Why Technology Alone Is Not Enough – Part 1

Bernd Leukert

Part 1 of a 2-part series

There is no doubt that the digital transformation is in full swing. Innovation and technology cycles have become significantly shorter, and driving innovation feels like being in the fast lane on the digital journey highway. Whenever time allows, it’s good to take a moment and think about the direction this journey is taking. I would like to share some thoughts about an important aspect of the digital age that is not only a priority for me, but also for many partners and customers I speak with.

Paradigm shifts don’t come and go overnight

The credo of modern technology is openness. The ease with which we can now switch between technology, software, and devices means we can all expect much greater flexibility going forward. This change requires new approaches to engagement for IT vendors and connectedness for all of us; the role of vibrant ecosystems will become increasingly important. And while new technologies and growing ecosystems boost digital businesses, they also create or increase complexity.

In addition, the move into the digital era is already impacting workplaces globally – since 2000, 52% of the Fortune 500 have either experienced bankruptcy, been acquired, or gone out of business entirely, according to Capgemini. The speed of innovation is continuously increasing, and making use of technological trends such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and blockchain allows us to optimize and reinvent business processes and introduce new business models. However, the ever-increasing levels of automation will also have an impact on the future of our work.

With these new technological and business opportunities come new or as yet unanswered questions – questions that are fundamental to all of us. How can we build trust in the digital economy? How can new ethical standards evolve and become the norm? How can we create meaningful innovation for a bigger purpose?

Integral aspects of new paradigms

These questions include three main topics that become increasingly important for any technological and economic development in the future: Trust, ethics, and purpose.

The ways in which we interact in our ecosystems are changing fundamentally. We are used to building trust with people, products, and organizations because we know them by having direct interactions with them. At its most basic level, trust means nothing more than believing in the reliability and loyalty of others. In the future, basing trust only on relationships won’t be enough, since networks will become too big and dynamic.

Digital trust – the “what”

We will need technology’s help to cope with the changes related to our ecosystems. Today, for example, people are increasingly trusting blockchain-based networks, such as cryptocurrencies. With blockchain, we already trust in the reliability and loyalty of the network because it delivers digital proof for physical documents and real-life transactions and events. The advantages of this technology are so notable that, according to Gartner, by 2022, a blockchain-based business will be worth $10 billion.

According to Gartner, “digital trust emerges to establish and manage trust in the myriad digital interactions and relationships between businesses, individuals, and things.” This means that trust is and needs to be everywhere to keep businesses running. But with an absence of personal interaction in the digital world, where does this trust come from and what is required to create this “ultimate currency”? What is the relationship between data and trust? How can we design and build technology so that it is fully trustworthy to all parties?

Digital information and information flows

Today, we see an increasing decentralization of raw data. This requires us to find new ways to create value from and manage the complexity and heterogeneity of these distributed data landscapes. We see this in various fields where Big Data is key, including IoT, blockchain, and machine learning.

What all these technology areas have in common is the fact that information flows between large numbers of people, things, and systems that potentially don’t know each other and consequently, don’t (yet) trust each other. Today and in the future, we need to rely on technology to verify the authenticity of data, documents, and processes and provide us with secure and trustworthy access to digitalized information and information flows. This has itself already become an invaluable asset for companies. In the end, it is not only a company’s technology that needs to be trusted, but also the company itself in its role as a product or service provider and partner of choice.

However, technology alone is not enough. Building new digital networks, for example, does not necessarily mean that mechanisms that help keep the system and network running smoothly can be eliminated.

Blockchain as an enabling technology

Going one step further, there is another dimension of trust that technology companies in particular must take into consideration: Their ability to enable their customers to be trustworthy organizations in the digital age. This is something we take very seriously at SAP. One example that shows how digital trust can be created is the blockchain-based verification of documents.

In a co-innovation project between SAP and the autonomous region of Bozen, South Tyrol in Italy, blockchain technology is being used to digitalize and verify the paper-based documentation process flow while the documents themselves remain unchanged. This results in less bureaucracy and increased trust in public administration and, consequently, in completely new organizational models.

Future innovations will require openness and connectedness across entire ecosystems. Trust in the digital world does not only imply trustful relationships between people, but also trust in ecosystems, with the help of technology. The more open and transparent the ecosystems and networks, the more trust they can gain and create.

In the second part of my blog, I will share some thoughts about the “how” and the “why,” addressing the topics of ethics and purpose-driven organizations.

This article original appeared on Business Trends in the SAP Community and is republished by permission.


Bernd Leukert

About Bernd Leukert

Bernd Leukert is a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE with global responsibility for development and delivery of all products across SAP’s product portfolio.

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

Erica Lailhacar

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

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

GDPR regulators will be quick to act

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

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

1. Conduct training and risk assessment

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

2. Classify your data

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

3. Monitor data usage

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

4. Shut down ungoverned silos

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

5. Delete or archive old reports

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

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


Erica Lailhacar

About Erica Lailhacar

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

Why Technology Alone Is Not Enough – Part 2

Bernd Leukert

Part 2 of a 2-part series. Read Part 1.

In part 1 of this series, I focused on trust as the basis for everything we do. This second part turns to the topics of ethics and purpose.

Digital ethics: the “how”

In the digital age, the topic of ethics is arguably more relevant and important than ever, as it brings up many difficult-to-answer questions. Certainly, no one person has the solution to the most fundamental ethical challenges that come with technological trends such as artificial intelligence (AI).

Ethics and technological change

Autonomous driving is one of the most obvious and discussed examples of this. Here we run into potentially unsolvable ethical dilemmas, such as the well-known “trolley problem.” This is the reason why autonomous cars, for example, should not be empowered to make such decisions based on potential victims’ individual attributes.

In the business world, there are many AI-related questions that also include ethical aspects that are not matters of life and death but are nevertheless important and must be addressed.

Ethics in the context of technological change involves finding and redefining behavioral standards for new kinds of interaction. It is not only about adapting to, but also shaping, new standards. These standards could be for a technology itself or an ecosystem. Companies can no longer drive disruptive innovation on their own. The more individuals and companies team up, the more diverse the ecosystem.

What holds partners together are the mutual benefits they gain from working together, and this is also the mechanism through which we can embrace a common ethical understanding of how to collaborate. Viewing every stakeholder as a partner within a wider ecosystem helps me to view questions and challenges from a different perspective, be it in conversations with colleagues, customers, or “traditional” partners.

A broad range of ethical standards obviously already exists, from adhering to confidentiality and obeying legal frameworks to – on a more abstract level – putting people and accountability before profit. New standards will be needed in the digital world as roles change with the advent of emerging technologies.

Machine learning as an enabling technology

With the help of machine learning, we can optimize processes and assist employees in their everyday lives. This automation will free humans from tedious, repetitive tasks and allow them to focus on higher-value work using their creativity and ability to solve complex problems.

Only automation can help tackle the challenges of the sheer volume of data and transactions. Humans – in contrast – can and should supervise enterprise systems, handle the exceptions, and explore new opportunities.

Consequently, new technologies require us to develop a new understanding of the human’s role and work in a highly automated and connected world, and, therefore, new or adapted ethical standards as well. This means, in turn, that ethical discussions and aspects need to be an integral part of AI-related innovation projects.

Answering the question of which specific decisions can be made by machines is absolutely crucial, as is defining the right use cases and areas for AI in an enterprise environment. As a second step, we need to be aware that huge amounts of data can also be biased. As a result, people will continue to be at the center of critical analyses and decisions. The technology augments and enables, but the responsibility remains firmly in our hands.

Societal and ethical concerns related to AI need to be addressed openly from industry, policy, and academia leaders – with the goal to agree on common standards that are aligned with existing frameworks and therefore ensure that new technologies will be accepted broadly.

Overall purpose: the “why”

In addition to these two aspects, a company’s sustainable success is also tied to a bigger purpose that functions as a guiding star in today’s complex and hyperconnected world. This means we need to find ways to effectively manage increasing complexity, rethink today’s business, and consequently move organizations forward, while at the same time still considering the impact on society. I firmly believe that in today’s world, the former cannot succeed without the latter. We need to look beyond the current innovation curve, the pure technology shift, and the concrete product innovations we bring to the market. We need to create meaning out of it.

From trustful relationships to ethical standards to purpose-driven innovation

As AI enables the focus to shift from completing repetitive tasks towards enabling creativity, organizations and employees alike agree that job satisfaction is one example of how a company’s success depends on more than just strong top- and bottom-line figures. It also depends upon the deep impact businesses have on society.

Thought leaders from academia, industry, and politics have been discussing how organizations can identify meaningful goals. Many of these institutions, including SAP, have announced their commitment to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are spearheading an advanced organizational culture and mindset. These goals are a strong foundation that can help unite industries in pursuit of a better world.

However, truly purpose-driven companies must also consider an additional third pillar – the economy. When a company has a clearly stated reason for being, it can ensure that every job it provides directly supports that reason. And when a company knows its true purpose, it can turn to frameworks such as the SDGs to help ensure that it conducts business responsibly and in ways that support the greater good.

Companies understand that trust-based relationships with their stakeholders – and society as a whole – are vital. Acting in a purpose-driven manner, companies’ behavior inevitably also has an effect on entire ecosystems: employees, customers, suppliers, business, and technology partners.

Relationships within these ecosystems will evolve into partnerships based on more equal terms and similar values built on a foundation of trust and ethics. They turn towards a purpose that puts their common basis on a higher level. The whole ecosystem must operate within a shared value system to foster trust and a responsible approach to business.

Business should see the goals of a strong purpose and profitability not as contradictory, but rather complementary aims that together have a greater impact.

From theory to reality

In the world of software engineering, one interesting example of purpose-driven thinking is that of sustainable programming. Sustainable programming is all about designing and developing software with the most efficient use of computing resources. When we consider the phenomenal number of business transactions taking place every day in enterprise systems around the world, this optimized use approach would obviously scale up to have a huge impact. Put simply, efficient software uses fewer resources and energy in every respect and throughout the entire value chain.

Purpose-driven co-innovation projects between partners from different industries also aim to have an important impact on the world as we know it.

One such example is the innovation project Cargo Sous Terrain, in which the partners are working on developing a completely new transport system for goods in Switzerland by building a new underground route exclusively reserved for transporting goods. The goal is to connect cities and logistic hubs by 2030. Developed by companies for companies, it’s not just business that will benefit, but society as a whole: less traffic on the roads, faster and more efficient logistics cycles, and the consequent resource and energy savings.

With this purpose-driven innovation approach, technology is just the enabler, the ecosystem is the driver, and it is not only the companies but also society that benefit. In short, this positive outcome on all sides makes the effort and investment worth it for everyone.

Innovating and coping with change today requires a high level of flexibility, agility, and creativity – which also means that new ways of doing business need to be tested. We will see new forms of engagement that build trust, new required norms for business ethics, and a purpose-driven mindset that ensures that everyone benefits. There are still many challenging questions to be answered, but the solid foundation of a purpose puts us in a strong position to find convincing and effective solutions.

SAP’s sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) focus is an outgrowth of our vision to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

This story originally appeared on Business Trends on the SAP Community.


Bernd Leukert

About Bernd Leukert

Bernd Leukert is a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE with global responsibility for development and delivery of all products across SAP’s product portfolio.

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.


Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

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

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

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

About Stephanie Overby


Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

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

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

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

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

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

How will jobs change?

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

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

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

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

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

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

So, what skills are needed?

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

Today's workplace reality

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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


Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

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