Transforming Automakers Into Connected Platform Makers

William Newman

I love January. As the saying goes, “New Year, New You.” And new cars. Lots of new cars, announcements and demonstrations of how the car will evolve with new features, content, and systems.

This year the volley started early, with huge announcements in week 1 at the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it will continue in weeks 2 and 3 the Automotive News World Congress and North American International Auto Show in Detroit. There are some megatrends emerging from these recent announcements and from research SAP has conducted over the past six months, which will become available through social channels over the course of 2016.

Economically, a number of factors are at work. With the fall of crude oil prices and other commodities, and North American volumes hitting pre-recession levels of 17.5M units in the passenger vehicle segment, growth is expected to continue. However, it will be a different kind of growth, based on the evolution of the value chain and the expectancy that global AGR levels will taper from 7.8% (from 2009 to 2015) to 2.8% (from 2016 to 2020) according to IHS, and the retention length of vehicles rising to over 12 years on average. OEM consolidation will also likely follow in the next decade to help keep growth moderate and remove industry structural costs.

The future of the car is changing as well. Cars are evolving from mostly mechanical, metal-based vehicles to a connected set of component platforms, plastics, and next-generation materials, essentially becoming a rolling data center providing safety and entertainment going from Point A to Point B.  Social acceptance of a fully autonomous vehicle – and the regulatory environment supporting that – is likely 5 to 10 years out based on current forecasts (OESA, CAR). However, a connected vehicle – depending on your definition of “connected” and which services that uses – is here today, both on the public highways and in prototype communities like M City.

What does all of this mean for automotive OEM and supplier customers? It means companies have significant choices in product design, value chain placement (and respective participation), and customer experience to define the organization for the next few years to come. Last year I asked executives, “Are you buyers or sellers?” This year I am more likely to ask, “Are you a platform maker or owner?” as makers and innovation will rule the ability of OEMs and suppliers to not only have the profit to make acquisitions but also determine the position of the portfolio in the value chain where they will drive content. Content is profit, and profit means growth. And growth means you survive and prosper in an ebbing business cycle.

Here are some disruptors coming out of this month’s automotive announcements.  As more become available during the month (or as forecasts change, which of course they will) I will update this post.

  1. Technology is not the long pole in the tent. Regulatory needs to catch up. The big database technology to manage petabytes (1,000 terabytes) of information such as music, images, maps, and consumer behavior is already here. How we use these – based on location-based privacy and social norms – and what we are able to implement in products – based on regulations – have only partially been defined. This is a real bummer to consumers and tech-savvy developers, who essentially are releasing only parts of consumable disruption based on business environments. Uber, for example, has taken its disruptive model to court in a number of cities and states, and won. Google has sent its driverless, autonomous vehicles to a number of cities with some relative success. Are we ready to give up control of our driving abilities? Not yet. In Michigan you can’t take a driver’s test at the Secretary of State office using a park assist vehicle to parallel park. Clearly, we aren’t there yet.
  1. The notion of a vehicle platform and how it scales and connects has changed. Typically a vehicle has a number of trim packages, platform sizes, power plants, and features. When a manufacturer builds to a variable platform, usually the platform itself is constant down an assembly line and the features and cosmetics adjust per spec of the vehicle. Faraday Future’s announcement at CES of the FFZero1 platform for variant configuration, where the platform itself can stretch and modularly accommodate different power plant designs (e.g. battery pack stacking), has the potential to change how vehicles are designed at the platform level. Also at CES, Delphi announced its vehicle to everything (V2E) platform, allowing vehicles to sense devices, social behaviors, and “things,” an example of how automotive suppliers are moving to become “connected platform makers.” Other suppliers such as Bosch are developing their own platform to connect devices, components, homes, and information. And GM announced a major $500M investment partnership with Lyft to enable fleet connected B2C vehicles. Being able to scale physical and information platforms using very large data sets with consumers is key to transformation success.
  1. The aftermarket segment will collapse, and everyone wants a share — and for you to love them. The bidding war over Pep Boys is likely the first of many acquisition plays and direct-to-consumer moves by auto parts suppliers to converge its OE and aftermarket businesses. With each stage of the aftermarket value chain adding a full price share of margin from one step to the next (usually 80-100% of margin per value chain step, according to the Automotive Aftermarket Supplier Association), it’s no wonder that auto part makers want drivers to access their products directly, to harvest margin otherwise flowing through more expensive OE dealer channels. Will drivers who hold vehicles longer buy directly? Most do already, through eBay, Amazon, NAPA, and AutoZone, to name just a few of the big players. Often this competes with OE interests to leverage their own proprietary dealer networks. How suppliers go after this high margin space, and how they communicate brand interest and customer experience to drivers who normally buy through dealers and distributors, will be key to success.

Platform makers OEMs as well as suppliers – will garner market share moving forward. Tesla, Google, Faraday, Bosch, and Delphi (among others) have stated their interest and staked their claim as disruptors owning a platform,  not necessarily as classic car companies. Companies that are unwilling to digitize their product portfolio along with their business operations and unleash new platform business models will be relegated to “seller” status as we move toward the 2020s.

Based on these and other mega-trends, automakers and suppliers must stake their claim now in order to build their financial assets and continue growth throughout this decade and beyond.

For more on what the future holds for the automotive industry, see Why This One Decision Will Make Or Break Automakers In 2016.

This blog originally appeared on the LinkedIn Pulse


William Newman

About William Newman

William Newman serves as Industry Value Advisor for SAP’s Midwest Industry Value Engineering team with a focus on digital strategies and transformation in automotive and discrete manufacturing. He brings more than 30 years of experience in strategy, transformation planning, and value realization across multiple industry sectors including automotive, aerospace, industrial machinery and components, and high tech.

The Value Of Your Moving Assets

Larry Stolle

During a recent radio interview on SAP Game Changers, three experts discussed the value of moving assets within a company. Larry Stolle, Bill Powell, and Joe Barkai focused on the role moving assets within a company. Each moving asset plays a key role in accomplishing specific goals and tasks. Thus, a company must understand the ways a fleet of vehicles or specific equipment benefits the business.

What are moving assets?

Moving assets refer to the machines used by the company for various tasks. Generally, it means machines that move throughout different areas of the business in some way.

In most cases, the moving assets refer to a fleet of vehicles, large machines used for cleaning, transportation machines for goods, or even machines used to transport individuals. For example, in an airport, a shuttle bus or train to transport passengers to different terminals is a moving asset. It may also refer to floor and street sweepers, forklifts, and similar tools used for specific purposes in a company.

When business owners listen to the machines, they gain a competitive edge over their competitors. By using appropriate tools and strategies, the moving assets can point out risks within the company.  The moving assets can inform operational changes a business should make for greater efficiency.

Larry Stolle, senior global director of automotive marketing at SAP, says that the moving assets are in a company for one reason: They create business value by accomplishing a specific task.

Filtering the information

Moving assets consistently provide information or send back location and performance details. Filtering the information is a key part of adding value to the business. It helps a company determine when something is missing from the information and when to ignore specific details.

Bill Powell, director of enterprise architecture for Automotive Resources International, says that companies “need standards to get things moving.” Unfortunately, sticking to the initial plan does not add value to the company. Moving assets add the most value when a company obtains information from the customers about their preferences and wants before making changes.

Communication and connectivity

Joe Barkai, an independent analyst and consultant, states that “connectivity is becoming a commodity” in the context of moving assets. It is only the conduit of information flow. The “information” from connected asset sensors is what allows companies to improve the efficiency and quality of the decision-making process.

Keeping the moving assets connected to the company reduces the amount of time required to gain details and information about the asset. As a result, it takes less time to make higher-fidelity decisions for the business.

Information is a valuable asset to any company. When a company receives live information, concerns can be addressed proactively.

Keeping up with equipment

Evaluating the way a moving asset delivers information and the type of information provided allows the leaders in a business to make adjustments for greater efficiency, revenue generation, and business value. It also provides details to improve safety measures when using a moving asset.

Bill Powell suggested that the “information that those ancillary equipment generates” through connectivity also improve value attached to a moving asset. Connected assets communicate details about the equipment used on the moving asset. This helps a professional determine when an asset requires maintenance, repairs, or downtime. Business owners use the data to develop a backup for potential problems.

The primary problem with any fleet is downtime. A moving asset provides value by performing a specific task. Faulty or damaged equipment cuts back on the efficiency of a company. Therefore, maintaining a communication system with the entire fleet allows the business owner to set up a backup system.  This prevents downtime otherwise tied to a specific vehicle.

Increasing ability

Joe Barkai states that the value of moving assets not only relates to the condition of the vehicles; it also relates to the ability of an asset to handle the tasks required by the customer. The goals of customers consistently change. They no longer focus solely on the capacity of the moving asset.

A business must change to reflect the unique service needs of their customers. Clients want better services, so a business must use its moving assets to provide the level of service their customers expect. They must also use online tools like social media, for greater client interaction in relation to their fleet of vehicles.

Gaining value from an asset

Moving assets add value to a business through three primary levels of service: the manufacturers of a product or service, the individuals managing the assets, and the actual operators of the assets. The key to gaining from the information provided by the moving asset is through the application of information.

Making use of moving assets to gain value begins with connectivity and communication. When a company gathers information and then filters the data for effective changes, it results in better customer service and client satisfaction.

To learn more about digital transformation in the automotive industry, click here.


Larry Stolle

About Larry Stolle

Larry Stolle is the senior global marketing director for the Automotive Industry at SAP. He has over 45 years of experience in the automotive industry with experience, ranging from dealerships to manufacturers and importers to technology companies such as IBM. Stolle currently holds two patents for dealer and manufacturer communications and for quality insights.

Why Your Current Car May Be The Last One You Drive Or Own

Gavin Mooney

Melbourne was recently yet again voted the world’s most livable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Apart from giving Melburnians the satisfaction of beating Sydney – again – the news was met with a mixed response by locals, who question which part of Melbourne was evaluated in the survey and what criteria were included (and left out) to allow Melbourne to take the top spot. While the Economist survey likely focused on the city center, the majority of Melbourne’s population lives in the sprawling suburbs, underserved by strained public transport and with ever increasing traffic congestion.

Traffic congestion is a huge problem all over the world. Attributing a cost to traffic congestion can be tricky, but in Australia alone it was estimated at $16 billion in 2015, set to climb to $37 billion by 2030. In the United States the cost of congestion is put at $160 billion. And with the UN estimating urbanization and population growth will add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, the problem will only get worse.

Being stuck in a traffic jam is intensely frustrating and can be stressful. There is nothing the driver can do apart from ponder the lost time.  This is where autonomous vehicles come in. Luckily, most of the major car manufacturers and other companies agree that autonomous vehicles are the way of the future and are investing heavily in self-driving technology. The U.S. Department of Transportation is looking to invest $4 billion in vehicle automation.

Bonus: Learn more about the digital transformation in the automotive industry.

Google’s self-driving cars have been on the roads for years, already amassing more than 1.7 million miles. Tesla has a slightly different approach, taking advantage of its cars’ Internet connection to access sensor data and update the vehicles over the air. With so many Tesla cars on the roads, the company has accumulated 780 million miles against which to test its self-driving software. Tesla gets another million miles worth of data every 10 hours.

Apple, perhaps a little late on the scene, is apparently investing more than anyone else. A recent report from Morgan Stanley appeared to show Apple outspending the major car manufacturers 20:1 and even Tesla by 10:1, investing more in the Apple car and related services than it spent on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch combined.

Tesla’s Elon Musk recently stated that “full autonomy is going to come a hell of a lot faster than anyone thinks.” Like much of what he says, he might just be right. Earlier this month, Ford announced it intends to mass produce a fully autonomous car without a steering wheel by 2021. And Uber, only three months after announcing it was testing its self-driving car in Pittsburgh, just announced its self-driving cars will start taking passengers this month.

Why self-driving cars?

There are numerous benefits to self-driving cars, and two major ones are:

1. Safety

The WHO estimates 1.25 million people died in road accidents in 2013. A U.S. Department of Transportation survey found human error was the cause in 94% of fatal car crashes. And then there are the non-fatal accidents to consider. Computers don’t get bored, drowsy, change the music, or send a text message. They are more reliable and can react much faster than a human driver.

2. Productivity

A 2007 study by Harvard Health Watch found the average American spends 101 minutes a day driving. Most of that time is unproductive. There is not a lot the driver can do apart from concentrate on the road and drive. Imagine if you could spend that time working, reading, napping, or doing anything else you wanted. It would change the whole philosophy behind the car journey, of trying to beat the rush hour traffic and repeatedly changing lanes in the hope of saving a few minutes.

Other benefits

There are several other benefits as well. Autonomous vehicles would give greater mobility to the elderly, disabled, or visually impaired. Urban space could be increased 15-20% through elimination of parking spaces, since autonomous vehicles could drop passengers off and then park elsewhere. There would be significant fuel savings through more efficient driving as well as the potential for reduced drag through “platooning” and lighter vehicles.

Roadways designed specifically for autonomous vehicles could look quite different. There would be no need for signage or lane markings. Lanes could be narrower and cars could drive closer together, increasing throughput. There could also be a social change, with less pressure to live close to city centers, as the journey is no longer perceived as lost time.

The future

We can go beyond not needing to drive. Researchers at MIT have come up with a slot-based system that eliminates the need for traffic lights at intersections, doubling traffic efficiency and cutting travel delay to almost zero. Airbus is working on a battery-powered autonomous flying taxi and plans real-world prototype testing by the end of 2017.

The next target will be car ownership. Depending on what you read, millennials may or may not care for car ownership. But with our cars parked 95% of the time, it just doesn’t make sense to own one outright. There will always be some people who want to own cars, but they will be a shrinking minority.



Gavin Mooney

About Gavin Mooney

Gavin Mooney is a utilities industry solution specialist for SAP. From a background in Engineering and IT, Gavin has been working in the utilities industry with SAP products for nearly 15 years. He has had the privilege of working with a number of Electricity, Gas and Water Utilities across the globe to implement SAP’s Industry Solution for Utilities. He now works with utilities to help them identify the best way to run simple and run better with SAP's latest products. Gavin loves to network and build lasting business relationships and is passionate about cleantech and the fundamental transformation currently shaking up the utilities industry.

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.



Make No Mistake – Social Media is Massively Affecting The Sales Process (And Here's Why)

Malcolm Hamilton

These days, if your business strategy isn’t aligned with your social media plan, you are needlessly making both your sales and marketing teams work overtime. This can end up costing your company HUGE amounts of money. One extensive study shows that 60% to 80% of today’s B2B technology and vendor selection processes are conducted in the digital world, which often are invisible to your company and your sales teams. This is why it is critical that your company brand and value proposition are highly visible to these invisible buyers across as many social media platforms as possible.

Studies show that B2B companies that have effective sales and marketing alignment are:

  • Outgrowing their peer group competitors by 5.4%
  • 38% better at closing proposals
  • Lowering their churn rates by 36%

The trouble is that it can be hard to get sales and marketing on the same page because the nature of their work is so different. It’s no one’s fault, but sales needs to rely on marketing to do more outbound lead generation, advertising, and outreach, and marketing needs sales to quickly follow up on marketing-generated leads, hand back stalled leads for nurture tailored to each buyer’s journey, and close deals. There has rarely been much love between sales and marketing departments, because each one often thinks the other one is either slacking off or simply not adding value.

The fact is digital & social marketing is at the heart of sales, the lines between sales and marketing have been steadily blurring, and social media and digital marketing are at the heart of this intersection. Social sales means that marketing has to drive awareness in order to help develop a company’s brand and the brand’s value proposition, a process that relies extra heavily on the marketing department. Let’s take a closer look at how marketing can offer sales a lot of help in today’s world of social media.

How marketing can help sales win more deals

Salespeople need to lean on the marketing team for a variety of things in order to make sure that they are using social media in the best ways. For example, marketing can:

  • Help sales teams come up with social updates that foster engagement with new clients and actually work
  • Generate tailored and compelling content that will move customer prospects that are frozen in the sales pipeline
  • Lend a hand with creating content that their prospects will value and respond to
  • Figure out a way to make the company really stand out from the crowd on social media
  • Listen to the ideas that sales team members have and put them to work
  • Help sales team members position themselves as thought leaders in their target industry sectors
  • Help keep all social media messaging on-brand across platforms
  • Use analytics to track performance across platforms – salespeople love to see results

So how does marketing help accomplish these goals? Here are two tools that can help sales and marketing teams stay on top of their social media game.

  • GaggleAmp enables companies to aggregate social media updates and quickly and easily send notifications out to team members that they can share on various social media platforms with just a couple of clicks. The app can even keep track of how many shares a post is getting and then let you compare certain posts with others to see which is performing better. It’s a pretty cool way to keep sales and social media interested in the same game.
  • helps sales and social media intermingle by leveraging the power of your teams to send out consistent, effective posts. It breaks down the interactions that are happening on different networks and with different posts and helps you understand which ones your audience is engaging with most so you can refine your marketing strategy.

How sales can help marketing do an even better job

Sales can also help marketing move its goals along when it comes to success on social media. Salespeople can:

  • Communicate in a clear manner so marketing understands what they need
  • Openly share numbers and forecasts so marketing has a better grasp of how you are succeeding and where you’re falling short
  • Offer tips for keeping messaging more on-point
  • Provide regular feedback into how lead generation and follow-up are going
  • Hand stalled leads back to marketing for further nurture
  • Hang back and let them work their magic
  • Provide direction to marketing on the current buying drivers for prospects and target businesses

How social media marketing and sales can work together

There are some definite steps that these two teams can take to make sure they are working together in the most effective way. Here are a few tips for helping the teams stay on the same page:

  • Regular meetings: It sounds simple enough, but actually getting sales and marketing teams together to talk regularly can work wonders for both. It’s incredibly important for keeping your social media game on point and helps to resolve any miscommunication or issues that might be happening on either side. Research shows that businesses that are sales and marketing aligned grow five percent to 10% faster than their peer group.
  • Content process: Sales reps engage with prospects all of the time, but to be effective they need to know what will get prospects excited. Teams can stay in the loop by making sure there is a process in place to create content for social media by gathering info at weekly brainstorming sessions, using shared docs to collect ideas, and coordinating an editorial calendar so everyone knows what content you are putting out there and when.
  • Get schedules in sync: Social media is a great way to put new offers and content out there, but the sales team needs to stay up-to-date with promotions so they can respond to leads in the right way. Keep promotions on a shared calendar, and keep sales teams looped in on whatever offers your company is putting out there. It’s also helpful for sales staff to have talking points on the offer and its value to the customer.
  • Listen: At the end of the day, teams just need to listen to each other to get better at their jobs. It’s a great way to learn about what customers really want and need and to get ideas for future social media content creation.

The bottom line is that social media is a huge part of how sales teams are drumming up high-quality leads today, so it’s more important than ever for marketing and sales teams to stay aligned.

The caveat

I believe I have one of the best marketing jobs in the world as a global channel marketing manager for the world’s leading business software company, SAP. I get to travel around the globe delivering leading-edge knowledge transfer workshops to our business partners, where we share these trends and guidance on how to initiate the necessary change management to capitalize on the incredible power of digital and social media marketing

And I am witnessing a very definite trend. Those partners that are aligning and applying these digital and social marketing best practices after attending the workshops are experiencing significant uplift in net new business. There is a BUT. Measurable impact and ROI are not always felt overnight, so leadership has to exercise patience. Build a 12-month strategic plan that captures objectives for your digital and social media go to market and measure, measure, measure.

Stop confining social media to marketing. To boost returns, it must be embedded into how companies do business. In a Live Business, Social Gets Its MBA.


Malcolm Hamilton

About Malcolm Hamilton

Malcolm Hamilton is Director of Global Strategic Initiatives for Global Indirect Channel Marketing (GIC) team at SAP. He has a proven track record of building and executing leading edge Channel Marketing & Sales & enablement programs. During a career that spans close to two decades, Malcolm is widely regarded as an IT industry thought leader and innovator with international experience in working with channel partners.