The Secret To Bringing Innovation To Your Company’s DNA

Oliver Huschke

Part 4 of the “Kick-Starting Innovation” series

Empowering innovation can change everything. It’s what inspired Alexander Graham Bell’s breakthrough work in telephony, optical telecommunications, hydrofoils, and aeronautics. It’s what drove Marie Curie to prove a doubting scientific community wrong when she pioneered radioactivity and discovered two elements that later became the core components of today’s technology. It’s what motivates Elon Musk’s quest to create more environment-friendly cars, light up every home with solar power, and send humans to Mars.

While these innovators’ stories are legendary, innovative ideas also reside in unlikely sources. I was recently reminded of this fact when watching the movie Hidden Figures. The story African-American mathematicians Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson detailed their vital role in the 1962 orbital space launch and safe return of the now-late astronaut John Glenn. Instead of being knocked down by a national culture of sexism and racism, each of these women brought attention to their innovative ideas by challenging the NASA system, breaking social norms, putting their talents on full display, and welcoming the support of an open-minded administrator or two.

Innovation is more than just acquiring a workforce diverse across race and gender. It’s about unleashing everyone’s potential because you never know where the next big idea will come from. Whether the innovator is an accounts payable clerk, field sales person, plant worker, or boardroom executive, businesses need all of their talents to help shape the future.

The empowerment pivot: How to build a business on human power

Many IT teams have internal technical experts on staff who are knowledgeable in traditional methodologies, programming languages, and business processes. While these skills may have served the business well, rapid adoption of cloud technology has created a skills gap, making it more difficult to improve business operations, processes, development, and go-to-market strategy.

Acquiring capabilities such as Big Data management, application security, cloud migration, and virtualization may help businesses solve common technological challenges. But this approach does not necessarily empower talent to use those skills to proactively build the momentum of their digital transformation.

Expert-guided cloud development sessions held throughout the year can provide the training, practical hands-on experience, and remote consulting needed to inspire the entire workforce with the right skills. Interactive and Web-based empowerment sessions use training materials to detail the development process step by step. Then learners can execute the steps on a cloud platform that hosts a digital twin of the company’s IT infrastructure and provides direct access to technology experts through remote support and screen-sharing.

Empowerment sessions can range from foundational skills to emerging trends, including:

  • Basic development on a cloud platform: Navigate tasks such as adding members, assigning roles to users, creating destinations to Internet resources, and connecting on-premises systems to the cloud platform account.
  • Internet of Things: Create IoT applications with cloud platform and IoT enablement technology to capture and store data from connected sensors.
  • Advanced development: Enable native development on an in-memory computing platform and expose data through the Open Data Protocol (OData), allowing businesses to create database tables, insert data, and build calculation and scripted views while adapting the application to evolving business needs.
  • Mobile development: Discover the services and tools available to design, implement, and integrate enterprise applications. From mobile application use cases to end-to-end mobile architecture, employees can explore the characteristics of native iOS apps, SDK frameworks and components, Xcode integrated development environment, and the Swift programming language.
  • Integration: Get acquainted with the cloud system landscape, integration, backend configuration, system connectivity, security, initial data load, scenario extensions, and monitoring capabilities.
  • Cybersecurity: Cover the complete identity lifecycle with provisioning procedures and strategies. Grant, control, and protect secured access to the cloud platform and extend permission to business users, developers, administrators, and technical users.

With the help of empowerment sessions, businesses can solidify their transition to a digital business. Every organization can engage ideas from inspiration to prototype by identifying and testing new business models with minimal investment and risk. More important, quick access to preconfigured technology use cases, an agile development process, proven design-thinking practices, and a training workspace provides the guidance employees need to contribute to the future of the business – and the world. 

Find out how your business can benefit from unlimited access to a showroom, a set of empowering sessions, and an innovation platform. Read the white paper “Achieve Digital Transformation and Create a System of Ongoing Innovation.”  

And don’t forget to check every Monday for new installments to our blog series “Kick-Starting Innovation.” Next week, we’ll explore how cloud adoption is driving innovation.

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Oliver Huschke

About Oliver Huschke

Oliver Huschke is the global head of Solution Marketing for Digital Business Services at SAP. He has worked for SAP since 1997, starting with development where he built up and led the central test organization. Oliver was head of application management and managed marketing activities at SAP Hosting. Further stations include strategic development and Active Global Support with responsibility for global product management of the SAP Premium Engagement Program. Share your thoughts with Oliver on LinkedIn or Twitter.

CEOs Say They’re In Charge Of Analytics (Others Aren’t So Sure!)

Timo Elliott

Thanks to a tweet from Carsten Linz, the head of the SAP Center for Digital Leadership, I stumbled across some fascinating research from McKinsey on leadership in analytics.

What really caught my eye is that CEOs believe they are in charge of the analytics agenda in their organization:

But other executives aren’t so sure:

“Thirty-eight percent of CEOs say they lead their companies’ analytics agendas, but only 9 percent of all other C-suite executives agree. These respondents are much more likely to cite chief information officers or business-unit heads as leaders of the analytics agenda.”

What’s also fascinating about this is the reasons that CEOs give for not investing in as much analytics as their competitors:

Given they think they’re in charge of the initiatives, CEOs naturally don’t think senior leadership is a problem. But it’s by far the highest reason given by other senior leaders. What’s going on here?

CEOs say that the biggest problems are “uncertainty over which actions should be taken” and “lack of financial resources.” The latter is a fancy way of saying that CEOs don’t believe that analytics has a high enough ROI.

Creating formal ROI cases for analytics has always been a problem; it’s hard to do a traditional financial analysis of the benefits when you “don’t know what you don’t know.” But many different studies over the years have consistently shown that once the business has new insights, they optimize the organization new ways. Forrester, for example, has shown that analyzing real-life cases before and after implementation produces very high ROI for analytics projects.

And without a clear way to determine the relative benefits of different analytics projects, it’s easy to see why CEOs think that the second biggest problem is uncertainty about how to proceed.

So what’s lacking, and what should organizations do about this?

I think the other senior executives have it right: The problem is indeed senior leadership. It takes a leap of faith to believe that better analytics will indeed to better business outcomes, as it always has done in the past (counter-examples, anyone?)—and that’s a job that only the CEO is fully qualified to do.

The bottom line is that formal ROI cases work well for many types of IT projects—but not for analytics. In an era where business is moving faster than ever, the benefits of investing in better visibility are clear. Today’s CEOs need to lead the rest of the organization away from the ROI of ignorance.

For more great McKinsey research, check out their latest roundup of analytics-related articles: Analytics Comes of Age.

This article originally appeared on Digital Business & Business Analytics.

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Timo Elliott

About Timo Elliott

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist for SAP and a passionate advocate of innovation, digital business, analytics, and artificial intelligence. He was the eighth employee of BusinessObjects and for the last 25 years he has worked closely with SAP customers around the world on new technology directions and their impact on real-world organizations. His articles have appeared in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, ZDNet, The Guardian, and Digitalist Magazine. He has worked in the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Silicon Valley, and currently lives in Paris, France. He has a degree in Econometrics and a patent in mobile analytics. 

Developing Strong Virtual Team Culture Through Communication Tools

Daniel Newman

Back in the day, companies sought to build a sense of camaraderie and support through things like corporate retreats, ropes courses, and trust falls. Nowadays, as more people work remotely, leaders must find new ways to unite employees who are spending an increasing amount of time apart.

Last year, 43% of Americans spent some time working remotely – a stat likely to increase steadily as younger generations enter the workforce. In fact, studies show nearly 40% of today’s employees work offsite on a regular basis. While that’s great when it comes to saving on company overhead, it does present some challenges for leaders in terms of creating a singular culture that all employees – regardless of location – can rally behind. Indeed, as I wrote in my article Digital Transformation Cannot Succeed Without the Right Culture, culture and vision are what hold companies together in times of change and perceived chaos. Ironically, digital transformation is also making it increasingly difficult to build those bonds. Luckily, there are things leaders can do to foster a strong culture, despite differences in location and time zone. The following are just a few tips:

Use the technology available

Digital transformation brought us enterprise mobility – including the tools we need to do it well. As a leader, it’s important for you to “walk the walk” and take time to use new technology, such as telepresence robots, chat apps, videoconferencing, and other unified communication channels to get your team onboard with communicating using these tools in their daily lives. After all, that’s what they’re there for. And a strong tech leader needs to model the culture he or she is trying to create.

Make time for homeroom

Even with many remote employees, you can still create consistent communication standards throughout the enterprise. I have a friend whose company instituted “homeroom meetings” every morning at 9 a.m. All employees, regardless of whether they were onsite or conferencing in, were expected to attend. The purpose was to allow everyone to connect, discuss the day’s goals and capacity issues, and ask for help where needed. The best part: teammates were empowered to call their own homeroom meetings, if needed, throughout the rest of the day. It doesn’t matter if you call it homeroom, all-hands, or daily update – the point is, consistent communication is a must.

Be clear about availability

The fact that employees work offsite does not preclude them from being available when the team needs them. It’s possible to allow for flexibility while also establishing clear virtual “office hours” for remote employees so your in-house workers know they can rely on their entire team to be available via chat or telepresence when needed. Doing so will help establish trust and consistency across all departments.

Get to know employees as people

It can be easy to forget to involve your remote employees in impromptu onsite conversations, or to forget that they also have lives, interests, and strengths outside of their primary job functions. Take time to get to know your remote employees as people, rather than just task managers. No one wants to be a cog in the wheel of an organization – no matter how much flexibility they have. They want to be recognized for their skills and what they bring to the team. Telepresence robots can be especially helpful in this area, allowing virtual “presence” regardless of how far away an employee may be.

Meet face to face

Last, never forget the strongest communication tool we have is face-to-face contact. There’s nothing better than putting a face to a name – no matter how much easier it is to text, email, or chat about what we need. I know of at least one company that has established “unplugged” days where people are required to speak in person, rather than via technology, whenever possible. You’d be surprised how many people who worked in the same building met in person for the first time.

Even companies where all employees work onsite experience challenges creating effective employee culture. And though it may be difficult, it is not an insurmountable task. Involve your employees in the process. Empower them to use their voice to make a difference. Use the tools available to you. That’s the way of the future. That’s the only way your company will succeed in a mobile working world.

For more on using technology to improve your corporate culture, see How Emotionally Aware Computing Can Bring Happiness to Your Organization.

This article originally appeared on Future of Work.

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Daniel Newman

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

The Blockchain Solution

By Gil Perez, Tom Raftery, Hans Thalbauer, Dan Wellers, and Fawn Fitter

In 2013, several UK supermarket chains discovered that products they were selling as beef were actually made at least partly—and in some cases, entirely—from horsemeat. The resulting uproar led to a series of product recalls, prompted stricter food testing, and spurred the European food industry to take a closer look at how unlabeled or mislabeled ingredients were finding their way into the food chain.

By 2020, a scandal like this will be eminently preventable.

The separation between bovine and equine will become immutable with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which will track the provenance and identity of every animal from stall to store, adding the data to a blockchain that anyone can check but no one can alter.

Food processing companies will be able to use that blockchain to confirm and label the contents of their products accordingly—down to the specific farms and animals represented in every individual package. That level of detail may be too much information for shoppers, but they will at least be able to trust that their meatballs come from the appropriate species.

The Spine of Digitalization

Keeping food safer and more traceable is just the beginning, however. Improvements in the supply chain, which have been incremental for decades despite billions of dollars of technology investments, are about to go exponential. Emerging technologies are converging to transform the supply chain from tactical to strategic, from an easily replicable commodity to a new source of competitive differentiation.

You may already be thinking about how to take advantage of blockchain technology, which makes data and transactions immutable, transparent, and verifiable (see “What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?”). That will be a powerful tool to boost supply chain speed and efficiency—always a worthy goal, but hardly a disruptive one.

However, if you think of blockchain as the spine of digitalization and technologies such as AI, the IoT, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, and drones as the limbs, you have a powerful supply chain body that can leapfrog ahead of its competition.

What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?

Here’s why blockchain technology is critical to transforming the supply chain.

Blockchain is essentially a sequential, distributed ledger of transactions that is constantly updated on a global network of computers. The ownership and history of a transaction is embedded in the blockchain at the transaction’s earliest stages and verified at every subsequent stage.

A blockchain network uses vast amounts of computing power to encrypt the ledger as it’s being written. This makes it possible for every computer in the network to verify the transactions safely and transparently. The more organizations that participate in the ledger, the more complex and secure the encryption becomes, making it increasingly tamperproof.

Why does blockchain matter for the supply chain?

  • It enables the safe exchange of value without a central verifying partner, which makes transactions faster and less expensive.
  • It dramatically simplifies recordkeeping by establishing a single, authoritative view of the truth across all parties.
  • It builds a secure, immutable history and chain of custody as different parties handle the items being shipped, and it updates the relevant documentation.
  • By doing these things, blockchain allows companies to create smart contracts based on programmable business logic, which can execute themselves autonomously and thereby save time and money by reducing friction and intermediaries.

Hints of the Future

In the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, we had no idea that the internet would become so large and pervasive, nor that we’d find a way to carry it all in our pockets on small slabs of glass.

But we could tell that it had vast potential.

Today, with the combination of emerging technologies that promise to turbocharge digital transformation, we’re just beginning to see how we might turn the supply chain into a source of competitive advantage (see “What’s the Magic Combination?”).

What’s the Magic Combination?

Those who focus on blockchain in isolation will miss out on a much bigger supply chain opportunity.

Many experts believe emerging technologies will work with blockchain to digitalize the supply chain and create new business models:

  • Blockchain will provide the foundation of automated trust for all parties in the supply chain.
  • The IoT will link objects—from tiny devices to large machines—and generate data about status, locations, and transactions that will be recorded on the blockchain.
  • 3D printing will extend the supply chain to the customer’s doorstep with hyperlocal manufacturing of parts and products with IoT sensors built into the items and/or their packaging. Every manufactured object will be smart, connected, and able to communicate so that it can be tracked and traced as needed.
  • Big Data management tools will process all the information streaming in around the clock from IoT sensors.
  • AI and machine learning will analyze this enormous amount of data to reveal patterns and enable true predictability in every area of the supply chain.

Combining these technologies with powerful analytics tools to predict trends will make lack of visibility into the supply chain a thing of the past. Organizations will be able to examine a single machine across its entire lifecycle and identify areas where they can improve performance and increase return on investment. They’ll be able to follow and monitor every component of a product, from design through delivery and service. They’ll be able to trigger and track automated actions between and among partners and customers to provide customized transactions in real time based on real data.

After decades of talk about markets of one, companies will finally have the power to create them—at scale and profitably.

Amazon, for example, is becoming as much a logistics company as a retailer. Its ordering and delivery systems are so streamlined that its customers can launch and complete a same-day transaction with a push of a single IP-enabled button or a word to its ever-attentive AI device, Alexa. And this level of experimentation and innovation is bubbling up across industries.

Consider manufacturing, where the IoT is transforming automation inside already highly automated factories. Machine-to-machine communication is enabling robots to set up, provision, and unload equipment quickly and accurately with minimal human intervention. Meanwhile, sensors across the factory floor are already capable of gathering such information as how often each machine needs maintenance or how much raw material to order given current production trends.

Once they harvest enough data, businesses will be able to feed it through machine learning algorithms to identify trends that forecast future outcomes. At that point, the supply chain will start to become both automated and predictive. We’ll begin to see business models that include proactively scheduling maintenance, replacing parts just before they’re likely to break, and automatically ordering materials and initiating customer shipments.

Italian train operator Trenitalia, for example, has put IoT sensors on its locomotives and passenger cars and is using analytics and in-memory computing to gauge the health of its trains in real time, according to an article in Computer Weekly. “It is now possible to affordably collect huge amounts of data from hundreds of sensors in a single train, analyse that data in real time and detect problems before they actually happen,” Trenitalia’s CIO Danilo Gismondi told Computer Weekly.

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials.

The project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, will change Trenitalia’s business model, allowing it to schedule more trips and make each one more profitable. The railway company will be able to better plan parts inventories and determine which lines are consistently performing poorly and need upgrades. The new system will save €100 million a year, according to ARC Advisory Group.

New business models continue to evolve as 3D printers become more sophisticated and affordable, making it possible to move the end of the supply chain closer to the customer. Companies can design parts and products in materials ranging from carbon fiber to chocolate and then print those items in their warehouse, at a conveniently located third-party vendor, or even on the client’s premises.

In addition to minimizing their shipping expenses and reducing fulfillment time, companies will be able to offer more personalized or customized items affordably in small quantities. For example, clothing retailer Ministry of Supply recently installed a 3D printer at its Boston store that enables it to make an article of clothing to a customer’s specifications in under 90 minutes, according to an article in Forbes.

This kind of highly distributed manufacturing has potential across many industries. It could even create a market for secure manufacturing for highly regulated sectors, allowing a manufacturer to transmit encrypted templates to printers in tightly protected locations, for example.

Meanwhile, organizations are investigating ways of using blockchain technology to authenticate, track and trace, automate, and otherwise manage transactions and interactions, both internally and within their vendor and customer networks. The ability to collect data, record it on the blockchain for immediate verification, and make that trustworthy data available for any application delivers indisputable value in any business context. The supply chain will be no exception.

Blockchain Is the Change Driver

The supply chain is configured as we know it today because it’s impossible to create a contract that accounts for every possible contingency. Consider cross-border financial transfers, which are so complex and must meet so many regulations that they require a tremendous number of intermediaries to plug the gaps: lawyers, accountants, customer service reps, warehouse operators, bankers, and more. By reducing that complexity, blockchain technology makes intermediaries less necessary—a transformation that is revolutionary even when measured only in cost savings.

“If you’re selling 100 items a minute, 24 hours a day, reducing the cost of the supply chain by just $1 per item saves you more than $52.5 million a year,” notes Dirk Lonser, SAP go-to-market leader at DXC Technology, an IT services company. “By replacing manual processes and multiple peer-to-peer connections through fax or e-mail with a single medium where everyone can exchange verified information instantaneously, blockchain will boost profit margins exponentially without raising prices or even increasing individual productivity.”

But the potential for blockchain extends far beyond cost cutting and streamlining, says Irfan Khan, CEO of supply chain management consulting and systems integration firm Bristlecone, a Mahindra Group company. It will give companies ways to differentiate.

“Blockchain will let enterprises more accurately trace faulty parts or products from end users back to factories for recalls,” Khan says. “It will streamline supplier onboarding, contracting, and management by creating an integrated platform that the company’s entire network can access in real time. It will give vendors secure, transparent visibility into inventory 24×7. And at a time when counterfeiting is a real concern in multiple industries, it will make it easy for both retailers and customers to check product authenticity.”

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials. Although the key parts of the process remain the same as in today’s analog supply chain, performing them electronically with blockchain technology shortens each stage from hours or days to seconds while eliminating reams of wasteful paperwork. With goods moving that quickly, companies have ample room for designing new business models around manufacturing, service, and delivery.

Challenges on the Path to Adoption

For all this to work, however, the data on the blockchain must be correct from the beginning. The pills, produce, or parts on the delivery truck need to be the same as the items listed on the manifest at the loading dock. Every use case assumes that the data is accurate—and that will only happen when everything that’s manufactured is smart, connected, and able to self-verify automatically with the help of machine learning tuned to detect errors and potential fraud.

Companies are already seeing the possibilities of applying this bundle of emerging technologies to the supply chain. IDC projects that by 2021, at least 25% of Forbes Global 2000 (G2000) companies will use blockchain services as a foundation for digital trust at scale; 30% of top global manufacturers and retailers will do so by 2020. IDC also predicts that by 2020, up to 10% of pilot and production blockchain-distributed ledgers will incorporate data from IoT sensors.

Despite IDC’s optimism, though, the biggest barrier to adoption is the early stage level of enterprise use cases, particularly around blockchain. Currently, the sole significant enterprise blockchain production system is the virtual currency Bitcoin, which has unfortunately been tainted by its associations with speculation, dubious financial transactions, and the so-called dark web.

The technology is still in a sufficiently early stage that there’s significant uncertainty about its ability to handle the massive amounts of data a global enterprise supply chain generates daily. Never mind that it’s completely unregulated, with no global standard. There’s also a critical global shortage of experts who can explain emerging technologies like blockchain, the IoT, and machine learning to nontechnology industries and educate organizations in how the technologies can improve their supply chain processes. Finally, there is concern about how blockchain’s complex algorithms gobble computing power—and electricity (see “Blockchain Blackouts”).

Blockchain Blackouts

Blockchain is a power glutton. Can technology mediate the issue?

A major concern today is the enormous carbon footprint of the networks creating and solving the algorithmic problems that keep blockchains secure. Although virtual currency enthusiasts claim the problem is overstated, Michael Reed, head of blockchain technology for Intel, has been widely quoted as saying that the energy demands of blockchains are a significant drain on the world’s electricity resources.

Indeed, Wired magazine has estimated that by July 2019, the Bitcoin network alone will require more energy than the entire United States currently uses and that by February 2020 it will use as much electricity as the entire world does today.

Still, computing power is becoming more energy efficient by the day and sticking with paperwork will become too slow, so experts—Intel’s Reed among them—consider this a solvable problem.

“We don’t know yet what the market will adopt. In a decade, it might be status quo or best practice, or it could be the next Betamax, a great technology for which there was no demand,” Lonser says. “Even highly regulated industries that need greater transparency in the entire supply chain are moving fairly slowly.”

Blockchain will require acceptance by a critical mass of companies, governments, and other organizations before it displaces paper documentation. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue: multiple companies need to adopt these technologies at the same time so they can build a blockchain to exchange information, yet getting multiple companies to do anything simultaneously is a challenge. Some early initiatives are already underway, though:

  • A London-based startup called Everledger is using blockchain and IoT technology to track the provenance, ownership, and lifecycles of valuable assets. The company began by tracking diamonds from mine to jewelry using roughly 200 different characteristics, with a goal of stopping both the demand for and the supply of “conflict diamonds”—diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance insurgencies. It has since expanded to cover wine, artwork, and other high-value items to prevent fraud and verify authenticity.
  • In September 2017, SAP announced the creation of its SAP Leonardo Blockchain Co-Innovation program, a group of 27 enterprise customers interested in co-innovating around blockchain and creating business buy-in. The diverse group of participants includes management and technology services companies Capgemini and Deloitte, cosmetics company Natura Cosméticos S.A., and Moog Inc., a manufacturer of precision motion control systems.
  • Two of Europe’s largest shipping ports—Rotterdam and Antwerp—are working on blockchain projects to streamline interaction with port customers. The Antwerp terminal authority says eliminating paperwork could cut the costs of container transport by as much as 50%.
  • The Chinese online shopping behemoth Alibaba is experimenting with blockchain to verify the authenticity of food products and catch counterfeits before they endanger people’s health and lives.
  • Technology and transportation executives have teamed up to create the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a forum for developing blockchain standards and education for the freight industry.

It’s likely that the first blockchain-based enterprise supply chain use case will emerge in the next year among companies that see it as an opportunity to bolster their legal compliance and improve business processes. Once that happens, expect others to follow.

Customers Will Expect Change

It’s only a matter of time before the supply chain becomes a competitive driver. The question for today’s enterprises is how to prepare for the shift. Customers are going to expect constant, granular visibility into their transactions and faster, more customized service every step of the way. Organizations will need to be ready to meet those expectations.

If organizations have manual business processes that could never be automated before, now is the time to see if it’s possible. Organizations that have made initial investments in emerging technologies are looking at how their pilot projects are paying off and where they might extend to the supply chain. They are starting to think creatively about how to combine technologies to offer a product, service, or business model not possible before.

A manufacturer will load a self-driving truck with a 3D printer capable of creating a customer’s ordered item en route to delivering it. A vendor will capture the market for a socially responsible product by allowing its customers to track the product’s production and verify that none of its subcontractors use slave labor. And a supermarket chain will win over customers by persuading them that their choice of supermarket is also a choice between being certain of what’s in their food and simply hoping that what’s on the label matches what’s inside.

At that point, a smart supply chain won’t just be a competitive edge. It will become a competitive necessity. D!


About the Authors

Gil Perez is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

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

Hans Thalbauer is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

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

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.

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

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Four Retail Technology Trends To Take Off In 2018

Shaily Kumar

Over the past few years, technology has seen a significant shift from cyclical, invention-led spending on point solutions to investments targeting customer-driven, end-to-end value. The next wave of disruption and productivity improvements is here, which means a huge opportunity for digital-focused enterprises – if you are following the right roadmap.

Technology trends have significant potential over the next few years. Establishing a digital platform will not only set the stage for business innovation to provide competitive advantage, but it will also create new business models that will change the way we do business. Technology trends in 2018 will lay the foundation for the maturity of innovative technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning and will prepare both businesses and shoppers to be ready for their consumption.

Like any other industry, retail is being disrupted. It is no longer enough to simply stock racks with alluring products and wait for customers to rush through the door. Technological innovation is changing the way we shop. Customers can find the lowest price for any product with just a few screen touches. They can read online reviews, have products sent to their home, try them, and return anything they don’t want – all for little or nothing out of pocket. If there are problems, they can use social networks to call out brands that come up short.

Retailers are making their products accessible from websites and mobile applications, with many running effective Internet business operations rather than brick-and-mortar stores. They convey merchandise to the customer’s front entry and are set up with web-based networking media if things turn out badly.

Smart retailers are striving to fulfill changing customer needs and working to guarantee top customer service regardless of how their customer interacts with them.

2017 saw the development of some progressive technology in retail, and 2018 will be another energizing year for the retail industry. Today’s informed customers expect a more engaging shopping experience, with a consistent mix of both online and in-store recommendations. The retail experience is poised to prosper throughout next couple of years – for retailers that are prepared to embrace technology.

Here are four areas of retail technology I predict will take off in 2018:

In-store GPS-driven shopping trolleys

Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s now enable their customers to scan and pay for products using a mobile app instead of waiting in a checkout line. The next phase of this involves intelligent shopping trolleys, or grocery store GPS: Customers use a touch screen to load shopping lists, and the system helps them find the items in the store. Customers can then check off and pay for items as they go, directly on-screen. These shopping trolleys will make their way into stores around the last quarter of 2018.

Electronic rack edge names

Electronic rack edge names are not yet broadly utilized, but this could change in 2018 as more retailers adopt this technology. Currently, retail workers must physically select and update printed labels to reflect changes in price, promotions, etc. This technology makes the process more efficient by handling such changes electronically.

Reference point technology

Despite the fact that it’s been around since 2013, reference point technology hasn’t yet been utilized to its fullest potential. In the last few years, however, it’s started to pick up in industries like retail. It’s now being used by a few retailers for area-based promotions.

Some interesting uses I’ve observed: Retailers can send messages to customers when they’re nearby a store location, and in-store mannequins can offer information about the clothing and accessories they’re wearing. I anticipate that this innovation will take off throughout 2018 and into 2019.

Machine intelligence

The technological innovations describe above will also provide retailers with new data streams. These data sources, when merged with existing customer data, online, and ERP data, will lead to new opportunities. Recently Walmart announced it would begin utilizing rack examining robots to help review its stores. The machines will check stock, prices, and even help settle lost inventory. It will also help retailers learn more about changing customer behavior in real time, which will boost engagement.

Clearly, technology and digital transformation in retail have changed the way we live and shop. 2018 will see emerging technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence using structured and unstructured data to deliver innovation. As technology develops, it will continue to transform and enhance the retail experience.

For more insight on e-commerce, see Cognitive Commerce In The Digital World: Enhancing The Customer Journey.

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Shaily Kumar

About Shaily Kumar

Shailendra has been on a quest to help organisations make money out of data and has generated an incremental value of over one billion dollars through analytics and cognitive processes. With a global experience of more than two decades, Shailendra has worked with a myriad of Corporations, Consulting Services and Software Companies in various industries like Retail, Telecommunications, Financial Services and Travel - to help them realise incremental value hidden in zettabytes of data. He has published multiple articles in international journals about Analytics and Cognitive Solutions; and recently published “Making Money out of Data” which showcases five business stories from various industries on how successful companies make millions of dollars in incremental value using analytics. Prior to joining SAP, Shailendra was Partner / Analytics & Cognitive Leader, Asia at IBM where he drove the cognitive business across Asia. Before joining IBM, he was the Managing Director and Analytics Lead at Accenture delivering value to its clients across Australia and New Zealand. Coming from the industry, Shailendra held key Executive positions driving analytics at Woolworths and Coles in the past.