2018 Mobile Industry Predictions

William Dudley

In my 11th edition of mobile industry predictions, 2018 is already starting off with technological bombshells, thanks to the U.S. FCC repealing network neutrality regulations in 2017. However, this debate is far from over.

Blockchain is gold: Any company mentioning blockchain suddenly rises to the top, and public companies discussing blockchain see stock valuations sometimes rise dramatically. Those results are primarily based on the hype that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies experienced in December. Mobile networks continue to flourish, and 5G will likely become reality this year.

2017 predictions: How they fared

First, I’d like to review 2017 predictions to see how they fared against the reality of this dynamic, ever-changing industry. For each 2017 prediction, I will rate the correctness.

2017 prediction: Mobile messaging

Messaging through SMS will continue to grow and become the dominant worldwide channel for customer interactions. SMS will show resilience and staying power. RCS-type deployments will continue to disappoint. There will be no Android equivalent of Apple Messaging. Some IP messaging platforms will become legitimate alternative channels to A2P SMS.

2017 realityA2P messaging and messaging channels grew and our A2P messaging statistics reflected growth with double-digit percentage increases over 2016. Ovum indicates “A2P messaging is projected to grow at 8% CAGR from 2015 to 2018.”

I was wrong about RCS. A2P RCS is making a resurgence thanks to the catalyst of Google Jibe’s RCS Business Messaging. Other RCS hubs including Samsung, Mavenir, and ecrio, are providing solutions around the GSMA Universal Profile 1.0 and 2.0 standards, reducing RCS fragmentation. RCS is poised to become an important engagement channel.

2017 mobile messaging prediction score: 75% correct, because I thankfully I got the RCS part wrong.

2017 prediction: Chatbots 

Chatbots will be heavily hyped, but won’t gain significant prominence, barring a few customer-service solutions, which will ultimately lead to human interaction. Chatbots will replace the voice-call menu tree or request needed information for the human responder.

2017 Reality: Strongly hyped, chatbots are being used more, especially around customer service; however, their prominence is still questionable. Bots are mostly used in non-SMS social chat apps. For some platforms, the ability to discover new bots is a factor. A few SMS-based are being deployed and will play an increasing role in A2P RCS as a core element of conversational messaging on that channel. AI enhancement of chatbots has become commonplace, leveraging solutions like Google’s api.ai (now called Dialogflow) and Microsoft’s Bot Framework, among several.

2017 chatbot prediction score: 100% correct

2017 prediction: 5G

We will see a start of production 5G deployments by mobile carriers, initially targeting IoT applications; however, some will target consumer devices.

2017 reality: Almost a complete, but close, miss. GSA noted that 103 operators in 49 countries are “investing in 5G technology in the form of demos, lab trials, or field tests.” As of December 2017, 32 operators have made public commitments to deploy 5G in 23 countries, including Verizon Wireless, who has committed to roll-out 5G in 3-5 cities. Huawei indicated that Vodafone Italy had achieved the first 5G data connection in Milan, Italy, marking the start of their planned network rollout.

2017 5G prediction score: 20% correct

2017 prediction: LTE

By the end of 2017, there will be at least 650 LTE networks and 200 LTE-Advanced Networks launched worldwide.

2017 reality: At the end of 2017, there were 647 commercially-launched LTE networks with 680-700 anticipated networks. Per GSA, there are 216 LTE-Advanced networks in 105 countries.

2017 LTE prediction score: 100% correct

2017 prediction: Apple

Apple will launch a new iPhone 8 and iOS 11 featuring innovations, including an OLED screen, no hardware buttons, wireless charging, enhanced camera capabilities, and better support for LTE-Advanced. This will lead to record iPhone sales with Apple iOS gaining market share, but not dominating Android.

2017 reality: Apple launched the iPhone 8 and iOS 11; however, also announced and shipped the iPhone X, which included the OLED screen, no home button, and the other features. Wireless charging is available for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. LTE-Advanced support is mostly unchanged in the new devices. Android-iOS market share varies worldwide, but Android remains in the 80-85% share with iOS at 15-20% share.

2017 Apple prediction score: 85% correct

2017 prediction: Two-factor authentication (2FA)

2FA will continue to be the dominant authentication and security mechanism, especially with increasing account breach reports. 2FA will be the dominant channel over SMS, although 2FA through TOTP solutions will gain prominence.

2017 reality: Breaches continued in 2017, resulting in hundreds of millions, if not over 1 billion subscribers’ data compromised. Deloitte was specifically determined to lack 2FA in place. The FIDO/Javelin State of Authentication 2017 report cited that SMS OTP for mobile was second only to password usage. It was 4th for online, with static and dynamic Knowledge Based Authentication (KBA or “secret” questions) coming in 2nd and 3rd. Software OTP (such as TOTP solutions) followed SMS OTP.

2017 two-factor authentication score: 100% correct

2017 prediction: Wearables

Wearables will grow, but lacking killer applications or functionality, will slowly track upward. Fitness/health continue to be the predominant applications. Apple and Fitbit continue to lead the pack. One or more existing platforms will shut down.

2017 reality: Jawbone, once worth over $3 billion, is said to be in liquidation, and TomTom cut jobs as they began restructuring toward their mapping and navigation. Apple re-took the lead in Q-3 with 23% share, with Xiaomi (21%) and Fitbit (20%) behind. In terms of predominant functionality, health and fitness lead the market; however, with LTE-enabled Apple’s Series 3, applications like messaging, alerts, and communications are gaining usage.

2017 wearables prediction score: 100% correct

2017 prediction: IoT

The most dominant IoT applications will be in transportation, especially vehicle automation, followed by logistics and smart home devices. Few vehicle manufacturers will provide capabilities of Tesla (e.g. downloadable software, self-driving capabilities, etc.), but more car manufacturers will provide mobile apps and remote vehicle management.

2017 reality: According to IoT Institute, asset tracking and monitoring was the most popular use case, followed by automation of manual processes and predictive maintenance. 2017 predictions were a little too specific; however, “automation of manual processes” can cover some consumer-focused IoT implementations. Huge changes in vehicle IoT were not realized, although there has been plenty of press around fundamental changes. The most innovative IoT solutions were in the industrial space.

2017 IoT prediction score: 30% correct

2017 prediction: Mobile operators

Expect some mobile operator consolidation in the U.S., with Sprint or T-Mobile USA being acquired. US Cellular could be acquired with some smaller tier 3 operators, leading to questions of competition and market dominance among remaining operators.

2017 reality: Sprint and T-Mobile again flirted with merging, and again called it off. US Cellular remains independent. Due to the FCC-imposed “quiet period,” there was little M&A among mobile operators in the United States.

2017 mobile operator score: 0% correct

2017 prediction: Mobile point of sale

POS will continue to grow in usage and acceptance by consumers. Apple Pay will top double-digit monthly usage. Consumers will begin to accept mobile payment solutions as more secure than credit cards. More sites will support Apple Pay and Android Pay.

2017 reality: Mobile contactless payment solutions increased. A November Bank Innovation report indicated that Apple Pay should reach 86 million users in 2017. Apple Pay is in 20 markets, representing 70% of the world’s card transaction volume, and in the US at more than 50% of all retail locations. Android Pay and Samsung Pay increased, but sort of split up the Android world. Apple Pay Cash launched in late Q4, enabling users to transfer money through iMessage and other channels, setting up iMessage to become a more comprehensive communications app.

2017 mobile point of sale score: 100% correct

2017 was a tough year for predictions. I was 61% correct, compared to  83% in 2016 and 82% in 2015.

2018 mobile industry predictions

2017 has set the table for new technologies to come to commercial fruition this year. In no particular order, here are my ten mobile industry predictions for 2018:

Mobile messaging continues dominance as the primary engagement tool for consumer interactions. SMS will continue to lead and surpass 2017 volumes. Messaging media usage will increase, including Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and others. For the first time, A2P RCS will launch commercial services with key brands and businesses interacting with consumers through RCS.

2018 will be the year that RCS returns, specifically optimized for A2P (or enterprise/business/brand engagement). While person-to-person or P2P RCS will grow, the biggest impact will be consumer interaction. Most will be through AI-assisted chatbots. By the end of 2018, there will be between 500 -700 million MAUs using RCS globally, starting to rival non-SMS messaging apps. This number will be higher if Apple iMessage supports RCS Universal Profile. 2018 may be the beginning of the end for many mobile apps as users discover that conversation interfaces work as well as, or better than, mobile apps with similar functionality.

Apple will grow its worldwide iOS market share, building on the success of the iPhone X. New iPhones in 2018 will leverage the new technology and capabilities introduced in iPhone X. Expect more enhancements to iMessage and improved LTE Advanced capabilities for more networks globally. 2017 revelations around battery slow-down issues ultimately won’t have much effect. Apple Watch will continue dominance in wearables, increasing its share to almost 30%.

Apple HomePod will launch with innovative capabilities, enabling close integration with Apple mobile devices that Amazon Echo and Google Home will not have. HomePod won’t overtake Amazon or Google, but will become the genesis of a new class of personal digital assistant that will grow in influence.

Authentication leveraging mobile solutions will gain more visibility and usage by global consumers. Two-factor authentication (2FA) over SMS will continue as the most-used solution by consumers, followed by 2FA via mobile apps. Mobile operators will close security vulnerabilities around SMS. Biometric authentication will grow in prominence.

Developer-centric API solutions for mobile channels will increase usage – especially in messaging engagement, fueling mobile messaging as a medium for customer engagement. Self-service by developers and non-developers in messaging – and even chatbot solutions – will bring mobile channels to more businesses, quicker and easier.

Expect over 750 commercially deployed LTE networks, over 300 LTE-Advanced commercially deployed networks, and over 50 5G commercially deployed networks. The GSA noted that 2018 should see over 3 billion LTE subscriptions. At the end of 2017, there were 116 mobile operators “investing in pre-standards 5G networks.” Many will provide fixed-wireless solutions and some specialty solutions. I doubt that we’ll see many mobile handsets supporting 5G; that will likely come to fruition in 2019 and beyond.

The U.S. network neutrality debate is not over. There will be legal and legislative challenges to the December 2017 repeal of various FCC regulations around network neutrality. This is a politically charged issue. Most Americans, as well as technology giants, supported the network neutrality provisions, but many mobile operators wanted them repealed. Expect confusion, but little negative consumer-facing activity by mobile operators and ISPs because of less regulation. Most people won’t notice accessibility changes.

Mobile-network connected IoT devices will continue to dominate the IoT space as industries rush to provide mobile-connected sensors. This will be especially important to asset-tracking across industries, especially those where movable assets must be tracked and maintained. Interestingly, these mobile-network connected sensors will primarily use existing networks. Companies providing IoT solutions will benefit by providing big-data mining, tracking, and maintenance capabilities to manage and process asset data from millions of connected sensors. IoT activities across industrial and consumer-focused solutions will increase substantially.

Blockchain (per Gartner, still in the Peak of Inflated Expectations) will be coupled with mobile platforms and applications to provide innovative solutions for finance, security, and mobile wallet/loyalty programs. Going beyond mobile-based cryptocurrency wallets and apps, mobile devices can be used as blockchain nodes that can store a variety of secure transactions. Innovations will demonstrate that mobile devices can be excellent for blockchain-based solutions, which can be as easy as downloading a specific app for consumers.

Last word

2018 mobile industry predictions cover a wide swath: Mobile messaging (SMS, RCS, messaging chat apps), authentication and blockchain as they relate to mobile, IoT, Apple, network neutrality and much more. This year, I’ve decided to stay away from mergers and acquisitions, though I think we’ll see some, but not as many, as previous years.

A variety of new businesses will emerge and become noteworthy in areas such as chatbots, IoT, 5G, and AI, but don’t rule out existing technology leaders. They, too, are working on innovative and amazing technology. Without doubt, 2018 will be another exciting year in the mobile industry.

For more insight on the future of mobile technology, see Digital Transformation Through Mobile Analytics.

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

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About William Dudley

William Dudley is group director, mobile evangelist, and strategist of the Industry & LoB Products at SAP Digital Interconnect (formerly known as SAP Mobile Services). He has many years of experience building and managing telecommunications network infrastructures. He defines global strategy and solutions for SAP Digital Interconnect, a business unit of SAP, within the mobile ecosystem, focusing on solutions for messaging, mobile-enabled online security, next-generation networks (5G, LTE, IPX), and consumer engagement through mobile channels. As mobile evangelist, Mr. Dudley communicates through both internal and external publications, social media and is active in industry groups. You may follow him on Twitter at @wdudley2009. His primary blog site is https://blogs.sap.com/author/william.dudley/.

The Promise And The Peril Of Blockchain

Andre Smith

This past year has seen the integration of blockchain technologies into businesses around the globe. Serious technology professionals regard the technology as a great leap forward for distributed computing, transparency, and security. The blockchain may well be the panacea that they envision it to be, but that doesn’t mean that it is without its share of risk.

The overwhelming hype about blockchain-based services (aided by the explosive rise in the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies) has created an investing frenzy that calls to mind the dotcom bubble of the late 1990’s or the more recent derivative-fueled financial crisis of 2008. The problem is that the level of excitement far exceeds the tech sector’s ability to bring meaningful and innovative blockchain products to market. This reality has resulted in a speculative vacuum.

Hype breeds fraud

As is usually the case, the first people to notice the overwhelming potential of blockchain technology as a moneymaker were those who would use it for nefarious purposes. As investors clamored to pour money into any ICO they could find, crypto pioneers and financial moguls sounded alarms that were mostly ignored. There have already been some notable red flags.

In November, the team behind a startup called Confido disappeared, taking $375,000 of investor funds with them. The company had claimed to be creating a blockchain-based escrow platform. Investors, in their rush to get involved, were duped by their false promises. In December, the U.S. SEC intervened in the ICO of a company known as PlexCoin, putting a stop to what they identified as a plot by long-time fraudsters to cash in on the ICO craze.

Secure reputation, insecure products

Defrauding investors isn’t the only trend associated with blockchain technologies that should be cause for concern. There is also the potential for the technology to be misused by criminal enterprises to hide illicit transactions, and by startups relying on the public perception of the blockchain as inherently secure as a means of selling products that are anything but. Both have already become a problem.

There are a number of ways that cryptocurrencies, underpinned by the blockchain, may be used as a conduit for illegal activity. There are already real-world examples of the technology being utilized to funnel money to terrorist organizations. Then there are companies like Privatix. Once a consumer VPN service, similar to wink-and-nod offerings like the VPN Hidemyass, Privatix suddenly rebranded itself as a blockchain VPN bandwidth marketplace. In practice, this has the same inherent risks as the Tor network, and they seem to be conflating “blockchain” with “secure” in an effort to mislead consumers.

Guilt by association

What’s at stake in these early days of the blockchain story may be the fate of the technology itself. As large financial institutions and consulting firms seek to position the blockchain in the public consciousness as the ultimate trust platform, there are no shortage of damaging incidents and examples working to undermine them. It also isn’t reasonable to expect that the public at large will draw a distinction between public and private blockchains, nor that they will even comprehend the difference.

It’s far too early to know if big business will be able to co-opt the blockchain and disassociate it from an external market that has been likened to the Wild West. The only thing that is certain is that they have great incentives to do so, since the blockchain could, at least internally, be as transformative as advertised. For now, all we can do is to stay tuned to see what comes next.

To learn more about the blockchain as a trusted platform see Blockchain: Pharma’s Answer to Restoring Trust in Healthcare.

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About Andre Smith

An Internet, Marketing and E-Commerce specialist with several years of experience in the industry. He has watched as the world of online business has grown and adapted to new technologies, and he has made it his mission to help keep businesses informed and up to date.

Will IoT Trump Blockchain And AI As The Megatrend Of 2018?

John Ward

Pundits and prognosticators are busy predicting which technologies to watch in 2018. In his article, Top 10 Trends For Digital Transformation In 2018, for example, analyst Daniel Newman offers a compelling list that includes the Internet of Things (IoT), analytics, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

Newman gets no argument from me. In fact, many of the businesses I wrote about this year are already putting these technologies to good use.

Look no further than IoT. For several of these companies, the Internet of Things is more than just a trend – it’s a necessity.

The F-35 of the farm fields

At the 2017 SAPPHIRE NOW conference, I had the chance to speak with Eric Frobel, the director of global engineering processes and IT architecture at AGCO Corporation. AGCO is an international maker of agricultural equipment. The company’s well-known brands, such as Massey Ferguson, Challenger, GSI, Valtra, and Fendt, are built and sold around the globe.

Froebel described how much of the company’s top-end farm equipment is loaded with sensor-driven telematics, GPS positioning, automatic guidance systems, and wireless data transfer technology.

“With all its onboard software and hardware technology, a state-of-the-art tractor or combine is more like a fighter jet than the family car,” he said.

Froebel sees the farming efficiencies delivered by high-tech machines as a present-day imperative.

“World population is growing, while the planet’s arable land is decreasing,” Froebel observed. “That means the yield from smaller amounts of land have to feed more people.”

Under the hood and behind the wheel

I also wrote about the impact of connected cars on folks who own dozens, or even thousands, of vehicles.

As the largest privately held fleet management company in the world, ARI currently manages more than 1.4 million vehicles around the globe. ARI believes the combination of IoT technologies and network connectivity is propelling advancements in fleet management that involve both car and driver.

ARI officials explained that telematics are an integral part of a rapidly growing number of vehicles that the company manages. As a result, ARI currently processes more than a terabyte of telematics on a monthly basis.

“With vehicles that have telematics and IoT capabilities, we are really seeing inside that vehicle,” said Bill Powell, the director of enterprise architecture at ARI.

ARI is using this kind of data-driven insight at the company’s call center. Here, more than 400 ASE-certified technicians make decisions affecting critical issues like vehicle maintenance and repair, warranty protection, and driver safety for their clients.

“But the Holy Grail is figuring out what’s going on behind the wheel,” Powell noted, “interacting and connecting with that driver.”

Providing drivers with real-time information can promote behavior that results in cost savings – like combining a vehicle’s GPS data with information about local gas prices to direct drivers to the lowest-cost fuel provider. It’s a simple example, but consider the potential impact if you continually provide that information to thousands of drivers.

Measuring earthquakes one building at a time

Most recently, I wrote about Hakusan Corporation – a small manufacturing company based in Tokyo that designs, manufactures, and implements earthquake monitoring devices.

Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone places in the world. An estimated 1,500 quakes are recorded in the country every year, and minor earthquakes occur almost every day.

Today, Hakusan is pioneering a new system that uses monitoring devices placed in individual buildings and Big Data analysis to measure earthquake damage in real time.

Analysis of this data can provide very granular information about the effects of an earthquake. Magnify this insight with data from perhaps thousands of local devices, and a very detailed and immediate assessment of a seismic event begins to take shape.

“If we can precisely measure the actual movement of each building, we could predict the damage to individual structures,” said Yoichi Tanaka, the chief technical officer at Hakusan Corporation. “Doing this in near real time would give tremendous advantage to government agencies and first responders. It will help save lives and protect properties.”

Powerful stuff

These companies are just a few examples of IoT in action. It’s little wonder that Newman writes that three of the main trends that he identifies – the analytics revolution, edge computing, and 5G cell processing – “are all driven by the IoT at their core.”

IoT could well be the megatrend of 2018.

For more on how the IoT is transforming business, see Tick Tock: Start Preparing for Resource Disruption.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnGWard3, and be sure to click on the links above to learn more about these customer stories.

This article originally appeared on Forbes SAPVoice.

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Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Outside the Margins

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing New Worlds

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

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

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

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

Do You Need a Futurist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

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

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

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

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make the Future Part of the Culture

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

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

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


About the Authors

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

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

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


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

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About Dan Wellers

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

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

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

About Stephanie Overby

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Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

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

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

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

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

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

How will jobs change?

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

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

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

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

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

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

So, what skills are needed?

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

Today's workplace reality

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

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