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Top 5 Best Business Tactics For E-Commerce Websites

Matt Self

The 2015 numbers for Black Friday and Cyber Monday are in, and the verdict is clear: online shopping is more popular than ever.

For the second straight year, online sales grew on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday – even as in-store sales continued a slow descent. In-store Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping dropped a whopping 10% over last year, while online shopping over the same two days rose by double digits. For e-commerce sites, this is great news, but it also presents a challenge to online merchants: they must stay cutting-edge if they want to beat the competition.

How do you conquer the competition in the world of online shopping? Look to the industry leaders for inspiration. Here are five key tactics used by the world’s most successful and influential e-commerce companies:

1. Retargeting

Retargeting is an ideal way to reach out to consumers who have already stumbled upon your website, and the cookies used by your company’s website can help you do just that. In addition to storing information like viewers’ theme selections, site preferences, and usernames, cookies also track what pages viewers visit on your site.

The retargeting method relies on cookies to utilize ad space on other sites your viewers go to when they leave yours. For example, if you were recently browsing the denim section on a fashionable clothing website, you may see ads with their Classic Bootcut or Athletic Fit jeans on other websites you visit. It’s an effective advertising method that draws previous viewers to your site.

2. Cart abandonment

Perhaps you’ve done it yourself – you’re shopping on a website like Walmart.com. You’ve found the perfect birthday gift for your five-year-old nephew, and you’ve got it loaded into your online cart. Suddenly, you get a text from your sister-in-law saying she wants you to get something different. But when you find that “something different,” you quickly determine you cannot afford both. Instead of deleting the first item from your cart, however, you decide it might make a nice Christmas present, so you keep it there, and life goes on. Believe it or not, approximately 69% of online shopping carts are abandoned before the consumer finalizes a sale.

Since consumers with items in their carts most likely have accounts with you, use the email addresses they’ve provided to your advantage. Set up an automated campaign that retargets those shoppers and go get that sale. But don’t do it right away! Successful cart abandonment strategies typically target the consumer several weeks after they’ve abandoned the cart.

3. Content marketing

Developing and implementing a content marketing strategy is essential for raising your brand awareness and drawing in new clientele. Ways you can do this include but are not limited to…

  • Starting and maintaining a blog. Regularly posting on your business blog provides constant new content, which is more attractive to search engines.
  • Avoiding sales pitches or a pitchy tone in your website content (including blog posts). Don’t take the used car salesman approach; your content should be informational.

Enticing content isn’t always easy to produce, which is why many businesses hire content managers or Internet marketing companies to create and execute effective content marketing strategies.

4. Paid search

Pay per click (PPC) ads are those ads that show up in spots specifically reserved for PPC ads on a search results page. But a PPC campaign involves much more than just getting your ads placed on Google search results pages. It involves intense research for keywords and keyword phrases, creating appealing ads with enticing calls to action, and developing landing pages – a foreign concept for many businesses.

Hooking up with an Internet marketing company to create a PPC campaign can help you accomplish all that. Investing in a PPC campaign is a great way to boost your appeal as a business leader, and the best part about the PPC tactic is that you only pay when people click on your ad.

5. Social media

Social media has become an essential part of life, especially among younger generations. If you want to boost your business, investing your time in online social media platforms can help you reach audiences of all ages. Free media outlets that companies are utilizing more and more include sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Businesses are also branching out into the abyss of Pinterest to reach users looking for creative ways to approach DIY projects.

What makes social media platforms so beneficial to businesses?

  • They expand your audience. Reaching out to an unknown world helps increase your brand awareness. You never know who might be in need of your products or services.
  • They help boost audience engagement. Sharing a blog post from your website via Facebook or LinkedIn, for example, opens up opportunities for interaction with prospective or existing customers. Every new viewer is a potential client. Interacting with your audience shows the value you place on personal and business relationships, which can make or break a person’s decision to engage you, your products, or your services.
  • They help you measure the number of conversions your shared content is generating. Twitter has a feature that allows you to see how many people have seen and interacted with your shared content, and other social media platforms have ways of monitoring “Like” and “Share” selections on your content.

Content marketing specialists can help you put together an editorial calendar that lets you create a schedule for adding blog posts to your website and share business and event updates at optimum times. Allowing content marketers to monitor this schedule will give your team the opportunity to focus on other critical areas of the business, such as customer service or production.

Outrank your competition and boost leads and sales when you combine these top five tactics for improving the e-commerce end of your business. You won’t be disappointed.

For more ways to use marketing to strengthen your business, see the free e-book The Future of Marketing: 5 Keys to a Successful Transformation.

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About Matt Self

In his role as Vice President, Matt is tasked with ensuring the Web Talent team is executing cutting edge digital marketing strategies that are leading to increased sales and/or lead generation for their clients. He believes that success in an online marketing campaign is achieved only when a strong ROI is achieved. Beginning his career in education, Matt taught Health and Physical Education while earning his Master’s Degree from East Carolina University. Moving into business, he served as Vice President of an internet based agency helping it achieve two-time Inc. 500 status. His belief in social media, SEO, PPC, and technology in general, as a means to grow business, has been a driving force throughout his career. Growing companies wisely and profitably through development of sound internet marketing strategy combined with keeping interactions personal (e.g. why email when you can call) is what makes Matt an exceptional leader. Matt has been happily married to his wife, Lisa, for 15 years, and they have two daughters, Elisabeth and Alayna.

Social Selling: Building A Network And Business Brand

Lorraine Maurice

Today’s buyers want and need a more rewarding experience, especially when seeking technology solutions to meet critical needs. Businesses must adapt to buyers’ changes or face losing a share of their target market to competitors.

For business partners, social selling is becoming a vitally important strategy for reaching prospects early enough in the decision-making process to influence eventual purchases.

What is social selling?

Relationships between the business and the consumer can mean the difference between increasing revenue or losing customers to competitors. Social selling involves using social networks to build relationships with prospects in your target market.

The popularity of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other platforms has made social selling a viable marketing tool for large and small businesses. Business partners can also use these platforms to increase brand awareness and drive traffic to their websites and in-person events.

How does social selling improve brand awareness and increase customer loyalty?

Savvy marketers today know that 75% of B2B buyers are going online to be more informed about vendors. Using social selling to build a reputation, share relevant and interesting content and industry information, engage in conversation with consumers and clients, and seek out new prospects are all key to achieving sales success.

Vigilance and consistency are always important with this approach. A business that takes a lackadaisical approach to its marketing efforts will likely lose prospects to a competitor. However, a business that consistently updates and repurposes content, promotes itself as an expert in the industry, and actively engages others is more likely to stay top-of-mind with its target audience.

5 social selling techniques that work

  1. Businesses that are successful at social selling understand that delivering consistent, high-quality content is the key to building relationships with their target markets and current clients. A social network must be nurtured, just as real-world networks were in the past through meetings, business lunches, phone calls, and seminars.
  1. Sharing content related to the industry, informative videos, pictures of a product in use, and general content relevant to the target market is another important aspect of social selling.
  1. Positioning a business as an industry thought leader also serves to showcase products and services in a manner that improves brand recognition and marketplace credibility.
  1. Keeping online profiles up to date and detailed ensures that interested buyers can learn more about your business. A strong LinkedIn profile is especially important for those seeking B2B sales. Taking advantage of the Lead Builder function in the LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a great way for businesses to find and make new connections.
  1. Stepping back from selling and instead listening to buyer concerns can provide a wealth of information about what a buyer is looking for, enable you to provide useful information and solutions, and build trust with important decision makers.

Social selling is quickly becoming the primary method of revenue generation in today’s changing economic landscape.  Want to learn more?  Visit the SAP Marketing Academy, choose “SAP SME Academy Live Series,” and find the “Social Selling” series.

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Lorraine Maurice

About Lorraine Maurice

Lorraine Maurice is the Senior Director of Global Indirect Channel Marketing at SAP. She is responsible for the launch of SAP partner programs, solutions and communications into the Indirect Partner Ecosystem, which includes many partner types such as VARs, Distributors and DRCs.

Social Media Engagement: 2017’s Surprising Best And Worst Performers

Michael Brenner

Spoiler alert: Facebook is not the most engaging social media channel! Despite its sheer numbers of active users and maturity, this social media network may no longer be the top platform to focus on for your social media marketing strategies.

You can probably guess which platform ranks as the most potent channel for engagement. Since its inception as a photo-sharing app in 2010, Instagram has risen to become one of the largest social media networks with well over 500 million active monthly users.

According to a new report, Instagram isn’t just growing. It may be the most powerful social media channel available to businesses on the internet.

There are a few other surprises, such as Twitter’s waning significance and LinkedIn’s strength in certain industries.

Are you focusing your efforts on the right social media channels for your brand? Even more crucial, as we marketers strive to work smarter with the shift towards agile methods, are we wasting our time on others?

How social media sites add up – new digital marketing analysis report

This year’s official analysis of the digital marketing industry by TrackMaven – a comprehensive look at more than 700 leading businesses across 13 industries, found that Instagram isn’t simply the most engaging. This network crushes the other social media platforms when it comes to social media engagement in every industry except real estate.

Image source: trackmaven.com

And the least engaging? Of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, our old friend Twitter inspires the least engagement across the board. As with the Instagram phenomena, where the site was wildly engaging when compared to other networks, the report found that Twitter looks pallid next to all of its brighter, more engaging social network colleagues.

Again, with one exception. Construction equipment – which received, on average, 21.26 interactions per post per 1,000 followers. When it comes to the world of dump trucks, cranes and plow trucks, marketers get about the same amount of engagement across channels.

What’s even more surprising is that Facebook isn’t getting that much engagement, at least not enough to warrant its popularity among marketers. Still, today:

  • 55% of marketers say Facebook is their most important platform for marketing – with the second in line being LinkedIn, favored by 18% of marketers
  • 67% of marketers plan on increasing their activity on Facebook in 2017

Are we way off when it comes to our social media strategies? Should we be working on filling our photography skills gap for our brand’s Instagram account?

Industry does matter

Before you sign up for an evening photography class, what industry you are marketing for does make a difference. For example, in the healthcare industry, as well as in food services and accommodations, Facebook is still incredibly useful for engagement.

This makes sense – Facebook is great for restaurants and hotels who need a channel to regularly post updates, specials, and news about their location that locals would be interested in. Facebook also comes with the ability to let customers check in, often in exchange for deals.

This is like getting people to wear your brand’s t-shirt. They become a walking ad for your business and feel pretty good about it because they get something out of the deal as well.

Appealing to all demographics, including older adults, Facebook is ideal for health awareness campaigns and posting announcements about health classes, services, and general health tips. Also, this is an industry that tends to be very community-driven, just like your local pizzeria and coffee shop, which meshes with Facebook’s local business appeal.

Anne Arundel’s Medical Center has been a fantastic example of an engaging Facebook presence since their Facebook contest to raise awareness for men’s health in 2015, encouraging users to share their best “stachie” (mustache) photos. The company also does a great job tackling local issues that people are interested in, like addiction recovery and infant health. This type of marketing really fits with Facebook and wouldn’t work as well with a platform like Instagram.

Image source: Facebook

Real estate, on the other hand, gets the most engagement with LinkedIn – the network known to appeal the most to professionals. This industry also does well with the visual sites, Pinterest and Instagram, which offer agents the chance to showcase their properties.

For higher education, which is marketing towards a younger audience, Instagram is a powerful engagement channel. Instagram is known to be extremely popular with millennials. In 2016, just under 60% of internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 were on Instagram – only 8% of users aged 65 and over had accounts.

Perhaps this has something to do with the popularity of Instagram with consumer goods companies. The power of Instagram for the finance and insurance industry may be a shock to marketers. This idea may sum up industry sentiment:

“Instagram probably isn’t going to move the needle for the majority of financial institutions. It could be a gigantic waste of time for many banks and credit unions.”

Well, it’s moving the needle. The visual, personal feel of Instagram appears to have an impact on customers. Financial services company, US Bank is a great Instagram example. It uses the platform to tell the story of their brand values, through regular posts about community involvement using #communitypossible.

 

 

Image source: Instagram

Engagement does matter

Social media engagement isn’t everything. You may have great activity on your brand’s social media channels, but this isn’t necessarily going to directly translate into sales. What it will do is bring more attention to your brand and help to build loyalty and trust. 53% of Americans who follow brands are likely to be loyal to them. It also helps to make your brand feel more human, which eases those conversion rates. People are more interested in doing business with other humans.

And it will drive traffic to your website.

Image source: socialbakers.com

Research done by Social Bakers found a direct correlation between activity in response to social media posts and website page views.

Getting the most out of your engagement

There’s a lot more to marketing than social media engagement, but marketers should really take a look at how they are using social media to engage in order to get the most out of their efforts. Is it worth spending as much time and resources on Facebook and Twitter?

Are you measuring how your engagement changes on each site over time? A good question to ask – and to test: Would you be better off automating more of your interactions with the channels that aren’t getting much engagement?

Or have you already put your eggs in the Instagram basket – if so, are you using this site well to tell your brand’s story? Are you getting the intense response from your audience that your competitors are getting?

The most important insight to take from this report is that social media marketing perhaps is changing faster than we assumed. Sure, digital marketing is a rapidly evolving field, but social…this is an arena where there is so much freedom and flexibility.

With so many new entrants changing the game every few months or so, perhaps there will never be hard-and-fast rules. There’s no best single social network, or most popular, or most effective. It’s just what works, for you, right now. Thank goodness for Fridays and agile marketing.

What do you think? Do you agree with the data?

For more social media marketing strategies, see How To Master Social Media Marketing In 2017.

Image Source: Unsplash.com

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About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of  The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider GroupHe has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and   a top  CMO influencer by Forbes.

Heroes in the Race to Save Antibiotics

Dr. David Delaney, Joseph Miles, Walt Ellenberger, Saravana Chandran, and Stephanie Overby

Last August, a woman arrived at a Reno, Nevada, hospital and told the attending doctors that she had recently returned from an extended trip to India, where she had broken her right thighbone two years ago. The woman, who was in her 70s, had subsequently developed an infection in her thigh and hip for which she was hospitalized in India several times. The Reno doctors recognized that the infection was serious—and the visit to India, where antibiotic-resistant bacteria runs rampant, raised red flags.

When none of the 14 antibiotics the physicians used to treat the woman worked, they sent a sample of the bacterium to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for testing. The CDC confirmed the doctors’ worst fears: the woman had a class of microbe called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Carbapenems are a powerful class of antibiotics used as last-resort treatment for multidrug-resistant infections. The CDC further found that, in this patient’s case, the pathogen was impervious to all 26 antibiotics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In other words, there was no cure.

This is just the latest alarming development signaling the end of the road for antibiotics as we know them. In September, the woman died from septic shock, in which an infection takes over and shuts down the body’s systems, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Other antibiotic options, had they been available, might have saved the Nevada woman. But the solution to the larger problem won’t be a new drug. It will have to be an entirely new approach to the diagnosis of infectious disease, to the use of antibiotics, and to the monitoring of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)—all enabled by new technology.

But that new technology is not being implemented fast enough to prevent what former CDC director Tom Frieden has nicknamed nightmare bacteria. And the nightmare is becoming scarier by the year. A 2014 British study calculated that 700,000 people die globally each year because of AMR. By 2050, the global cost of antibiotic resistance could grow to 10 million deaths and US$100 trillion a year, according to a 2014 estimate. And the rate of AMR is growing exponentially, thanks to the speed with which humans serving as hosts for these nasty bugs can move among healthcare facilities—or countries. In the United States, for example, CRE had been seen only in North Carolina in 2000; today it’s nationwide.

Abuse and overuse of antibiotics in healthcare and livestock production have enabled bacteria to both mutate and acquire resistant genes from other organisms, resulting in truly pan-drug resistant organisms. As ever-more powerful superbugs continue to proliferate, we are potentially facing the deadliest and most costly human-made catastrophe in modern times.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Even if new antibiotics could solve the problem, there are obstacles to their development. For one thing, antibiotics have complex molecular structures, which slows the discovery process. Further, they aren’t terribly lucrative for pharmaceutical manufacturers: public health concerns call for new antimicrobials to be financially accessible to patients and used conservatively precisely because of the AMR issue, which reduces the financial incentives to create new compounds. The last entirely new class of antibiotic was introduced 30 year ago. Finally, bacteria will develop resistance to new antibiotics as well if we don’t adopt new approaches to using them.

Technology can play the lead role in heading off this disaster. Vast amounts of data from multiple sources are required for better decision making at all points in the process, from tracking or predicting antibiotic-resistant disease outbreaks to speeding the potential discovery of new antibiotic compounds. However, microbes will quickly adapt and resist new medications, too, if we don’t also employ systems that help doctors diagnose and treat infection in a more targeted and judicious way.

Indeed, digital tools can help in all four actions that the CDC recommends for combating AMR: preventing infections and their spread, tracking resistance patterns, improving antibiotic use, and developing new diagnostics and treatment.

Meanwhile, individuals who understand both the complexities of AMR and the value of technologies like machine learning, human-computer interaction (HCI), and mobile applications are working to develop and advocate for solutions that could save millions of lives.

Keeping an Eye Out for Outbreaks

Like others who are leading the fight against AMR, Dr. Steven Solomon has no illusions about the difficulty of the challenge. “It is the single most complex problem in all of medicine and public health—far outpacing the complexity and the difficulty of any other problem that we face,” says Solomon, who is a global health consultant and former director of the CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance.

Solomon wants to take the battle against AMR beyond the laboratory. In his view, surveillance—tracking and analyzing various data on AMR—is critical, particularly given how quickly and widely it spreads. But surveillance efforts are currently fraught with shortcomings. The available data is fragmented and often not comparable. Hospitals fail to collect the representative samples necessary for surveillance analytics, collecting data only on those patients who experience resistance and not on those who get better. Laboratories use a wide variety of testing methods, and reporting is not always consistent or complete.

Surveillance can serve as an early warning system. But weaknesses in these systems have caused public health officials to consistently underestimate the impact of AMR in loss of lives and financial costs. That’s why improving surveillance must be a top priority, says Solomon, who previously served as chair of the U.S. Federal Interagency Task Force on AMR and has been tracking the advance of AMR since he joined the U.S. Public Health Service in 1981.

A Collaborative Diagnosis

Ineffective surveillance has also contributed to huge growth in the use of antibiotics when they aren’t warranted. Strong patient demand and financial incentives for prescribing physicians are blamed for antibiotics abuse in China. India has become the largest consumer of antibiotics on the planet, in part because they are prescribed or sold for diarrheal diseases and upper respiratory infections for which they have limited value. And many countries allow individuals to purchase antibiotics over the counter, exacerbating misuse and overuse.

In the United States, antibiotics are improperly prescribed 50% of the time, according to CDC estimates. One study of adult patients visiting U.S. doctors to treat respiratory problems found that more than two-thirds of antibiotics were prescribed for conditions that were not infections at all or for infections caused by viruses—for which an antibiotic would do nothing. That’s 27 million courses of antibiotics wasted a year—just for respiratory problems—in the United States alone.

And even in countries where there are national guidelines for prescribing antibiotics, those guidelines aren’t always followed. A study published in medical journal Family Practice showed that Swedish doctors, both those trained in Sweden and those trained abroad, inconsistently followed rules for prescribing antibiotics.

Solomon strongly believes that, worldwide, doctors need to expand their use of technology in their offices or at the bedside to guide them through a more rational approach to antibiotic use. Doctors have traditionally been reluctant to adopt digital technologies, but Solomon thinks that the AMR crisis could change that. New digital tools could help doctors and hospitals integrate guidelines for optimal antibiotic prescribing into their everyday treatment routines.

“Human-computer interactions are critical, as the amount of information available on antibiotic resistance far exceeds the ability of humans to process it,” says Solomon. “It offers the possibility of greatly enhancing the utility of computer-assisted physician order entry (CPOE), combined with clinical decision support.” Healthcare facilities could embed relevant information and protocols at the point of care, guiding the physician through diagnosis and prescription and, as a byproduct, facilitating the collection and reporting of antibiotic use.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s antibiotic stewardship division has deployed a software program that gathers information from electronic medical records, order entries, computerized laboratory and pathology reports, and more. The system measures baseline antimicrobial use, dosing, duration, costs, and use patterns. It also analyzes bacteria and trends in their susceptibilities and helps with clinical decision making and prescription choices. The goal, says Dr. David Haslam, who heads the program, is to decrease the use of “big gun” super antibiotics in favor of more targeted treatment.

While this approach is not yet widespread, there is consensus that incorporating such clinical-decision support into electronic health records will help improve quality of care, contain costs, and reduce overtreatment in healthcare overall—not just in AMR. A 2013 randomized clinical trial finds that doctors who used decision-support tools were significantly less likely to order antibiotics than those in the control group and prescribed 50% fewer broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Putting mobile devices into doctors’ hands could also help them accept decision support, believes Solomon. Last summer, Scotland’s National Health Service developed an antimicrobial companion app to give practitioners nationwide mobile access to clinical guidance, as well as an audit tool to support boards in gathering data for local and national use.

“The immediacy and the consistency of the input to physicians at the time of ordering antibiotics may significantly help address the problem of overprescribing in ways that less-immediate interventions have failed to do,” Solomon says. In addition, handheld devices with so-called lab-on-a-chip  technology could be used to test clinical specimens at the bedside and transmit the data across cellular or satellite networks in areas where infrastructure is more limited.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can also become invaluable technology collaborators to help doctors more precisely diagnose and treat infection. In such a system, “the physician and the AI program are really ‘co-prescribing,’” says Solomon. “The AI can handle so much more information than the physician and make recommendations that can incorporate more input on the type of infection, the patient’s physiologic status and history, and resistance patterns of recent isolates in that ward, in that hospital, and in the community.”

Speed Is Everything

Growing bacteria in a dish has never appealed to Dr. James Davis, a computational biologist with joint appointments at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago Computation Institute. The first of a growing breed of computational biologists, Davis chose a PhD advisor in 2004 who was steeped in bioinformatics technology “because you could see that things were starting to change,” he says. He was one of the first in his microbiology department to submit a completely “dry” dissertation—that is, one that was all digital with nothing grown in a lab.

Upon graduation, Davis wanted to see if it was possible to predict whether an organism would be susceptible or resistant to a given antibiotic, leading him to explore the potential of machine learning to predict AMR.

As the availability of cheap computing power has gone up and the cost of genome sequencing has gone down, it has become possible to sequence a pathogen sample in order to detect its AMR resistance mechanisms. This could allow doctors to identify the nature of an infection in minutes instead of hours or days, says Davis.

Davis is part of a team creating a giant database of bacterial genomes with AMR metadata for the Pathosystems Resource Integration Center (PATRIC), funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to collect data on priority pathogens, such as tuberculosis and gonorrhea.

Because the current inability to identify microbes quickly is one of the biggest roadblocks to making an accurate diagnosis, the team’s work is critically important. The standard method for identifying drug resistance is to take a sample from a wound, blood, or urine and expose the resident bacteria to various antibiotics. If the bacterial colony continues to divide and thrive despite the presence of a normally effective drug, it indicates resistance. The process typically takes between 16 and 20 hours, itself an inordinate amount of time in matters of life and death. For certain strains of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, though, such testing can take a week. While physicians are waiting for test results, they often prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics or make a best guess about what drug will work based on their knowledge of what’s happening in their hospital, “and in the meantime, you either get better,” says Davis, “or you don’t.”

At PATRIC, researchers are using machine-learning classifiers to identify regions of the genome involved in antibiotic resistance that could form the foundation for a “laboratory free” process for predicting resistance. Being able to identify the genetic mechanisms of AMR and predict the behavior of bacterial pathogens without petri dishes could inform clinical decision making and improve reaction time. Thus far, the researchers have developed machine-learning classifiers for identifying antibiotic resistance in Acinetobacter baumannii (a big player in hospital-acquired infection), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (a.k.a. MRSA, a worldwide problem), and Streptococcus pneumoniae (a leading cause of bacterial meningitis), with accuracies ranging from 88% to 99%.

Houston Methodist Hospital, which uses the PATRIC database, is researching multidrug-resistant bacteria, specifically MRSA. Not only does resistance increase the cost of care, but people with MRSA are 64% more likely to die than people with a nonresistant form of the infection, according to WHO. Houston Methodist is investigating the molecular genetic causes of drug resistance in MRSA in order to identify new treatment approaches and help develop novel antimicrobial agents.

The Hunt for a New Class of Antibiotics

There are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and then there’s Clostridium difficile—a.k.a. C. difficile—a bacterium that attacks the intestines even in young and healthy patients in hospitals after the use of antibiotics.

It is because of C. difficile that Dr. L. Clifford McDonald jumped into the AMR fight. The epidemiologist was finishing his work analyzing the spread of SARS in Toronto hospitals in 2004 when he turned his attention to C. difficile, convinced that the bacteria would become more common and more deadly. He was right, and today he’s at the forefront of treating the infection and preventing the spread of AMR as senior advisor for science and integrity in the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “[AMR] is an area that we’re funding heavily…insofar as the CDC budget can fund anything heavily,” says McDonald, whose group has awarded $14 million in contracts for innovative anti-AMR approaches.

Developing new antibiotics is a major part of the AMR battle. The majority of new antibiotics developed in recent years have been variations of existing drug classes. It’s been three decades since the last new class of antibiotics was introduced. Less than 5% of venture capital in pharmaceutical R&D is focused on antimicrobial development. A 2008 study found that less than 10% of the 167 antibiotics in development at the time had a new “mechanism of action” to deal with multidrug resistance. “The low-hanging fruit [of antibiotic development] has been picked,” noted a WHO report.

Researchers will have to dig much deeper to develop novel medicines. Machine learning could help drug developers sort through much larger data sets and go about the capital-intensive drug development process in a more prescriptive fashion, synthesizing those molecules most likely to have an impact.

McDonald believes that it will become easier to find new antibiotics if we gain a better understanding of the communities of bacteria living in each of us—as many as 1,000 different types of microbes live in our intestines, for example. Disruption to those microbial communities—our “microbiome”—can herald AMR. McDonald says that Big Data and machine learning will be needed to unlock our microbiomes, and that’s where much of the medical community’s investment is going.

He predicts that within five years, hospitals will take fecal samples or skin swabs and sequence the microorganisms in them as a kind of pulse check on antibiotic resistance. “Just doing the bioinformatics to sort out what’s there and the types of antibiotic resistance that might be in that microbiome is a Big Data challenge,” McDonald says. “The only way to make sense of it, going forward, will be advanced analytic techniques, which will no doubt include machine learning.”

Reducing Resistance on the Farm

Bringing information closer to where it’s needed could also help reduce agriculture’s contribution to the antibiotic resistance problem. Antibiotics are widely given to livestock to promote growth or prevent disease. In the United States, more kilograms of antibiotics are administered to animals than to people, according to data from the FDA.

One company has developed a rapid, on-farm diagnostics tool to provide livestock producers with more accurate disease detection to make more informed management and treatment decisions, which it says has demonstrated a 47% to 59% reduction in antibiotic usage. Such systems, combined with pressure or regulations to reduce antibiotic use in meat production, could also help turn the AMR tide.

Breaking Down Data Silos Is the First Step

Adding to the complexity of the fight against AMR is the structure and culture of the global healthcare system itself. Historically, healthcare has been a siloed industry, notorious for its scattered approach focused on transactions rather than healthy outcomes or the true value of treatment. There’s no definitive data on the impact of AMR worldwide; the best we can do is infer estimates from the information that does exist.

The biggest issue is the availability of good data to share through mobile solutions, to drive HCI clinical-decision support tools, and to feed supercomputers and machine-learning platforms. “We have a fragmented healthcare delivery system and therefore we have fragmented information. Getting these sources of data all into one place and then enabling them all to talk to each other has been problematic,” McDonald says.

Collecting, integrating, and sharing AMR-related data on a national and ultimately global scale will be necessary to better understand the issue. HCI and mobile tools can help doctors, hospitals, and public health authorities collect more information while advanced analytics, machine learning, and in-memory computing can enable them to analyze that data in close to real time. As a result, we’ll better understand patterns of resistance from the bedside to the community and up to national and international levels, says Solomon. The good news is that new technology capabilities like AI and new potential streams of data are coming online as an era of data sharing in healthcare is beginning to dawn, adds McDonald.

The ideal goal is a digitally enabled virtuous cycle of information and treatment that could save millions of dollars, lives, and perhaps even civilization if we can get there. D!

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


About the Authors:

Dr. David Delaney is Chief Medical Officer for SAP.

Joseph Miles is Global Vice President, Life Sciences, for SAP.

Walt Ellenberger is Senior Director Business Development, Healthcare Transformation and Innovation, for SAP.

Saravana Chandran is Senior Director, Advanced Analytics, for SAP.

Stephanie Overby is an independent writer and editor focused on the intersection of business and technology.

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Small And Midsize Businesses Have The Capacity To Drive Europe’s Future As A Digital Superpower

Katja Mehl

Part 10 of the “Road to Digital Transformation” series

Representing 99.8% of all companies throughout Europe, small and midsize businesses have tremendous power when it comes to impacting the region’s economy. One innovation at a time, they’re transforming entire industries, propelling emerging industries forward with adjacent offerings, and even supersizing a favorite childhood toy to make living conditions better for the poor and homeless. But perhaps the greatest evolution is found in the growing adoption of technology among firms.

According to the IDC InfoBrief “The Next Steps in Digital Transformation: How Small and Midsize Companies Are Applying Technology to Meet Key Business Goals with Insights for Europe,” sponsored by SAP, 35.4% of all European firms feel that their adoption of digital technology is either advanced or well underway. Germany and France are great examples of countries that are embracing advanced business networks and automation technology – such as the Internet of Things – to boost productivity and computerize or consolidate roles left empty due to long-term labor shortages.

Despite the progress made in some countries, I am also aware of others that are still resistant to digitizing their economy and automating operations. What’s the difference between firms that are digital leaders and those that are slow to mature? From my perspective in working with a variety of businesses throughout Europe, it’s a combination of diversity and technology availability.

digital transformation self-assessment

Source: “The Next Steps in Digital Transformation: How Small and Midsize Companies Are Applying Technology to Meet Key Business Goals with Insights for Europe,” IDC InfoBrief, sponsored by SAP, 2017. 

Opportunities abound with digital transformation

European companies are hardly homogenous. Comprising 47 countries across the continent, they serve communities that speak any of 225 spoken languages. Each one is experiencing various stages of digital development, economic stability, and workforce needs.

Nevertheless, as a whole, European firms do prioritize customer acquisition as well as improving efficiency and reducing costs. Over one-third of small and midsize companies are investing in collaboration software, customer relationship management solutions, e-commerce platforms, analytics, and talent management applications. Steadily, business leaders are finding better ways to go beyond data collection by applying predictive analytics to gain real-time insight from predictive analytics and machine learning to automate processes where possible.

Small and midsize businesses have a distinct advantage in this area over their larger rivals because they can, by nature, adopt new technology and practices quickly and act on decisions with greater agility. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of European firms are embracing the early stages of digitalization and planning to mature over time. Yet, the level of adoption depends solely on the leadership team’s commitment.

For many small and midsize companies across this region, the path to digital maturity resides in the cloud, more so than on-premise software deployment. For example, the flexibility associated with cloud deployment is viewed as a top attribute, especially among U.K. firms. This brings us back to the diversity of our region. Some countries prioritize personal data security while others may be more concerned with the ability to access the information they need in even the most remote of areas.

Technology alone does not deliver digital transformation

Digital transformation is certainly worth the effort for European firms. Between 60%–90% of small and midsize European businesses say their technology investments have met or exceeded their expectations – indicative of the steady, powerhouse transitions enabled by cloud computing. Companies are now getting the same access to the latest technology, data storage, and IT resources.

However, it is also important to note that a cloud platform is only as effective as the long-term digital strategy that it enables. To invigorate transformative changes, leadership needs to go beyond technology and adopt a mindset that embraces new ideas, tests the fitness of business models and processes continuously, and allows the flexibility to evolve the company as quickly as market dynamics change. By taking a step back and integrating digital objectives throughout the business strategy, leadership can pull together the elements needed to turn technology investments into differentiating, sustainable change. For example, the best talent with the right skills is hired. Plus, partners and suppliers with a complementary or shared digital vision and capability are onboarded.

The IDC Infobrief confirms what I have known all along: Small and midsize businesses are beginning to digitally mature and maintain a strategy that is relevant to their end-to-end processes. And furthering their digital transformation go hand in hand with the firms’ ability to ignite a transformational force that will likely progress Europe’s culture, social structure, and economy. 

To learn how small and midsize businesses across Europe are digitally transforming themselves to advance their future success, check out the IDC InfoBrief “The Next Steps in Digital Transformation: How Small and Midsize Companies Are Applying Technology to Meet Key Business Goals with Insights for Europe,” sponsored by SAP. For more region-specific perspectives on digital transformation, be sure to check every Tuesday for new installments to our blog series “The Road to Digital Transformation.”

 

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Katja Mehl

About Katja Mehl

Katja Mehl is Head of Marketing for Europe, Middle East, and Africa at SAP.