Four Steps To Becoming The Postmodern CIO Your Business Demands

Christine Ashton

Part 6 in thePostmodern CIO” series

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

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

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

An opportunity to harness digital tools

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

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

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

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

1. Create a strategic plan.

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

2. Avoid the low-hanging poisoned fruit.

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

3. Start with the customer first.

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

4. Make technology everyone’s job.

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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Christine Ashton

About Christine Ashton

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

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

Inspired Innovation: Three Real-World Examples For CIOs

Orlando Cintra

It was the end of a long day of travel. I had experienced long lines, flight delays, and misplaced baggage. I just wanted to get into my room and relax as soon as I arrived at my hotel – immediately.

I was truly amazed when a simple hotel app made this wish come true.

CIOs are always on the lookout for ways to use technology to improve the user experience, just like this. I hope to challenge you to think about your options and will offer some real-world examples as sources of inspiration.

How a hotel app saved the day

How did a simple hotel app deliver just the experience I wanted? Before leaving home, I had responded to an email from the hotel encouraging me to download an app to make my visit more enjoyable. When it came time to check in, I had a digital key right there on my phone – skipping the lobby and the front desk. In my room, I received a chat message checking that everything was OK, which allowed me to request additional towels with ease. Checking out a few days later was equally simple.

Think beyond the obvious

My experience at the hotel drives home how a company can simply yet effectively use technology to meet needs and improve the user experience. But let’s take this example a step further. What if the hotel had inserted artificial intelligence into this process to streamline and automate? Could the hotel use a chatbot to check on my satisfaction? The answer is yes.

The challenge for CIOs is to always take innovation to the next level. Are there ways you could introduce new processes that make it simpler or more enjoyable for your customer and could also benefit your bottom line? That’s at the heart of digital transformation – to create elegant experiences that keep your customers or end users speaking positively about your products and services and coming back for more.

There are many examples CIOs can consider when looking for sources of inspiration. Consider how technology innovation is changing standard ways of doing business at O Boticário and Brasif.

Using smart shelf technologies at Grupo O Boticário

Grupo O Boticário is one of the largest cosmetic franchises in the world. Based in Brazil, the company is fully committed to using digital technologies to their full potential. It has a long history of technology innovation to efficiently grow and increase production volume. To stay true to this operational focus, O Boticário is currently working to implement smart gondolas for real-time inventory tracking. The gondolas identify and interpret products on the shelves and make a comparison with inventory. If a gondola is empty or products are wrongly allocated, the system sends a warning to prompt correction or replenishment. O Boticário is also piloting image-recognition technology available through a digital innovation system. The aim is to take its smart shelves to the next level and provide insight into consumer preferences and buying behavior to better tailor its merchandising strategies.

Increasing field-personnel productivity at Brasif

A key player in Brazil’s machinery sector, Brasif Máquinas has a deep understanding of its customers and a solid operating base at its main business centers. For more than 50 years, the company has striven for product and service excellence. To improve the management and productivity of its field personnel across eight states, it developed an after-sales management app and mobile device management tool on a cloud platform. In the three months following deployment of the app and tool, field personnel productivity rose from 61% to 75%.

Keep it simple and straightforward

What these examples have in common is that each company inserted technology in just the right spot to influence positive outcomes. Innovation doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or require wholesale change to be effective. The hotel, O Boticário, and Brasif are all using technology to improve a process. Sometimes if you change simple things, you’ll get great results.

For more information on how to simplify innovation with cloud technology, learn more about the SAP Cloud Platform.

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Orlando Cintra

About Orlando Cintra

Orlando Cintra is senior vice president of Innovation and SAP Cloud Platform for the Latin America & Caribbean region, supporting companies in their digital transformation roadmap. He helps companies take the right journey for the future, where digital transformation is the main – and current – focus in many markets and industries, using innovation as a key element of disruption and business value creation. An author and speaker, Orlando has more than 20 years of experience in IT and business in leadership positions with SAP, HP, and Informatica Corporation. He holds an Information Technology degree and specialization in Leadership from Harvard Business School, and lives in São Paulo, Brazil.

More Than Noise: Digital Trends That Are Bigger Than You Think

By Maurizio Cattaneo, David Delaney, Volker Hildebrand, and Neal Ungerleider

In the tech world in 2017, several trends emerged as signals amid the noise, signifying much larger changes to come.

As we noted in last year’s More Than Noise list, things are changing—and the changes are occurring in ways that don’t necessarily fit into the prevailing narrative.

While many of 2017’s signals have a dark tint to them, perhaps reflecting the times we live in, we have sought out some rays of light to illuminate the way forward. The following signals differ considerably, but understanding them can help guide businesses in the right direction for 2018 and beyond.

When a team of psychologists, linguists, and software engineers created Woebot, an AI chatbot that helps people learn cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for managing mental health issues like anxiety and depression, they did something unusual, at least when it comes to chatbots: they submitted it for peer review.

Stanford University researchers recruited a sample group of 70 college-age participants on social media to take part in a randomized control study of Woebot. The researchers found that their creation was useful for improving anxiety and depression symptoms. A study of the user interaction with the bot was submitted for peer review and published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health in June 2017.

While Woebot may not revolutionize the field of psychology, it could change the way we view AI development. Well-known figures such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates have expressed concerns that artificial intelligence is essentially ungovernable. Peer review, such as with the Stanford study, is one way to approach this challenge and figure out how to properly evaluate and find a place for these software programs.

The healthcare community could be onto something. We’ve already seen instances where AI chatbots have spun out of control, such as when internet trolls trained Microsoft’s Tay to become a hate-spewing misanthrope. Bots are only as good as their design; making sure they stay on message and don’t act in unexpected ways is crucial.

This is especially true in healthcare. When chatbots are offering therapeutic services, they must be properly designed, vetted, and tested to maintain patient safety.

It may be prudent to apply the same level of caution to a business setting. By treating chatbots as if they’re akin to medicine or drugs, we have a model for thorough vetting that, while not perfect, is generally effective and time tested.

It may seem like overkill to think of chatbots that manage pizza orders or help resolve parking tickets as potential health threats. But it’s already clear that AI can have unintended side effects that could extend far beyond Tay’s loathsome behavior.

For example, in July, Facebook shut down an experiment where it challenged two AIs to negotiate with each other over a trade. When the experiment began, the two chatbots quickly went rogue, developing linguistic shortcuts to reduce negotiating time and leaving their creators unable to understand what they were saying.

Do we want AIs interacting in a secret language because designers didn’t fully understand what they were designing?

The implications are chilling. Do we want AIs interacting in a secret language because designers didn’t fully understand what they were designing?

In this context, the healthcare community’s conservative approach doesn’t seem so farfetched. Woebot could ultimately become an example of the kind of oversight that’s needed for all AIs.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that chatbots have great potential in healthcare—not just for treating mental health issues but for helping patients understand symptoms, build treatment regimens, and more. They could also help unclog barriers to healthcare, which is plagued worldwide by high prices, long wait times, and other challenges. While they are not a substitute for actual humans, chatbots can be used by anyone with a computer or smartphone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of financial status.

Finding the right governance for AI development won’t happen overnight. But peer review, extensive internal quality analysis, and other processes will go a long way to ensuring bots function as expected. Otherwise, companies and their customers could pay a big price.

Elon Musk is an expert at dominating the news cycle with his sci-fi premonitions about space travel and high-speed hyperloops. However, he captured media attention in Australia in April 2017 for something much more down to earth: how to deal with blackouts and power outages.

In 2016, a massive blackout hit the state of South Australia following a storm. Although power was restored quickly in Adelaide, the capital, people in the wide stretches of arid desert that surround it spent days waiting for the power to return. That hit South Australia’s wine and livestock industries especially hard.

South Australia’s electrical grid currently gets more than half of its energy from wind and solar, with coal and gas plants acting as backups for when the sun hides or the wind doesn’t blow, according to ABC News Australia. But this network is vulnerable to sudden loss of generation—which is exactly what happened in the storm that caused the 2016 blackout, when tornadoes ripped through some key transmission lines. Getting the system back on stable footing has been an issue ever since.

Displaying his usual talent for showmanship, Musk stepped in and promised to build the world’s largest battery to store backup energy for the network—and he pledged to complete it within 100 days of signing the contract or the battery would be free. Pen met paper with South Australia and French utility Neoen in September. As of press time in November, construction was underway.

For South Australia, the Tesla deal offers an easy and secure way to store renewable energy. Tesla’s 129 MWh battery will be the most powerful battery system in the world by 60% once completed, according to Gizmodo. The battery, which is stationed at a wind farm, will cover temporary drops in wind power and kick in to help conventional gas and coal plants balance generation with demand across the network. South Australian citizens and politicians largely support the project, which Tesla claims will be able to power 30,000 homes.

Until Musk made his bold promise, batteries did not figure much in renewable energy networks, mostly because they just aren’t that good. They have limited charges, are difficult to build, and are difficult to manage. Utilities also worry about relying on the same lithium-ion battery technology as cellphone makers like Samsung, whose Galaxy Note 7 had to be recalled in 2016 after some defective batteries burst into flames, according to CNET.

However, when made right, the batteries are safe. It’s just that they’ve traditionally been too expensive for large-scale uses such as renewable power storage. But battery innovations such as Tesla’s could radically change how we power the economy. According to a study that appeared this year in Nature, the continued drop in the cost of battery storage has made renewable energy price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels.

This is a massive shift. Or, as David Roberts of news site Vox puts it, “Batteries are soon going to disrupt power markets at all scales.” Furthermore, if the cost of batteries continues to drop, supply chains could experience radical energy cost savings. This could disrupt energy utilities, manufacturing, transportation, and construction, to name just a few, and create many opportunities while changing established business models. (For more on how renewable energy will affect business, read the feature “Tick Tock” in this issue.)

Battery research and development has become big business. Thanks to electric cars and powerful smartphones, there has been incredible pressure to make more powerful batteries that last longer between charges.

The proof of this is in the R&D funding pudding. A Brookings Institution report notes that both the Chinese and U.S. governments offer generous subsidies for lithium-ion battery advancement. Automakers such as Daimler and BMW have established divisions marketing residential and commercial energy storage products. Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and General Electric are all experimenting with various electric propulsion systems for aircraft—which means that hybrid airplanes are also a possibility.

Meanwhile, governments around the world are accelerating battery research investment by banning internal combustion vehicles. Britain, France, India, and Norway are seeking to go all electric as early as 2025 and by 2040 at the latest.

In the meantime, expect huge investment and new battery innovation from interested parties across industries that all share a stake in the outcome. This past September, for example, Volkswagen announced a €50 billion research investment in batteries to help bring 300 electric vehicle models to market by 2030.

At first, it sounds like a narrative device from a science fiction novel or a particularly bad urban legend.

Powerful cameras in several Chinese cities capture photographs of jaywalkers as they cross the street and, several minutes later, display their photograph, name, and home address on a large screen posted at the intersection. Several days later, a summons appears in the offender’s mailbox demanding payment of a fine or fulfillment of community service.

As Orwellian as it seems, this technology is very real for residents of Jinan and several other Chinese cities. According to a Xinhua interview with Li Yong of the Jinan traffic police, “Since the new technology has been adopted, the cases of jaywalking have been reduced from 200 to 20 each day at the major intersection of Jingshi and Shungeng roads.”

The sophisticated cameras and facial recognition systems already used in China—and their near–real-time public shaming—are an example of how machine learning, mobile phone surveillance, and internet activity tracking are being used to censor and control populations. Most worryingly, the prospect of real-time surveillance makes running surveillance states such as the former East Germany and current North Korea much more financially efficient.

According to a 2015 discussion paper by the Institute for the Study of Labor, a German research center, by the 1980s almost 0.5% of the East German population was directly employed by the Stasi, the country’s state security service and secret police—1 for every 166 citizens. An additional 1.1% of the population (1 for every 66 citizens) were working as unofficial informers, which represented a massive economic drain. Automated, real-time, algorithm-driven monitoring could potentially drive the cost of controlling the population down substantially in police states—and elsewhere.

We could see a radical new era of censorship that is much more manipulative than anything that has come before. Previously, dissidents were identified when investigators manually combed through photos, read writings, or listened in on phone calls. Real-time algorithmic monitoring means that acts of perceived defiance can be identified and deleted in the moment and their perpetrators marked for swift judgment before they can make an impression on others.

Businesses need to be aware of the wider trend toward real-time, automated censorship and how it might be used in both commercial and governmental settings. These tools can easily be used in countries with unstable political dynamics and could become a real concern for businesses that operate across borders. Businesses must learn to educate and protect employees when technology can censor and punish in real time.

Indeed, the technologies used for this kind of repression could be easily adapted from those that have already been developed for businesses. For instance, both Facebook and Google use near–real-time facial identification algorithms that automatically identify people in images uploaded by users—which helps the companies build out their social graphs and target users with profitable advertisements. Automated algorithms also flag Facebook posts that potentially violate the company’s terms of service.

China is already using these technologies to control its own people in ways that are largely hidden to outsiders.

According to a report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the popular Chinese social network WeChat operates under a policy its authors call “One App, Two Systems.” Users with Chinese phone numbers are subjected to dynamic keyword censorship that changes depending on current events and whether a user is in a private chat or in a group. Depending on the political winds, users are blocked from accessing a range of websites that report critically on China through WeChat’s internal browser. Non-Chinese users, however, are not subject to any of these restrictions.

The censorship is also designed to be invisible. Messages are blocked without any user notification, and China has intermittently blocked WhatsApp and other foreign social networks. As a result, Chinese users are steered toward national social networks, which are more compliant with government pressure.

China’s policies play into a larger global trend: the nationalization of the internet. China, Russia, the European Union, and the United States have all adopted different approaches to censorship, user privacy, and surveillance. Although there are social networks such as WeChat or Russia’s VKontakte that are popular in primarily one country, nationalizing the internet challenges users of multinational services such as Facebook and YouTube. These different approaches, which impact everything from data safe harbor laws to legal consequences for posting inflammatory material, have implications for businesses working in multiple countries, as well.

For instance, Twitter is legally obligated to hide Nazi and neo-fascist imagery and some tweets in Germany and France—but not elsewhere. YouTube was officially banned in Turkey for two years because of videos a Turkish court deemed “insulting to the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” father of modern Turkey. In Russia, Google must keep Russian users’ personal data on servers located inside Russia to comply with government policy.

While China is a pioneer in the field of instant censorship, tech companies in the United States are matching China’s progress, which could potentially have a chilling effect on democracy. In 2016, Apple applied for a patent on technology that censors audio streams in real time—automating the previously manual process of censoring curse words in streaming audio.

In March, after U.S. President Donald Trump told Fox News, “I think maybe I wouldn’t be [president] if it wasn’t for Twitter,” Twitter founder Evan “Ev” Williams did something highly unusual for the creator of a massive social network.

He apologized.

Speaking with David Streitfeld of The New York Times, Williams said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Entrepreneurs tend to be very proud of their innovations. Williams, however, offers a far more ambivalent response to his creation’s success. Much of the 2016 presidential election’s rancor was fueled by Twitter, and the instant gratification of Twitter attracts trolls, bullies, and bigots just as easily as it attracts politicians, celebrities, comedians, and sports fans.

Services such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are designed through a mix of look and feel, algorithmic wizardry, and psychological techniques to hang on to users for as long as possible—which helps the services sell more advertisements and make more money. Toxic political discourse and online harassment are unintended side effects of the economic-driven urge to keep users engaged no matter what.

Keeping users’ eyeballs on their screens requires endless hours of multivariate testing, user research, and algorithm refinement. For instance, Casey Newton of tech publication The Verge notes that Google Brain, Google’s AI division, plays a key part in generating YouTube’s video recommendations.

According to Jim McFadden, the technical lead for YouTube recommendations, “Before, if I watch this video from a comedian, our recommendations were pretty good at saying, here’s another one just like it,” he told Newton. “But the Google Brain model figures out other comedians who are similar but not exactly the same—even more adjacent relationships. It’s able to see patterns that are less obvious.”

A never-ending flow of content that is interesting without being repetitive is harder to resist. With users glued to online services, addiction and other behavioral problems occur to an unhealthy degree. According to a 2016 poll by nonprofit research company Common Sense Media, 50% of American teenagers believe they are addicted to their smartphones.

This pattern is extending into the workplace. Seventy-five percent of companies told research company Harris Poll in 2016 that two or more hours a day are lost in productivity because employees are distracted. The number one reason? Cellphones and texting, according to 55% of those companies surveyed. Another 41% pointed to the internet.

Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, argues that many product designers for online services try to exploit psychological vulnerabilities in a bid to keep users engaged for longer periods. Harris refers to an iPhone as “a slot machine in my pocket” and argues that user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers need to adopt something akin to a Hippocratic Oath to stop exploiting users’ psychological vulnerabilities.

In fact, there is an entire school of study devoted to “dark UX”—small design tweaks to increase profits. These can be as innocuous as a “Buy Now” button in a visually pleasing color or as controversial as when Facebook tweaked its algorithm in 2012 to show a randomly selected group of almost 700,000 users (who had not given their permission) newsfeeds that skewed more positive to some users and more negative to others to gauge the impact on their respective emotional states, according to an article in Wired.

As computers, smartphones, and televisions come ever closer to convergence, these issues matter increasingly to businesses. Some of the universal side effects of addiction are lost productivity at work and poor health. Businesses should offer training and help for employees who can’t stop checking their smartphones.

Mindfulness-centered mobile apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Forest offer one way to break the habit. Users can also choose to break internet addiction by going for a walk, turning their computers off, or using tools like StayFocusd or Freedom to block addictive websites or apps.

Most importantly, companies in the business of creating tech products need to design software and hardware that discourages addictive behavior. This means avoiding bad designs that emphasize engagement metrics over human health. A world of advertising preroll showing up on smart refrigerator touchscreens at 2 a.m. benefits no one.

According to a 2014 study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, approximately 6% of the world’s population suffers from internet addiction to one degree or another. As more users in emerging economies gain access to cheap data, smartphones, and laptops, that percentage will only increase. For businesses, getting a head start on stopping internet addiction will make employees happier and more productive. D!


About the Authors

Maurizio Cattaneo is Director, Delivery Execution, Energy, and Natural Resources, at SAP.

David Delaney is Global Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, SAP Health.

Volker Hildebrand is Global Vice President for SAP Hybris solutions.

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


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

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The “Purpose” Of Data

Timo Elliott

I’ve always been passionate about the ability of data and analytics to transform the world.

It has always seemed to me to be the closest thing we have to modern-day magic, with its ability to conjure up benefits from thin air. Over the last quarter century, I’ve had the honor of working with thousands of “wizards” in organizations around the world, turning information into value in every aspect of our daily lives.

The projects have been as simple as Disney using real-time analytics to move staff from one store to another to keep lines to a minimum: shorter lines led to bigger profits (you’re more likely to buy that Winnie-the-Pooh bear if there’s only one person ahead of you), but also higher customer satisfaction and happier children.

Or they’ve been as complex as the Port of Hamburg: constrained by its urban location, it couldn’t expand to meet the growing volume of traffic. But better use of information meant it was able to dramatically increase throughput – while improving the life of city residents with reduced pollution (less truck idling) and fewer traffic jams (smart lighting that automatically adapts to bridge closures).

I’ve seen analytics used to figure out why cheese was curdling in Wisconsin; count the number of bubbles in Champagne; keep track of excessive fouls in Swiss soccer, track bear sightings in Canada; avoid flooding in Argentina; detect chewing-gum-blocked metro machines in Brussels; uncover networks of tax fraud in Australia; stop trains from being stranded in the middle of the Tuscan countryside; find air travelers exposed to radioactive substances; help abused pets find new homes; find the best people to respond to hurricanes and other disasters; and much, much more.

The reality is that there’s a lot of inefficiency in the world. Most of the time it’s invisible, or we take it for granted. But analytics can help us shine a light on what’s going on, expose the problems, and show us what we can do better – in almost every area of human endeavor.

Data is a powerful weapon. Analytics isn’t just an opportunity to reduce costs and increase profits – it’s an opportunity to make the world a better place.

So to paraphrase a famous world leader, next time you embark on a new project:

“Ask not what you can do with your data, ask what your data can do for the world.”

What are your favorite “magical” examples, where analytics helped create win/win/win situations?

Download our free eBook for more insight on How the Port of Hamburg Doubled Capacity with Digitization.

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.