Study: Digital Transformation Is About How, Not What

Timo Elliott

A Digital Transformation study from SAP, supported by Oxford Economics, surveyed more than 3,000 executives in 17 regions around the world—one of the largest of its kind.  It revealed that 84% say digital transformation is critical to their survival in the next five years. But only 3% have completed company-wide transformation efforts.

The top 100 or so companies that report the most transformation say they’re getting big benefits: 85% say they’ve seen increased market share (vs. 41% for the rest), and 80% say their efforts have increased profitability (vs. 53% for the rest). They also expect to see more revenue growth over the next two years than the rest of the organizations surveyed.

The leading organizations turn out to be different from the others in four key ways:

They are focused on true transformation. 96% of the leaders say digital transformation is a core business goal, compared to 61% percent of all others.

The leaders have a “digital engagement first” rather than a “product first” mindset, with greater emphasis on changing the company as a whole by improving digital skills and increasing employee engagement.

This is clear when it comes to how they’ve restructured their business for innovation: five times more of the leaders say they have changed their operations as a direct result of digital transformation, and seven times more report a significant impact on how they work with their partner ecosystems.

They transform customer-facing functions first. Almost all digital transformation efforts attempt to improve the customer experience. But almost twice as many of the leaders cite customer empowerment as a key global trend, and 92% report that they have mature digital transformation strategies and processes in place to improve the customer experience vs. just 22% for all others.

The efforts of the leaders pay off: three times as many have seen significant or transformational value from digital transformation in customer satisfaction and engagement.

They are talent-driven. Leaders spend more both on hiring and on retraining workers than their peers. They are also significantly more likely to favor flatter, more agile organizational structures.

All this leads to a virtuous circle of new digital talent acquisition: More than three times as many of the leaders say their employees are more engaged thanks to digital transformation and are more likely to say that these efforts make it easier to attract and retain talent.

They invest in next-generation technology using a bi-modal architecture. The leaders, perhaps unsurprisingly, are ahead in technology maturity, but it’s mainly about new ways of working.

93% of the leaders say technology is critically important to retaining competitive advantage, compared with 72% of others. They are investing more heavily in Big Data and analytics (94 percent vs. 60 percent), and the Internet of Things (76 percent vs. 52 percent). And 50% percent of them are already working with artificial intelligence and machine learning, compared to 7 percent of all others.

But the key difference is how that they apply that technology: 72% of leaders say that a bi-modal IT architecture—involving a mix of front-end and back-end infrastructure, able to operate at multiple speeds for multiple business needs—is important to digital transformation, compared to 30% of others.

The organization structures used to implement technology are also different, with leaders overwhelmingly favoring a more centralized approach. They are three times more likely to have a dedicated group for digital transformation or implement change using existing business-focused IT organizations. The others are much more likely to see efforts scattered across operations, finance, and other functional units.

What’s next?

So far, as Pat Bakey put it at SAP Leonardo Live, “We see sparks of innovation happening, but we haven’t seen the big bonfires of opportunity.”

It’s time for IT organizations to accelerate digital transformation beyond small “islands of innovation” and adopt a more holistic, centralized approach. Most companies, faced with digital transformation, are changing what they do, but not how they do it.

What sets the leaders apart is that they have internalized the need to transform how they think as well as what they do—to create a digital mindset across the organization.

Digital transformation will determine the future of business, so it cannot be incremental or be considered independently from the operating model. In the end, what the survey shows most clearly is that companies that treat digital transformation as another IT project will not just fall behind. They will fail.

As Vivek Bapat, senior vice president, Global Head of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership at SAP, puts it:

“The next two years will be a key inflection point, which will separate the digital winners from those left behind. Digital transformation is no longer a choice, it’s an essential driver of revenue, profit and growth. Executives need to move from simply understanding the high stakes, to activating complete end-to-end execution across their business. This requires innovative breakthrough technologies, investing in digital skills, and retraining the existing workforce.”

Get all the detailed data from the Digital Transformation study from SAP. For more information, visit the SAP News Center. Follow SAP on Twitter at @digitalistmag and @sapnews.


Timo Elliott

About Timo Elliott

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist for SAP and a passionate advocate of innovation, digital business, analytics, and artificial intelligence. He was the eighth employee of BusinessObjects and for the last 25 years he has worked closely with SAP customers around the world on new technology directions and their impact on real-world organizations. His articles have appeared in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, ZDNet, The Guardian, and Digitalist Magazine. He has worked in the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Silicon Valley, and currently lives in Paris, France. He has a degree in Econometrics and a patent in mobile analytics. 

Very Soon We Won’t Trust Anything Unless It’s Backed By Blockchain

Susan Galer

Most people wouldn’t set foot inside a plane with non-certified parts, bring tainted food home to their family, or hire someone with false credentials on their resume. Time was when lack of knowledge kept consumers and businesses from authenticating stuff – be it equipment, supply chains, or documents. Now blockchain is starting to emerge as fraud fighter extraordinaire. I heard several experts talk up blockchain’s potential strengths during a recent SAP Radio broadcast of Startup Focus with Game-Changers, “Blockchain, Trust, and Startups,” hosted by Bonnie D. Graham.

Ethical, compliant supply chains

The panel was united on one point: every industry can benefit from blockchain’s foundation of digital trust. Peter Ebert, senior vice president of sales and business development at Cryptowerk, expanded on a conversation I had with him during an interview at SAP TechEd, where he demonstrated a blockchain use case that that helped the pharmaceutical industry better track drugs. During the radio show, he positioned blockchain as an incredible fraud fighter supporting ethical supply chains, as well as end-to-end visibility for regulators.

“If you buy anything…you want to make sure that there’s no child labor involved, that the raw materials were sourced in a fair way, that you are not paying for a counterfeit and think it’s the real thing,” said Ebert. “Many different laws in various industries demand to know from where was something shipped, when was it delivered or returned. Blockchain automates this trust that you need to store all these events with trust embedded.”

Safety in the skies

Drew Hingorani, CEO of AI-BlockChain, recounted how an airplane crashed when a maintenance crew member put a jackscrew in the wrong place.

“The lubricant didn’t recognize the jackscrew because the actual jackscrew that was supposed to go into that spot had a different composite. But if you track the jet engine parts, which is a use case we’re talking about currently, you can actually solve that problem using blockchain technology,” said Hingorani.

Fraud fighter extraordinaire

Ebert agreed that aerospace engineering was a compelling use case for blockchain.

“You have parts that are very expensive, being swapped out of one airplane into another, and then suddenly you have a part that didn’t come from where you thought it would come from. It doesn’t comply with the quality metrics that are required, and you find yourself with your loved ones sitting in a plane where, even if it’s just five parts, they are not what they are supposed to be. And that’s very scary,” he said.

Blockchain spots fakes anywhere

Ebert thinks the same authenticity scenarios are true for enterprise software. “We see things where you look at an image, you look at a video, and you hear somebody talk and you think you know who it is and it sounds and looks completely authentic but it isn’t,” he said. “The very foundations of our trust can be shaken by [other] technologies, and blockchain can come in and can automate this trust…at some point, you will actually not trust a document that is being presented to you unless it’s anchored in a blockchain somewhere.”

Trust in blockchain

Andreas Fichter, SAP Innovation Center Network, predicted blockchain’s eventual emergence as the new standard for trust, whether tracking documents, 3D printing, or any kind of digital asset across enterprises and in the consumer space.

“Paper is dead, and everything will be digitalized and there will be a new expectation when it comes to trust in those new digital records, and in how we conduct business,” he said. “Probably we’ll get to the point where people will say, why haven’t we done this before, or why was it so complicated before?”

With the right blend of blockchain and other emerging technologies, your supply chain can become a competitive advantage. Read The Blockchain Solution.

This blog was originally posted on the Medium Community under SAP Innovation Spotlight.


Digital Transformation And Five New Imperatives For The Paper And Packaging Industry

Jennifer Scholze

No industry has been more affected by digital disruption than paper and packaging. The challenge has been to survive this shift and leverage digital technologies in a world far less dependent on paper products than it was 10 years ago.

Uneven impact of digital disruption

The impact of digital disruption has not been felt evenly across the paper and packaging industry. Tissue, hygiene, and packaging are doing well and seeing healthy growth. The segments that have been impacted the most are newsprint, graphic, and printing paper. These segments must redefine how to create value in a digital world.

Leaders across all industries have found ways to leverage technology to solve digital challenges. Although it may seem counterintuitive to recommend that the print and packaging industry become more digital, they must to stay relevant.

Five strategies for paper and packaging success in a digital economy

  1. A healthy segment can still be improved. While healthy, packaging can grow by leveraging innovations such as artificial intelligence or augmented reality. Machine learning can help improve product quality and maintenance and is a game changer in terms of improving process automation. Augmented reality can support workers to maintain devices safely and more cost-effectively without needing to call skilled technicians.
  1. Customer collaboration can drive new business and margins for paper and packaging companies using digital tools. Using digitized information, paper and packaging companies can provide additional services based on customers’ individualized needs, such as co-development of new packaging materials or detailed tracking information for shipped goods. Technology can also be the answer to revamping channels to open up new businesses with higher margins. One example is Sappi. As part of the company’s digital transformation initiative, Sappi targeted the European markets as an opportunity for transformation of customer segments and the use of the merchant-retailer channel.
  1. Digital transformation improves logistics and operational efficiency. Paper and packaging companies have complex manufacturing and logistics challenges. These range from transportation and warehousing to process management and asset downtime. Capturing and analyzing data from machines, vehicles, or products allows better predictions, simulations, and decisions. Automation and connectivity across the plant floor reduce error rates, add speed, and cut operating costs. Analyzing sensor data from machines helps predict possible failures early and reduces unplanned downtimes.
  1. Digital tools like machine learning help make the most out of your workforce. Digital tools help employees spend less time on repetitive tasks and more time on strategic analysis and action by automating tasks. An added benefit of leveraging digital tools to create cost-effective, outcome-driven, human-machine partnership workflows across the organization is that smart automation also tends to reduce the number of errors and accidents that occur when automation isn’t built into the model.
  1. Key partnerships with technology providers are essential in the execution of this type of digital transformation: No company can be successful if it tries to tackle digital transformation alone. In the paper and packaging industry, strategic partnerships with technology providers who understand how to synthesize emerging technologies to address core business processes is a key ingredient to success. By partnering with technology solutions providers who can not only fulfill current technology needs but help them co-innovate on the business side to drive disruption (rather than just react and adapt to it), paper and packaging companies can more easily reinvent their industry for a digitally driven world where their products don’t have to be commoditized and devalued.

The paper and packaging industry was hit hard by the explosion of digital content in recent years, but new technologies open up a world of opportunities to improve operational efficiency, accelerate speed to market, become a hub of product innovation for retailers, and create more value to its customer ecosystem than ever before.

Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation by downloading The IoT Imperative for Energy and Natural Resource Companies. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today by reading Industry 4.0: What’s Next?


Jennifer Scholze

About Jennifer Scholze

Jennifer Scholze is the Global Lead for Industry Marketing for the Mill Products and Mining Industries at SAP. She has over 20 years of technology marketing, communications and venture capital experience and lives in the Boston area with her husband and two children.

Hack the CIO

By Thomas Saueressig, Timo Elliott, Sam Yen, and Bennett Voyles

For nerds, the weeks right before finals are a Cinderella moment. Suddenly they’re stars. Pocket protectors are fashionable; people find their jokes a whole lot funnier; Dungeons & Dragons sounds cool.

Many CIOs are enjoying this kind of moment now, as companies everywhere face the business equivalent of a final exam for a vital class they have managed to mostly avoid so far: digital transformation.

But as always, there is a limit to nerdy magic. No matter how helpful CIOs try to be, their classmates still won’t pass if they don’t learn the material. With IT increasingly central to every business—from the customer experience to the offering to the business model itself—we all need to start thinking like CIOs.

Pass the digital transformation exam, and you probably have a bright future ahead. A recent SAP-Oxford Economics study of 3,100 organizations in a variety of industries across 17 countries found that the companies that have taken the lead in digital transformation earn higher profits and revenues and have more competitive differentiation than their peers. They also expect 23% more revenue growth from their digital initiatives over the next two years—an estimate 2.5 to 4 times larger than the average company’s.

But the market is grading on a steep curve: this same SAP-Oxford study found that only 3% have completed some degree of digital transformation across their organization. Other surveys also suggest that most companies won’t be graduating anytime soon: in one recent survey of 450 heads of digital transformation for enterprises in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany by technology company Couchbase, 90% agreed that most digital projects fail to meet expectations and deliver only incremental improvements. Worse: over half (54%) believe that organizations that don’t succeed with their transformation project will fail or be absorbed by a savvier competitor within four years.

Companies that are making the grade understand that unlike earlier technical advances, digital transformation doesn’t just support the business, it’s the future of the business. That’s why 60% of digital leading companies have entrusted the leadership of their transformation to their CIO, and that’s why experts say businesspeople must do more than have a vague understanding of the technology. They must also master a way of thinking and looking at business challenges that is unfamiliar to most people outside the IT department.

In other words, if you don’t think like a CIO yet, now is a very good time to learn.

However, given that you probably don’t have a spare 15 years to learn what your CIO knows, we asked the experts what makes CIO thinking distinctive. Here are the top eight mind hacks.

1. Think in Systems

A lot of businesspeople are used to seeing their organization as a series of loosely joined silos. But in the world of digital business, everything is part of a larger system.

CIOs have known for a long time that smart processes win. Whether they were installing enterprise resource planning systems or working with the business to imagine the customer’s journey, they always had to think in holistic ways that crossed traditional departmental, functional, and operational boundaries.

Unlike other business leaders, CIOs spend their careers looking across systems. Why did our supply chain go down? How can we support this new business initiative beyond a single department or function? Now supported by end-to-end process methodologies such as design thinking, good CIOs have developed a way of looking at the company that can lead to radical simplifications that can reduce cost and improve performance at the same time.

They are also used to thinking beyond temporal boundaries. “This idea that the power of technology doubles every two years means that as you’re planning ahead you can’t think in terms of a linear process, you have to think in terms of huge jumps,” says Jay Ferro, CIO of TransPerfect, a New York–based global translation firm.

No wonder the SAP-Oxford transformation study found that one of the values transformational leaders shared was a tendency to look beyond silos and view the digital transformation as a company-wide initiative.

This will come in handy because in digital transformation, not only do business processes evolve but the company’s entire value proposition changes, says Jeanne Ross, principal research scientist at the Center for Information Systems Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “It either already has or it’s going to, because digital technologies make things possible that weren’t possible before,” she explains.

2. Work in Diverse Teams

When it comes to large projects, CIOs have always needed input from a diverse collection of businesspeople to be successful. The best have developed ways to convince and cajole reluctant participants to come to the table. They seek out technology enthusiasts in the business and those who are respected by their peers to help build passion and commitment among the halfhearted.

Digital transformation amps up the urgency for building diverse teams even further. “A small, focused group simply won’t have the same breadth of perspective as a team that includes a salesperson and a service person and a development person, as well as an IT person,” says Ross.

At Lenovo, the global technology giant, many of these cross-functional teams become so used to working together that it’s hard to tell where each member originally belonged: “You can’t tell who is business or IT; you can’t tell who is product, IT, or design,” says the company’s CIO, Arthur Hu.

One interesting corollary of this trend toward broader teamwork is that talent is a priority among digital leaders: they spend more on training their employees and partners than ordinary companies, as well as on hiring the people they need, according to the SAP-Oxford Economics survey. They’re also already being rewarded for their faith in their teams: 71% of leaders say that their successful digital transformation has made it easier for them to attract and retain talent, and 64% say that their employees are now more engaged than they were before the transformation.

3. Become a Consultant

Good CIOs have long needed to be internal consultants to the business. Ever since technology moved out of the glasshouse and onto employees’ desks, CIOs have not only needed a deep understanding of the goals of a given project but also to make sure that the project didn’t stray from those goals, even after the businesspeople who had ordered the project went back to their day jobs. “Businesspeople didn’t really need to get into the details of what IT was really doing,” recalls Ferro. “They just had a set of demands and said, ‘Hey, IT, go do that.’”

Now software has become so integral to the business that nobody can afford to walk away. Businesspeople must join the ranks of the IT consultants.

But that was then. Now software has become so integral to the business that nobody can afford to walk away. Businesspeople must join the ranks of the IT consultants. “If you’re building a house, you don’t just disappear for six months and come back and go, ‘Oh, it looks pretty good,’” says Ferro. “You’re on that work site constantly and all of a sudden you’re looking at something, going, ‘Well, that looked really good on the blueprint, not sure it makes sense in reality. Let’s move that over six feet.’ Or, ‘I don’t know if I like that anymore.’ It’s really not much different in application development or for IT or technical projects, where on paper it looked really good and three weeks in, in that second sprint, you’re going, ‘Oh, now that I look at it, that’s really stupid.’”

4. Learn Horizontal Leadership

CIOs have always needed the ability to educate and influence other leaders that they don’t directly control. For major IT projects to be successful, they need other leaders to contribute budget, time, and resources from multiple areas of the business.

It’s a kind of horizontal leadership that will become critical for businesspeople to acquire in digital transformation. “The leadership role becomes one much more of coaching others across the organization—encouraging people to be creative, making sure everybody knows how to use data well,” Ross says.

In this team-based environment, having all the answers becomes less important. “It used to be that the best business executives and leaders had the best answers. Today that is no longer the case,” observes Gary Cokins, a technology consultant who focuses on analytics-based performance management. “Increasingly, it’s the executives and leaders who ask the best questions. There is too much volatility and uncertainty for them to rely on their intuition or past experiences.”

Many experts expect this trend to continue as the confluence of automation and data keeps chipping away at the organizational pyramid. “Hierarchical, command-and-control leadership will become obsolete,” says Edward Hess, professor of business administration and Batten executive-in-residence at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. “Flatter, distributive leadership via teams will become the dominant structure.”

5. Understand Process Design

When business processes were simpler, IT could analyze the process and improve it without input from the business. But today many processes are triggered on the fly by the customer, making a seamless customer experience more difficult to build without the benefit of a larger, multifunctional team. In a highly digitalized organization like Amazon, which releases thousands of new software programs each year, IT can no longer do it all.

While businesspeople aren’t expected to start coding, their involvement in process design is crucial. One of the techniques that many organizations have adopted to help IT and businesspeople visualize business processes together is design thinking (for more on design thinking techniques, see “A Cult of Creation“).

Customers aren’t the only ones who benefit from better processes. Among the 100 companies the SAP-Oxford Economics researchers have identified as digital leaders, two-thirds say that they are making their employees’ lives easier by eliminating process roadblocks that interfere with their ability to do their jobs. Ninety percent of leaders surveyed expect to see value from these projects in the next two years alone.

6. Learn to Keep Learning

The ability to learn and keep learning has been a part of IT from the start. Since the first mainframes in the 1950s, technologists have understood that they need to keep reinventing themselves and their skills to adapt to the changes around them.

Now that’s starting to become part of other job descriptions too. Many companies are investing in teaching their employees new digital skills. One South American auto products company, for example, has created a custom-education institute that trained 20,000 employees and partner-employees in 2016. In addition to training current staff, many leading digital companies are also hiring new employees and creating new roles, such as a chief robotics officer, to support their digital transformation efforts.

Nicolas van Zeebroeck, professor of information systems and digital business innovation at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management at the Free University of Brussels, says that he expects the ability to learn quickly will remain crucial. “If I had to think of one critical skill,” he explains, “I would have to say it’s the ability to learn and keep learning—the ability to challenge the status quo and question what you take for granted.”

7. Fail Smarter

Traditionally, CIOs tended to be good at thinking through tests that would allow the company to experiment with new technology without risking the entire network.

This is another unfamiliar skill that smart managers are trying to pick up. “There’s a lot of trial and error in the best companies right now,” notes MIT’s Ross. But there’s a catch, she adds. “Most companies aren’t designed for trial and error—they’re trying to avoid an error,” she says.

To learn how to do it better, take your lead from IT, where many people have already learned to work in small, innovative teams that use agile development principles, advises Ross.

For example, business managers must learn how to think in terms of a minimum viable product: build a simple version of what you have in mind, test it, and if it works start building. You don’t build the whole thing at once anymore.… It’s really important to build things incrementally,” Ross says.

Flexibility and the ability to capitalize on accidental discoveries during experimentation are more important than having a concrete project plan, says Ross. At Spotify, the music service, and CarMax, the used-car retailer, change is driven not from the center but from small teams that have developed something new. “The thing you have to get comfortable with is not having the formalized plan that we would have traditionally relied on, because as soon as you insist on that, you limit your ability to keep learning,” Ross warns.

8. Understand the True Cost—and Speed—of Data

Gut instincts have never had much to do with being a CIO; now they should have less to do with being an ordinary manager as well, as data becomes more important.

As part of that calculation, businesspeople must have the ability to analyze the value of the data that they seek. “You’ll need to apply a pinch of knowledge salt to your data,” advises Solvay’s van Zeebroeck. “What really matters is the ability not just to tap into data but to see what is behind the data. Is it a fair representation? Is it impartial?”

Increasingly, businesspeople will need to do their analysis in real time, just as CIOs have always had to manage live systems and processes. Moving toward real-time reports and away from paper-based decisions increases accuracy and effectiveness—and leaves less time for long meetings and PowerPoint presentations (let us all rejoice).

Not Every CIO Is Ready

Of course, not all CIOs are ready for these changes. Just as high school has a lot of false positives—genius nerds who turn out to be merely nearsighted—so there are many CIOs who aren’t good role models for transformation.

Success as a CIO these days requires more than delivering near-perfect uptime, says Lenovo’s Hu. You need to be able to understand the business as well. Some CIOs simply don’t have all the business skills that are needed to succeed in the transformation. Others lack the internal clout: a 2016 KPMG study found that only 34% of CIOs report directly to the CEO.

This lack of a strategic perspective is holding back digital transformation at many organizations. They approach digital transformation as a cool, one-off project: we’re going to put this new mobile app in place and we’re done. But that’s not a systematic approach; it’s an island of innovation that doesn’t join up with the other islands of innovation. In the longer term, this kind of development creates more problems than it fixes.

Such organizations are not building in the capacity for change; they’re trying to get away with just doing it once rather than thinking about how they’re going to use digitalization as a means to constantly experiment and become a better company over the long term.

As a result, in some companies, the most interesting tech developments are happening despite IT, not because of it. “There’s an alarming digital divide within many companies. Marketers are developing nimble software to give customers an engaging, personalized experience, while IT departments remain focused on the legacy infrastructure. The front and back ends aren’t working together, resulting in appealing web sites and apps that don’t quite deliver,” writes George Colony, founder, chairman, and CEO of Forrester Research, in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Thanks to cloud computing and easier development tools, many departments are developing on their own, without IT’s support. These days, anybody with a credit card can do it.

Traditionally, IT departments looked askance at these kinds of do-it-yourself shadow IT programs, but that’s changing. Ferro, for one, says that it’s better to look at those teams not as rogue groups but as people who are trying to help. “It’s less about ‘Hey, something’s escaped,’ and more about ‘No, we just actually grew our capacity and grew our ability to innovate,’” he explains.

“I don’t like the term ‘shadow IT,’” agrees Lenovo’s Hu. “I think it’s an artifact of a very traditional CIO team. If you think of it as shadow IT, you’re out of step with reality,” he says.

The reality today is that a company needs both a strong IT department and strong digital capacities outside its IT department. If the relationship is good, the CIO and IT become valuable allies in helping businesspeople add digital capabilities without disrupting or duplicating existing IT infrastructure.

If a company already has strong digital capacities, it should be able to move forward quickly, according to Ross. But many companies are still playing catch-up and aren’t even ready to begin transforming, as the SAP-Oxford Economics survey shows.

For enterprises where business and IT are unable to get their collective act together, Ross predicts that the next few years will be rough. “I think these companies ought to panic,” she says. D!

About the Authors

Thomas Saueressig is Chief Information Officer at SAP.

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist at SAP.

Sam Yen is Chief Design Officer at SAP and Managing Director of SAP Labs.

Bennett Voyles is a Berlin-based business writer.

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


The Differences Between Machine Learning And Predictive Analytics

Shaily Kumar

Many people are confused about the specifics of machine learning and predictive analytics. Although they are both centered on efficient data processing, there are many differences.

Machine learning

Machine learning is a method of computational learning underlying most artificial intelligence (AI) applications. In ML, systems or algorithms improve themselves through data experience without relying on explicit programming. ML algorithms are wide-ranging tools capable of carrying out predictions while simultaneously learning from over trillions of observations.

Machine learning is considered a modern-day extension of predictive analytics. Efficient pattern recognition and self-learning are the backbones of ML models, which automatically evolve based on changing patterns in order to enable appropriate actions.

Many companies today depend on machine learning algorithms to better understand their clients and potential revenue opportunities. Hundreds of existing and newly developed machine learning algorithms are applied to derive high-end predictions that guide real-time decisions with less reliance on human intervention.

Business application of machine learning: employee satisfaction

One common, uncomplicated, yet successful business application of machine learning is measuring real-time employee satisfaction.

Machine learning applications can be highly complex, but one that’s both simple and very useful for business is a machine learning algorithm that compares employee satisfaction ratings to salaries. Instead of plotting a predictive satisfaction curve against salary figures for various employees, as predictive analytics would suggest, the algorithm assimilates huge amounts of random training data upon entry, and the prediction results are affected by any added training data to produce real-time accuracy and more helpful predictions.

This machine learning algorithm employs self-learning and automated recalibration in response to pattern changes in the training data, making machine learning more reliable for real-time predictions than other AI concepts. Repeatedly increasing or updating the bulk of training data guarantees better predictions.

Machine learning can also be implemented in image classification and facial recognition with deep learning and neural network techniques.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics can be defined as the procedure of condensing huge volumes of data into information that humans can understand and use. Basic descriptive analytic techniques include averages and counts. Descriptive analytics based on obtaining information from past events has evolved into predictive analytics, which attempts to predict the future based on historical data.

This concept applies complex techniques of classical statistics, like regression and decision trees, to provide credible answers to queries such as: ‘’How exactly will my sales be influenced by a 10% increase in advertising expenditure?’’ This leads to simulations and “what-if” analyses for users to learn more.

All predictive analytics applications involve three fundamental components:

  • Data: The effectiveness of every predictive model strongly depends on the quality of the historical data it processes.
  • Statistical modeling: Includes the various statistical techniques ranging from basic to complex functions used for the derivation of meaning, insight, and inference. Regression is the most commonly used statistical technique.
  • Assumptions: The conclusions drawn from collected and analyzed data usually assume the future will follow a pattern related to the past.

Data analysis is crucial for any business en route to success, and predictive analytics can be applied in numerous ways to enhance business productivity. These include things like marketing campaign optimization, risk assessment, market analysis, and fraud detection.

Business application of predictive analytics: marketing campaign optimization

In the past, valuable marketing campaign resources were wasted by businesses using instincts alone to try to capture market niches. Today, many predictive analytic strategies help businesses identify, engage, and secure suitable markets for their services and products, driving greater efficiency into marketing campaigns.

A clear application is using visitors’ search history and usage patterns on e-commerce websites to make product recommendations. Sites like Amazon increase their chance of sales by recommending products based on specific consumer interests. Predictive analytics now plays a vital role in the marketing operations of real estate, insurance, retail, and almost every other sector.

How machine learning and predictive analytics are related

While businesses must understand the differences between machine learning and predictive analytics, it’s just as important to know how they are related. Basically, machine learning is a predictive analytics branch. Despite having similar aims and processes, there are two main differences between them:

  • Machine learning works out predictions and recalibrates models in real-time automatically after design. Meanwhile, predictive analytics works strictly on “cause” data and must be refreshed with “change” data.
  • Unlike machine learning, predictive analytics still relies on human experts to work out and test the associations between cause and outcome.

Explore machine learning applications and AI software with SAP Leonardo.


Shaily Kumar

About Shaily Kumar

Shailendra has been on a quest to help organisations make money out of data and has generated an incremental value of over one billion dollars through analytics and cognitive processes. With a global experience of more than two decades, Shailendra has worked with a myriad of Corporations, Consulting Services and Software Companies in various industries like Retail, Telecommunications, Financial Services and Travel - to help them realise incremental value hidden in zettabytes of data. He has published multiple articles in international journals about Analytics and Cognitive Solutions; and recently published “Making Money out of Data” which showcases five business stories from various industries on how successful companies make millions of dollars in incremental value using analytics. Prior to joining SAP, Shailendra was Partner / Analytics & Cognitive Leader, Asia at IBM where he drove the cognitive business across Asia. Before joining IBM, he was the Managing Director and Analytics Lead at Accenture delivering value to its clients across Australia and New Zealand. Coming from the industry, Shailendra held key Executive positions driving analytics at Woolworths and Coles in the past. Please feel to connect on: Linkedin: Twitter: