IT Roadmap For The Future

Daniel Newman

As new IT technology is introduced in the workplace, it’s likely that what worked last year won’t work in the next five years. It might sound like a cliché, but the only constant in the world of IT is change. While this continuous evolution isn’t always predictable, there are certain ways for CIOs to plan to help IT professionals achieve their goals for the organization. Here are a few suggestions to help CIOs create a roadmap for the future:

1. Consider the big picture

IT departments must no longer be merely concerned with their departmental goals. CIOs and the department in general need to realign with larger organizational goals to stay relevant in times of constant change.

According to Simon Chapleau, CEO of Green Elephant, measuring things like calls to the help desk, closed tickets, and so on are a thing of the past, catering only to the interest and investment of IT teams. “However, if you are including user satisfaction and happiness in there, if you’re giving IT a little more time and space to resolve issues to users’ satisfaction, then you’ll see improvement across the board,” Chapleau says. In this way, IT departments and CIOs need to consider the bigger picture, focusing not only on measurement and accountability, but on how to improve the overall customer experience to boost business. Gone are the times of an isolated IT department led by a CIO with limited capacities. The future demands that CIOs are versatile and refocus their strategy in a way suitable for the entire business.

2. Collaborate with other departments

CIOs will increasingly need to collaborate with other departments to meet organizational goals, as outlined above. Rather than the IT department being a place filled with tech professionals that other departments tend to avoid, more engagement and interaction will become the norm. The shift toward collaboration is partially driven by the younger generation in the workforce. Millennial workers are driving a shift that focuses on engaging and communicating across departments. What this means for IT teams is more engagement with each department and its staff, paired with a willingness to explain and provide strategies that are based in reason and logic. Business analysts will make up a growing percentage of IT staff, and it is the CIO’s job to integrate these members into the department while also facilitating inter-departmental collaboration to reach important decisions affecting both technology and the overall business.

3. Focus on innovation

Historically, the role of the CIO has been characterized by caution and predictability. With the new dynamism in the IT industry, CIOs will have to be more innovation-oriented and willing to take risks. “This new kind of CIO, who will move from chief information officer to chief innovation officer, will focus much more on being agile and adaptive,” states Alastair Behenna, principal analyst serving CIO at Forrester. The ability to continually adapt is integral and demands that CIOs be able to quickly rise above and learn from failure. Rather than organizations slowing innovation down, the next few years will see an explosion in creativity that can be met only with a focus on innovation and its implementation.

4. Continuous employee training

It’s no surprise that the transformation of the role of the CIO will require a transformation at the employee level, as well. CIOs will have to build a workforce that can focus on innovation and adaptability, provide excellent customer experience, and foster business development. It will no longer be sufficient to excel at one side of IT operations only. Rather, CIOs will need to train employees to consider the bigger picture in terms of technology. As I wrote in a previous article on Forbes, “Reskilling existing teams will be necessary to maintain agility, so it’s important to construct a team of employees who can handle the peaks and valleys of business.” Current employees need to get on par with the changing face of IT and learn to adapt to avoid failure. CIOs will play a key in role in facilitating these processes by reskilling legacy processes and seeking out adaptable talent.

Even with unpredictable and ever-changing technologies, the CIO’s role is far from redundant. In fact, as the workplace continues to evolve, CIOs will play an integral part in the leadership of any business and should appropriately be prepared for the same.

Don’t let your digital transformation break what’s working. See 4 Ways to Digitally Disrupt Your Business Without Destroying It.

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About Daniel Newman

Daniel Newman serves as the Co-Founder and CEO of EC3, a quickly growing hosted IT and Communication service provider. Prior to this role Daniel has held several prominent leadership roles including serving as CEO of United Visual. Parent company to United Visual Systems, United Visual Productions, and United GlobalComm; a family of companies focused on Visual Communications and Audio Visual Technologies. Daniel is also widely published and active in the Social Media Community. He is the Author of Amazon Best Selling Business Book "The Millennial CEO." Daniel also Co-Founded the Global online Community 12 Most and was recognized by the Huffington Post as one of the 100 Business and Leadership Accounts to Follow on Twitter. Newman is an Adjunct Professor of Management at North Central College. He attained his undergraduate degree in Marketing at Northern Illinois University and an Executive MBA from North Central College in Naperville, IL. Newman currently resides in Aurora, Illinois with his wife (Lisa) and his two daughters (Hailey 9, Avery 5). A Chicago native all of his life, Newman is an avid golfer, a fitness fan, and a classically trained pianist

Four Steps To Becoming The Postmodern CIO Your Business Demands

Christine Ashton

Part 6 in thePostmodern CIO” series

The world where CIOs could function simply by recording IT transactions and running reports has gone. There’s been a growth in data silos; users complain that existing systems are overloaded and not easy to use; and there’s a lack of real-time business insight.

Today, entire industries are being constantly reshaped by disruptive technology and a lowering of costs. Business models’ shelf lives are shrinking. Infinite growth, instant market dominance, and control of supply chains are within reach of even the tiniest startup that knows how to use its agility to its advantage. That’s why digital matters: It accelerates the rate of disruption. It democratizes new technology by breaking down the barriers to access for businesses irrespective of size. The faster this access gets created, the more a market can scale.

You could be forgiven for thinking that things haven’t really changed, and it’s all hype. Digitalization of businesses has shifted power to the consumer, and they expect personal product experiences based on their preferences anytime anywhere. The postmodern CIO understands these shifts and is focused on equipping their business to lead their current markets – and new ones as well.

An opportunity to harness digital tools

There’s an opportunity for the postmodern CIO to act in new and innovative ways. But doing so means harnessing the tools created by the digital revolution, not trying to leverage legacy options created in a different era to address these new and different challenges.

Cloud, mobile, and digital solutions will be key, but IT leaders also need to direct their teams to be the drivers of change they need to learn how to build and execute new business models. This means a change in perspective for CIOs: They must understand that even though things look the same now, the world has changed.

This change demands that the postmodern CIO embraces technology that supports the radicalization of business processes and outcomes. This means enabling limitless scalability across shared architectures, cast-iron security in open social environments, and simplified user interfaces that are focused on the “one device for everything” end-user experience. Postmodern CIOs understand all this and are already forming a vision for their IT teams driven by new ways to integrate their systems and processes.

By following the four steps below, you can become the postmodern CIO that your company needs to survive in a world of constant competition and rapid technological change.

1. Create a strategic plan.

According to IT research advisory firm Gartner, 42% of CEOs in 2017 have begun the process of digital business transformation. This is an improvement from previous years and one that will give the 42% significantly enhanced career prospects. But even so, almost half of CEOs have no metrics to judge the success of their digital transformation. As the CIO, your capacity is to serve as chief advisor during this period of change and innovation, making sure that you carefully lay out an adaptive road map for the transformation.

2. Avoid the low-hanging poisoned fruit.

As a CIO, it’s all too tempting to start using technology to optimize self-contained IT activities and focus solely on cost reduction. Leading as a CIO, however, means recognizing how you will impact business functions across the enterprise and in doing so, gain buy-in from the rest of the organization. Avoid the impulse to self-segregate and start thinking collaboratively.

3. Start with the customer first.

Digital technologies offer the chance to better understand your customers: their behavior, their preferences, and their unfulfilled needs. This understanding then needs to be used to create more appealing products and services. According to digital transformation expert Didier Bonnet, up to 80%  of digital investments need to be prioritized based on better understanding customer behavior and improving the total customer experience. Companies such as Nike have wisely used digital technologies to branch out from their original competencies and offer tech-enabled tools like the Nike+ fuelband, a wearable device that tracks physical activity.

4. Make technology everyone’s job.

By leveraging techniques such as automation and identifying deadweight processes, CIOs can help drive down the costs of legacy systems and custom development and apply those savings toward innovation. The resources gained here should be reallocated and applied for the benefit of the entire organization, breaking down departmental barriers and silos and ushering in meaningful, lasting change.

Even the most enlightened IT department will struggle to keep track with the pace of technological innovation. It’s inevitable that a shadow IT network will grow up as users bring their experiences and expectations as a consumer into work via an ever-growing range of applications. A shift away from legacy spending can free the postmodern CIO to partner with the business on what they are seeking to achieve. An “innocent until proven guilty” approach entails more up-front risk, but encourages innovation.

Final thoughts

As the responsibilities of the postmodern CIO change from IT manager to strategic partner, those companies that refuse to adapt will be left behind. The four activities mentioned above are only a few of the key steps that CIOs must take in order to prepare their organizations to survive and thrive in the postmodern IT environment.

For more on leadership in the age of digital disruption, see Digital Transformation, Talent-Driven Organizations, And The Future of Work.

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Christine Ashton

About Christine Ashton

Christine is global chief digital officer, Digital Office ERP Cloud at SAP. Her focus is to work with CxOs to reimagine strategy and business practices. She works with senior executives to plan their “AI-first” digital transformation road map enabled by intelligent ERP and public cloud. Notably, Christine is recognized in Computer Weekly's 2017’s Most Influential Women In IT - Top 100 list.

Net Neutrality Lost: Smart Solutions For Small Business – Part 1

Brandon Lewis

Part 1 of a 2-part series

A few years ago, crawling Internet speeds claimed users as their victim when streaming on certain Web sites. Small businesses may once again be found in this lull with the overturn of net neutrality.

The “Restoring Internet Freedom Act” was passed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on December 14, eliminating the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Opponents of the decision are seeking to use the Congressional Review Act to overrule the FCC. What’s more, lawmakers in several states are introducing state legislation that forbids Internet providers to block or slow down sites or online services.

However, these opponents still face several hurdles. In the meantime, it’s important to realize what this change in net neutrality means for consumers and small businesses doing business in the U.S.

Countries like Spain and Portugal don’t have regulations like net neutrality, and they’re experiencing major changes. Lisbon-based telecommunications firm MEO released data plans that place limits on specific apps. For example, users would pay for Internet, then add certain packages with additional charges to access certain applications and Web sites.

If you want The New York Times, you’ll need the news package. To stream Netflix, pay for the entertainment package. And to stay connected with loved ones through Facebook, add another few dollars to your bill and pay for the social media plan.

But think about how this will destroy small businesses. If a small business cannot afford to purchase premium data, they will need to find alternative ways to attract consumers and compete with big organizations.

Here is how to solve major obstacles that may impact small businesses if net neutrality is repealed:

Slower Internet speeds impede sales potential

Every second counts when it comes to page loading times. The longer a user has to wait, the higher the risk of their leaving. Slower page response time results in an increase in page abandonment, and mobile users expect the same efficiency as their desktop.

In fact, according to a Google Consumer Survey conducted in May 2015, only 9% of users will stay on a mobile site or app if it doesn’t satisfy their needs. The report also found that 66% of consumers will take actions that have some negative impact on the brand, and 40% will be less likely to come back to the mobile site or app.

Providing customer support services is a great incentive for users, but if a company doesn’t have enough bandwidth to support their site and chat platform, then neither one will be effective. It is comparable to having several programs running at once: speed lags, and eventually the server crashes because it cannot handle it.

Other factors affecting slow Internet speeds are visuals and video. These remain an integral part of a Web site’s content, but can create a negative effect and weigh it down if not optimized.

Solution: Instead of embedded chat platforms, designate and train a team to stay on top of customer service issues through email and social media outreach. This way, customer support is still proactive, but does not have a negative impact on the customer’s online experience.

Adjusting visual aids on a website can help to accommodate slower data upload/download speeds and not compromise aesthetic appeal. Consider reworking image sizes to fit the width of your page. Use a standard image editor to crop and maintain the dimensions and avoid distortion. You can also reduce the size by decreasing the depth of color to a minimum level.

Before publication, test the quality to avoid pixelated images, and make sure the format is correct: “jpeg” is an image; “png” and “gif” are for assembling graphics. The format will affect the quality and overall outcome. Also, be aware of the size of the image, how many are present, format, and different tags.

Outsourcing video content is very effective. Consider video giant YouTube to publish videos and then simply include the link on your Web site. This will save you a ton of time in both the design and conversion phase.

The next blog in this series will explore how small businesses can use their inherent strengths to counter the weaknesses of their corporate competitors.

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Brandon Lewis

About Brandon Lewis

Brandon Lewis is president and CEO of Win More Patients.

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 BaldFuturist.com 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.

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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

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Retail Tomorrow: How Today’s Technology Is Shaping Retail’s Future

Stephen Sparrow

Do you ever think about tomorrow? Many retailers don’t. They’re too concerned with what’s happening in the moment. They’re too wrapped up in managing their daily business operations or maintaining profit margins.

Don’t get me wrong – those things are important. But tomorrow matters more than they know.

With game-changing technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality, and machine learning reshaping the retail landscape, tomorrow can no longer be ignored. If your company wants to stay ahead of the competition – both now and in the future – you need to begin experimenting with these innovations today.

Beer, there, and everywhere: Create an immersive customer experience

Imagine you’re a Brooklyn-based brewery. You craft the most delicious beer anyone’s ever tasted, and Brooklynites are absolutely gaga over your product. But how do you spread the word? How can you make people in Seattle or San Francisco thirst for your beverage?

Virtual reality and IoT tools can help you create a more immersive customer experience – one that gives people an in-depth view into your brewery – so folks across the country can get excited about sampling your suds.

By setting up a 360-degree video camera and implementing virtual reality capabilities, you can invite people all over the world to tour your facility. They can visit the tasting room, check out the outdoor patio, and watch the kettles work their magic in the production area.

IoT sensors, meanwhile, can provide prospective customers with insight around your brewing processes. Attached to the brew kettles, these sensors enable you to share real-time data about each batch of beer, from when the hops reach a boil to when fermentation is complete.

If viewers like what they see, they can order a case of your beer online.

Creating an immersive customer experience, where people get a glance behind the curtain to see how your company operates and how your product is made, is a surefire recipe for retail success.

A passion for fashion: Predict trends so your customers are always dressed to kill

Instagram, the popular image-sharing app, has a global community of more than 800 million users. These users share upwards of 95 million photos and videos per day.

If a woman from the United States is traveling to Tokyo for an upcoming vacation and wants to make sure she looks fashionable while visiting Japan’s capital city, where can she turn?

Instagram, of course.

With a simple keyword search for “fashion” and “Tokyo,” this woman could be knee-deep in results highlighting the top trends from this chic metropolitan hotspot. Now, with a better idea of what the locals are wearing, she can pick up a few new outfits before her trip, and she won’t feel so out of place in her American attire when she visits.

Retailers, particularly fashion brands, can benefit from how consumers are using apps like Instagram. By analyzing what people are wearing in photos taken in fashion meccas like London, Paris, Tokyo, Milan, or New York, your business can have its finger firmly on the pulse.

Pairing your analysis with machine learning capabilities can enable your retailer to detect and predict the hottest fashion trends. This will help your designers tailor the clothing they create to what’s happening – or what will be happening – in the market.

If more people are wearing floral-print miniskirts, you can design matching leggings. If more people are dressing in denim, you can ramp up production on jean jackets.

Staying up to date on the latest fashion trends can keep your retailer at the top of its game. Predicting the next big thing in fashion using machine learning? That will have your business declaring “game over” to all your competitors.

Not your grandma’s kitchen: Increase customer convenience through greater connectivity

Connected products are invading our homes. We have smart TVs in our living rooms. We have showerheads equipped with Bluetooth speakers in our bathrooms. We have lights that brighten or dim based on our sleeping schedules in our bedrooms.

In the kitchen, though, things are getting really intelligent. From precision cookers that alert you when dinner’s ready to coffee makers you can operate with your smartphone, kitchen appliances are creating a whole new level of convenience for customers.

With a smart refrigerator, customers can create shopping lists using a touch screen on the door. IoT capabilities enable people to add or remove items from their lists using a mobile device. Customers can even submit their grocery orders to a nearby store through their smart fridge, a convenient click-and-collect shopping scenario.

Augmented reality, meanwhile, allows people to peek inside their refrigerators without even opening them. If a woman at work wants to see if she has enough milk for a bowl of cereal tomorrow, she can check using a tablet or smartphone.

Retailers and consumer products companies can leverage this technology to deliver a more engaging product experience. The packaging of a stick of butter, for instance, might have a code on it. When a man peers into his refrigerator using his smartphone, he could click on the code and find out the product’s expiration date. Or perhaps he can learn a few new recipes he could bake using the butter.

By creating a hassle-free shopping experience and enhancing how your buyers engage with your products, you can increase sales and earn your customers’ loyalty.

Home sweet home: Modernize retail like real-estate agents have revolutionized homebuying

Think of how the realty business has changed over the past 25 years. In the early ‘90s, prospective homebuyers had to schedule an appointment with a Realtor or attend an open house to see a home they liked.

In the mid-2000s, house hunting went online, with sites like Trulia and Zillow springing up. Today, homebuyers can snap a photo of an on-the-market house they like using a mobile app and see pictures of the home’s interior, learn the price, find out the square footage, and discover how many bathrooms it has.

Retailers should strive to modernize their industry like the realty business has revolutionized homebuying. Barcode scanning and sensor tracking are just a couple technologies that could help.

If a customer is walking through the aisles of your store, you could offer them the opportunity to scan a tag on a shirt with their mobile device and instantly give them access to outfit ideas or show them accessories that match the top.

Sensors, meanwhile, could track where a shopper is in a store, allowing your retailer to send timely and relevant offers based on their location.

Adding value to your customer experience is the name of the game in retail. And there’s no better way to create a more valuable in-store customer experience than with the latest technology.

Innovation experimentation: Forge your path to a brighter future with revolutionary tech tools

Innovations like IoT, virtual reality, and machine learning are shaping what retail’s future will look like.

Your company’s success – both today and tomorrow – will depend on your willingness to embrace these technologies and experiment with new ways to engage and satisfy your customers.

Join us at the National Retail Forum’s 2018 conference and EXPO at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on January 14–16 to learn how the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system can help your organization bring these exciting technologies to life.

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Stephen Sparrow

About Stephen Sparrow

Stephen Sparrow is the Director of Retail Marketing at SAP. He defines, champions and executes marketing strategies to increase penetration and capture of revenue opportunities across SAP's retail enterprise accounts. He also develops industry advancing and perception enhancing programs to drive brand preference for SAP in the retail community.