3 Millennial Expectations Every E-Commerce Business Needs To Address

Tracy Vides

Ah, the millennials – the generation brought up with the Internet and the rest of the digital revolution! While there may be a good deal of stigma attached to this crowd, there’s no stopping the fact they are flooding the job market and are predicted to spend $1.4 trillion in the U.S. retail market by 2020.

Due the fascinating point in history this age group grew up in, they are an extremely tricky bunch to market and sell to. They have essentially caused a lot of brands to throw out their entire playbook and start from scratch.

Let’s a take a quick look at a couple of the top brands today: Amazon, the leading retailer, does not own any physical stores. Uber, the leader in transportation, does not own any cars. Both of have one thing in common: the point-of-sale happens electronically.

This phenomenon is a big indicator that e-commerce is taking over. Modern shoppers (particularly millennials) have much different values and expectations than shoppers did 20 to 30 years ago. No surprise, therefore, that for most online companies, appealing to a millennial audience has become a top priority. Let’s discuss three of the most prominent expectations these shoppers have for e-commerce businesses.

1. Persuasive social media presence

Hundreds of years from now, when historians discuss the biggest breakthroughs happening early in the second millennium, the rise of social media will undoubtedly be one of the most debated topics.

What took off in the early 2000s now has a collective user count around 2.5 billion, many of them millennials. In fact, a recent survey found that 88% of millennials get their news via Facebook.

With this many eyes on social media, having a strong brand presence on popular outlets is no longer an option. The harsh truth is that millennials are not responsive to traditional ads or played-out sales tactics. While social advertising is proving to be very effective, one of the main goals of your brand’s social media presence must be to give your messaging a playful and humanized tone that connects with the younger audience on a more in-depth level.

Red Bull is well known for its superior social media presence. It uses its accounts to become so much more than just an energy drink. If you follow Red Bull, you’ll see how good it is at promoting original, branded material such as films, competitions, live shows, and of course, user-generated content.

In addition to favoring e-commerce brands with a human touch, millennials value consistency and responsiveness across channels. Be sure you are keeping up with all your accounts in all networks to remain in touch with your audience.

2. Personalized user experience

Even though the development of technology and the evolution of the Internet have done a lot to bring us together as a species, e-commerce is getting more individualized. Millennials are not fazed by traditional marketing and sales pitches. They want interactions to be tailored to their needs.

Unfortunately, there is no formula written in stone about how to deliver the perfect personalized experience.

However, there are certain things you can do to embrace this concept. For example, Amazon’s homepage looks different to each and every customer. Using workflows and user information, it recommends relevant items to customers based around their online behavior.

The overarching goal for retailers is to understand customers’ needs throughout the entire sales funnel. The most effective way to do this by implementing marketing automation within your e-commerce platform. For example, Shopify lets you profile customers, map their journey, market to them across digital channels, and provide a consistent shopping experience across multiple devices, online and in-store.

Personalization has become a staple in many e-commerce operations. In fact, a study by Gartner predicts by 2020, smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable businesses to increase their profits by up to 15%.

Basically, younger audiences want e-commerce companies to show them exactly what they want to see.

3. Transparency

Sales techniques have seen a huge shift as millennials gain spending power. Smartphones have literally given people all the information in the world in the palms of their hands. With this in mind, e-commerce brands need to come to terms with the fact that each buying decision will be well-researched.

“Millennials have changed the old retail model of price obfuscation, especially in online commerce,” says Jason Goldberg, VP of strategy at Razorfish. “They have grown up with transparency and information available to them at their fingertips, so brands have to design their business around transparency.”

Everlane, a luxury clothing store, is a prime example of how to use this concept in a business model. It openly promotes how all of its products are made, from A to Z, directly on its e-commerce website.

It doesn’t hide any manufacturing costs or warehouse details from the public. A lot of companies are known for relying on cheap labor, and the stigma around that helps get Everlane’s transparent approach into millennials’ good books.

Additionally, it maintains a strong social media presence that constantly reinforces its values. For example, it famously gives its audience behind-the-scenes glances at its factories in action via Snapchat. Using raw footage like this puts customers in a better state of mind about their purchases.

Transparency and authenticity are essential for gaining traction with millennials. It’s not just about what you sell anymore. It’s about how you promote it.

Parting words

Millennials are a fascinating group. Apart from the selfies and constant social media updates, they have a lot to offer in terms of digital consumerism. The truth of the matter is the online shopping landscape is incredibly crowded. Regardless of what products or services you provide, chances are there hundreds of other businesses working towards the same goals. Since millennials have been brought up in the middle of this reality, they have no problem looking around until they find an experience that really speaks to them. It’s up to you to differentiate yourself as a brand that meets them where they hang out.

For more on marketing to today’s consumers, see 5 Steps to Your Customer’s Heart with Emotionally Aware Computing.

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About Tracy Vides

Tracy is a content marketer and social media consultant who works with small businesses and startups to increase their visibility. Although new to the digital marketing scene, Tracy has started off well by building a good reputation for herself, with posts featured on Steamfeed, Business 2 Community and elsewhere. Hit her up @TracyVides on Twitter.

Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?

Russell McLean

Consumer products companies are finally able to foster direct relationships with end users of their products. This means engaging them the right way, at the right time, and on the right channel in order to keep pace with the ever-changing demands of today’s digital-savvy consumers.

Engagement and marketing in the past provided no simple way for consumers to share feedback, ask questions, or really get to know the brands they supported. A company’s message was simply received by customers without a platform on which they could respond. Social media has altered that archaic method, and everything is changing.

Social platforms are increasing in popularity, resulting in more informed and engaged consumers.

Just look at the statistics:

  • There’s been a 35 percent increase across the U.S. in average time per week spent on social media
  • Roughly 25 percent of surveyed U.S. users (adults in the United States, 18+ years old) used social media to support their favorite brands

Today’s digital ecosystem presents new opportunities for engagement. Consumers expect brands to listen and react appropriately to what they learn. If a customer is going on vacation or just purchased a new home, companies with relevant products and services should respond accordingly.

Say goodbye to the traditional buying process

Digital-savvy consumers expect personalized shopping experiences, tailored choices, real-time responses, transparent interactions, and closer connections with the brands they support. Why? Because they want to feel empowered.

With plenty of online research, personal recommendations, price comparisons, and customer reviews available at their fingertips, consumers create an interconnected community and chart new paths to purchase. In fact, 78 percent of consumers say they will engage offers only if they have been personalized to their previous engagements with a brand.

No more missed connections

In a digital-first world, consumer products companies should be fast, granular, and connected with customers. It’s not enough to have great products – consumers want an overall brand experience.

I’ve come to discover that many consumer products companies struggle with their digital marketing efforts for three main reasons:

1.  Missed moments: Sending messages at the wrong time

2.  Inauthentic messaging: Sending the wrong message

3.  Failing to engage: Sending a message through the wrong channels

Companies may be able to overcome these issues with a platform that provides insights and direct customer engagement with a customizable experience for corporate-driven campaigns and locally initiated events. That’s where Deloitte Digital’s Consumer Direct solution can help. Sitting within Deloitte Digital’s broader DigitalMix platform, Consumer Direct brings together leading class technologies for multi-brand content management, consumer engagement, and e-commerce, helping to drive the personalized touchpoints companies seek and consumers demand.

Listen and respond to consumers

By taking the guess work out of social listening and providing the tools to respond with the right message, at the right time, the right platform can ultimately drive commerce. Through Deloitte Digital’s ecosystem approach, Consumer Direct is tailored to integrate with most current technology portfolios including:

  • Multi-brand web content management: Through website authoring, publishing, collaboration, and administration tools, users can create and manage content with ease. Depending on the chosen technology, users are able to efficiently organize, store and retrieve rich media assets, and manage digital rights and permissions.
  • Consumer engagement: Sprinklr’s social media management platform helps brands reach, engage, and listen to customers across more than 20 social channels. With offerings specific to marketing, advertising, research, commerce, and customer care, Sprinklr empowers companies to provide a brand experience that consumers crave.
  • E-commerce: The SAP Hybris e-commerce platform enables the electronic exchange of goods and services, online payments and verifications, product catalog, personalized product recommendations, ratings and reviews, and cart features for B2B, B2C, and B2B2C businesses.
  • Customer relationship management: We enlist service providers to enhance the customer relationship journey. Through a customer relationship management platform, we can store customer and prospect contact information, accounts, leads and sales opportunities.

Intrigued? If you’re looking for a way to connect with and deliver superior customer experiences, we should talk. You can also learn how to future-proof your digital business here.

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.

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The Future Of Sales: Bleak Or Bright?

Malin Liden

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at the LinkedIn Sales Executive Forum in London. The topic of the conversation:

Is there a place for sales in an economy where the customer increasingly owns the buying process?

The fact that customers complete up to 70% of their journey and 90% of the buying decision before they want to speak with a vendor is a key driver for social selling. But what’s next—no selling at all?

The audience helped Liam Halpin, head of LinkedIn Sales Solutions in EMEA, answer the question, unanimously predicting that the future of sales remains bright. However, when customers fundamentally change how they buy, we must fundamentally change how we sell.

Asked how sales will evolve in the next years, my answer centers around trust. I believe that we are entering an era of extreme transparency where trust becomes the hardest currency in the economy. Today, if we’re in a sales role and push the customer a little too hard to buy a little more than they want a little sooner than they actually need to, we may damage that particular customer relationship, even if we still have a chance to sell to others.

In the future, when everything about how we treat our customers becomes visible, the price of sacrificing customer experience for a short-term win will not be worth it. It’s ok to win for ourselves and for our company, but the customer must also win—every time—which shifts the focus of customer-facing roles. So my prediction is: The quota crusher is dead; long live the customer success manager!

Here are the top trends that I believe will shape the future of sales:

  • Sales and marketing are converging: When the customer journey is not predictable and there isn’t a straight funnel with a clear handover between sales and marketing, we need to work together much more closely, becoming stewards of a buyers’ journey. This also means we need to measure success differently.
  • Advocacy rules: People connect to people, not functions. We must take advantage of expertise and networks, irrespective of roles and titles. Someone in our own HR team may be the best seller of HR technology based on their expertise, credibility, and network. This is also why it becomes increasingly important to nurture communities of people who are invested in your brand, product, and purpose.
  • Technology becomes the foundation for success: Sales is about relationships, and that happens at a human level. However, we’ll have to be much more sophisticated when it comes to how we develop quality relationships at scale, supported by technology. Customer-facing roles will have intelligent systems around them, helping identify the right time to touch a customer with what specific message. Some of these touchpoints will be automated, and that’s fine—as long as every touchpoint adds value to the customer.

The bottom line: In an environment where the customer owns their journey, you must add value in every interaction, and you can’t annoy your customer, ever. If you hijack a customer’s screen with an ad, interrupt content they want to consume, or make them feel stalked by phone calls when they are not ready to talk to you, you spend relationship capital and pay too high a price.

Already today, 86% of B2B buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as criteria for purchase. If you want to win in a transparent, digital economy where experience rules, the customer can never feel like you’re chasing and pushing them. They must feel like they are in control of finding what they need to make the best possible decision for their company.

We’re there to assist and guide them, not hunt them down. That’s going from push to pull, putting the customer at the center of an approach where selling becomes serving.

For more on this topic, see Step One Of The E-Commerce Journey: Customer-Centered Design.

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Malin Liden

About Malin Liden

Malin Liden is vice president of Digital Experience at SAP.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Outside the Margins

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing New Worlds

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

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

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

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

Do You Need a Futurist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

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

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

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

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make the Future Part of the Culture

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

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

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


About the Authors

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

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

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


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

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About Dan Wellers

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

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

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

About Stephanie Overby

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Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

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

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

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

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

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

How will jobs change?

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

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

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

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

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

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

So, what skills are needed?

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

Today's workplace reality

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

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