themselves.” Stressing that the technology will undergo more testing while Opternative seeks FDA approval, he added, “we’re not here to take everyone’s business away; we’re here to work together.” His hopes for the technology are to make it easy for the 50 million people in the U.S. and 2.5 billion people in the world who never had an eye exam to get started focusing on eye health. To that end, he said his firm would be “putting together a think tank of some of the brightest minds in the industry.”

Also in the omnichannel session, Roy Hessel, head of Essilor’s Online Initiatives, explained how the independent ECP remains central to the optical retail ecosystem, flanked by chains and e-commerce and surrounded by optical technology innovations, Big Data/cloud computing, value apps and disruptive technologies.

Another theme emerged during the omnichannel session when Carlo Privitera, Luxottica’s digital and e-commerce innovation lab president, observed that today’s consumers are “people who want to decide how to live their life.” Privitera declined to make a prediction about the size of the future online eyewear market saying that “down the road, there will be a blend of online and in store purchasing.”

VM Summit attendees experienced Google Glass.
Illustrating futurist Zappa’s reference to “kids with broadband,” who seek to “live as they want,” were a group of wearable technologies experts curated by Andrew Karp, group editor, lenses and technology, Jobson Optical Group. With Google Glass being the best known among them, the other wearable technologies were from Atheer Labs, Avegant, Laforge Optical and Rochester Optical.

Having just announced a partnership with Luxottica earlier in the week, and also with VSP Global for Rx lenses earlier in the year, Google Glass promises still another “very important partnership announcement,” according to Insiya Lokhandwala, business development, Google Glass. With Glass still in the early adopter Explorer phase, she said there are three types of reactions – 1) people who are instantly excited, 2) those who are instantly skeptical but then try them on and come around, and 3) those who just stare. “We think wearable computing will change the world,” she said.

Charlie Schick, PhD, director, IBM Watson Foundations, Healthcare & Life Sciences, illustrated how IBM’s computing capabilities have evolved from tabulating to programmable to cognitive computing with their Watson technology. He shared specific examples of how the company has partnered with various health care organizations to substantially improve the quality of health care. Schick pointed out that the problem is not technology but organizational barriers that prevent companies from becoming Big Data adopters. “If you’re not data driven you won’t be successful.”

One of the highlights of the event was a one-on-one interview Axelrad conducted with Andrea Guerra, CEO of Luxottica. “We’re living in a world fantastic and full of global opportunities,” he said, citing an unprecedented two to three billion new global consumers. Other trends he observed were 3D printing changing R&D and the doubling or tripling of business in the last six years in emerging markets such as Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, India and China. Overall, he predicted substantial sunglass growth in both emerging as well as established markets. “It has the smallest market penetration in the biggest markets in the world,” he said.