The Untapped Potential Of Old-Fashioned, Fresh-Food Retailing

Erica Vialardi

“Once upon a time, from the top of a hill, farmer Mario embraced the landscape with a content look. At his feet, plantations, orchards, and cattle reminded him of his flourishing farming business.”

This might sound like the opening of an old-time fable by La Fontaine. Except I met Mario in 2016, when he sponsored “planting day” at my son’s kindergarten to promote his organic products, and it is one of the most successful food business stories I’ve seen recently. Surprisingly enough, it happened 100 percent offline.

New business models for an age-old industry

Before trying his luck in the big city, my farmer friend Mario must have wondered what the future of his business could look like, witnessing the profound disruptions currently affecting the sale of fresh food to consumers. The fresh-food retail industry is indeed popping with new trends.

Next to the emergence of alternative retail store formats, the most impressive development of the last few years has of course been that of the online sale of fresh food – think e-grocery strategies implemented by retailers, or conversely, direct-to-consumer e-commerce sales launched by the brands themselves. In addition, brand-new business models literally sprouted overnight, such as subscription food services.

A small-scale, agricultural entrepreneur less far-sighted than Mario could have felt discouraged by this turmoil, but our hero, unlike Don Quixote, did not mistake all those “windmills” (read: futuristic business models) for unbeatable giants. To find his competitive place, he looked beyond the offering side by focusing on the essential: consumer demand.

Fresh food retailers are leaving consumer demand untapped

All of the above trends sound like “the next big thing,” but they all face the same challenge. In December, I attended a conference on food, and all the executives speakers sitting at the round table agreed on the very same point: Consumer demand is more than ready for new, online food sales models. Paradoxically, it’s the offering that is lagging behind, which means that companies are not providing the services that consumers would pay for.

An Amazon executive at the event had this to say on the topic: “When we launch new services, customers are usually very responsive […] even for the adoption of small, granular services.”

Don’t forget customer experience

Looking at the difficulties that are holding companies back from “making the quantum loop” toward new, online business models in fresh food, we notice that some hurdles do exist, and they all concern customer experience (click here for a free customer experience assessment). Let’s examine three tricky, recurring ones:

Product information. Consumers expect to have the same amount of information at their disposal that they have at the store, also during their online purchase. However, compared with other branches, the amount of information grows exponentially for fresh food. Ripeness, color, exact weight, suggestions of use, combinations… all mean a huge amount of data, high-resolution pictures, and other media to manage and update.

Consumers expect a dynamic purchasing experience that reflects an in-person, one-to-one relationship with the vendor. This involves sophisticated capabilities, from a commerce, marketing, and sales point of view, such as merchandising and product presentation, shelf personalization, or custom-tailored special offers.

The post-sale challenge. The vendor must be able to match the consumer’s expectations in terms of delivery location (home/click and collect), timing (same day, same hour…) and return and service rules.

When old school reminds us how to engage customers

It is exactly by tackling the above areas of friction that Mario identified a very well-defined market opportunity. The day I met him at the kindergarten, he showed toddlers how to plant grains in the earth, then offered us parents a complimentary bag full of fresh produce, grown on the fields he managed, and explained more about his business, which includes not just produce but also organic meat and dairy.

That’s what I call good customer targeting and promotion (parents eager to cook healthy food to their kids). He then gave me a piece of paper printed with “Mario – the farmer – mobile number”. No website, no email, no list of products, and he told me he would call the following week to take my order. He did.

That’s what I call customer engagement.

Mario asked me what I wanted, that I could have anything unless it was not the right season. That’s what I call personalization and added-value service (ever wondered why tomatoes taste like nothing in November?). The two aspects that really stunned me, though, were that no minimum quantities were required and that he would deliver the products to my door. That’s what I call competitive differentiation. One week later, he even phoned me to find out if “everything was OK.” That’s what I call customer care.

Two months have passed, and Mario told me that his business is growing so fast he had to buy two other trucks to deliver to the city. Considering the products are premium price, it is an amazing success for a 100 percent offline business in today’s hyper-connected market.

Clearly, the day Mario will have to scale his business, and he won’t be able to do so without setting up a solid e-commerce, otherwise he will risk to be overwhelmed and lose business.  This whole story made me meditate on one thing—before starting with (sometimes too) advanced business models based on hype, food retailers should secure the basics first, by better analyzing their customer demand. Combining the old and the new, they should see their very own tale end happily.

For more insight on the how digitalization is changing the food industry, see What’s Happening To My Grocery Store?


Erica Vialardi

About Erica Vialardi

Erica has more than 10 years of experience in the marketing departments of international enterprise software vendors.

Yes, It’s Possible: Happier Customers And A Lower Cost-To-Serve

Greg Peterson

Imagine a typical young customer, mobile phone in hand. He loves his phone. He loves shopping with his phone, he loves posting photos on his phone, and he can’t live without his favorite apps. This young man wants to do everything on his phone – except make a phone call.

So when he realizes that he must actually dial a number to speak with your utility’s customer service department about an issue, he’s automatically peevish. It’s your job to keep him (and all your other customers) happy. But it’s also your job to keep cost-to-serve at a minimum. Let me tell you how it’s possible to do both.

First, be aware of common misperceptions

Don’t try to take on a customer-facing project in a piecemeal manner. Building a single mobile-payment app, for example, might seem like a quick way to build customer advocacy. But I’ve seen this approach fail because a standalone app is often just that – a one-off effort that only makes a small part of the customer’s life easier.

Instead, think holistically. Create a way for customers to be able to pay the bill and request services (including start, stop, and transfer). Give them a way to interact for appointments (such as confirming, reschedule, cancel and so on) using SMS/text, email and “robocalls.” This end-to-end approach is more than just a one-off app; it’s the single best way to build rapport with your customers – and it can happen only if you have real-time data underpinning your efforts. After all, building the app, the SMS/text, the email, and the voice script is the easy part. Having the automated workflows and analytics is the hard part, because you need the ability to do all of these things in native mobile apps that operate on the same platform.

Also, because your organization is likely quasi-government regulated and thus must make its money through return on capital, you might be tempted to say, “I can’t afford to do this in a big way because of the operational expense.” But be aware that with the right approach, you can often structure a capital project with a high annual operational expense reduction. You can often prove to stakeholders that yours is a self-funded project and that customers will be more satisfied. For those of you who must go to regulators to get rate increases, this also puts you in a better position to drive your agenda, rather than endlessly discussing the topic of customer-service complaints.

Use the full power of technology to your advantage

Let’s face it—in our industry, people usually call only when they have an issue. One way to improve customer service is to give them fewer reasons to call. A new wave of real-time data technology can delight your customers and keep cost-to-serve at a minimum. SAP S/4HANA does a great job of this. I recently worked with a natural gas supplier who took a holistic approach. The company invested in intelligent grid technology so that their customers could benefit from more-reliable service, faster restorations after outages and reduced cost. In the most recent report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, this gas supplier emerged as the new leader among investor-owned utilities with a four percent climb to a rating of 82 – the largest gain for the category and the second year of improvement.

Technology for your business: a lower cost-to-serve

When you use the full power of technology to your advantage, the results can be remarkable. From a business standpoint, you can reduce inbound calls with targeted proactive notification (such as for planned outages). You can deflect calls to low-cost self-service channels like intelligent IVR, chatbots and listening agents in which AI uses natural language processing to resolve issues. And if someone does need to contact your call center, you can increase the productivity of your agents, because they automatically know not just who is calling, but also the likely reason for the call.

Remember too that technology drives integrated work management. Cable-company customers can see on their app who is coming, when the service person will arrive and even whether outside conditions or traffic will impact arrival time. So if your field technician is dispatched to service a gas furnace, guess what? The field technician has same information as the call center. There’s an app with service timing – and the app integrates customer data with the information from the field tech.

Technology for your customers: pleasant surprises

From a customer satisfaction standpoint, you can be uniquely positioned to deliver surprisingly proactive, helpful information. Your customers can get proactive notifications and updates. For example, if their power goes out and they’re sitting in the dark, they can learn through a text alert when power is likely to be restored, when the outage was initially reported and how many of their neighbors have been similarly affected. It’s easy for customers to opt-in to notification services during times of trouble, such as flooding and fire emergencies. And for customers who are prone to be late with their payments, you can send a proactive notification that’s perceived as a friendly reminder. When an overdue invoice is paid, it’s even possible to reconnect power without the need for the customer to phone the call center.

So take action to investigate the power of SAP HANA. Get a 360-degree view of each customer, served up to various stakeholders in real time. Your customers – and your business leaders – will thank you for it.

Learn more

To take advantage of all the benefits described in this post, request your SAP HANA Impact assessment today. You can also visit IBM at booth #612 at SAPPHIRE NOW 2018 and talk to IBM-SAP experts – check out our event website to see what we’re doing at the event.


Greg Peterson

About Greg Peterson

Greg Peterson is Vice President at IBM Global Business Services. He leads the SAP Practice For Energy and Utilities in the US. He has a 20 year plus track record of Client, People and Business success in large enterprise application consulting, sales, industry based Go-to-Market (GTM) and project delivery. Greg is a proven Business Architect that drives Digital Reinvention using a value based agile strategy, operating model and process design methodology.

Cognitive Technologies Help Media Companies Build Consumer Loyalty

Catherine Lynch

Media companies need to provide unique, personalized content, driven by deep insights into individual consumer preferences, due to the growing popularity of over-the-top (OTT) streaming services. In the past, media companies were not in direct contact with consumers and interacted in a mass marketing fashion. Now the business model is changing to direct to consumer, and media companies need to adapt to survive and thrive.

Consumers are willing to pay for the right content

In the music world, interactive personalized streaming of music (Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer…) is overtaking physical downloads of music from a revenue perspective, and it is even rumored that Apple will stop downloads from iTunes next year. In 2017 streaming accounted for almost two-thirds of music industry revenue. By the end of this year, over half (57%) of Spotify’s 157 million worldwide active users will be paying for subscriptions.

Over 30% of U.S. households now subscribe to more than one OTT service, according to Parks Associates. The OTT video service industry is expected to reach $30 billion by 2020.

Using analytics and identity management to suggest relevant content to consumers

To understand what a viewer will like in six months, media companies must manage the complexity of multiple touchpoints, both physical and digital. It is also essential to build consumer trust and loyalty if you are seeking personal information from a viewer to drive that personalized experience. Algorithms underpinned by cognitive technologies help determine which content might interest a subscriber. Identity management software enables the buildup of a profile of preferences and leads to greater personalization and consumer loyalty.

Media companies can also analyze social activity information about a viewer to further increase levels of personalization, and it makes sense to provide that viewer with a personalized subscription offer and “up-sell” based on that person’s video consumption and social media activity.

Machine learning and blockchain help with personalized ads and content monetization

Software such as Pippa developed a technology that allows podcasters to insert personalized ads to a podcast. It is planning to use AI to perform deep audio search and personalize ads based on a podcast’s content. With a new avenue for monetization of podcasts, this technology could boost podcasting and make it much more profitable. Jaak uses blockchain technology to identify the usage and rights to song streams. It enables apps and platforms to identify who is streaming a song and when identifying the multiple rights holders and assigning corresponding payments.

By 2020, Gartner predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) bots, rather than humans, will manage 85 percent of customer interactions. There will be more than 82 million U.S. millennial digital video customers. As media companies grapple with the challenge of getting personalized content to the consumer at the right time, companies that proactively invest in advanced analytics, machine learning, and blockchain will gain a critical first-mover advantage.

To learn more, read our Reimagining Media in the Digital Age blog series.

Are you attending SAPPHIRE? If so, join us at the SAP Industries Experience Area during the event and check out the Media sessions on the agenda builder.


Catherine Lynch

About Catherine Lynch

Catherine Lynch is a Senior Director of Industry Cloud Marketing at SAP. She is a content marketing specialist with a particular focus on the professional services and media industries globally. Catherine has a wide international experience of working with enterprise application vendors in global roles, creating thought leadership and is a social media practitioner.

The Human Angle

By Jenny Dearborn, David Judge, Tom Raftery, and Neal Ungerleider

In a future teeming with robots and artificial intelligence, humans seem to be on the verge of being crowded out. But in reality the opposite is true.

To be successful, organizations need to become more human than ever.

Organizations that focus only on automation will automate away their competitive edge. The most successful will focus instead on skills that set them apart and that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning. Those skills can be summed up in one word: humanness.

You can see it in the numbers. According to David J. Deming of the Harvard Kennedy School, demand for jobs that require social skills has risen nearly 12 percentage points since 1980, while less-social jobs, such as computer coding, have declined by a little over 3 percentage points.

AI is in its infancy, which means that it cannot yet come close to duplicating our most human skills. Stefan van Duin and Naser Bakhshi, consultants at professional services company Deloitte, break down artificial intelligence into two types: narrow and general. Narrow AI is good at specific tasks, such as playing chess or identifying facial expressions. General AI, which can learn and solve complex, multifaceted problems the way a human being does, exists today only in the minds of futurists.

The only thing narrow artificial intelligence can do is automate. It can’t empathize. It can’t collaborate. It can’t innovate. Those abilities, if they ever come, are still a long way off. In the meantime, AI’s biggest value is in augmentation. When human beings work with AI tools, the process results in a sort of augmented intelligence. This augmented intelligence outperforms the work of either human beings or AI software tools on their own.

AI-powered tools will be the partners that free employees and management to tackle higher-level challenges.

Those challenges will, by default, be more human and social in nature because many rote, repetitive tasks will be automated away. Companies will find that developing fundamental human skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, within the organization will take on a new importance. These skills can’t be automated and they won’t become process steps for algorithms anytime soon.

In a world where technology change is constant and unpredictable, those organizations that make the fullest use of uniquely human skills will win. These skills will be used in collaboration with both other humans and AI-fueled software and hardware tools. The degree of humanness an organization possesses will become a competitive advantage.

This means that today’s companies must think about hiring, training, and leading differently. Most of today’s corporate training programs focus on imparting specific knowledge that will likely become obsolete over time.

Instead of hiring for portfolios of specific subject knowledge, organizations should instead hire—and train—for more foundational skills, whose value can’t erode away as easily.

Recently, educational consulting firm Hanover Research looked at high-growth occupations identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and determined the core skills required in each of them based on a database that it had developed. The most valuable skills were active listening, speaking, and critical thinking—giving lie to the dismissive term soft skills. They’re not soft; they’re human.


This doesn’t mean that STEM skills won’t be important in the future. But organizations will find that their most valuable employees are those with both math and social skills.

That’s because technical skills will become more perishable as AI shifts the pace of technology change from linear to exponential. Employees will require constant retraining over time. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is already outdated by the time students graduate, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF’s report further notes that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.” By contrast, human skills such as interpersonal communication and project management will remain consistent over the years.

For example, organizations already report that they are having difficulty finding people equipped for the Big Data era’s hot job: data scientist. That’s because data scientists need a combination of hard and soft skills. Data scientists can’t just be good programmers and statisticians; they also need to be intuitive and inquisitive and have good communication skills. We don’t expect all these qualities from our engineering graduates, nor from most of our employees.

But we need to start.

From Self-Help to Self-Skills

Even if most schools and employers have yet to see it, employees are starting to understand that their future viability depends on improving their innately human qualities. One of the most popular courses on Coursera, an online learning platform, is called Learning How to Learn. Created by the University of California, San Diego, the course is essentially a master class in human skills: students learn everything from memory techniques to dealing with procrastination and communicating complicated ideas, according to an article in The New York Times.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing.

Although there is a longstanding assumption that social skills are innate, nothing is further from the truth. As the popularity of Learning How to Learn attests, human skills—everything from learning skills to communication skills to empathy—can, and indeed must, be taught.

These human skills are integral for training workers for a workplace where artificial intelligence and automation are part of the daily routine. According to the WEF’s New Vision for Education report, the skills that employees will need in the future fall into three primary categories:

  • Foundational literacies: These core skills needed for the coming age of robotics and AI include understanding the basics of math, science, computing, finance, civics, and culture. While mastery of every topic isn’t required, workers who have a basic comprehension of many different areas will be richly rewarded in the coming economy.
  • Competencies: Developing competencies requires mastering very human skills, such as active listening, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
  • Character qualities: Over the next decade, employees will need to master the skills that will help them grasp changing job duties and responsibilities. This means learning the skills that help employees acquire curiosity, initiative, persistence, grit, adaptability, leadership, and social and cultural awareness.


The good news is that learning human skills is not completely divorced from how work is structured today. Yonatan Zunger, a Google engineer with a background working with AI, argues that there is a considerable need for human skills in the workplace already—especially in the tech world. Many employees are simply unaware that when they are working on complicated software or hardware projects, they are using empathy, strategic problem solving, intuition, and interpersonal communication.

The unconscious deployment of human skills takes place even more frequently when employees climb the corporate ladder into management. “This is closely tied to the deeper difference between junior and senior roles: a junior person’s job is to find answers to questions; a senior person’s job is to find the right questions to ask,” says Zunger.

Human skills will be crucial to navigating the AI-infused workplace. There will be no shortage of need for the right questions to ask.

One of the biggest changes narrow AI tools will bring to the workplace is an evolution in how work is performed. AI-based tools will automate repetitive tasks across a wide swath of industries, which means that the day-to-day work for many white-collar workers will become far more focused on tasks requiring problem solving and critical thinking. These tasks will present challenges centered on interpersonal collaboration, clear communication, and autonomous decision-making—all human skills.

Being More Human Is Hard

However, the human skills that are essential for tomorrow’s AI-ified workplace, such as interpersonal communication, project planning, and conflict management, require a different approach from traditional learning. Often, these skills don’t just require people to learn new facts and techniques; they also call for basic changes in the ways individuals behave on—and off—the job.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing. As science gains a better understanding of how the human brain works, many behaviors that affect employees on the job are understood to be universal and natural rather than individual (see “Human Skills 101”).

Human Skills 101

As neuroscience has improved our understanding of the brain, human skills have become increasingly quantifiable—and teachable.

Though the term soft skills has managed to hang on in the popular lexicon, our understanding of these human skills has increased to the point where they aren’t soft at all: they are a clearly definable set of skills that are crucial for organizations in the AI era.

Active listening: Paying close attention when receiving information and drawing out more information than received in normal discourse

Critical thinking: Gathering, analyzing, and evaluating issues and information to come to an unbiased conclusion

Problem solving: Finding solutions to problems and understanding the steps used to solve the problem

Decision-making: Weighing the evidence and options at hand to determine a specific course of action

Monitoring: Paying close attention to an issue, topic, or interaction in order to retain information for the future

Coordination: Working with individuals and other groups to achieve common goals

Social perceptiveness: Inferring what others are thinking by observing them

Time management: Budgeting and allocating time for projects and goals and structuring schedules to minimize conflicts and maximize productivity

Creativity: Generating ideas, concepts, or inferences that can be used to create new things

Curiosity: Desiring to learn and understand new or unfamiliar concepts

Imagination: Conceiving and thinking about new ideas, concepts, or images

Storytelling: Building narratives and concepts out of both new and existing ideas

Experimentation: Trying out new ideas, theories, and activities

Ethics: Practicing rules and standards that guide conduct and guarantee rights and fairness

Empathy: Identifying and understanding the emotional states of others

Collaboration: Working with others, coordinating efforts, and sharing resources to accomplish a common project

Resiliency: Withstanding setbacks, avoiding discouragement, and persisting toward a larger goal

Resistance to change, for example, is now known to result from an involuntary chemical reaction in the brain known as the fight-or-flight response, not from a weakness of character. Scientists and psychologists have developed objective ways of identifying these kinds of behaviors and have come up with universally applicable ways for employees to learn how to deal with them.

Organizations that emphasize such individual behavioral traits as active listening, social perceptiveness, and experimentation will have both an easier transition to a workplace that uses AI tools and more success operating in it.

Framing behavioral training in ways that emphasize its practical application at work and in advancing career goals helps employees feel more comfortable confronting behavioral roadblocks without feeling bad about themselves or stigmatized by others. It also helps organizations see the potential ROI of investing in what has traditionally been dismissed as touchy-feely stuff.

In fact, offering objective means for examining inner behaviors and tools for modifying them is more beneficial than just leaving the job to employees. For example, according to research by psychologist Tasha Eurich, introspection, which is how most of us try to understand our behaviors, can actually be counterproductive.

Human beings are complex creatures. There is generally way too much going on inside our minds to be able to pinpoint the conscious and unconscious behaviors that drive us to act the way we do. We wind up inventing explanations—usually negative—for our behaviors, which can lead to anxiety and depression, according to Eurich’s research.

Structured, objective training can help employees improve their human skills without the negative side effects. At SAP, for example, we offer employees a course on conflict resolution that uses objective research techniques for determining what happens when people get into conflicts. Employees learn about the different conflict styles that researchers have identified and take an assessment to determine their own style of dealing with conflict. Then employees work in teams to discuss their different styles and work together to resolve a specific conflict that one of the group members is currently experiencing.

How Knowing One’s Self Helps the Organization

Courses like this are helpful not just for reducing conflicts between individuals and among teams (and improving organizational productivity); they also contribute to greater self-awareness, which is the basis for enabling people to take fullest advantage of their human skills.

Self-awareness is a powerful tool for improving performance at both the individual and organizational levels. Self-aware people are more confident and creative, make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. They are also less likely to lie, cheat, and steal, according to Eurich.

It naturally follows that such people make better employees and are more likely to be promoted. They also make more effective leaders with happier employees, which makes the organization more profitable, according to research by Atuma Okpara and Agwu M. Edwin.

There are two types of self-awareness, writes Eurich. One is having a clear view inside of one’s self: one’s own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. The second type is understanding how others view us in terms of these same categories.

Interestingly, while we often assume that those who possess one type of awareness also possess the other, there is no direct correlation between the two. In fact, just 10% to 15% of people have both, according to a survey by Eurich. That means that the vast majority of us must learn one or the other—or both.

Gaining self-awareness is a process that can take many years. But training that gives employees the opportunity to examine their own behaviors against objective standards and gain feedback from expert instructors and peers can help speed up the journey. Just like the conflict management course, there are many ways to do this in a practical context that benefits employees and the organization alike.

For example, SAP also offers courses on building self-confidence, increasing trust with peers, creating connections with others, solving complex problems, and increasing resiliency in the face of difficult situations—all of which increase self-awareness in constructive ways. These human-skills courses are as popular with our employees as the hard-skill courses in new technologies or new programming techniques.

Depending on an organization’s size, budget, and goals, learning programs like these can include small group training, large lectures, online courses, licensing of third-party online content, reimbursement for students to attain certification, and many other models.

Human Skills Are the Constant

Automation and artificial intelligence will change the workplace in unpredictable ways. One thing we can predict, however, is that human skills will be needed more than ever.

The connection between conflict resolution skills, critical thinking courses, and the rise of AI-aided technology might not be immediately obvious. But these new AI tools are leading us down the path to a much more human workplace.

Employees will interact with their computers through voice conversations and image recognition. Machine learning will find unexpected correlations in massive amounts of data but empathy and creativity will be required for data scientists to figure out the right questions to ask. Interpersonal communication will become even more important as teams coordinate between offices, remote workplaces, and AI aides.

While the future might be filled with artificial intelligence, deep learning, and untold amounts of data, uniquely human capabilities will be the ones that matter. Machines can’t write a symphony, design a building, teach a college course, or manage a department. The future belongs to humans working with machines, and for that, you need human skills. D!


About the Authors

Jenny Dearborn is Chief Learning Officer at SAP.

David Judge is Vice President, SAP Leonardo, at SAP.

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

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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HR In The Age Of Digital Transformation

Neha Makkar Patnaik

HR has come a long way from the days of being called Personnel Management. It’s now known as People & Culture, Employee Experience, or simply People, and the changes in the last few years have been especially far-reaching, to say the least; seismic even.

While focused until recently on topics like efficiency and direct access to HR data and services for individual employees, a new and expanded HR transformation is underway, led by employee experience, cloud capabilities including mobile and continuous upgrades, a renewed focus on talent, as well as the availability of new digital technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. These capabilities are enabling HR re-imagine new ways of delivering HR services and strategies throughout the organization. For example:

  • Use advanced prediction and optimization technologies to shift focus from time-consuming candidate-screening processes to innovative HR strategies and business models that support growth
  • Help employees with tailored career paths, push personalized learning recommendations, suggest mentors and mentees based on skills and competencies
  • Predict flight risk of employees and prescribe mitigation strategies for at-risk talent
  • Leverage intelligent management of high-volume, rules-based events with predictions and recommendations

Whereas the traditional view of HR transformation was all about doing existing things better, the next generation of HR transformation is focused on doing completely new things.

These new digital aspects of HR transformation do not replace the existing focus on automation and efficiency. They work hand in hand and, in many cases, digital technologies can further augment automation. Digital approaches are becoming increasingly important, and a digital HR strategy must be a key component of HR’s overall strategy and, therefore, the business strategy.

For years, HR had been working behind a wall, finally got a seat at the table, and now it’s imperative for CHROs to be a strategic partner in the organization’s digital journey. This is what McKinsey calls “Leading with the G-3” in An Agenda for the Talent-First CEO, in which the CEO, CFO, and CHRO (i.e., the “G-3”) ensure HR and finance work in tandem, with the CEO being the linchpin and the person who ensures the talent agenda is threaded into business decisions and not a passive response or afterthought.

However, technology and executive alignment aren’t enough to drive a company’s digital transformation. At the heart of every organization are its people – its most expensive and valuable asset. Keeping them engaged and motivated fosters an innovation culture that is essential for success. This Gallup study reveals that a whopping 85% of employees worldwide are performing below their potential due to engagement issues.

HR experiences that are based on consumer-grade digital experiences along with a focus on the employee’s personal and professional well-being will help engage every worker, inspiring them to do their best and helping them turn every organization’s purpose into performance. Because, we believe, purpose drives people and people drive business results.

Embark on your HR transformation journey

Has your HR organization created a roadmap to support the transformation agenda? Start a discussion with your team about the current and desired state of HR processes using the framework with this white paper.

Also, read SAP’s HR transformation story within the broader context of SAP’s own transformation.


Neha Makkar Patnaik

About Neha Makkar Patnaik

Neha Makkar Patnaik is a principal consultant at SAP Labs India. As part of the Digital Transformation Office, Neha is responsible for articulating the value proposition for digitizing the office of the CHRO in alignment with the overall strategic priorities of the organization. She also focuses on thought leadership and value-based selling programs for retail and consumer products industries.