Collaboration Tech Development Rests On Community-Enabled Innovation

James Penfold

The most recent findings of Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report opened my eyes to a potential opportunity for IT developers. A dramatic shift in the workforce, once viewed as a threat to the IT function, is now an open invitation for developers to flex their innovation muscle and add value to the employee experience.

According to Gallup, the percentage of employees engaged in remote workplaces has quadrupled over the last two decades, from only nine percent in 1996 to 37% in 2016. And this trend is expected to continue to escalate; Society for Human Resources Management research indicates that 60% of companies offer employees telecommuting opportunities – a threefold increase from the 20% who offered them in 1996.

This dramatic workforce shift is bringing a broad range of collaboration tools into the world of work. Because employees are empowered to work the way they want, they are purchasing and implementing their own technology, ranging from enterprise solutions to mobile apps and small team applications. But in reality, this move just undercuts the efficiencies and performance improvements that can only be realized through development innovation.

The desire for enterprise collaboration maturity opens the door to development opportunities

Enterprise collaboration is still happening outside of the solutions and tools used to access and analyze data. And it’s done for a justifiable reason: Very few of these technologies feature components that support it. Although designed to reduce barriers to information, more often than not enterprise collaboration tools reside in a tangled web of poorly integrated business applications and impenetrable information silos.

“As the level of acceptance of social technologies has increased over the past few years, the way we think about social business has undergone rapid change,” says Vanessa Thompson, research manager, Enterprise Social Networks and Collaborative Technologies, at IDC. “This change also comes with the confluence of a number of intersecting market trends – cloud, mobile, and Big Data. This exacerbates the ways we can use these new communication and collaboration channels to connect with employees, customers, partners, and suppliers in order to meet future potential needs.”

For developers, Thompson’s observation sends an urgent message to start looking at the existing IT landscape to determine where enterprise collaboration capabilities could add value to the way people work. Better yet, this may be an excellent opportunity to break down data silos that have plagued the business environment for decades.

Community-driven innovation paves the way to data democratization

After spending most of my career surrounded by developers, I have seen firsthand why successful change does not happen in a vacuum. Developers who leverage expert content, support, and innovative technology to extend enterprise investments are more likely to drive a competitive advantage that is valued by the business.

Through a community of innovators, developers can embed complementary interfaces in existing systems and applications to support the collaboration needs of any company, department, or industry. This environment should provide flexible capabilities including:

  • Customizable work patterns to address unique business demands and enable repeatable work
  • Integration of in-context business data from native and third-party systems with work patterns through APIs that help ensure that real-time data is available for assessment and decision making
  • Capabilities that are embedded through widgets to support enterprise collaboration in existing applications
  • Development of extension applications that take advantage of the power of the cloud platform based on in-memory computing to deliver rapid analysis, storage, transformation, and rendering

Development is an important part of integrating capabilities into existing software to create engaging experiences for employees of all levels and functions. However, it’s not innovation that should be done by scratch and alone. A community of expertise, best practices, content, and tools can help developers quickly set up a foundation for enterprise collaboration and devise new ways of work that reflect the business’ culture, preferred engagement models, and digital strategy.

Get started on your enterprise collaboration initiatives. Sign up for a free SAP Jam Collaboration, developer edition, and get full access to all of the capabilities of SAP Jam.


James Penfold

About James Penfold

James Penfold is Vice President of Business Development at SAP, responsible for the ISV and Developer Programs for SAP Jam. Prior to joining SAP, James managed the EMEA Web experience business for Akamai Technologies and was Senior Director of Applications Development (EMEA) for Oracle. James has more than 20 years’ technology leadership experience in product management, product marketing, and presales for global technology including Salesforce and Siebel Systems. James earned his BSc in Computer Science from the University of Portsmouth in conjunction with IBM.

The End Of Email Login Is Nigh (Possibly)

Branwell Moffat

Over a nice glass of Rioja in Barcelona in October last year, the ever-hungry Mike Timbers posed an interesting question to me: Why are we still using email addresses to log into websites? Maybe it was the wine, or the delicious tapas we were tucking into, but his question really got me thinking.

For a long time now, a customer’s email address has commonly been used as the unique username for their account on an e-commerce site. It is something that is most often unique to an individual, and we all have at least one of them.

Most of us have probably used websites that ask us to create a unique username, separate from our email address. This is incredibly frustrating and almost impossible to remember. Using a customer’s email address also makes sense, as it allows the merchant to send order confirmation emails and continue communicating with the customer through marketing emails.

So using a customer’s email address to log into an e-commerce website makes complete sense, then? Yes…maybe….not always….it really depends.

Email is still the undisputed king of digital communication. It can be accessed at work, at home, and on almost any device. Emails have subjects, can be sent to a group, be made to look pretty, and have files attached to them. Retailers send many billions of marketing emails to customers every year, and this is a vital part of their digital marketing strategy.

But isn’t it time we rethink whether it really is the best way of identifying an e-commerce user? The way we use technology to access the Internet has fundamentally changed in the last 10 years, but the way a user logs into a website has barely changed.

Generational changes

The way we communicate with one another differs across each generation. It has been said that kids these days do not use email. This is not entirely true. They do have email addresses and still use them for certain things, such as signing up to websites or receiving information from school, but they don’t tend to use it to communicate with one another.

For interpersonal communication they use SMS, Snapchat, What’sApp, Skype, Messenger, online games, or any number of other mediums, but email is too slow and not immediate enough. You can’t tell if someone is online, has read your last message, or is replying to your message.

It seems clear that, as the kids of today become the adults of tomorrow, the use of email for interpersonal communications will reduce further.

Complexity of email addresses

Many email addresses are easy to misspell. As the likes of Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo gain more and more users, new email addresses naturally become more complex in order to be unique. Even those of us with uncommon names struggle to obtain an email address that is short, concise, and simple to remember. The more complex it is, the harder it is to remember and spell correctly.

The other prevailing issue is that email addresses are not permanent. As you move companies or Internet providers, your email address may change. If you get a new email address, you are not likely to update every e-commerce website account you have. This results in a poorer user experience and also less value to the merchant of that email address.


Most of us are a member of at least one social network, whether it is Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, or one of the many others that are available. An increasing number of e-commerce websites now allow users to sign in using a social media account rather than their email address.

The theory is that you can use one single login to authenticate yourself across multiple platforms. This can negate the need for a user to remember separate usernames and passwords, and also helps the merchant engage socially with the customer.


The huge surge in the use of mobile devices for e-commerce should be one of the key drivers to considering a change to the way users log in. Typing on a mobile is harder than on a keyboard and more likely to lead to misspelling of an email address. A mobile phone is already a very secure device, and users access it through a pin code or even touch/face ID.

If a user is accessing your website via a mobile device, it should be possible to identify and even authenticate them directly from the device. If it is good enough for banking apps, it should be good enough for e-commerce. Apple touch and face ID do not currently allow authentication on a website, but it is surely a matter of time before they do.

Another important aspect of mobile usage is that everyone has their own mobile number. It is generally easy to remember and, crucially, very rarely changes. My mobile number has not changed in over 20 years, since my very first mobile phone.

Whenever you move networks, you take your number with you, and it is, arguably, a much better way of uniquely identifying yourself than your email address. Why not start using mobile numbers for e-commerce login as an alternative to email addresses? It is a lot easier for the customer to remember, is always unique, never changes, and still allows the merchant to communicate with the user.

Give users the choice

It would be a very brave (and possibly foolish) merchant who would completely abandon email login. Email clearly is here to stay, and a user’s email address still has marketing value to a merchant. However, users should be given a choice in how they identify and authenticate themselves to an e-commerce website.

There is a good argument to allow users to log in using a social media account or their mobile number in addition to their email address. At some point, I could envision using your mobile device to automatically authenticate a website user, using something like touch or face ID. I am a big advocate of user-centered design, and providing choices and making lives easier only leads to a better customer experience, and, ultimately, more sales for the merchant.

Learn more about Overcoming Digital Disruption In The Retail Industry.

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Experience and Commerce.


Five Ways To Keep Your BI Team On The Right Side Of GDPR

Erica Lailhacar

There’s been a lot of press coverage on GDPR, spurring organizations to proactively audit their data. But there’s been far less coverage and media noise on how to responsibly manage analytics, business intelligence processes, and reporting on sensitive data. And that’s a problem, especially for users who use BI tools to access sensitive data on a regular basis.

How do you ensure there’s no maverick behavior – even when it’s done without malice, such as importing a database into Excel for a “quick project” – and ensure that everyone manipulating data understands what can and cannot happen and why?

GDPR regulators will be quick to act

Chances are that regulators will be looking to make early examples of companies that breach GDPR requirements, which puts BI teams and analytics activity in the hot seat. How data records are stored and deleted, and how they are encrypted and transferred internationally, will all have to be reassessed. For business intelligence teams, this is even more acute, given the level of sensitive data at their disposal.

It’s a conversation I seem to be having more frequently with customers, so I thought I’d use this blog to outline five key points that BI teams need to consider as we approach the GDPR deadline in May.

1. Conduct training and risk assessment

It may sound obvious, but all BI users need to understand the changes and implications of GDPR with regard to how reports are run, managed, stored, and destroyed. This is not business as usual. Risk-based obligations are spread throughout GDPR. This can be a positive development; low-risk systems shouldn’t need the same level of protection as high-risk systems. But it will mean that companies will have to go through the process of actually doing risk assessments on lines of business and departments that process EU personal data – and that includes BI activity.

2. Classify your data

Make sure your records are clearly labeled, as well as the BI assets such as reports and dashboards, especially if they contain sensitive information. Businesses need a policy in place to make sure sensitive data is handled in keeping with GDPR guidelines, particularly when that data is used for analysis and self-service BI. For example, if an individual triggers the right to be forgotten and requests that the company delete personal information, BI teams must have the confidence to know it’s not been duplicated in users’ personal folders or shared outside the organization.

3. Monitor data usage

Companies will to need to audit and monitor how users are working with data. What analytics are taking place, and who is exporting data to Excel? In other words, you need to be doing BI on your BI system. Your BI team must have sight of any potential for data leaks, regardless of whether it’s deliberate behavior or accidental oversights.

4. Shut down ungoverned silos

Identify all the potential places where data is stored to ensure that there are no ungoverned silos and no one is setting up an ad hoc database for a one-off campaign or copying data for a “quick report.” This is important, because old habits can be hard to break for some people. Anything not governed by the IT department that is subject to cause regulatory exposure need to be shut down. No exceptions.

5. Delete or archive old reports

Reporting tends to pile up, and as users continue to build new reports, it’s important to delete or archive what’s no longer relevant or required. If the data is sensitive, it must be destroyed if necessary and not sit idly in old reports. Having a system in place to manage the process is essential to ensure that nothing slips through the net undetected. While chief data officers and compliance teams may be in the firing line if something goes wrong, ultimately it is the responsibility of the whole business to understand and embrace the changes, ensuring that if any mistakes are made, they don’t turn out to be too costly. BI teams have much greater responsibility for that than ever before, and have an obligation to identify and root out potential weak links, cut away unnecessary systems, and implement BI governance practices to stay on the right side of the law.

Find out more about turning GDPR compliance into a growth opportunity.


Erica Lailhacar

About Erica Lailhacar

Erica Lailhacar is analytics go-to-market strategy lead for SAP Global Channels and Platform.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

By Dan Wellers, Kai Goerlich, and Stephanie Overby , Kai Goerlich and Stephanie Overby

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future.

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!

About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.


Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

About Stephanie Overby


Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

One of my favorite movies of 2016 was Hidden Figures. The main character, Katherine Johnson, and her team of colleagues had an interesting job title: Computer. Here’s what Katherine said about her job: “On any given day, I analyze the binomial levels of air displacement, friction, and velocity. And compute over 10 thousand calculations by cosine, square root, and lately analytic geometry. By hand.”

That was the 1960s. It was amazing work, but work that took hours to complete – and something an in-memory computer could do in a fraction of a second today.

Just as in-memory computing transformed calculating by hand (and made jobs like Katherine’s much easier), digital technologies are transforming the way we work today – and making our day-to-day activities more efficient.

What’s the real impact of technology in today’s workplace?

We are surrounded by technology, both at home and at work. Machine learning and robotics are making their way into everyday life and are affecting the way we expect to engage with technology at work. That has a big impact on organizations: If a machine can do a job safely and more efficiently, a company, nonprofit, or government – and its employees – will benefit. Digital technologies are becoming increasingly more feasible, affordable, and desirable. The challenge for organizations now is effectively merging human talent and digital business to harness new capabilities.

How will jobs change?

What does this mean for humans in the workplace? In a previous blog, Kerry Brown showed that as enterprises continue to learn, human/machine collaboration increases. People will direct technology and hand over work that can be done more efficiently by machine. Does that mean people will go away? No – but they will need to leverage different skills than they have today.

Although we don’t know exactly how jobs will change, one thing is for sure: Becoming more digitally proficient will help every employee stay relevant (and prepare them to move forward in their careers). Today’s workforce demographic complicates how people embrace technology – with up to five generations in the workforce, there is a wide variety in digital fluency (i.e., the ability to understand which technology is available and what tools will best achieve desired outcomes).

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

Digital fluency is the combination of several capabilities related to technology:

  • Foundation skills: The ability to use technology tools that enhance your productivity and effectiveness
  • Information skills: The ability to research and develop your own perspective on topics using technology
  • Collaboration skills: The ability to share knowledge and collaborate with others using technology
  • Transformation skills: The ability to assess your own skills and take action toward building your digital fluency

No matter how proficient you are today, you can continue to build your digital IQ by building new habits and skills. This is something that both the organization and employee will have to own to be successful.

So, what skills are needed?

In a Technical University of Munich study released in July 2017, 64% of respondents said they do not have the skills necessary for digital transformation.

Today's workplace reality

These skills will be applied not only to the jobs of today, but also to the top jobs of the future, which haven’t been imagined yet! A recent article in Fast Company mentions a few, which include Digital Death Manager, Corporate Disorganizer, and 3D Printing Handyman.

And today’s skills will be used differently in 2025, as reported by another Fast Company article:

  • Tech skills, especially analytical skills, will increase in importance. Demand for software developers, market analysts, and computer analysts will increase significantly between now and 2025.
  • Retail and sales skills, or any job related to soft skills that are hard for computers to learn, will continue to grow. Customer service representatives, marketing specialists, and sales reps must continue to collaborate and understand how to use social media effectively to communicate worldwide.
  • Lifelong learning will be necessary to keep up with the changes in technology and adapt to our fast-moving lives. Teachers and trainers will continue to be hot jobs in the future, but the style of teaching will change to adapt to a “sound bite” world.
  • Contract workers who understand how businesses and projects work will thrive in the “gig economy.” Management analysts and auditors will continue to be in high demand.

What’s next?

How do companies address a shortage of digital skills and build digital fluency? Here are some steps you can take to increase your digital fluency – and that of your organization:

  • Assess where you are today. Either personally or organizationally, knowing what skills you have is the first step toward identifying where you need to go.
  • Identify one of each of the skill sets to focus on. What foundational skills do you or your organization need? How can you promote collaboration? What thought leadership can your team share – and how can they connect with the right information to stay relevant?
  • Start practicing! Choose just one thing – and use that technology every day for a month. Use it within your organization so others can practice too.

And up next for this blog series – a look at the workplace of the future!

The computer made its debut in Hidden Figures. Did it replace jobs? Yes, for some of the computer team. But members of that team did not leave quietly and continue manual calculations elsewhere. They learned how to use that new mainframe computer and became programmers. I believe humans will always be the next big thing.

If we want to retain humanity’s value in an increasingly automated world, we need to start recognizing and nurturing Human Skills for the Digital Future.


Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

Traci Maddox is the Director of the North America Customer Transformation Office at SAP, where she is elevating customer success through innovation and digital transformation. Traci is also part of the Digital Workforce Taskforce, a team of SAP leaders whose mission is to help companies succeed by understanding and addressing workforce implications of digital technology.