Digital Strategy Vs. Digital Transformation: What's The Difference?

Braden Kelley

In my last article, “Time for Digital Transformation Is Now,” we looked at the accelerating pace of change, the case for digital transformation, and our evolving interactions with technology. We also asked a simple question:

Are you ready to do business in a digital way for the digital age?

In our digital age, all companies must change how they think, how they interact with customers, partners, and suppliers, and how the business works inside. Customer, partner, and supplier expectations have changed, and a gap is opening between what they expect from their interaction with companies and what those companies are currently able to deliver. Companies must immediately work to close this expectation gap, or the entire business is at risk.

There are groups of digital natives out there that are extremely capable, have greater access to capital than ever before, and are very likely to re-imagine your business and your entire industry from the ground up if you don’t start making the necessary changes in your business to eliminate the opportunity.

If they attack, they will do it with a collection of digital strategies that utilize the power of the digital mindset to more efficiently and effectively utilize the available people, tools, and technology, and to design better, more seamlessly interconnected, and automated processes that can operate with only occasional human intervention.

To defend your company’s very existence, you must start thinking like a technology company or go out of business. Part of that thinking is to fundamentally re-imagine how you structure and operate your business. You must look at your business and your industry in the same way that a digital native startup will if they seek to attack you and steal your market. To make this easier, ask yourself these five questions:

  1. If I were to build this business today, given everything that I know about the industry and its customers and all of the advances in people, process, technology and tools, how would I design it?
  1. From the customers’ perspective, where does the value come from?
  1. What structure and systems would deliver the maximum value with the minimum waste?
  1. What are the barriers to adoption and the obstacles to delight for my product(s) and/or service(s) and how will my design help potential customers overcome them?
  2. Where is the friction in my business that the latest usage methods of people, process, technology, and tools can help eliminate?

There are, of course, other questions you may want to ask, but these five should get you most of the way to where you need to go in your initial strategic planning sessions. If you have other key questions that you think I’ve missed, please add them in the comments.

Digital strategy vs. digital transformation

How much appetite for going digital do you have?

This is where the question of digital strategy versus digital transformation comes in. The two terms are often misused, in part by being used interchangeably when they are in fact two very different things.

A digital strategy is a strategy focused on utilizing digital technologies to better serve one particular group of people (customers, employees, partners, suppliers, etc.) or to serve the needs of one particular business group (HR, finance, marketing, operations, etc.). The scope of a digital strategy can be quite narrow, such as using digital channels to market to consumers in a B2C company; or broader, such as re-imagining how marketing could be made more efficient through the use of digital tools like CRM, marketing automation, social media monitoring, etc. and hopefully become more effective at the same time.

Meanwhile, digital transformation is an intensive process that begins by effectively building an entirely new organization from scratch, utilizing:

  • All the latest digital technologies (artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, BPM, crowd computing, etc.)
  • The latest tools (robotics, sensors, etc.)
  • The latest best practices and emerging next practices in process (continuous improvement, business architecture, lean startup, business process management, or BPM, crowd computing, and continuous innovation using a tool like The Eight I’s of Infinite Innovation™)
  • The optimal use of the other three to liberate the people who work for you to spend less time on bureaucratic work and more time imagining the changes necessary to overcome barriers to adoption and obstacles to delight through better leadership methods, reward/recognition systems, physical spaces, collaboration, and knowledge management systems, etc.

It ends with a plan for making the transformation from the old way of running the business to the new way.

The planning of the digital transformation is, of course, all done collaboratively on paper, whiteboards, and asynchronous electronic communication (hopefully not email, but more on that later). The goal is to think like a digital native, to think like a startup, to approach the idea of designing a company to utilize all of the advances in people, process, technology, and tools to kill off your own company (at least as you know it). Because if you don’t re-invent your company now and set yourself up with a new set of capabilities that enable you to continuously reinvent yourself as a company, then some venture capitalist is going to see an opportunity, find the right team of digital natives, and give them the necessary funding to enter your market and reinvent your entire industry for you.

It’s all about the interfaces

People are fascinated with startups like Uber, and with good reason, because such companies have changed the lexicon and the way that we think about entire categories of products and services. Whether or not you believe there is causation, the fact remains that Yellow Cab in San Francisco filed for bankruptcy, and Uber has placed an immense amount of pressure on taxi and airport limousine companies. But you should also be looking at what established technology companies like Amazon are doing, because established technology companies are looking for growth and new markets too, and they might decide yours looks attractive, so you must think like a technology company or go out of business.

One way technology companies differ from non-technology companies is that tech companies naturally focus on interfaces, because that is where complex systems often fail. So if you are pursuing a digital strategy on your way to a digital transformation, you must first pick an interface and then optimize the experience at that interface. It could be the interface between the company and customers; it could be the company-to-employee or employee-to-employee interface; or even the company-to-partner or company-to-supplier interface. Whatever interface you choose, your goal is to ultimately look at that interface with a fresh modern lens and then utilize all of the latest (and emerging) approaches from a people, process, and technology perspective to create a more efficient, effective, and better experience.

The better job you do as an organization at removing friction at the interfaces, the more likely you are to become a partner, supplier, employer, and/or a brand of choice. The value of becoming any or all of these could be the difference between the survival and growth of the organization and a slow, agonizing death at the hands of a new digital entrant or a digitizing incumbent that completes a digital transformation before your leadership team can even agree that it’s necessary.

Architecting your organization for change

One thing that both a digital strategy and a digital transformation have in common is that they will inflict change (in varying amounts) upon the organization. With a more visual, collaborative approach to planning that change—like that enabled by the Change Planning Toolkit™, which I introduce in my new book Charting Change – you will increase your odds of beating the 70% change failure rate and successfully achieving your digital change goals.

As you plan your change efforts, it helps to keep in mind the Five Keys to Successful Change™ and Architecting Your Organization for Change. Below you will see visualizations of both concepts; both are available as free downloads from the Change Planning Toolkit™, which is a collection of frameworks, worksheets, and other tools (including the Change Planning Canvas™).

Five Keys to Successful Change
Architecting the Organization for Change

Click to access these frameworks as scalable 11″x17″ PDF downloads

These two frameworks will help you take a more holistic view of organizational change; one that is wider than just change management or change leadership, and that helps organizations:

  1. Visualize a new way to increase organizational agility
  1. Integrate changes in the marketplace and customer behavior into the strategy
  1. Create a new organizational architecture that integrates all five elements of organizational change
  1. Make project, behavior, and communications planning and management a central component of your change efforts

One thing that should immediately jump out as you look at the Architecting the Organization for Change framework is that The Five Keys to Successful Change™ are embedded it.

Change maintenance forms the foundation of a change-centric organization, ensuring that the changes necessary to ensure a healthy firm continue to persist (or are “maintained”), while the top of the organizational pyramid is driven by a conscious strategy that evolves over time, informed by changes in customer behavior and changes in the marketplace.

The strategy of the firm then determines the appropriate business architecture, and as the organization’s strategy changes, the business architecture may also need to change. Any necessary changes in the architecture of the business (new or updated capabilities or competencies) then will lead to modifications to the portfolio of change initiatives and projects (and remember every project is a change effort). These projects and initiatives will consist of innovation initiatives and efforts to create positive changes in the operations of the business.

The change efforts and projects identified as necessary and invested in as part of the change portfolio then represent projects that impact the innovation and operations for the firm. Successfully executing them in the short term includes change planning, management, and leadership, and in the longer term, maintenance of the required changes.

For change efforts and projects to be successful, the organization must also focus on project planning and management, behavior planning and management, and communications planning and management. The related projects, behaviors, and communications must all be effectively planned and managed in a way that keeps all three in sync.

I hope you see that by increasing your focus on the change planning discipline and through increased use of tools like the Architecting the Organization for Change framework from the Change Planning Toolkit™, your business will be able to more collaboratively and visually plan change efforts as large as a digital transformation or as small as a digital strategy and to increase your organizational agility.

More on organizational agility soon, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, please get yourself a copy of Charting Change as a hardcover or eBook and get your free change planning tools from the Change Planning Toolkit™ (or go ahead and purchase a license now).

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About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a popular innovation and digital transformation keynote speaker and workshop facilitator. He is the author of two books (so far) - 'Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire' from John Wiley & Sons and 'Charting Change' from Palgrave Macmillan. He is also the creator of the highly visual and collaborative Change Planning Toolkit™ and tweets from @innovate.

Transform Or Die: What Will You Do In The Digital Economy?

Scott Feldman and Puneet Suppal

By now, most executives are keenly aware that the digital economy can be either an opportunity or a threat. The question is not whether they should engage their business in it. Rather, it’s how to unleash the power of digital technology while maintaining a healthy business, leveraging existing IT investments, and innovating without disrupting themselves.

Yet most of those executives are shying away Businesspeople in a Meeting --- Image by © Monalyn Gracia/Corbisfrom such a challenge. According to a recent study by MIT Sloan and Capgemini, only 15% of CEOs are executing a digital strategy, even though 90% agree that the digital economy will impact their industry. As these businesses ignore this reality, early adopters of digital transformation are achieving 9% higher revenue creation, 26% greater impact on profitability, and 12% more market valuation.

Why aren’t more leaders willing to transform their business and seize the opportunity of our hyperconnected world? The answer is as simple as human nature. Innately, humans are uncomfortable with the notion of change. We even find comfort in stability and predictability. Unfortunately, the digital economy is none of these – it’s fast and always evolving.

Digital transformation is no longer an option – it’s the imperative

At this moment, we are witnessing an explosion of connections, data, and innovations. And even though this hyperconnectivity has changed the game, customers are radically changing the rules – demanding simple, seamless, and personalized experiences at every touch point.

Billions of people are using social and digital communities to provide services, share insights, and engage in commerce. All the while, new channels for engaging with customers are created, and new ways for making better use of resources are emerging. It is these communities that allow companies to not only give customers what they want, but also align efforts across the business network to maximize value potential.

To seize the opportunities ahead, businesses must go beyond sensors, Big Data, analytics, and social media. More important, they need to reinvent themselves in a manner that is compatible with an increasingly digital world and its inhabitants (a.k.a. your consumers).

Here are a few companies that understand the importance of digital transformation – and are reaping the rewards:

  1. Under Armour:  No longer is this widely popular athletic brand just selling shoes and apparel. They are connecting 38 million people on a digital platform. By focusing on this services side of the business, Under Armour is poised to become a lifestyle advisor and health consultant, using his product side as the enabler.
  1. Port of Hamburg: Europe’s second-largest port is keeping carrier trucks and ships productive around the clock. By fusing facility, weather, and traffic conditions with vehicle availability and shipment schedules, the Port increased container handling capacity by 178% without expanding its physical space.
  1. Haier Asia: This top-ranking multinational consumer electronics and home appliances company decided to disrupt itself before someone else did. The company used a two-prong approach to digital transformation to create a service-based model to seize the potential of changing consumer behaviors and accelerate product development. 
  1. Uber: This startup darling is more than just a taxi service. It is transforming how urban logistics operates through a technology trifecta: Big Data, cloud, and mobile.
  1. American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO): Even nonprofits can benefit from digital transformation. ASCO is transforming care for cancer patients worldwide by consolidating patient information with its CancerLinQ. By unlocking knowledge and value from the 97% of cancer patients who are not involved in clinical trials, healthcare providers can drive better, more data-driven decision making and outcomes.

It’s time to take action 

During the SAP Executive Technology Summit at SAP TechEd on October 19–20, an elite group of CIOs, CTOs, and corporate executives will gather to discuss the challenges of digital transformation and how they can solve them. With the freedom of open, candid, and interactive discussions led by SAP Board Members and senior technology leadership, delegates will exchange ideas on how to get on the right path while leveraging their existing technology infrastructure.

Stay tuned for exclusive insights from this invitation-only event in our next blog!
Scott Feldman is Global Head of the SAP HANA Customer Community at SAP. Connect with him on Twitter @sfeldman0.

Puneet Suppal drives Solution Strategy and Adoption (Customer Innovation & IoT) at SAP Labs. Connect with him on Twitter @puneetsuppal.

 

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About Scott Feldman and Puneet Suppal

Scott Feldman is the Head of SAP HANA International Customer Community. Puneet Suppal is the Customer Co-Innovation & Solution Adoption Executive at SAP.

What Is Digital Transformation?

Andreas Schmitz

Achieving quantum leaps through disruption and using data in new contexts, in ways designed for more than just Generation Y — indeed, the digital transformation affects us all. It’s time for a detailed look at its key aspects.

Data finding its way into new settings

Archiving all of a company’s internal information until the end of time is generally a good idea, as it gives the boss the security that nothing will be lost. Meanwhile, enabling him or her to create bar graphs and pie charts based on sales trends – preferably in real time, of course – is even better.

But the best scenario of all is when the boss can incorporate data from external sources. All of a sudden, information on factors as seemingly mundane as the weather start helping to improve interpretations of fluctuations in sales and to make precise modifications to the company’s offerings. When the gusts of autumn begin to blow, for example, energy providers scale back solar production and crank up their windmills. Here, external data provides a foundation for processes and decisions that were previously unattainable.

Quantum leaps possible through disruption

While these advancements involve changes in existing workflows, there are also much more radical approaches that eschew conventional structures entirely.

“The aggressive use of data is transforming business models, facilitating new products and services, creating new processes, generating greater utility, and ushering in a new culture of management,” states Professor Walter Brenner of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, regarding the effects of digitalization.

Harnessing these benefits requires the application of innovative information and communication technology, especially the kind termed “disruptive.” A complete departure from existing structures may not necessarily be the actual goal, but it can occur as a consequence of this process.

Having had to contend with “only” one new technology at a time in the past, be it PCs, SAP software, SQL databases, or the Internet itself, companies are now facing an array of concurrent topics, such as the Internet of Things, social media, third-generation e-business, and tablets and smartphones. Professor Brenner thus believes that every good — and perhaps disruptive — idea can result in a “quantum leap in terms of data.”

Products and services shaped by customers

It has already been nearly seven years since the release of an app that enables customers to order and pay for taxis. Initially introduced in Berlin, Germany, mytaxi makes it possible to avoid waiting on hold for the next phone representative and pay by credit card while giving drivers greater independence from taxi dispatch centers. In addition, analyses of user data can lead to the creation of new services, such as for people who consistently order taxis at around the same time of day.

“Successful models focus on providing utility to the customer,” Professor Brenner explains. “In the beginning, at least, everything else is secondary.”

In this regard, the private taxi agency Uber is a fair bit more radical. It bypasses the entire taxi industry and hires private individuals interested in making themselves and their vehicles available for rides on the Uber platform. Similarly, Airbnb runs a platform travelers can use to book private accommodations instead of hotel rooms.

Long-established companies are also undergoing profound changes. The German publishing house Axel Springer SE, for instance, has acquired a number of startups, launched an online dating platform, and released an app with which users can collect points at retail. Chairman and CEO Matthias Döpfner also has an interest in getting the company’s newspapers and other periodicals back into the black based on payment models, of course, but these endeavors are somewhat at odds with the traditional notion of publishing houses being involved solely in publishing.

The impact of digitalization transcends Generation Y

Digitalization is effecting changes in nearly every industry. Retailers will likely have no choice but to integrate their sales channels into an omnichannel approach. Seeking to make their data services as attractive as possible, BMW, Mercedes, and Audi have joined forces to purchase the digital map service HERE. Mechanical engineering companies are outfitting their equipment with sensors to reduce downtime and achieve further product improvements.

“The specific potential and risks at hand determine how and by what means each individual company approaches the subject of digitalization,” Professor Brenner reveals. The resulting services will ultimately benefit every customer – not just those belonging to Generation Y, who present a certain basic affinity for digital methods.

“Think of cars that notify the service center when their brakes or drive belts need to be replaced, offer parking assistance, or even handle parking for you,” Brenner offers. “This can be a big help to elderly people in particular.”

Chief digital officers: team members, not miracle workers

Making the transition to the digital future is something that involves not only a CEO or a head of marketing or IT, but the entire company. Though these individuals do play an important role as proponents of digital models, it also takes more than just a chief digital officer alone.

For Professor Brenner, appointing a single person to the board of a DAX company to oversee digitalization is basically absurd. “Unless you’re talking about Da Vinci or Leibnitz born again, nobody could handle such a task,” he states.

In Brenner’s view, this is a topic for each and every department, and responsibilities should be assigned much like on a soccer field: “You’ve got a coach and the players – and the fans, as well, who are more or less what it’s all about.”

Here, the CIO neither competes with the CDO nor assumes an elevated position in the process of digital transformation. Implementing new databases like SAP HANA or Hadoop, leveraging sensor data in both technical and commercially viable ways, these are the tasks CIOs will face going forward.

“There are some fantastic jobs out there,” Brenner affirms.

Want more insight on managing digital transformation? See Three Keys To Winning In A World Of Disruption.

Image via Shutterstock

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Andreas Schmitz

About Andreas Schmitz

Andreas Schmitz is a Freelance Journalist for SAP, covering a wide range of topics from big data to Internet of Things, HR, business innovation and mobile.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich

 

Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

Link to Sources


From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.


What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”


Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

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

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Blockchain: Much Ado About Nothing? How Very Wrong!

Juergen Roehricht

Let me start with a quote from McKinsey, that in my view hits the nail right on the head:

“No matter what the context, there’s a strong possibility that blockchain will affect your business. The very big question is when.”

Now, in the industries that I cover in my role as general manager and innovation lead for travel and transportation/cargo, engineering, construction and operations, professional services, and media, I engage with many different digital leaders on a regular basis. We are having visionary conversations about the impact of digital technologies and digital transformation on business models and business processes and the way companies address them. Many topics are at different stages of the hype cycle, but the one that definitely stands out is blockchain as a new enabling technology in the enterprise space.

Just a few weeks ago, a customer said to me: “My board is all about blockchain, but I don’t get what the excitement is about – isn’t this just about Bitcoin and a cryptocurrency?”

I can totally understand his confusion. I’ve been talking to many blockchain experts who know that it will have a big impact on many industries and the related business communities. But even they are uncertain about the where, how, and when, and about the strategy on how to deal with it. The reason is that we often look at it from a technology point of view. This is a common mistake, as the starting point should be the business problem and the business issue or process that you want to solve or create.

In my many interactions with Torsten Zube, vice president and blockchain lead at the SAP Innovation Center Network (ICN) in Potsdam, Germany, he has made it very clear that it’s mandatory to “start by identifying the real business problem and then … figure out how blockchain can add value.” This is the right approach.

What we really need to do is provide guidance for our customers to enable them to bring this into the context of their business in order to understand and define valuable use cases for blockchain. We need to use design thinking or other creative strategies to identify the relevant fields for a particular company. We must work with our customers and review their processes and business models to determine which key blockchain aspects, such as provenance and trust, are crucial elements in their industry. This way, we can identify use cases in which blockchain will benefit their business and make their company more successful.

My highly regarded colleague Ulrich Scholl, who is responsible for externalizing the latest industry innovations, especially blockchain, in our SAP Industries organization, recently said: “These kinds of use cases are often not evident, as blockchain capabilities sometimes provide minor but crucial elements when used in combination with other enabling technologies such as IoT and machine learning.” In one recent and very interesting customer case from the autonomous province of South Tyrol, Italy, blockchain was one of various cloud platform services required to make this scenario happen.

How to identify “blockchainable” processes and business topics (value drivers)

To understand the true value and impact of blockchain, we need to keep in mind that a verified transaction can involve any kind of digital asset such as cryptocurrency, contracts, and records (for instance, assets can be tangible equipment or digital media). While blockchain can be used for many different scenarios, some don’t need blockchain technology because they could be handled by a simple ledger, managed and owned by the company, or have such a large volume of data that a distributed ledger cannot support it. Blockchain would not the right solution for these scenarios.

Here are some common factors that can help identify potential blockchain use cases:

  • Multiparty collaboration: Are many different parties, and not just one, involved in the process or scenario, but one party dominates everything? For example, a company with many parties in the ecosystem that are all connected to it but not in a network or more decentralized structure.
  • Process optimization: Will blockchain massively improve a process that today is performed manually, involves multiple parties, needs to be digitized, and is very cumbersome to manage or be part of?
  • Transparency and auditability: Is it important to offer each party transparency (e.g., on the origin, delivery, geolocation, and hand-overs) and auditable steps? (e.g., How can I be sure that the wine in my bottle really is from Bordeaux?)
  • Risk and fraud minimization: Does it help (or is there a need) to minimize risk and fraud for each party, or at least for most of them in the chain? (e.g., A company might want to know if its goods have suffered any shocks in transit or whether the predefined route was not followed.)

Connecting blockchain with the Internet of Things

This is where blockchain’s value can be increased and automated. Just think about a blockchain that is not just maintained or simply added by a human, but automatically acquires different signals from sensors, such as geolocation, temperature, shock, usage hours, alerts, etc. One that knows when a payment or any kind of money transfer has been made, a delivery has been received or arrived at its destination, or a digital asset has been downloaded from the Internet. The relevant automated actions or signals are then recorded in the distributed ledger/blockchain.

Of course, given the massive amount of data that is created by those sensors, automated signals, and data streams, it is imperative that only the very few pieces of data coming from a signal that are relevant for a specific business process or transaction be stored in a blockchain. By recording non-relevant data in a blockchain, we would soon hit data size and performance issues.

Ideas to ignite thinking in specific industries

  • The digital, “blockchained” physical asset (asset lifecycle management): No matter whether you build, use, or maintain an asset, such as a machine, a piece of equipment, a turbine, or a whole aircraft, a blockchain transaction (genesis block) can be created when the asset is created. The blockchain will contain all the contracts and information for the asset as a whole and its parts. In this scenario, an entry is made in the blockchain every time an asset is: sold; maintained by the producer or owner’s maintenance team; audited by a third-party auditor; has malfunctioning parts; sends or receives information from sensors; meets specific thresholds; has spare parts built in; requires a change to the purpose or the capability of the assets due to age or usage duration; receives (or doesn’t receive) payments; etc.
  • The delivery chain, bill of lading: In today’s world, shipping freight from A to B involves lots of manual steps. For example, a carrier receives a booking from a shipper or forwarder, confirms it, and, before the document cut-off time, receives the shipping instructions describing the content and how the master bill of lading should be created. The carrier creates the original bill of lading and hands it over to the ordering party (the current owner of the cargo). Today, that original paper-based bill of lading is required for the freight (the container) to be picked up at the destination (the port of discharge). Imagine if we could do this as a blockchain transaction and by forwarding a PDF by email. There would be one transaction at the beginning, when the shipping carrier creates the bill of lading. Then there would be look-ups, e.g., by the import and release processing clerk of the shipper at the port of discharge and the new owner of the cargo at the destination. Then another transaction could document that the container had been handed over.

The future

I personally believe in the massive transformative power of blockchain, even though we are just at the very beginning. This transformation will be achieved by looking at larger networks with many participants that all have a nearly equal part in a process. Today, many blockchain ideas still have a more centralistic approach, in which one company has a more prominent role than the (many) others and often is “managing” this blockchain/distributed ledger-supported process/approach.

But think about the delivery scenario today, where goods are shipped from one door or company to another door or company, across many parties in the delivery chain: from the shipper/producer via the third-party logistics service provider and/or freight forwarder; to the companies doing the actual transport, like vessels, trucks, aircraft, trains, cars, ferries, and so on; to the final destination/receiver. And all of this happens across many countries, many borders, many handovers, customs, etc., and involves a lot of paperwork, across all constituents.

“Blockchaining” this will be truly transformational. But it will need all constituents in the process or network to participate, even if they have different interests, and to agree on basic principles and an approach.

As Torsten Zube put it, I am not a “blockchain extremist” nor a denier that believes this is just a hype, but a realist open to embracing a new technology in order to change our processes for our collective benefit.

Turn insight into action, make better decisions, and transform your business. Learn how.

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Juergen Roehricht

About Juergen Roehricht

Juergen Roehricht is General Manager of Services Industries and Innovation Lead of the Middle and Eastern Europe region for SAP. The industries he covers include travel and transportation; professional services; media; and engineering, construction and operations. Besides managing the business in those segments, Juergen is focused on supporting innovation and digital transformation strategies of SAP customers. With more than 20 years of experience in IT, he stays up to date on the leading edge of innovation, pioneering and bringing new technologies to market and providing thought leadership. He has published several articles and books, including Collaborative Business and The Multi-Channel Company.