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How technology is transforming the largest companies

The transformative impact of technology on the stock markets is no new trend. One way to track its evolution is in the Fortune 500

James Fisher
|Oct 24|magazine11 min read

Watching the markets over the past few months has made for unique viewing and, as many will have witnessed, the true outlier has been the technology industry. 

Stock market winners over this period have crossed many different industries, but most have been underpinned by tech. Zoom soared through the enterprise need for video-conferencing, Amazon once again demonstrated its dominance as the e-commerce giant, and with online education platforms, like Chegg, and Telehealth providers, like Teledoc, we were able to maintain key services in our disrupted society. 

Even with recent declines as some investors sell off technology stock amid US employment concerns, the transformation impact of technology in helping us adapt throughout the pandemic to the unknown – in our ability to work, consume services and socialise – has undoubtedly had a monumental impact on the market.

Yet, the transformative impact of technology on the stock markets is no new trend. One way to track its evolution is in the Fortune 500. Using a new tool that Qlik built in partnership with the Fortune 500, which explore the revenues and events that shaped the success of certain industries, looking back at the rise of the tech industry over the past 25 years makes for fascinating reading. While there are plenty of takeaways, the below particularly stood out:

The strong keep getting stronger

Since the addition of the Services sectors to the Fortune 500 in 1995, reflecting the transformation of US industry, Technology has joined a cohort of five sectors (including Financials, Energy Healthcare and Retailing) that have managed to hold onto the top spots in the industry analysis – both in the lead up to and aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008. Over this period, sector revenue for Technology rose from USD $242bn in 1995 to $1.63T 2020. Indeed, the ability for the sector to not just survive in, but accelerate during tumultuous times is testimony to the industry’s resiliency embedded in its core virtues of innovation, agility and diversity of ideas.

This doesn’t just play out in the success of the technology sector – it has been instrumental in establishing the leaders of other industries too. Today, just 56 of those on the inaugural Fortune 500 remain, and the success and survival of businesses and sectors in the markets alike is increasingly dependent on the way in which technology has been used to innovate. For example, at a sector level, Retailing managed to both pull away from the pack thanks to shift towards e-commerce. The Internet paved the way for new competitors, like Amazon, that catalysed a whole new way to shop.

“Software eats the world” 

It’s been several years since venture capitalist, Marc Andreessen coined the phrase, but it has undoubtedly characterised the rise of Technology in the Fortune 500, with software now accounting for 21.7% of sector revenue in 2020. This reflects its growing necessity among businesses to provide digital alternatives to physical services, as well its influence in our everyday lives, transforming everything from how we consume content, to communicating with our friends and family. It comes into stark contrast with many Industrial sectors. Motor Vehicles and Parts companies, for example, stagnated so much that the Big Three (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) were nearly wiped out in 2008.

Markets recognise innovators

At a company level, the continued success of General Electric (ranked 21 on the Fortune 500 in 2019) can be credited to its appreciation for innovation. The multinational conglomerate was not only the first business in the world to own a computer, but made “surprise” market expansions into areas like renewable energy, acknowledging through its investment that it will be the future of electricity generation.

The forward-thinking company nature is perhaps unsurprising given it was founded by Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors in American history. However, it deserves credit for how it has maintained that culture throughout the decades, right through to the current day with its business mission of: “GE works on things that matter. Finding solutions... Building, powering, moving and curing the world. Not just imagining. Doing. This examples highlights how constant innovation and adaptation are required to not just be another ‘flash in the pan’ on the Fortune 500. 

But what comes next?

The influence of technology in the Fortune 500 extends far beyond its own sector’s growth. It underpins the success and survival of companies across all industries – a trend that will only accelerate further as software disrupts an increasing number of traditional industries, like automotive and healthcare.

But as it accelerates, so will it transform. I predict that in years to come we’ll see an increasing market divide between not only those that have adopted new technology services, but those that learn from the data these digital products and processes produce to continuously evolve – at breakneck speed – to market demands. The future is not which company will go digital, but which can draw out active intelligence from these new services to drive the next wave of the market leaders.

 By James Fisher, Chief Product Officer, Qlik 

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