5 Reasons You'll Embrace Digital Transformation In 2016

Dinesh Sharma

Without a doubt, the lives of everyone on this planet has been impacted by the digital economy. Approximately 2 billion of us don’t leave our homes without a smartphone in hand. We shop online for almost every conceivable product. And for the 57% who are still unconnected, they are benefiting from a growing social community that is exchanging ideas, influencing governments worldwide, inspiring change, creating awareness of injustice, and coordinating aid to those in need.

At the same time, a growing number of companies are extending the possibilities of hyperconnectivity. Kaeser Kompressoren is embedding sensors in its systems to predict potential breakdowns and generate revenue by tracking the volume of compressed air consumed by its customers. Haier Asia is doubling up its digital platform to get closer to its customers and give them exactly what they want. Even Europe’s second-largest port found a way to increase capacity by 150% without physically expanding its bustling facility.

For these companies, digital transformation is not just a strategic move – it’s a fundamental part of their survival and overall business model. In fact, a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) revealed that 59% of executives view the failure to adapt to hyperconnectivity is their organization’s biggest threat.

2016: The year of real digital transformation

Despite all of this change, we have yet to scratch the surface of the possibilities the digital economy offers. Mark my words: 2016 will further prove the transformational power of the digital economy.

As we prepare to usher in a new year, here are my top predictions of how the digital economy will continue to revolutionize everything:

1. Digital masters will emerge – and win every time.

Companies that digitally transform everything they do and touch will further differentiate themselves from those that just dabble in digital services. Although the EIU reports that 19% of companies are radically changing their business model to seize the opportunities hyperconnectivity offers, they are becoming powerful brands.

Take Nike, for example. The well-known sports apparel company has transformed itself into a fitness and lifestyle brand. By actively engaging with customers through social media, mobile technology, and embedded sensors, it is fostering an empowered community. From tracking diet, activity, and fitness progress to sending reminders to get their customers moving, Nike is making sure that their customers have the support they need – whenever and wherever they need it. 

2. Digital Darwinism will become a significant threat.

Technology and society are evolving at a pace that is simply too difficult for many organizations to keep up with.  In fact, according to some predictions, 40% of the Fortune 500 are expected to no longer exist within 10 years if they do not evolve soon.

To survive, companies must be not only the strongest and the most intelligent, but they also must adapt to change.  We have all seen this firsthand as we spent the last 20 years saying goodbye to brand leaders that resisted the call and opportunity to digitize. So for the 81% that are not taking digital transformation seriously, make 2016 the year you start to get serious.

3. Digital transformation will be pervasive across every area of the business. 

To be truly transformed, companies must go beyond window dressing the customer experience, embedding a few sensors to monitor production, and monetizing a service with digital technology. They must reach deep into the bare bones of the company, going as far as human resources and finance and as high up as the executive boardroom.

Digital transformation is just the enabler – real change happens when the business culture, leadership, and processes of profit centers and cost centers embrace it and evolve with it. The cloud, mobile technology, networks, and analytics present every business area with a unique opportunity to gain greater efficiency, perform instant data analysis, and achieve better collaboration. Not only does digital transformation help companies modernize and become an attractive employer brand for younger talent, but it also creates a seamless customer experience, promotes more effective collaboration, and empowers the entire workforce.

One brand that shows the power of such an undertaking is Burberry. Famous for its digital retail experience online and in physical stores, the luxury retailer has taken its personalization strategy to its employees too. By making it easier for employees in all areas to sell the brand to customers, Burberry is experiencing increased engagement across its workforce. And in the end, that means a better customer experience – anytime, anywhere, and through any channel.

4. The sales funnel will disappear – for good.

For decades, the sales funnel has been used as a visual representation of separating qualified buyers from the rest of the prospect pool. However, thanks to the Internet and social network, the sales process has accelerated to the point where the funnel is no longer relevant.

CEB recently uncovered that the average buyer is 57% through the purchase decision process before their first interaction with a sales representative or channel. Plus, companies only have 12% of their customer’s mindshare through the buying experience.  As a result, customers tend to fall through the funnel undetected and without a defined journey.

Through digital transformation, sales and marketing can better address this issue by providing multiple touch points that can make the brand accessible to every existing and potential customer – no matter the path taken. Along the way, data should be collected, consolidated, and distributed across the enterprise to provide insight and power decisions at the moment of the interaction.

5. Cryptocurrency will pave the way for better data security. 

Bitcoin. Drones. Virtual reality. Cloud. All of these emerging technologies has drawn a fair amount of press lately. However, there are always naysayers fearful that these innovations will not measure up in terms of protection from cyberattacks and data breaches. And probably the most eyebrow-raising one of all is cryptocurrency. However, Bitcoin has included a level of security into its ecosystem: The blockchain.

Through redundancy, computational compliance, and high-speed processing, all transactions are logged on a publicly available general ledger and copied across thousands of servers. When a transaction is initiated, every one of those servers must agree that the information given is accurate. Should someone try to cheat or hack into the ecosystem, it will be rejected as soon as the new account identifier is detected to be unidentifiable.

Is it possible that someone can work faster than these servers? According to The Economist, it is nearly impossible to generate a new version of the blockchain quick enough to overtake more than half of the servers controlling it. As computing power and speed increases, so will the servers’ ability to process information faster than the most-competent blockchain miners.

What do you think of these predictions? Dust off your crystal ball and share how you foresee the digital economy evolving!


Learn more about what’s possible for your business in the digital economy. Check out these reports detailing the Economist Intelligence Unit’s research:



About Dinesh Sharma

Dinesh Sharma is the Vice President of Digital Economy at SAP. He is a GM-level technology executive with leadership, technical innovation, effective strategic planning, customer and partner engagement, turnaround management and focused operational execution experience at both large enterprise and startup companies. Share your thoughts with Dinesh on Twitter @sharmad

Why Insurance Will Be Bigger – And Invisible – In 20 Years

Derek Klobucher

You might want to take a mental snapshot of what insurance looks like, because children born today could make up first generation that won’t know what insurance is. That’s not because insurance won’t be a thing; it will just look a lot different in 20 years.

“Insurance will be much bigger, and there will probably be more – because there will be many more risks,” SAP global head of insurance Bob Cummings said recently during his keynote at the SAP Digital Insurance Innovation Summit near San Francisco.

Cummings realized this as he imagined how much technology would change by the time his niece’s newborn daughter, Aliénor, reaches the age of 21. By then, Cummings predicts, vendors might only sell insurance when it’s packaged together with other services.

Insurance will be a much bigger industry in 20 years, but it may also be unrecognizable from what it is today.

Bundle up for protection

ADT Security Services and insurance provider State Farm have already paired up to safeguard customers against burglary, flooding, fire, and more. The same protection package is available from each company’s website, with a single app to control it all.

And more technological improvements for Aliénor and her cohort are sure to follow over the next two decades.

“The company at that time will probably tell her, ‘We’re so convinced of our burglary protection that – if you do get burgled and we don’t manage to stop the burglar – we’ll pay you up to $200,000,’” Cummings said. “And the RFID tags and batteries will be so advanced that there will even be theft protection for where her things go.”

Customers of the new insurance company Tr­­­ōv can already protect their valuables by turning coverage of individual items on and off – whenever they like – via their mobile device, as demonstrated in a video that Cummings shared during his keynote. Users can also file loss or damage claims simply by answering a few questions on the mobile app.

Staying a step ahead

This kind of industry fluidity, in which different organizations join forces to offer something greater than the sum of their parts, also happens right now with data. Applications currently available to insurance companies can combine historic customer data with real-time insights, such as his online searches for a car or home.

“This is all very relevant, very time-critical information because – by the time he actually contacts us – he will have done a lot of comparisons,” SAP’s Roland Bloesch said at the summit. “And if we can engage with the customer before that – earlier in the customer journey – we will be able to talk about the price and value-added services.”

This bundling of different data is also critical for predictive analytics, which can forecast the customer’s next priorities, according to Bloesch, SAP’s insurance customer engagement head. Brokers, agents, and advisers can use that information for active outreach – instead of just waiting for the customer to call.

Digital picture of health

Aliénor and her cohort will probably travel more than young 20-somethings today, Cummings predicted. And travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet is already trying to make travel safer and easier for them by digitizing its vast repository.

“They see a world where you’re walking around in Vietnam, and they say, ‘Turn left over here because there’s a cool temple,’” Cummings said of Lonely Planet’s efforts. “And they’re already including insurance.”

Beyond helping Aliénor and her friends safely see the world, new insurance products could also help them mitigate risks to their wealth and business – and even their health, according to Cummings. Biotechnology company Livongo and the Vitality wellness program use high-tech to offer consumer-style experiences in healthcare, providing feedback, encouragement, and incentives to people who keep their fitness up – and health insurance costs down.

A picture will last longer

“A lot of those models are already emerging,” Cummings said. “I don’t think we have to wait until Aliénor is 21 years old to start imagining these kinds of things.”

So make that mental note of what insurance looks like today. Because it might not look that way for much longer.

Learn more about SAP’s insurance industry solutions.


About Derek Klobucher

Derek Klobucher is a Brand Journalist, Content Marketer and Master Digital Storyteller at SAP. His responsibilities include conceiving, developing and conducting global, company-wide employee brand journalism training; managing content, promotion and strategy for social networks and online media; and mentoring SAP employees, contractors and interns to optimize blogging and social media efforts.

Can The Social Enterprise Reshape Big Business?

Perry Manross

At the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) 2016 in Hong Kong last week, hundreds of social enterprises, corporates, and policymakers from across the globe convened to advocate and debate the role of social enterprise (SE) in our future economy. One statement that latched on to me was this:

Corporates should make social enterprises their role models.

This wasn’t from a social enterprise; this was from PwC Network vice chairman Richard Collier Keywood. Yes, a corporate that makes a living delivering outcomes for corporates.

The fundamental question: Can commercial organizations really subscribe to this statement? Obviously, PwC does. But how realistic is it for publicly listed organizations to adopt the principles of a social enterprise? And how advisable?

First step: Come to an understanding of what social enterprise really is. The prevailing perception I’d distilled from admittedly limited exposure is that the social enterprise sector comprises a band of idealists bent on disrupting business as usual, favoring social impact over profit. In other words, while corporates do well, social enterprises do good.

I knew going into the Forum that this understanding was simplistic, but more importantly, by the end of it, I realized it was just plain wrong. Social enterprises have to be much more entrepreneurially savvy than corporates to simply stay alive. Social enterprises have to do good and do well. They need to return social impact and stay in business. Oh, and their goods and services need to be as strong, and probably stronger than those of traditional businesses.

Take corporate MacDonald’s – each year they return billions in profit and still the pangs of hundreds of millions. DC Central Kitchen – one of the social enterprise speakers at SEWF in Hong Kong – on the other hand, returns much more modest profits but also serves nutritious meals to scores of disadvantaged communities, integrates local farmers into its supply chain, and provides employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated talent.

It’s a far harder gig than most realize. While the mainstream start-up crowd laments their long hours and crusades for venture capital, social entrepreneurs sleep even less and rely financially on debt or slower organic growth, as most VCs conveniently see social enterprise as “not our sweet spot.” And that’s just “starting up,” to say nothing of “staying up.”

A new understanding value and success

Can corporates be expected or expect themselves to do well and do good and at the same time deliver shareholder value? After listening to the trials and tribulations of scores of social enterprises at SEWF, my take is: not quite yet, but very soon.

From taking in the content at the SEWF, the fundamental challenge I see is that SEs need a larger, more knowledgeable and more committed ecosystem backing them – an ecosystem with some alternative if not divergent thinking about the what “value” and “success” mean.

Generally speaking (as the social enterprise scene is vastly different across markets) when it comes to engaging SEs, VCs are reluctant, governments are timid, corporates are often clueless (including myself), consumers are indifferent and shareholders can be adamantly opposed.

The ecosystem necessary to catapult the social enterprise sector into the mainstream has been conditioned for decades if not for centuries to understand success as revenue, share price, monetary return, growth, and market share. Not until a new, shared understanding of return – based at least in part on social impact – becomes standard will the greater required ecosystem mobilise to scale the social enterprise sector. VCs and shareholders will need to reimagine return, governments their citizen services, corporates their business models and consumers what it means to have a delightful experience. No mean feats.

Yet we know this is coming. There is momentum – what customers and employees are demanding of an organisation is rapidly evolving. Corporates are already mobilising – if not to become more social-enterprise-like, at least to directly support them by recruiting them into their supply chains, providing mentors and volunteers and advocating their causes.

SAP, for example, has been engaging social enterprises worldwide through its Social Sabbatical programs, where top talent from across its global operations team up to inject expertise into promising social start-ups.

Not for profits are also scaling their enablement of social enterprise. In the UK, for example, contributions from charities to incubate or scale social enterprises went form 17% of spend to 38% in just two years.

But for the corporates to reimagine success, social enterprise can’t be just a CSR program. This has to be a COO, CFO and CEO program – integrated into the culture, vision, mission, and strategy of an organization.

Big, bold statements

As established as the social enterprise sector is – decades, really – in most markets it hasn’t scaled, and until our measures of success change it won’t reach its potential.

I think we’re still grappling with awareness; hence this post and others to come. I’m no “thought leader.” I’m on a journey to understand, and I hope the stories I share will entice others not so experienced in the social-enterprise sector to join me. More importantly, I hope those who are experienced in this space will comment, correct, guide, and inspire me and others to learn more and build that better understanding.


This story also appeared on the SAP Community Network.


Perry Manross

About Perry Manross

Perry Manross is Head of Global Corporate Affairs for SAP Australia and New Zealand.

From E-Business to V-Business

Josh Waddell, Pascal Lessard, Lori Mitchell-Keller, and Fawn Fitter

Some moments are so instantly, indelibly etched into pop culture that they shape the way we think for years to come. For virtual reality (VR), that moment may have been the scene in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix when the Keanu Reeves character Neo learns that his entire life has been a computer-generated simulation so fully realized that he could have lived it out never knowing that he was actually an inert body in an isolation tank. Ever since, that has set the benchmark for VR: as a digital experience that seems completely, convincingly real.

Today, no one is going to be unaware, Matrix-like, that they’re wearing an Oculus Rift or a Google Cardboard headset, but the virtual worlds already available to us are catching up to what we’ve imagined they could be at a startling rate. It’s been hard to miss all the Pokémon Go players bumping into one another on the street as they chased animated characters rendered in augmented reality (AR), which overlays and even blends digital artifacts seamlessly with the actual environment around us.

Believe the Hype

For all the justifiable hype about the exploding consumer market for VR and, to a lesser extent, AR, there’s surprisingly little discussion of their latent business value—and that’s a blind spot that companies and CIOs can’t afford to have. It hasn’t been that long since consumer demand for the iPhone and iPad forced companies, grumbling all the way, into finding business cases for them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images1If digitally enhanced reality generates even half as much consumer enthusiasm as smartphones and tablets, you can expect to see a new wave of consumerization of IT as employees who have embraced VR and AR at home insist on bringing it to the workplace. This wave of consumerization could have an even greater impact than the last one. Rather than risk being blindsided for a second time, organizations would be well advised to take a proactive approach and be ready with potential business uses for VR and AR technologies by the time they invade the enterprise.

They don’t have much time to get started.

The two technologies are already making inroads in fields as diverse as medicine, warehouse operations, and retail. And make no mistake: the possibilities are breathtaking. VR can bring human eyes to locations that are difficult, dangerous, or physically impossible for the human body, while AR can deliver vast amounts of contextual information and guidance at the precise time and place they’re needed.

As consumer adoption and acceptance drives down costs, enterprise use cases for VR and AR will blossom. In fact, these technologies could potentially revolutionize the way companies communicate, manage employees, and digitize and automate operations. Yet revolution is rarely bloodless. The impact will probably alter many aspects of the workplace that we currently take for granted, and we need to think through the implications of those changes.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images2Digital Realities, Defined

VR and AR are related, but they’re not so much siblings as cousins. VR is immersive. It creates a fully realized digital environment that users experience through goggles or screens (and sometimes additional equipment that provides physical feedback) that make them feel like they’re surrounded by and interacting entirely within this created world.

AR, by contrast, is additive. It displays text or images in glasses, on a window or windshield, or inside a mirror, but the user is still aware of and interacting with reality. There is also an emerging hybrid called “mixed reality,” which is essentially AR with VR-quality digital elements, that superimposes holographic images on reality so convincingly that trying to touch them is the only way to be sure they aren’t actually there.

Although VR is a hot topic, especially in the consumer gaming world, AR has far more enterprise use cases, and several enterprise apps are already in production. In fact, industry analyst Digi-Capital forecasts that while VR companies will generate US$30 billion in revenue by 2020, AR companies will generate $120 billion, or four times as much.

Both numbers are enormous, especially given how new the VR/AR market is. As recently as 2014, it barely existed, and almost nothing available was appropriate for enterprise users. What’s more, the market is evolving so quickly that standards and industry leaders have yet to emerge. There’s no guarantee that early market entrants like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and HTC’s Vive will continue to exist, never mind set enduring benchmarks.

Nonetheless, it’s already clear that these technologies will have a major impact on both internal and customer-facing business. They will make customer service more accurate, personalized, and relevant. They will reduce human risk and enhance public safety. They will streamline operations and smash physical boundaries. And that’s just the beginning.

Cleveland Clinic: Healing from the Next Room

Medicine is already testing the limits of learning with VR and AR.

sap_q316_digital_double_feature1_imageseightThe most potentially disruptive operational use of VR and AR could be in education and training. With VR, students can be immersed in any environment, from medieval architecture to molecular biology, in classroom groups or on demand, to better understand what they’re studying. And no industry is pursuing this with more enthusiasm than medicine. Even though Google Glass hasn’t been widely adopted elsewhere, for example, it’s been a big success story in the medical world.

Pamela Davis, MD, senior vice president for medical affairs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of the leading proponents of medical education using VR and AR. She’s the dean of the university’s medical school, which is working with Cleveland Clinic to develop the Microsoft HoloLens “mixed reality” device for medical education and training, turning MRIs and other conventional 2D medical images into 3D images that can be projected at the site of a procedure for training and guidance during surgery. “As you push a catheter into the heart or place a deep brain stimulation electrode, you can see where you want to be and guide your actions by watching the hologram,” Davis explains.

The HoloLens can also be programmed as a “lead” device that transmits those images and live video to other “learner” devices, allowing the person wearing the lead device to provide oversight and input. This will enable a single doctor to demonstrate a delicate procedure up-close to multiple students at once, or do patient examinations remotely in an emergency or epidemic.

Davis herself was convinced of the technology’s broader potential during a demonstration in which she put on a learner HoloLens and rewired a light switch, something decidedly outside her expertise, under the guidance of an engineer wearing a lead HoloLens in the next room. In the near future, she predicts, it will help people perform surgery and other sensitive, detailed tasks not just from the next room, but from the next state or country.

Customer Experience: From E-Commerce to V-Commerce

Consumers are already getting used to sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images3thinking of VR and AR in the context of entertainment. Companies interested in the technologies should be thinking about how they might engage consumers as part of the buying experience.

Because the technologies deliver more information and a better shopping experience with less effort, e-commerce is going to give rise to v-commerce, where people research, interact with, and share products in VR and AR before they order them online or go to a store to make a purchase.

Online eyewear retailers already allow people to “try on” glasses virtually and share the images with friends to get their feedback, but that’s rudimentary compared to what’s emerging.

Mirrors as Personal Shoppers

Clothing stores from high-end boutiques to low-end fashion chains are experimenting with AR mirrors that take the shopper’s measurements and recommend outfits, showing what items look like without requiring the customer to undress.

Instant Designer Shows

Luxury design house Dior uses Oculus Rift VR goggles to let its well-heeled customers experience a runway show without flying to Paris.

Custom Shopping Malls

British designer Allison Crank has created an experimental VR shopping mall. As people walk through it, they encounter virtual people (and the occasional zoo animal) and shop in stores stocked only with items that users are most likely to buy, based on past purchase information and demographic data.

A New Perspective

IKEA’s AR application lets shoppers envisage a piece of furniture in the room they plan to use it in. They can look at products from the point of view of a specific height—useful for especially tall or short customers looking for comfortable furniture or for parents trying to design rooms that are safe for a toddler or a young child.

Painless Do-it-Yourself Instructions

Instead of forcing customers to puzzle over a diagram or watch an online video, companies will be able to offer customers detailed VR or AR demonstrations that show how to assemble and disassemble products for use, cleaning, and storage.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images4Operations and Management: Revealing the Details

The customer-facing benefits of VR and AR are inarguably flashy, but it’s in internal business use that these technologies promise to shine brightest: boosting efficiency and productivity, eliminating previously unavoidable risks, and literally giving employers and managers new ways to look at information and operations. The following examples aren’t blue-sky cases; experts say they’re promising, realistic, and just around the corner.

Real-Time Guidance

A combination of AR glasses and audio essentially creates a user-specific, contextually relevant guidance system that confirms that wearers are in the right place, looking at the right thing, and taking the right action. This technology could benefit almost any employee who is not working at a desk: walking field service reps through repair procedures, guiding miners to the best escape route in an emergency, or optimizing home health aides’ driving routes and giving them up-to-date instructions and health data when they arrive at each patient’s home.

Linking to the Hidden

AR technology will be able to display any type of information the wearer needs to know. Linked to facial identification software, it could help police officers identify suspects or missing persons in real time. Used to visualize thermal gradients, chemical signatures, radioactivity, and other things that are invisible to the naked eye, it could help researchers refine their experiments or let insurance claims assessors spot arson. Similarly, VR will allow users to create and manipulate detailed three-dimensional models of everything from molecules to large machinery so that they can examine, explore, and change them.

Reducing the Human Risk

VR will allow users to perform high-risk jobs while reducing their need to be in harm’s way. The users will be able to operate equipment remotely while seeing exactly what they would if they were there, a use case that is ideal for industries like mining, firefighting, search and rescue, and toxic site cleanup. While VR won’t necessarily eliminate the need for humans to perform these high-risk jobs, it will improve their safety, and it will allow companies to pursue new opportunities in situations that remain too dangerous for humans.

Reducing the Commercial Risk

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images5VR can also reduce an entirely different type of operational risk: that of introducing new products and services. Manufacturers can let designers or even customers “test” a product, gather their feedback, and tweak the design accordingly before the product ever goes into production. Indeed, auto manufacturer Ford has already created a VR Immersion Lab for its engineers, which, among other things, helped them redesign the interior of the 2015 Ford Mustang to make the dashboard and windshield wipers more user-friendly, according to Fortune. In addition to improving customer experience, this application of VR is likely to accelerate product development and shorten time to market.

Similarly, retailers can use VR to create and test branch or franchise location designs on the fly to optimize traffic flow, product display, the accessibility of products, and even decor. Instead of building models or concept stores, a designer will be able to create the store design with VR, do a virtual walkthrough with executives, and adjust it in real time until it achieves the desired effect.

Seeing in Tongues

At some point, we will see an AR app that can translate written language in near-real time, which will dramatically streamline global business communications. Mobile apps already exist to do this in certain languages, so it’s just a matter of time before we can slip on glasses that let us read menus, signs, agendas, and documents in our native tongue.

Decide with the Eye

More dramatically, AR project management software will be able to deliver real-time data at a literal glance. On a construction site, for example, simply scanning the area could trigger data about real-time costs, supply inventories, planned versus actual spending, employee and equipment scheduling, and more. By linking to construction workers’ own AR glasses that provide information about what to know and do at any given location and time, managers could also evaluate and adjust workloads.

Squeeze Distance

Farther in the future, VR and AR will create true telepresence, enhancing collaboration and potentially replacing in-person meetings. Users could transmit AR holograms of themselves to someone else’s office, allowing them to be seen as if they were in the room. We could have VR workspaces with high-fidelity avatars that transmit characteristic facial expressions and gestures. Companies could show off a virtual product in a virtual room with virtual coworkers, on demand.

Reduce Carbon Footprint

If nothing else, true telepresence could practically eliminate business travel costs. More critically, though, in an era of rising temperatures and shrinking resources, the ability to create and view virtual people and objects rather than manufacturing and transporting physical artifacts also conserves materials and reduces the use of fossil fuel.

Employees: Under Observation

The strength of digitally enhanced reality—and AR in particular—is its ability to determine a user’s context and deliver relevant information accordingly. This makes it valuable for monitoring and managing employee behavior and performance. Employees could, for example, use the location and time data recorded by AR glasses to prove that they were (or weren’t) in a particular place at a particular time. The same glasses could provide them with heads-up guided navigation, alert employers that they’re due for a legally mandated break, verify that they completed an assigned task, and confirm hours worked without requiring them to fill out a timesheet.

However, even as these capabilities improve data governance and help manage productivity, they also raise critical issues of privacy and autonomy (see The Norms of Virtual Behavior). If you’re an employee using VR or AR technology, and if your company is leveraging it to monitor your performance, who owns that information? Who’s allowed to use it, and for what purposes? These are still open legal questions for these technologies.

Another unsettled—and unsettling—question is how far employers can use these technologies to direct employees’ work. While employers have the right to tell employees how to do their jobs, autonomy is a key component of workplace satisfaction. The extent to which employees are required to let a pair of AR glasses govern their actions could have a direct impact on hiring and retention.

Finally, these technologies could be one more step toward greater automation. A warehouse-picking AR application that guides pickers to the appropriate product faster makes them more productive and saves them from having to memorize hundreds or even thousands of SKUs. But the same technology that can guide a person will also be able to guide a semiautonomous robot.

The Norms of Virtual Behavior

VR and AR could disrupt our social norms and take identity hacking to a new level.

The future of AR and VR isn’t without its hazards. We’ve all witnessed how distracting and even dangerous smartphones can be, but at least people have to pull a phone out of a pocket before getting lost in the screen. What happens when the distraction is sitting on their faces?

This technology is going to affect how we interact, both in the workplace and out of it. The annoyance verging on rage that met the first people wearing Google Glass devices in public proves that we’re going to need to evolve new social norms. We’ll need to signal how engaged we are with what’s right in front of us when we’re wearing AR glasses, what we’re doing with the glasses while we interact, or whether we’re paying attention at all.

More sinister possibilities will present themselves down the line. How do you protect sensitive data from being accessed by unauthorized or “shadow” VR/AR devices? How do you prove you’re the one operating your avatar in a virtual meeting? How do you know that the person across from you is who they say they are and not a competitor or industrial spy who’s stolen a trusted avatar? How do you keep someone from hacking your VR or AR equipment to send you faulty data, flood your field of vision with disturbing images, or even direct you into physical danger?

As the technology gets more sophisticated, VR and AR vendors will have to start addressing these issues.

Technical Challenges

To realize the full business value of VR and AR, companies will need to tackle certain technical challenges. To be precise, they’ll have to wait for the vendors to take them on, because the market is still so new that standards and practices are far from mature.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images6For one thing, successful implementation requires devices (smartphones, tablets, and glasses, for now) that are capable of delivering, augmenting, and overlaying information in a meaningful way. Only in the last year or so has the available hardware progressed beyond problems like overheating with demand, too-small screens, low-resolution cameras, insufficient memory, and underpowered batteries. While hardware is improving, so many vendors have emerged that companies have a hard time choosing among their many options.
The proliferation of devices has also increased software complexity. For enterprise VR and AR to take off, vendors need to create software that can run on the maximum number of devices with minimal modifications. Otherwise, companies are limited to software based on what it’s capable of doing on their hardware of choice, rather than software that meets their company’s needs.

The lack of standards only adds to the confusion. Porting data to VR or AR systems is different from mobilizing front-end or even back-end systems, because it requires users to enter, display, and interact with data in new ways. For devices like AR glasses that don’t use a keyboard or touch screen, vendors must determine how to enter data (voice recognition? eye tracking? image recognition?), how to display it legibly in any given environment, and whether to develop their own user interface tools or work with a third party.

Finally, delivering convincing digital enhancements to reality demands such vast amounts of data that many networks simply can’t accommodate it. Much as videoconferencing didn’t truly take off until high-speed broadband became widely available, VR and AR adoption will lag until a zero-latency infrastructure exists to
support them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images7Coming Soon to a Face Near You

For all that VR and AR solutions have improved dramatically in a short time, they’re still primarily supplemental to existing systems, and not just because the software is still evolving. Wearables still have such limited processing power, memory, and battery life that they can handle only a small amount of information. That said, hardware is catching up quickly (see The Supporting Cast).

The Supporting Cast

VR and AR would still be science fiction if it weren’t for these supporting technologies.

The latest developments in VR and AR technologies wouldn’t be possible without other breakthroughs that bring things once considered science fiction squarely into the realm of science fact:

  • Advanced semiconductor designs pack more processing power into less space.
  • Microdisplays fit more information onto smaller screens.
  • New power storage technologies extend battery life while shrinking battery size.
  • Development tools for low-latency, high-resolution image rendering and improved 3D-graphics displays make digital artifacts more realistic and detailed.
  • Omnidirectional cameras that can record in 360 degrees simultaneously create fully immersive environments.
  • Plummeting prices for accelerometers lower the cost of VR devices.

Companies in the emerging VR/AR industry are encouraging the makers of smartglasses and safety glasses to work together to create ergonomic smartglasses that deliver information in a nondistracting way and that are also comfortable to wear for an eight-hour shift.

The argument in favor of VR and AR for business is so powerful that once vendors solve the obvious hardware problems, experts predict that existing enterprise mobile apps will quickly start to include VR or AR components, while new apps will emerge to satisfy as yet unmet needs.

In other words, it’s time to start thinking about how your company might put these technologies to use—and how to do so in a way that minimizes concerns about data privacy, corporate security, and employee comfort. Because digitally enhanced reality is coming tomorrow, so business needs to start planning for it today. D!

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



Leveraging Digital Twins To Breathe New Life Into Your Products And Services

Thomas Kaiser

Are you familiar with the concept of the twin paradox? In physics, the twin paradox is a thought experiment in which one twin stays on Earth while the other travels in a spaceship at a high speed for a period of time. According to the special theory of relativity, the second twin will return home measurably younger than the first.

In a similar way, the concept of the digital twin can accelerate your business and breathe new life into your products and services.

But the digital twin isn’t just a thought experiment. Gartner lists digital twins as a Top 10 strategic trend for 2017. It’s part of a broader digital transformation on which IDC says companies will invest $2.1 trillion a year by 2019.

Already, smart companies are using digital twins to better understand operations, get closer to customers, and transform their business.

Connecting real and virtual

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-world product or service. That could be anything from a toaster to industrial machinery to complex processes. The virtual representation combines three types of information: business data, contextual data, and sensor data.

Business data covers information such as customer name, location, and service-level agreements. Contextual data includes details such as ambient temperature, humidity, and weather events. Sensor data involves things like machine speed, operating temperature, and vibration.

Sensor data is key because, while companies have been using digital twins for years, it’s only with the Internet of Things (IoT) that they’ve become cost-effective. Gartner predicts that 6.4 billion things will be connected this year, a 30% jump over 2015. By 2020, at least half of all new business processes will incorporate IoT – transforming live data into new value.

Drilling down on digital twins

How does a digital twin work? Let’s say you manufacture industrial drills. A digital twin can help you understand how customers use your drill. The goal is to continuously improve the product to increase customer satisfaction and identify opportunities for new products and services.

For example, you might discover that your drill malfunctions in certain situations. That can enable you to improve product design. Or it can let you help customers modify the way they use the drill to avoid problems.

Or, you might discover that customers use your drill not only to make holes but also to cut materials. That might lead you to develop a new product that’s purpose-built for cutting.

Or, maybe you discover that while customers want holes made, they don’t necessarily want to purchase and operate a drill. So rather than sell drills, you might offer a hole-drilling service. In other words, instead of charging customers for machinery they operate, you charge them for holes drilled by machinery you operate for them. Some SAP customers have been quite successful in making this kind of leap from products to services.

Digital twins across industries

Digital twins aren’t just for manufacturers. Insurers can apply digital twins in offerings like usage-based car insurance. Retailers can track how customers navigate the store and interact with products on the shelves. Cities can model areas for things like smart lighting. Ports can monitor weather, shipping traffic, containers, and trains and trucks entering and leaving.

Digital twins cover the entire lifecycle of an asset or process. In fact, they can form a foundation for an end-to-end, closed-loop value chain for smart, connected products and services, from design to production, from deployment to continuous improvement.

The promise of continuous improvement is why it’s increasingly important to integrate digital technologies into all products. As you leverage your digital twin to identify opportunities for new or better features, you can implement those improvements quickly and cost-effectively through firmware updates.

Implementing digital twins involves four steps:

  1. Integrate smart components such as sensors, software, computing power, or data storage into new or existing products.
  1. Connect the product to a central location where you can capture sensor data and enrich that sensor data with business and contextual data.
  1. Analyze that data on an ongoing basis to identify opportunities for product improvements, new products, or even new business models.
  1. Leverage these digital insights to transform your company — for example, by reducing costs through proactive avoidance of business interruptions, or by creating new business opportunities.

Of course, while those steps are easy to list, they can require significant effort to achieve. But digital twins are becoming a business imperative. Companies that fail to respond will be left behind. Those that embrace digital twins have the opportunity to better understand customer needs, continuously improve their products and services, and even identify new business models that give them competitive advantage.

Consumer demand for virtual reality is changing how businesses manage and operate. Learn how to transition From E-Business to V-Business.