Struggling To Juggle Helpdesk Requests? You Need Better Ticketing

Andre Smith

Gone are the days when getting something done by IT means banging on their door or tying up the phones. A business that truly optimizes its IT department will have ongoing projects that are more important than repeatedly removing viruses from the same employee’s system. If your IT department is tied up in small tasks and struggling to remember specific requests, then cut out the unofficial favors as the main way of doing business and consider how improving ticket management can help.

Ticket management delivers deeper trend discovery

The best way to manage an IT department that services an entire business is with a tracking system that follows not only the machine but also the specific problems, solutions, and people making the requests.

Not all technical problems are the same, but there are similarities and trends that can be tracked to find the big picture. Running into the same common tech problems may be blamed on a system or a person if there’s no tracking. However, if you compare enough tickets, you may discover that the problem is a specific piece of software needed by a certain employee that may require changes to the machine at a less-than-obvious level.

On the opposite side of common issues are those unique, truly wondrous problems that no one would believe if they weren’t documented. Some situations are worthy of Tales from Tech Support, and many are important enough to send to a vendor with detailed information demanding a solution in its next software or hardware version.

That is where the true power of ticket systems emerges. It’s certainly important to keep an eye on troubled systems and problematic employees, but you’re more likely to see small bugs and flaws that are constantly encountered by a specific user related to his or her mindset.

Training can help, but having a ticket to refer to can make the explanation and future fixes more enlightening for everyone. A non-technical user will learn and be more productive if they have some insight into the problem, while the simple blame game can result in resistance and unwillingness to improve.

Along with linking trends in ticket requests, a good ticketing system can make ordering new systems a lot easier. If there are specific problems that your systems have, such as major flaws or merely being too complex for your users, these tickets can help pinpoint traits of new systems that would better fit business requirements in ways that system requirements would only briefly cover.

Required ticket policies cut travel time

There will always be a person or group of people who wants to get around the system. They may be high-ranking members of your business or employees who either don’t respect boundaries or aren’t capable of understanding boundaries.

Stopping a technician in the hallway for a quick fix or demanding a repair off the books is a problem that must be limited as much as possible. Times have changed, and there’s no reason for a technician to perform a repair that isn’t in the system. Modern ticketing systems use enterprise cloud computing, which means they are available to everyone, anyplace, anytime.

Your business can be a lot more efficient if company culture pushes employees to file tickets before seeking anyone out. This doesn’t mean that an in-person request isn’t impossible to make with a ticket system. A technician or engineer could file the ticket manually when they’re done, but it takes time away from their own work.

A business that optimizes its IT department won’t have time to pull its technicians away from a major project simply to install a new program or show a user how to do a specific task at any random time. With tickets built into all parts of the business culture, time management can be monitored and improved while giving technicians a chance to consult others before reaching the repair site.

Ticketing captures details and saves time

Because it’s possible to forget certain details about a user’s complaint, the requesting employee should be responsible for initiating a ticket. A technician can fill in technical information after the employee filing the ticket explains the situation in their own words.

If necessary, a technician can help users create trouble tickets. Some employees are simply not technical, but in an age when every employed person with an eye on advancement should know how to use a smartphone or desktop computer, a statement of “it’s broken” simply isn’t enough.

To make it simpler for employees to enter tickets., the user-facing part of the helpdesk ticket system should allow employees to select through a dropdown menu of common problems. A selection for “other” with an area to describe the issue should be provided for unusual problems and to force employees to enter some information.

With training that covers both non-IT and IT sides of the system, a helpdesk ticketing system can change company culture, improve troubleshooting, and support better communication.

If you’re looking to bring your customer satisfaction and experience to the next level, read about Software Essentials For Superior Customer Experience.

About Andre Smith

Andre Smith is an Internet, marketing, and e-commerce specialist with several years of experience in the industry. He has watched as the world of online business has grown and adapted to new technologies, and he has made it his mission to help keep businesses informed and up to date.

A Fresh Look At ERP Brings New Growth To Small And Midsize Businesses

Michael Schmitt

Life for small and midsize companies can be so busy, overwhelming, and stressful that they need the best and most-reliable allies to support the business each day. From the employees you depend on to the suppliers and partners you trust, everything and everyone must act and operate with considerable efficiency.

Growing companies are not willing to risk the potential disruptions that can come with implementing new technology. But as the business grows, it’s impossible to justify business management software that provides only basic functionality when the company is missing out on opportunities, experiencing unexpected disruptive events, and losing customer loyalty.

In an analyst connection interview, IDC’s Ray Boggs, vice president of Small and Midsize Business Research, and Mickey North Rizza, vice president of ERP and Digital Commerce Research, recently agreed, “the stress posed by the increasing pace of change in the competitive environment is encouraging firms to rethink their use of management and reporting resources. And the same holds for business growth as firms move to the next level of size, complexity, and performance obligations.”

Is your business system supporting or constraining your growth?

For many small and midsize businesses, expansion is a goal that promises long-term prosperity and brand loyalty. But at the same time, the further the company branches out to reach new markets and regions, the more complex and risk-prone operations become.

A business is only as efficient as the technology used to manage it. Large volumes of data must be processed quickly. Specific reporting is required to comply with industry or regional regulations. And to get a better view of performance, opportunities, and risk, all information and processes must be unified into one core system.

With a digital strategy built on an intelligent cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, small and midsize businesses create sustainable growth by tying processes, data, systems, and employees together end to end. Real-time insight and smarter employee-centric and customer-centric practices are injected into every aspect of the company. And flexible deployment of new digital interfaces and relentless improvement of business systems become significant competitive advantages.

Such a pervasive ERP backbone helps growing companies overcome common challenges – from the rising cost of IT and the need for tighter security controls to demand for the latest technologies – by enabling seven fundamental capabilities:

  1. Accelerated information processing across the entire business network
  1. Increased automation to reduce process bottlenecks and eliminate manual input and approvals
  1. Improved task prioritization based on value creation and need for exception handling
  1. Lowered complexity by providing complete, contextual information
  1. Smarter, quicker collaboration that fosters productive and intelligent cooperation
  1. Business and operational optimization based on process flexibility, real-time analytics, and full-scale visibility
  1. Innovative processes that adapt to how people work and engage with each other

Invest in an ERP built for now and for years to come

Implementing or upgrading an ERP system may seem daunting. But running a business without a strong foundation for growth can significantly hamper the performance of existing and new operations.

New market forces are creating pressure for greater speed, effectiveness, and response to change. Customers expect higher levels of service, customization, and insight. And more importantly, small and midsize companies need to understand trends as they emerge and take advantage or mitigate them before the competition. Technology that cannot deliver these capabilities can profoundly restrict the ability to address the needs of customers with new business models, products, and services, which can vary regionally and culturally.

Whether your business is becoming an integrated global company or a more distributed organization with regional subsidiaries, a digital core enabled by an intelligent, cloud-based ERP platform should be a vital part of your growth strategy. You will not only establish processes and operations faster and easier in new locations, but also gain the real-time visibility and decision-making power to consistently guide the business in the right direction.

Find out the answers to five common questions that small and midsize companies ask about ERP systems. Read the IDC analyst connection brief, “Small and Midsize Businesses Put ERP at the Center of Digital Transformation Strategies,” featuring IDC’s Ray Boggs, vice president of Small and Midsize Business Research, and Mickey North Rizza, vice president of ERP and Digital Commerce Research.

About Michael Schmitt

Dr. Michael Schmitt is the global leader of SAP Business ByDesign and responsible for the definition and execution of the overall ByDesign strategy aligned with the SAP Cloud and SME strategy. SAP Business ByDesign is SAP’s upper midmarket cloud suite solution and an essential part of SAPs entire cloud business. The orchestration of the different cross board area teams involved in SAP Business ByDesign – this includes sales, pre-sales, customer care, marketing, partner ecosystem, professional services as well as development, operations and support - is also within his area of responsibility.

Startups Face The Question: Is An ICO The Way to Go?

Andre Smith

Throughout 2017, the newly minted, blockchain-backed initial coin offering (ICO) market boomed. Some industry insiders predicted that it signified a paradigm shift in early-stage capital financing and heralded a new golden age for startups everywhere. Others urged caution. By January of this year, over 1,700 startups had completed an ICO, raising over US$4 billion in the process. It seemed the positive predictions were right.

Then the cryptocurrency market plunged and the naysayers returned with a vengeance, proclaiming that ICOs and the bubble they’d spawned were coming to an end. Amid the fall though, a strange thing was happening. It turned out that the ICO market was continuing to expand, despite the challenging environment. For startups, this has led to a conundrum. Should they trust their future to the ICO market or seek traditional financing? Here’s what they need to know before making that decision.

Regulators close in

Despite the enormous sums of money being invested through ICOs, government regulators have been mostly silent – until recently. In February, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) started issuing subpoenas to businesses throughout the crypto market. They’ve been interpreted as a warning from regulators that the days of easy money are nearing an end. The move certainly makes it appear that the SEC is in the early stages of a fact-finding mission, and that makes new restrictions and rules for ICOs look far more likely in the near future.

Traditional VC weighs in

Within the world of venture capital firms, reaction to the ICO craze has been mixed. Some have decried the market as an elaborate Ponzi scheme, and in many cases, they’ve been right. While legitimate companies may feel that they have nothing to fear, the fact is that they’re susceptible to guilt by association. With each new ICO black eye, companies risk permanent damage to their reputation in the public sphere.

Despite the associated risks though, some VC professionals see the continued rise of the crypto market as a foregone conclusion. Billionaire angel investor Chris Sacca opined that:

“I believe Crypto/Blockchain are real/here to stay. Extrajudicial assets/finance are inevitable.”

While that’s far from an endorsement, it does carry some weight when coming from a man listed at number two on the Forbes Midas List of smartest tech investors.

The ICO brain drain

While the lure of easy access to capital is a siren song that many entrepreneurs can’t ignore, there is another disadvantage to ICO funding. Put very simply, all you end up with is money. Unlike the traditional venture capital process, which grants startups access to a wealth of business knowledge and talent from the investor side of the equation, an ICO is nothing more than a DIY funding approach. For founders that believe in their products and ideas, that can be dangerous. Without experience to guide them, many startups burn through their capital with little or nothing to show for it, and that can crater the business in a hurry.

The hybrid approach

It is clear that the disadvantages and the sheer level of uncertainty surrounding the ICO market make it a risky bet for startups in the near term. For now, it’s still a smart play for startups to seek funding through more traditional means if they are able. Once they do, they can make an informed decision to raise additional capital through an ICO if they find it necessary and advantageous. By that point, they should have acquired the knowledge and talent required to make the most of the funds and turn their startup into the next big thing.

To learn more about the blockchain and how it is changing the world, read The Blockchain Solution.

About Andre Smith

Andre Smith is an Internet, marketing, and e-commerce specialist with several years of experience in the industry. He has watched as the world of online business has grown and adapted to new technologies, and he has made it his mission to help keep businesses informed and up to date.

The Human Angle

By Jenny Dearborn, David Judge, Tom Raftery, and Neal Ungerleider

In a future teeming with robots and artificial intelligence, humans seem to be on the verge of being crowded out. But in reality the opposite is true.

To be successful, organizations need to become more human than ever.

Organizations that focus only on automation will automate away their competitive edge. The most successful will focus instead on skills that set them apart and that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning. Those skills can be summed up in one word: humanness.

You can see it in the numbers. According to David J. Deming of the Harvard Kennedy School, demand for jobs that require social skills has risen nearly 12 percentage points since 1980, while less-social jobs, such as computer coding, have declined by a little over 3 percentage points.

AI is in its infancy, which means that it cannot yet come close to duplicating our most human skills. Stefan van Duin and Naser Bakhshi, consultants at professional services company Deloitte, break down artificial intelligence into two types: narrow and general. Narrow AI is good at specific tasks, such as playing chess or identifying facial expressions. General AI, which can learn and solve complex, multifaceted problems the way a human being does, exists today only in the minds of futurists.

The only thing narrow artificial intelligence can do is automate. It can’t empathize. It can’t collaborate. It can’t innovate. Those abilities, if they ever come, are still a long way off. In the meantime, AI’s biggest value is in augmentation. When human beings work with AI tools, the process results in a sort of augmented intelligence. This augmented intelligence outperforms the work of either human beings or AI software tools on their own.

AI-powered tools will be the partners that free employees and management to tackle higher-level challenges.

Those challenges will, by default, be more human and social in nature because many rote, repetitive tasks will be automated away. Companies will find that developing fundamental human skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, within the organization will take on a new importance. These skills can’t be automated and they won’t become process steps for algorithms anytime soon.

In a world where technology change is constant and unpredictable, those organizations that make the fullest use of uniquely human skills will win. These skills will be used in collaboration with both other humans and AI-fueled software and hardware tools. The degree of humanness an organization possesses will become a competitive advantage.

This means that today’s companies must think about hiring, training, and leading differently. Most of today’s corporate training programs focus on imparting specific knowledge that will likely become obsolete over time.

Instead of hiring for portfolios of specific subject knowledge, organizations should instead hire—and train—for more foundational skills, whose value can’t erode away as easily.

Recently, educational consulting firm Hanover Research looked at high-growth occupations identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and determined the core skills required in each of them based on a database that it had developed. The most valuable skills were active listening, speaking, and critical thinking—giving lie to the dismissive term soft skills. They’re not soft; they’re human.

This doesn’t mean that STEM skills won’t be important in the future. But organizations will find that their most valuable employees are those with both math and social skills.

That’s because technical skills will become more perishable as AI shifts the pace of technology change from linear to exponential. Employees will require constant retraining over time. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is already outdated by the time students graduate, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF’s report further notes that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.” By contrast, human skills such as interpersonal communication and project management will remain consistent over the years.

For example, organizations already report that they are having difficulty finding people equipped for the Big Data era’s hot job: data scientist. That’s because data scientists need a combination of hard and soft skills. Data scientists can’t just be good programmers and statisticians; they also need to be intuitive and inquisitive and have good communication skills. We don’t expect all these qualities from our engineering graduates, nor from most of our employees.

But we need to start.

From Self-Help to Self-Skills

Even if most schools and employers have yet to see it, employees are starting to understand that their future viability depends on improving their innately human qualities. One of the most popular courses on Coursera, an online learning platform, is called Learning How to Learn. Created by the University of California, San Diego, the course is essentially a master class in human skills: students learn everything from memory techniques to dealing with procrastination and communicating complicated ideas, according to an article in The New York Times.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing.

Although there is a longstanding assumption that social skills are innate, nothing is further from the truth. As the popularity of Learning How to Learn attests, human skills—everything from learning skills to communication skills to empathy—can, and indeed must, be taught.

These human skills are integral for training workers for a workplace where artificial intelligence and automation are part of the daily routine. According to the WEF’s New Vision for Education report, the skills that employees will need in the future fall into three primary categories:

  • Foundational literacies: These core skills needed for the coming age of robotics and AI include understanding the basics of math, science, computing, finance, civics, and culture. While mastery of every topic isn’t required, workers who have a basic comprehension of many different areas will be richly rewarded in the coming economy.
  • Competencies: Developing competencies requires mastering very human skills, such as active listening, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
  • Character qualities: Over the next decade, employees will need to master the skills that will help them grasp changing job duties and responsibilities. This means learning the skills that help employees acquire curiosity, initiative, persistence, grit, adaptability, leadership, and social and cultural awareness.

The good news is that learning human skills is not completely divorced from how work is structured today. Yonatan Zunger, a Google engineer with a background working with AI, argues that there is a considerable need for human skills in the workplace already—especially in the tech world. Many employees are simply unaware that when they are working on complicated software or hardware projects, they are using empathy, strategic problem solving, intuition, and interpersonal communication.

The unconscious deployment of human skills takes place even more frequently when employees climb the corporate ladder into management. “This is closely tied to the deeper difference between junior and senior roles: a junior person’s job is to find answers to questions; a senior person’s job is to find the right questions to ask,” says Zunger.

Human skills will be crucial to navigating the AI-infused workplace. There will be no shortage of need for the right questions to ask.

One of the biggest changes narrow AI tools will bring to the workplace is an evolution in how work is performed. AI-based tools will automate repetitive tasks across a wide swath of industries, which means that the day-to-day work for many white-collar workers will become far more focused on tasks requiring problem solving and critical thinking. These tasks will present challenges centered on interpersonal collaboration, clear communication, and autonomous decision-making—all human skills.

Being More Human Is Hard

However, the human skills that are essential for tomorrow’s AI-ified workplace, such as interpersonal communication, project planning, and conflict management, require a different approach from traditional learning. Often, these skills don’t just require people to learn new facts and techniques; they also call for basic changes in the ways individuals behave on—and off—the job.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing. As science gains a better understanding of how the human brain works, many behaviors that affect employees on the job are understood to be universal and natural rather than individual (see “Human Skills 101”).

Human Skills 101

As neuroscience has improved our understanding of the brain, human skills have become increasingly quantifiable—and teachable.

Though the term soft skills has managed to hang on in the popular lexicon, our understanding of these human skills has increased to the point where they aren’t soft at all: they are a clearly definable set of skills that are crucial for organizations in the AI era.

Active listening: Paying close attention when receiving information and drawing out more information than received in normal discourse

Critical thinking: Gathering, analyzing, and evaluating issues and information to come to an unbiased conclusion

Problem solving: Finding solutions to problems and understanding the steps used to solve the problem

Decision-making: Weighing the evidence and options at hand to determine a specific course of action

Monitoring: Paying close attention to an issue, topic, or interaction in order to retain information for the future

Coordination: Working with individuals and other groups to achieve common goals

Social perceptiveness: Inferring what others are thinking by observing them

Time management: Budgeting and allocating time for projects and goals and structuring schedules to minimize conflicts and maximize productivity

Creativity: Generating ideas, concepts, or inferences that can be used to create new things

Curiosity: Desiring to learn and understand new or unfamiliar concepts

Imagination: Conceiving and thinking about new ideas, concepts, or images

Storytelling: Building narratives and concepts out of both new and existing ideas

Experimentation: Trying out new ideas, theories, and activities

Ethics: Practicing rules and standards that guide conduct and guarantee rights and fairness

Empathy: Identifying and understanding the emotional states of others

Collaboration: Working with others, coordinating efforts, and sharing resources to accomplish a common project

Resiliency: Withstanding setbacks, avoiding discouragement, and persisting toward a larger goal

Resistance to change, for example, is now known to result from an involuntary chemical reaction in the brain known as the fight-or-flight response, not from a weakness of character. Scientists and psychologists have developed objective ways of identifying these kinds of behaviors and have come up with universally applicable ways for employees to learn how to deal with them.

Organizations that emphasize such individual behavioral traits as active listening, social perceptiveness, and experimentation will have both an easier transition to a workplace that uses AI tools and more success operating in it.

Framing behavioral training in ways that emphasize its practical application at work and in advancing career goals helps employees feel more comfortable confronting behavioral roadblocks without feeling bad about themselves or stigmatized by others. It also helps organizations see the potential ROI of investing in what has traditionally been dismissed as touchy-feely stuff.

In fact, offering objective means for examining inner behaviors and tools for modifying them is more beneficial than just leaving the job to employees. For example, according to research by psychologist Tasha Eurich, introspection, which is how most of us try to understand our behaviors, can actually be counterproductive.

Human beings are complex creatures. There is generally way too much going on inside our minds to be able to pinpoint the conscious and unconscious behaviors that drive us to act the way we do. We wind up inventing explanations—usually negative—for our behaviors, which can lead to anxiety and depression, according to Eurich’s research.

Structured, objective training can help employees improve their human skills without the negative side effects. At SAP, for example, we offer employees a course on conflict resolution that uses objective research techniques for determining what happens when people get into conflicts. Employees learn about the different conflict styles that researchers have identified and take an assessment to determine their own style of dealing with conflict. Then employees work in teams to discuss their different styles and work together to resolve a specific conflict that one of the group members is currently experiencing.

How Knowing One’s Self Helps the Organization

Courses like this are helpful not just for reducing conflicts between individuals and among teams (and improving organizational productivity); they also contribute to greater self-awareness, which is the basis for enabling people to take fullest advantage of their human skills.

Self-awareness is a powerful tool for improving performance at both the individual and organizational levels. Self-aware people are more confident and creative, make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. They are also less likely to lie, cheat, and steal, according to Eurich.

It naturally follows that such people make better employees and are more likely to be promoted. They also make more effective leaders with happier employees, which makes the organization more profitable, according to research by Atuma Okpara and Agwu M. Edwin.

There are two types of self-awareness, writes Eurich. One is having a clear view inside of one’s self: one’s own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. The second type is understanding how others view us in terms of these same categories.

Interestingly, while we often assume that those who possess one type of awareness also possess the other, there is no direct correlation between the two. In fact, just 10% to 15% of people have both, according to a survey by Eurich. That means that the vast majority of us must learn one or the other—or both.

Gaining self-awareness is a process that can take many years. But training that gives employees the opportunity to examine their own behaviors against objective standards and gain feedback from expert instructors and peers can help speed up the journey. Just like the conflict management course, there are many ways to do this in a practical context that benefits employees and the organization alike.

For example, SAP also offers courses on building self-confidence, increasing trust with peers, creating connections with others, solving complex problems, and increasing resiliency in the face of difficult situations—all of which increase self-awareness in constructive ways. These human-skills courses are as popular with our employees as the hard-skill courses in new technologies or new programming techniques.

Depending on an organization’s size, budget, and goals, learning programs like these can include small group training, large lectures, online courses, licensing of third-party online content, reimbursement for students to attain certification, and many other models.

Human Skills Are the Constant

Automation and artificial intelligence will change the workplace in unpredictable ways. One thing we can predict, however, is that human skills will be needed more than ever.

The connection between conflict resolution skills, critical thinking courses, and the rise of AI-aided technology might not be immediately obvious. But these new AI tools are leading us down the path to a much more human workplace.

Employees will interact with their computers through voice conversations and image recognition. Machine learning will find unexpected correlations in massive amounts of data but empathy and creativity will be required for data scientists to figure out the right questions to ask. Interpersonal communication will become even more important as teams coordinate between offices, remote workplaces, and AI aides.

While the future might be filled with artificial intelligence, deep learning, and untold amounts of data, uniquely human capabilities will be the ones that matter. Machines can’t write a symphony, design a building, teach a college course, or manage a department. The future belongs to humans working with machines, and for that, you need human skills. D!

About the Authors

Jenny Dearborn is Chief Learning Officer at SAP.

David Judge is Vice President, SAP Leonardo, at SAP.

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President and Internet of Things Evangelist at SAP.

Neal Ungerleider is a Los Angeles-based technology journalist and consultant.

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


Machine Learning In The Real World

Paul Taylor

Over the past few decades, machine learning has emerged as the real-world face of what is often mistakenly called “artificial intelligence.” It is establishing itself as a mainstream technology tool for companies, enabling them to improve productivity, planning, and ultimately, profits.

Michael Jordan, professor of Computer Science and Statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, noted in a recent Medium post: “Most of what is being called ‘AI’ today, particularly in the public sphere, is what has been called ‘machine learning’ for the past several decades.”

Jordan argues that unlike much that is mislabeled “artificial intelligence,” ML is the real thing. He maintains that it was already clear in the early 1990s that ML would grow to have massive industrial relevance. He notes that by the turn of the century, forward-looking companies such as Amazon were already using ML throughout their business, solving mission-critical back-end problems in fraud detection and logistics-chain prediction and building innovative consumer-facing services such as recommendation systems.

“Although not visible to the general public, research and systems-building in areas such as document retrieval, text classification, fraud detection, recommendation systems, personalized search, social network analysis, planning, diagnostics, and A/B testing have been a major success — these are the advances that have powered companies such as Google, Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon,” Jordan says.

Amazon, which has been investing deeply in artificial intelligence for over 20 years, acknowledges, “ML algorithms drive many of our internal systems. It’s also core to the capabilities our customers’ experience – from the path optimization in our fulfillment centers and Amazon’s recommendations engine o Echo powered by Alexa, our drone initiative Prime Air, and our new retail experience, Amazon Go. “

The fact that tech industry leaders like Google, Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon have used ML to help fuel their growth is not news. For example, it has been widely reported that sites with recommendation engines, including Netflix, use ML algorithms to generate user-specific suggestions. Most dynamic map/routing apps, including Google Maps, also use ML to suggest route changes in real time based upon traffic speed and other data gleaned from multiple users’ smartphones.

In a recent article detailing real-world examples of ML in action, Kelly McNulty, a senior content writer at Salt Lake City-based Prowess Consulting, notes: “ML isn’t just something that will happen in the future. It’s happening now, and it will only get more advanced and pervasive in the future.”

However, the broader uptake of ML by enterprises – big and small – is less much less known. A recently published study prepared for SAP by the Economist Intelligence Unit and based on a survey of 360 organizations revealed that 68 percent of respondents are already using ML, at least to some extent, to enhance their business processes.

The report adds: “Some are aiming even higher: to use ML to change their business models and offer entirely new value propositions to customers…… ML is not just a technology.” The report’s authors continue, “It is core to the business strategies that have led to the surging value of organizations that incorporate it into their operating models – think Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb.”

McNulty notes that there are both internal and external uses for ML. Among the internal uses, she cites Thomson Reuters, the news and data services group, which, after its merger in 2008, used ML to prepare large quantities of data with Tamr, an enterprise data-unification company. She says the two partners used ML to unify more than three million data points with an accuracy of 95 percent, reducing the time needed to manually unify the data by several months and cutting the manual labor required by an estimated 40 percent.

In another example of enterprise use of ML, she notes that GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceuticals group, used the technology to develop information aimed at allaying concerns about vaccines. The ML algorithms were used to sift through parents’ comments about vaccines in forums and messaging boards, enabling GSK to develop content specifically designed to address these concerns.

In the financial sector, ML has been widely used for some time to help detect fraudulent transactions and assess risk. PayPal uses the technology to “distinguish the good customers from the bad customers,” according to Vadim Kutsyy, a data scientist at the online payments company.

PayPal’s deep learning system is also able to filter out deceptive merchants and crack down on sales of illegal products. Additionally, the models are optimizing operations. Kutsyy explained the machines can identify “why transactions fail, monitoring businesses more efficiently,” avoiding the need to buy more hardware for problem-solving.

ML algorithms also underpin many of the corporate chatbots and virtual assistants being deployed by enterprise customers and others. For Example, Allstate partnered with technology consultancy Earley Information Science to develop a virtual assistant called ABIe (the Allstate Business Insurance Expert). ABIe was designed to assist Allstate’s 12,000 agents to understand and sell the company’s commercial insurance products, reportedly handling 25,000 inquires a month.

Other big U.S. insurance companies, including Progressive, are applying ML algorithms to interpret driver data and identify new business opportunities.

Meanwhile, four years ago, Royal Dutch Shell became the first company in the lubricants sector to use ML to help develop the Shell Virtual Assistant. The virtual assistant enables customers and distributors to ask common lubricant-related questions.

As the company noted at the time, “customers and distributors type in their question via an online message window, and avatars Emma and Ethan reply back with an appropriate answer within seconds.” The tool was initially launched in the U.S. and UK but has since expanded to other countries and reportedly can now understand and respond to queries in multiple languages, including Chinese and Russian.

In the retail sector, Walmart, which already uses ML to optimize home delivery routes, also uses it to help reduce theft and improve customer service. The retail giant has reportedly developed facial recognition software that automatically detects frustration in the faces of shoppers at checkout, prompting customer service representatives to intervene.

Among SAP’s own customers, a growing number are implementing ML tools, including those built into SAP’s own platforms and applications. As SAP notes, “Many different industries and lines of business are ripe for machine learning—particularly the ones that amass large volumes of data.”

The manufacturing, finance, and healthcare sectors are leading the way. For example, a large European chemicals company has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of its customer service process by using ML algorithms to automatically categorize and send responses to customer inquiries.

In the mining sector, Vale, the Brazilian mining group, is using ML to optimize maintenance processes and reduce the number of purchase requisitions that were being rejected causing maintenance and operational delays in its mines. Before implementation, between 25 percent and 40 percent of purchase requisitions were being rejected by procurement because of errors. Since implementation, 86 percent of these rejections have been eliminated.

Elsewhere a large consumer goods company, the Austrian-based consumer good company, is using ML and computer vision to identify images of broken products submitted by customers from the over 40,000 products in the company’s catalog. The application enables the company to speed up repairs and replacements, thereby improving customer service and the customer experience.

Similarly, a global automotive manufacturer is using image recognition to help consumers learn more about vehicles and direct them to local dealer showrooms, and a major French telecommunications firm reduced the length of customer service conversations by 50 percent using chatbots that now manage 20 percent of all calls.

But not every enterprise ML deployment has worked out so well. In a highly publicized case, Target hired a ML expert to analyze shopper data and create a model that could predict which female customers were most likely to be pregnant and when they were expected to give birth. (If a woman started buying a lot of supplements, for example, she was probably in her first 20 weeks of pregnancy, whereas buying a lot of unscented lotion indicated the start of the second trimester.)

Target used this information to provide pregnancy- and parenting-related coupons to women who matched the profile. But Target was forced to modify its strategy after some customers said they felt uncomfortable with this level of personalization. A New York Times story reported that a Minneapolis parent learned of their 16-year-old daughter’s unplanned pregnancy when the Target coupons arrived in the mail.

Target’s experience notwithstanding, most enterprise ML projects generate significant benefits for customers, employees, and investors while putting the huge volumes of data generated in our digital era to real use.

For more insight on the implications of machine learning technology, download the study Making the Most of Machine Learning: 5 Lessons from Fast Learners.