Content Management: The Surprisingly Obvious Starting Point For Digital Transformation

Bil Khan

Part 2 in the Content Management ROI series

Digital transformation is quickly rising to the top of the business agenda. Across nearly all industries, executives fear being outperformed by digital competitors. Some see the potential for breakthrough opportunities made possible through advances in digital technologies. The writing is on the wall: Digital innovators are redefining long-established business models, turning competitive landscapes upside-down, and rendering obsolete the value propositions of established products and services.

There are all kinds of studies and papers and examples focusing on how to drive digital transformation. But the challenge for most organizations is where to start. It can take time to develop the right strategy, get it approved at the board level, secure budgets, and start the implementation and change management program. Digital transformation initiatives can require far-reaching changes – including organizational structures, processes, resources, culture and values – and related networks.

The problem is that there’s no time to waste. Companies need to get started today, because by the time external pressures make apparent the need to shift strategy, it could be too late.

The question is, how?

Start simple – and start now – with ECM

Here’s an idea: While you’re busy creating your digital strategy and securing resources, lay the foundation with an enterprise content management (ECM) solution that prepares your unstructured content for use by a digitally transformed enterprise. Unstructured content includes everything from emails and attachments to Microsoft Office files, videos, CAD drawings, claims, medical notes and test reports, call center records, and recorded phone conversations. These assets contain critical information that core systems cannot capture, and yet are critical to day-to-day operations and processes. In addition, they can yield valuable insights and can be shared with partners to facilitate closer collaboration, automation, transparency, and efficiency.

Increasingly, our customers understand that if they are serious about digital transformation, they need a strategy for handling this unstructured content. 80% is a huge proportion of your information to have trapped in silos, disconnected and inaccessible for analysis or reuse within digitally transformed processes. In fact, I believe it’s impossible to realize the full benefit of digital transformation initiatives without a strategy for unstructured content. It’s essential to having an intelligent, digital, touchless end-to-end processes.

A real-world example

To illustrate, let’s consider a real-world example: invoice processing. Traditionally, it’s a very high-touch process that costs the average organization US$12.90 for every invoice.

Why so much? Think about how many invoices come into organizations as email attachments. Each attachment must be manually opened, reviewed, approved, and funneled to accounts payable for check creation, distribution, and recording in the general ledger. As long as invoices are unstructured documents – with the actual data locked up in the attachment – the degree to which this process can be digitally transformed is minimal.

Enter ECM, which can extract the data in email attachments instantly – as they flow into email inboxes – so that it can flow automatically to a “smart” system for automated invoice processing. Now network business rules alert suppliers about errors and prevent incorrect invoices from entering your process workflow or back-end system at all. And if the invoice data does match what’s in the system, payment is handled in an automated, 100% touchless process.

Think less complexity, more strategy, and lightning-fast processing that can dramatically lower costs. And instead of spending time handling paper, exceptions, and phone calls, your AP team can focus on more strategic pursuits such as helping to free up cash and optimize working capital. You can also benefit from:

  • Accelerated cycle time
  • Automated exception-handling
  • Stronger compliance with internal and regulatory policies
  • Reduced savings leakage
  • Supplier visibility into payment status
  • Improved cash flow for your suppliers
  • Automated capture of negotiated terms

ECM is foundational to enabling smart, automated invoice management – and this is just one example of the many business processes in which unstructured content is involved.

Reap immediate benefits – then more

Introducing an ECM solution is the fastest, easiest way to begin executing on your digital strategy. Start by transforming unstructured content, freeing it from silos so that it can flow where you need it to go for analysis and reuse. You can even extend ECM through digital and mobile processes to supply chain partners and employees on the go. In other words, ECM prepares all your content for use within a digitally transformed business.

Meanwhile, as I pointed out in Part 1 of this blog series, you can reap huge cost savings along the way. Read the Forrester FEI report for more information.


Increasing The Velocity Of Change In Digital Transformations With Open Source

Sabine Soellheim

Many companies today are choosing open-sourced software-defined infrastructures and application-delivery solutions for accelerated innovation of their digital transformations. They are not only achieving greater control, scalability, and flexibility of their IT environments; they are also experiencing business benefits such as agility, stability, and cost savings. And this is all while driving their transformation at a greater velocity than ever before.

Driving better outcomes in companies across the globe

So what kinds of companies are taking advantage of open-sourced technology? Let’s take a look at a few of them that are using an in-memory computing platform running on an open-sourced server with innovative software to meet their individual business transformation needs.

Take a look at Accenture Plc., a well-known Fortune 500 global company that provides strategy, consulting, digital, technology, and operations services. As the company entered its transformation into a digital and more diverse enterprise, it wanted to create a faster pace of change, with growth at hyper scale. Accenture wanted to operate its organization with more insight, agility, and efficiency while increasing compliance across multiple business units. And the firm needed to find a way to better manage larger volumes of data and increase analytics insights. The company met and exceeded these requirements, with results including a 25-50% transaction performance improvement, a 50% improvement in disaster recovery speed, and a 50% reduction in its disk storage footprint. And now Accenture is better prepared to support its future projected growth and performance goals.

Another example is Lenovo, another global Fortune 500 company and a leading technology company. The organization wanted to digitally transform its Chinese sales operation, so it set out to optimize system capabilities, simplify user operations, develop a more convenient work style, and increase customer satisfaction. To realize these goals, the company migrated to a new platform and provided its sales force with a user-centric interface and mobile apps to create a better, more efficient user experience. As a result, the company is now delivering greater business value by supporting tens of thousands of business channels that allow customers to purchase products quicker and more competently. Business operations are faster, as well, and system performance improved significantly as sales were further accelerated.

Open-sourced platforms aren’t only for international companies. Sutter Health is a not-for-profit health system in Northern California that serves over 10 million patients through a network of 24 hospitals and 5,000 primary care physicians. The organization wanted to take advantage of Big Data and data science to drive evidence-based decision-making and guide operations and patient care. Through business intelligence solutions running on a new platform, Sutter Health revolutionized its computing capabilities and redefined its daily operations. It analyzed unstructured data and used natural language processing to automate error and duplication detection. By doing so, the organization eliminated 1.6 million errors in its 9 billion medical imaging records that are sourced from 34 separate databases. Sutter Health also reduced the computation of 11 million patient records from over six hours down to less than 10 minutes.

Finally, let’s look at how the Türk Telekom Group, a 176-year-old company that is Turkey’s first integrated telecommunication and technology service provider, is taking advantage of open-sourced technology. To accelerate profitable growth, the company wanted to analyze financial and performance data more efficiently. Türk consolidated its financial and ERP operations from two customized separate systems onto one in-memory computing platform and automated all associated processes with an enhanced user experience. It created flexible and simplified reporting functionality, and started using financial data modeling with real-time analytics prediction and simulation. The results were once again quite remarkable. The company increased operational efficiency by 80% while achieving a 100-times faster reporting and query processing time and a 75% faster timeframe for its financial close and budget preparation processes.

Is it time for your company to pick up velocity?

Thousands of companies are already taking advantage of open-sourced technology and the rapid innovation it provides, including many SAP customers. They are discovering how to accelerate and transform their business in ways they never could before.

To learn more about the use cases above, and to find out how other companies are taking advantage of innovative technology to achieve award-winning results, download this e-book now.

Do you have an innovative use case to share? The SAP Innovation Awards 2018 is now open! Submit your use case today to have a chance to be recognized by your peers and a ticket to SAPPHIRE NOW 2018.


Sabine Soellheim

About Sabine Soellheim

Sabine Soellheim is SAP Alliance Marketing Manager at SUSE with expertise and general focus on open source and SAP. She has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry working as marketer and consultant with and for top global IT companies.

Power Your Digital Transformation With A Smart, Universal Data Platform

Kristin McMahon

If technology is the engine that drives digital transformation, data is the fuel. For forward-looking organizations it’s powering new insights, new ways of working, new products and services, and disruptive new business models. But in some industries, the gap between digital thrivers and survivors is growing as IT organizations are overwhelmed by information-related challenges. As data complexity and volumes skyrocket, business users are pressing for even greater speed and agility to meet customer demands and identify new revenue opportunities. According to an IDC survey, 91% of executives rank data and analytics as a competitive advantage or differentiator, but only 25% of organizations have managed to extract maximum value from data.

As information is at the core of the new digital ecosystem, organizations need to treat data and information the way they would treat any other asset, and invest in the right technology and skills to optimize its effectiveness and value. However, every enterprise is unique and the journey to digital transformation winds along different paths depending on the starting point. Selecting the right route requires a critical self-assessment of your enterprise’s current data and information capabilities and a vision for evolving transformation.

So, where is your organization starting from? IDC’s research identifies three categories of enterprises, depending on their current data and information capabilities.

  1. Enterprises that are seeking to transform their existing (often legacy) data management architecture and solutions. They are hampered by siloed data management technology that lacks the scalability and performance to process the volume, variety, and velocity of data created within the enterprise or by the ecosystem of external data sources.
  1. Enterprises that are looking to expand on recently deployed, next-generation data management technology, and ensure integration with internal legacy systems as they progress towards a more comprehensive transformation of their data management capabilities. These organizations have experienced project-level data management success that has led to tangible business benefits, including data monetization initiatives.
  1. Organizations that have already made a substantial investment in next-generation data-management technology. These enterprises have successfully integrated legacy and new technologies, and achieved business value in specific areas. It’s now time to expand on early successes by enabling an increasing number of internal and external stakeholders with innovation accelerators – such as artificial intelligence – that are made possible by the new data-management solution.

Whatever your digital transformation starting point, your destination needs to be what IDC calls an “enterprise digital platform:” a cloud-first technology architecture that spans IT, digital, and business domains. At its core is a data layer that provides a smart, universal digital platform that can handle data transactions, processes, and all aspects of data management from data integration, integrity, and security to analytics and application development. This platform will smooth your digital transformation as your organization moves through the three key phases of:

  • Becoming demand-oriented via the rapid, incremental addition of functionality
  • Being more data-driven by augmenting internal data with external data to enhance master data management and analytics
  • Maximizing digital execution by monetizing data internally through real-time insights, and externally via new data-driven products and services

Digital transformation offers opportunities for everyone. The initial benefits of investing in data architecture and solutions transformation will be mainly technical, but as your digital transformation journey continues, the focus will switch to improving business value. Eventually, investment in a data platform will deliver exponential business benefits.

To help you assess your organization’s current data and information capabilities and identify the opportunities and challenges posed by your particular digital transformation journey, IDC and SAP have developed three maturity models based on the categories above. To access these reports, please click here to register.


Kristin McMahon

About Kristin McMahon

Kristin McMahon is a solution marketing director for SAP Enterprise Information Management (EIM) solutions with expertise and focus on data services and data quality tools.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Outside the Margins

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing New Worlds

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

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

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

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

Do You Need a Futurist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

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

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

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

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make the Future Part of the Culture

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

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

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

About the Authors

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

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

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

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


About Dan Wellers

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

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

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

About Stephanie Overby


Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

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

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

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

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

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

How will jobs change?

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

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

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

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

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

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

So, what skills are needed?

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

Today's workplace reality

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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


Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

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