Luis Iván Cuende: Bitcoin Blockchain Entrepreneur

Stephanie Overby

Luis Iván Cuende must have been born an entrepreneur.

Having no access to capital, equipment, or collaborators in his native Oviedo, Spain, he gravitated toward the first thing he could get his three-year-old hands on: one of his software-engineer father’s old computers. By age 12, Cuende had released his own distribution of Linux. At 15, he won the HackNow award for technical talent. And he spent his 17th year as advisor to Neelie Kroes, then the European Commissioner for
Digital Agenda.

Today the 20-year-old is CTO of Stampery, a San Mateo, California, based startup he co-founded in 2015, which leverages the Bitcoin blockchain—the shared public ledger that records and secures Bitcoin currency transactions—to provide instant data notarization and document certification.

“I’ve always wanted to create things; that’s what makes me happy,” says Cuende, who splits his time between Silicon Valley and Madrid. “I got started with software because it’s easy to launch a product without the need for a factory or millions of dollars.”

Cuende started to see how he could make a big impact when he was working with Kroes, whom he views as one of the most disruptive politicians he’s met.

“She has one of the freshest minds I have seen in the policy world full of suits,” he says.

After his time as one of her advisors was up, he attempted to launch several businesses, which ultimately led to Stampery.

Know Your Strengths— and Weaknesses

Four years ago, Cuende developed Cardwee, an application that enabled companies to provide customer loyalty points via Apple Passbook. “It was the very first one, and it was a very good product,” he says. “But I knew nothing about business or marketing.”

The lesson? You can build a solid product, but if you don’t know how to sell it, you will fail. “It’s the second most important thing in business,” Cuende says. “I’m good at giving talks to big groups, but I’m very bad at selling in person to big clients. My co-founders have much more experience in that, and I try to learn from them.”

Setbacks Aren’t Failures

Cuende met his Stampery collaborators, CMO Tommaso Prennushi, a former marketing executive, and CEO Daniele Levi, a former professional DJ and a cryptography enthusiast, in 2012 at the annual tech festival Campus Party, held that year in Berlin. “We were the only ones talking about Bitcoin in Spain at the time,” Cuende says.

The trio developed several Bitcoin-related products that went nowhere. At one point, they tried to get a banking license to create a Bitcoin exchange, but that required “millions of dollars we didn’t have,” Cuende says.

They tried a new tack, coming up with the idea for Stampery. Cuende calls it “the most obvious” noncurrency application for the Bitcoin blockchain—and one they could develop at low cost. Cuende and his team built Stampery and then secured US$600,000 in pre-seed funding, led by Draper & Associates, in November 2015.

An Upside to Risk

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Stomper provides legally binding proof of a digital document’s existence, integrity and ownership.

Most successful new business ideas are obvious, Cuende believes. “It’s not that you see something that other people don’t. It’s just that the idea involves risk. It’s something that people are afraid of today.”

A few years ago, most people associated Bitcoin only with nefarious activity, he says. But the blockchain technology underpinning Bitcoin fascinated Cuende and his partners. The blockchain maintains a verifiable chronological record of Bitcoin transactions, and it resists tampering by involving a network of thousands of independently managed computers in securing every update.

“Having an immutable ledger enables you to do a lot of stuff that couldn’t be done otherwise,” says Cuende. This includes transferring electronic money without needing a bank or other institution to guarantee it. “But why should we limit that ledger to storing only financial transactions? Anything that needs to be recorded in order to have a reliable proof of its existence, integrity, and even ownership can benefit from it. It’s the first time in the history of the computer that digital information isn’t necessarily modifiable and destroyable.”

Cuende saw only one downside: “The blockchain is very bad at transaction volume.” Cuende and his co-founders wanted to be able to certify millions of documents at a time; the Bitcoin network was capable of 2.5 per second. That’s where their technological innovation came in. Stampery is designed to stamp billions of data sets per second. In addition, the technology can work with any blockchain network, not just Bitcoin’s.

That makes using the Bitcoin blockchain low risk. “If it goes down tomorrow—which is highly improbable—we can migrate to another blockchain,” he says. In addition, the legally binding proofs that Stampery generates to certify the existence, integrity, and ownership of documents will remain valid and accessible even if Stampery disappears, because it leverages a decentralized technology.

Disrupting Decades of  Paper Pushing

Stampery currently has 1,500 customers, who fall into three user groups: creators protecting their intellectual property, attorneys certifying documents, and software developers. Lawyers saw the value immediately.

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“They need to create proofs from a lot of their digital documents on a daily basis. Then we have creators who use it to prove that they were the first creating a music track, art, even a process,” Cuende says. “What we’re seeing lately is a lot of enterprise interest for areas such as document management and systems security.”

Users can stamp up to 10 files monthly and access 1 gigabyte of encrypted storage for free, or pay $9.99 to stamp 1,000 files and access 50 gigabytes of storage. The product integrates with Dropbox cloud storage. Customers can also use Stampery to certify that e-mails were sent and received.

“You can make a deal via e-mail, click a button, and certify it with no one else involved but the two parties,” says Cuende.

Stampery is focusing on nonregulated use cases to establish the market and raise awareness. But the company is also actively lobbying regulators “to see the value of storing truth in a ledger that is mathematically secure,” says Cuende, particularly in Europe where notaries play a bigger role in the economy than they do in the United States.

Pen and paper have been the standard for hundreds of years. Human notaries are not “immutable, but they have these notebooks in which they establish truth, which is recognized by the state. Obtaining this type of trust involves cost and liability,” Cuende says. “Replacing it with math could save billions for whole industries.” Early in 2016, Stampery made a deal with the Estonian government to enable everyone with an e-Residency ID to use the system to certify and notarize personal and business documents.

Learn When to Step Up

Now that one of Cuende’s co-creations has become a full-blown business, he is adapting to 10-hour workdays and managing a growing team. “Being able to attract talent is super important to me. It’s great to work with very bright people that are better than me in many things,” says Cuende. “My days have gotten crazier. There’s pressure from everywhere,” he says. “It’s a challenge. But I love that feeling.” D!

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Connected Cars Rev Up For A Revolution [VIDEO]

Michael Zipf

Every two years, almost a million car enthusiasts flock to the Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA), the world’s largest automotive trade fair, to enjoy the legendary spectacle of automakers rolling out their latest models to an accompaniment of flashing lights, throbbing bass beats, and stylishly dressed dancers.

While the giant exhibition halls on the ground Couple buying a car --- Image by © Don Mason/Blend Images/Corbisfloor echo to the sound of visitors jostling to examine paint work and leather, sleek sports cars, people carriers, electric vehicles, and the ubiquitous SUVs, the atmosphere in the New Mobility World exhibition on the first floor is altogether calmer. Nevertheless, this is where pressing issues about the future of mobility are being discussed.

The exhibitors here include Samsung, IBM, Deutsche Telekom, and – making its debut appearance – SAP. Awake to the far-reaching revolution that lies ahead of the automotive sector, these IT companies are in Frankfurt to showcase ways in which information technology is already making it possible to connect today’s highly digitized vehicles with each other, with their drivers, and with the technological infrastructure around them.

Revved up for a revolution

Chris Urmson considers the convergence of vehicles and IT to be “the most exciting development of our age.” Speaking in Frankfurt, Urmson, who heads up Google’s driverless car program, described the number of people killed on America’s roads every year – 36,000 – as “unacceptable” and stressed that his company’s intensive research into autonomous vehicles was aimed at improving road safety.

Robert Wolcott, Professor of Innovation Management and Corporate Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, spoke of “a new industrial revolution” whose impact would be “on a par with that of the railroads in the 19th century.”

So it’s no surprise that the IT sector is steering its focus toward the automotive industry.

At the IAA’s Smart City Forum, SAP has teamed up with various cities to present solutions designed to put an end to the daily traffic gridlock. And, to judge by the figures below, their capabilities are sorely needed:

  • By 2050, around 70% of the global population will be living in cities.
  • The number of cars on the planet is set to almost double by 2030.
  • Experts predict that the volume of freight traffic on Europe’s roads will increase 80% by 2025.
  • On average, a car driver in Germany spends 36 hours stuck in traffic jams every year.

Smart cities for a better quality of life

Smart Traffic Control enables cities to optimize traffic-light controls and free up additional car lanes during the rush hour to alleviate congestion, while data collected by RFID chips, sensors, cameras, and induction loops is used to compile congestion profiles and monitor real-time traffic issues. The Chinese city of Nanjing, which is home to 8 million people, has chosen to adopt smart traffic control technology to crunch the 20 billion data points captured in the city every year to produce actionable information for predictively responding to traffic congestion. And the software even learns as it goes along. In June of this year, the city signed a Custom Development Project with SAP. Currently, the SAP HANA platform helps Nanging analyze the data generated by its 10,000 taxis. The plan is for other modes of transportation to provide data in the future too.

“Smart traffic is one of the hottest topics for the world’s ever-expanding cities,” says Norbert Koppenhagen from the SAP Innovation Center Network, who is also at the IAA to showcase SAP’s cooperation with the German city of Darmstadt, near Frankfurt. “If we can keep the traffic flowing, we’ll make city-dwellers’ lives a whole lot more livable.”

The SAP Vehicle Insights cloud application links vehicular data with sensor data to provide actionable insight into driver behavior patterns and efficiency. The software helps logistics and mobility services providers monitor live vehicle conditions and manage their services within the constraints imposed by pollution and traffic congestion. The SAP Vehicle Insights also helps fleet operators manage their fleets optimally.

City App is another innovation being showcased in Frankfurt. Developed in collaboration with the German city of Nuremberg, this app features crowdsourcing functions that allow citizens to report defects and damage in their immediate vicinity. Algorithms assimilate these reports with data about factors such as traffic density in the affected city zone to help municipal authorities optimize their response.

There is also considerable buzz around TwoGo, the mobile app that lets employees at enterprises, institutions, and municipal authorities link up and share their daily commute to the office. “This is an exciting time for TwoGo,” says Alexander Machold, a member of the TwoGo business development team. “We’ve got vehicle manufacturers, parking garage operators, local authorities, and government ministries all looking into how TwoGo could help them cut costs and develop new business models.” What’s more, he says, the app sometimes opens the door to cross-selling opportunities for other SAP solutions.

“The number of connected cars on our roads is growing; more and more vehicles are being outfitted with sensors; and even driverless cars are becoming a genuine possibility. All in all, this is a great opportunity for us to transform cities, industries, and businesses sustainably to create a better future,” says Stephan Brand, Vice President, PI Analytics Applications, Products and Innovation at SAP.

The Internet has changed the way we buy cars, while mobile technology is changing what we expect them to do. Learn more about The Hyperconnected Car.

This story also appeared in the SAP Business Trends community.

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How One Business Approach Can Save The Environment – And Bring $4.5 Trillion To The World Economy

Shelly Dutton

Despite reports of a turbulent global economy, the World Bank delivered some great news recently. For the first time in history, extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.90 each day) worldwide is set to fall to below 10%. Considering that this rate has declined from 37.1% in 1990 to 9.6% in 2015, it is hopeful that one-third of the global population will participate the middle class by 2030.

For all industries, this growth will bring new challenges and pressures when meeting unprecedented demand in an environment of dwindling – if not already scarce – resources. First of all, gold, silver, indium, iridium, tungsten, and many other vital resources could be depleted in as little as five years. And because current manufacturing methods create massive waste, about 80% of $3.2 trillion material value is lost irrecoverably each year in the consumer products industry alone.

This new reality is forcing companies to rethink our current, linear “take-make-dispose” approach to designing, producing, delivering, and selling products and services. According to Dan Wellers, Digital Futures lead for SAP, “If the economy is not sustainable, we are in trouble. And in the case of the linear economy, it is not sustainable because it inherently wastes resources that are becoming scarce. Right now, most serious businesspeople think sustainability is in conflict with earning a profit and becoming wealthy. True sustainability, economic sustainability, is exactly the opposite. With this mindset, it becomes strategic to support practices that support a circular economy in the long run.”

The circular economy: Good for business, good for the environment

What if your business practices and operation can help save our planet? Would you do it? Now, what if I said that this one business approach could put $4.5 trillion up for grabs?

By taking a more restorative and regenerative approach, every company can redesign the future of the environment, the economy, and their overall business. “Made possible by the digital economy, forward-thinking businesses are choosing to embrace this value to intentionally reimagine the economy around how we use resources,” observed Wellers. “By slowing down the depletion of resources and possibly even rejuvenating them, early adopters of circular practices have created business models that are profitable, and therefore sustainable. And they are starting to scale.”

In addition to making good financial sense, there’s another reason the circular economy is a sound business practice: Your customers. In his blog 99 Mind-Blowing Ways the Digital Economy Is Changing the Future of Business, Vivek Bapat revealed that 68% of consumers are interested in companies that bring social and environmental change. More important, 84% of global consumers actively seek out socially and environmentally responsible brands and are willing to switch brands associated with those causes.

Five ways your business can take advantage of the circular economy

As the circular economy proves, business and economic growth does not need to happen at the cost of the environment and public health and safety. As everyone searches for an answer to job creation, economic development, and environmental safety, we are in an economic era primed for change.

Wellers states, “Thanks to the exponential growth and power of digital technology, circular business models are becoming profitable. As a result, businesses are scaling their wealth by investing in new economic growth strategies.”

What are these strategies? Here are five business models that can enable companies to unlock the economic benefits of the circular economy, as stated in Accenture’s report Circular Advantage: Innovative Business Models and Technologies that Create Value:

  1. Circular supplies: Deliver fully renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable resource inputs that underpin circular production and consumption systems.
  2. Recovery of resources: Eliminate material leakage and maximize the economic value of product return flows.
  3. Extension of product life: Extend the life cycle of products and assets. Regain the value of your resources by maintaining and improving them by repairing, upgrading, remanufacturing, or remarketing products.
  4. Sharing platforms: Promote a platform for collaboration among product users as individuals or organizations.
  5. Product as a service: Provide an alternative to the traditional model of “buy and own.” Allow products to be shared by many customers through a lease or pay-for-use arrangement.

To learn more about the circular economy, check out Dan Wellers’ blog “4 Ways The Digital Economy Is Circular.”

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Tick Tock: Start Preparing for Resource Disruption

By Maurizio Cattaneo, Joerg Ferchow, Daniel Wellers, and Christopher Koch

Businesses share something important with lions. When a lion captures and consumes its prey, only about 10% to 20% of the prey’s energy is directly transferred into the lion’s metabolism. The rest evaporates away, mostly as heat loss, according to research done in the 1940s by ecologist Raymond Lindeman.

Today, businesses do only about as well as the big cats. When you consider the energy required to manage, power, and move products and services, less than 20% goes directly into the typical product or service—what economists call aggregate efficiency (the ratio of potential work to the actual useful work that gets embedded into a product or service at the expense of the energy lost in moving products and services through all of the steps of their value chains). Aggregate efficiency is a key factor in determining productivity.

After making steady gains during much of the 20th century, businesses’ aggregate energy efficiency peaked in the 1980s and then stalled. Japan, home of the world’s most energy-efficient economy, has been skating along at or near 20% ever since. The U.S. economy, meanwhile, topped out at about 13% aggregate efficiency in the 1990s, according to research.

Why does this matter? Jeremy Rifkin says he knows why. Rifkin is an economic and social theorist, author, consultant, and lecturer at the Wharton School’s Executive Education program who believes that economies experience major increases in growth and productivity only when big shifts occur in three integrated infrastructure segments around the same time: communications, energy, and transportation.

But it’s only a matter of time before information technology blows all three wide open, says Rifkin. He envisions a new economic infrastructure based on digital integration of communications, energy, and transportation, riding atop an Internet of Things (IoT) platform that incorporates Big Data, analytics, and artificial intelligence. This platform will disrupt the world economy and bring dramatic levels of efficiency and productivity to businesses that take advantage of it, he says.

Some economists consider Rifkin’s ideas controversial. And his vision of a new economic platform may be problematic—at least globally. It will require massive investments and unusually high levels of government, community, and private sector cooperation, all of which seem to be at depressingly low levels these days.

However, Rifkin has some influential adherents to his philosophy. He has advised three presidents of the European Commission—Romano Prodi, José Manuel Barroso, and the current president, Jean-Claude Juncker—as well as the European Parliament and numerous European Union (EU) heads of state, including Angela Merkel, on the ushering in of what he calls “a smart, green Third Industrial Revolution.” Rifkin is also advising the leadership of the People’s Republic of China on the build out and scale up of the “Internet Plus” Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure to usher in a sustainable low-carbon economy.

The internet has already shaken up one of the three major economic sectors: communications. Today it takes little more than a cell phone, an internet connection, and social media to publish a book or music video for free—what Rifkin calls zero marginal cost. The result has been a hollowing out of once-mighty media empires in just over 10 years. Much of what remains of their business models and revenues has been converted from physical (remember CDs and video stores?) to digital.

But we haven’t hit the trifecta yet. Transportation and energy have changed little since the middle of the last century, says Rifkin. That’s when superhighways reached their saturation point across the developed world and the internal-combustion engine came close to the limits of its potential on the roads, in the air, and at sea. “We have all these killer new technology products, but they’re being plugged into the same old infrastructure, and it’s not creating enough new business opportunities,” he says.

All that may be about to undergo a big shake-up, however. The digitalization of information on the IoT at near-zero marginal cost generates Big Data that can be mined with analytics to create algorithms and apps enabling ubiquitous networking. This digital transformation is beginning to have a big impact on the energy and transportation sectors. If that trend continues, we could see a metamorphosis in the economy and society not unlike previous industrial revolutions in history. And given the pace of technology change today, the shift could happen much faster than ever before.

The speed of change is dictated by the increase in digitalization of these three main sectors; expensive physical assets and processes are partially replaced by low-cost virtual ones. The cost efficiencies brought on by digitalization drive disruption in existing business models toward zero marginal cost, as we’ve already seen in entertainment and publishing. According to research company Gartner, when an industry gets to the point where digital drives at least 20% of revenues, you reach the tipping point.

“A clear pattern has emerged,” says Peter Sondergaard, executive vice president and head of research and advisory for Gartner. “Once digital revenues for a sector hit 20% of total revenue, the digital bloodbath begins,” he told the audience at Gartner’s annual 2017 IT Symposium/ITxpo, according to The Wall Street Journal. “No matter what industry you are in, 20% will be the point of no return.”

Communications is already there, and energy and transportation are heading down that path. If they hit the magic 20% mark, the impact will be felt not just within those industries but across all industries. After all, who doesn’t rely on energy and transportation to power their value chains?

The eye of the technology disruption hurricane has moved beyond communications and is heading toward … the rest of the economy.

That’s why businesses need to factor potentially massive business model disruptions into their plans for digital transformation today if they want to remain competitive with organizations in early adopter countries like China and Germany. China, for example, is already halfway through an US$88 billion upgrade to its state electricity grid that will enable renewable energy transmission around the country—all managed and moved digitally, according to an article in The Economist magazine. And it is competing with the United States for leadership in self-driving vehicles, which will shift the transportation process and revenue streams heavily to digital, according to an article in Wired magazine.

Once China’s and Germany’s renewables and driverless infrastructures are in place, the only additional costs are management and maintenance. That could bring businesses in these countries dramatic cost savings over those that still rely on fossil fuels and nuclear energy to power their supply chains and logistics. “Once you pay the fixed costs of renewables, the marginal costs are near zero,” says Rifkin. “The sun and wind haven’t sent us invoices yet.”

In other words, zero marginal cost has become a zero-sum game.

To understand why that is, consider the major industrial revolutions in history, writes Rifkin in his books, The Zero Marginal Cost Society and The Third Industrial Revolution. The first major shift occurred in the 19th century when cheap, abundant coal provided an efficient new source of power (steam) for manufacturing and enabled the creation of a vast railway transportation network. Meanwhile, the telegraph gave the world near-instant communication over a globally connected network.

The second big change occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, when inexpensive oil began to displace coal and gave rise to a much more flexible new transportation network of cars and trucks. Telephones, radios, and televisions had a similar impact on communications.

Breaking Down the Walls Between Sectors

Now, according to Rifkin, we’re poised for the third big shift. The eye of the technology disruption hurricane has moved beyond communications and is heading toward—or as publishing and entertainment executives might warn, coming for—the rest of the economy. With its assemblage of global internet and cellular network connectivity and ever-smaller and more powerful sensors, the IoT, along with Big Data analytics and artificial intelligence, is breaking down the economic walls that have protected the energy and transportation sectors for the past 50 years.

Daimler is now among the first movers in transitioning into a digitalized mobility internet. The company has equipped nearly 400,000 of its trucks with external sensors, transforming the vehicles into mobile Big Data centers. The sensors are picking up real-time Big Data on weather conditions, traffic flows, and warehouse availability. Daimler plans to establish collaborations with thousands of companies, providing them with Big Data and analytics that can help dramatically increase their aggregate efficiency and productivity in shipping goods across their value chains. The Daimler trucks are autonomous and capable of establishing platoons of multiple trucks driving across highways.

It won’t be long before vehicles that navigate the more complex transportation infrastructures around the world begin to think for themselves. Autonomous vehicles will bring massive economic disruption to transportation and logistics thanks to new aggregate efficiencies. Without the cost of having a human at the wheel, autonomous cars could achieve a shared cost per mile below that of owned vehicles by as early as 2030, according to research from financial services company Morgan Stanley.

The transition is getting a push from governments pledging to give up their addiction to cars powered by combustion engines. Great Britain, France, India, and Norway are seeking to go all electric as early as 2025 and by 2040 at the latest.

The Final Piece of the Transition

Considering that automobiles account for 47% of petroleum consumption in the United States alone—more than twice the amount used for generators and heating for homes and businesses, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration—Rifkin argues that the shift to autonomous electric vehicles could provide the momentum needed to upend the final pillar of the economic platform: energy. Though energy has gone through three major disruptions over the past 150 years, from coal to oil to natural gas—each causing massive teardowns and rebuilds of infrastructure—the underlying economic model has remained constant: highly concentrated and easily accessible fossil fuels and highly centralized, vertically integrated, and enormous (and enormously powerful) energy and utility companies.

Now, according to Rifkin, the “Third Industrial Revolution Internet of Things infrastructure” is on course to disrupt all of it. It’s neither centralized nor vertically integrated; instead, it’s distributed and networked. And that fits perfectly with the commercial evolution of two energy sources that, until the efficiencies of the IoT came along, made no sense for large-scale energy production: the sun and the wind.

But the IoT gives power utilities the means to harness these batches together and to account for variable energy flows. Sensors on solar panels and wind turbines, along with intelligent meters and a smart grid based on the internet, manage a new, two-way flow of energy to and from the grid.

Today, fossil fuel–based power plants need to kick in extra energy if insufficient energy is collected from the sun and wind. But industrial-strength batteries and hydrogen fuel cells are beginning to take their place by storing large reservoirs of reserve power for rainy or windless days. In addition, electric vehicles will be able to send some of their stored energy to the digitalized energy internet during peak use. Demand for ever-more efficient cell phone and vehicle batteries is helping push the evolution of batteries along, but batteries will need to get a lot better if renewables are to completely replace fossil fuel energy generation.

Meanwhile, silicon-based solar cells have not yet approached their limits of efficiency. They have their own version of computing’s Moore’s Law called Swanson’s Law. According to data from research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), Swanson’s Law means that for each doubling of global solar panel manufacturing capacity, the price falls by 28%, from $76 per watt in 1977 to $0.41 in 2016. (Wind power is on a similar plunging exponential cost curve, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.)

Thanks to the plummeting solar price, by 2028, the cost of building and operating new sun-based generation capacity will drop below the cost of running existing fossil power plants, according to BNEF. “One of the surprising things in this year’s forecast,” says Seb Henbest, lead author of BNEF’s annual long-term forecast, the New Energy Outlook, “is that the crossover points in the economics of new and old technologies are happening much sooner than we thought last year … and those were all happening a bit sooner than we thought the year before. There’s this sense that it’s not some distant risk or distant opportunity. A lot of these realities are rushing toward us.”

The conclusion, he says, is irrefutable. “We can see the data and when we map that forward with conservative assumptions, these technologies just get cheaper than everything else.”

The smart money, then—72% of total new power generation capacity investment worldwide by 2040—will go to renewable energy, according to BNEF. The firm’s research also suggests that there’s more room in Swanson’s Law along the way, with solar prices expected to drop another 66% by 2040.

Another factor could push the economic shift to renewables even faster. Just as computers transitioned from being strictly corporate infrastructure to becoming consumer products with the invention of the PC in the 1980s, ultimately causing a dramatic increase in corporate IT investments, energy generation has also made the transition to the consumer side.

Thanks to future tech media star Elon Musk, consumers can go to his Tesla Energy company website and order tempered glass solar panels that look like chic, designer versions of old-fashioned roof shingles. Models that look like slate or a curved, terracotta-colored, ceramic-style glass that will make roofs look like those of Tuscan country villas, are promised soon. Consumers can also buy a sleek-looking battery called a Powerwall to store energy from the roof.

The combination of solar panels, batteries, and smart meters transforms homeowners from passive consumers of energy into active producers and traders who can choose to take energy from the grid during off-peak hours, when some utilities offer discounts, and sell energy back to the grid during periods when prices are higher. And new blockchain applications promise to accelerate the shift to an energy market that is laterally integrated rather than vertically integrated as it is now. Consumers like their newfound sense of control, according to Henbest. “Energy’s never been an interesting consumer decision before and suddenly it is,” he says.

As the price of solar equipment continues to drop, homes, offices, and factories will become like nodes on a computer network. And if promising new solar cell technologies, such as organic polymers, small molecules, and inorganic compounds, supplant silicon, which is not nearly as efficient with sunlight as it is with ones and zeroes, solar receivers could become embedded into windows and building compounds. Solar production could move off the roof and become integrated into the external facades of homes and office buildings, making nearly every edifice in town a node.

The big question, of course, is how quickly those nodes will become linked together—if, say doubters, they become linked at all. As we learned from Metcalfe’s Law, the value of a network is proportional to its number of connected users.

The Will Determines the Way

Right now, the network is limited. Wind and solar account for just 5% of global energy production today, according to Bloomberg.

But, says Rifkin, technology exists that could enable the network to grow exponentially. We are seeing the beginnings of a digital energy network, which uses a combination of the IoT, Big Data, analytics, and artificial intelligence to manage distributed energy sources, such as solar and wind power from homes and businesses.

As nodes on this network, consumers and businesses could take a more active role in energy production, management, and efficiency, according to Rifkin. Utilities, in turn, could transition from simply transmitting power and maintaining power plants and lines to managing the flow to and from many different energy nodes; selling and maintaining smart home energy management products; and monitoring and maintaining solar panels and wind turbines. By analyzing energy use in the network, utilities could create algorithms that automatically smooth the flow of renewables. Consumers and businesses, meanwhile, would not have to worry about connecting their wind and solar assets to the grid and keeping them up and running; utilities could take on those tasks more efficiently.

Already in Germany, two utility companies, E.ON and RWE, have each split their businesses into legacy fossil and nuclear fuel companies and new services companies based on distributed generation from renewables, new technologies, and digitalization.

The reason is simple: it’s about survival. As fossil fuel generation winds down, the utilities need a new business model to make up for lost revenue. Due to Germany’s population density, “the utilities realize that they won’t ever have access to enough land to scale renewables themselves,” says Rifkin. “So they are starting service companies to link together all the different communities that are building solar and wind and are managing energy flows for them and for their customers, doing their analytics, and managing their Big Data. That’s how they will make more money while selling less energy in the future.”

The digital energy internet is already starting out in pockets and at different levels of intensity around the world, depending on a combination of citizen support, utility company investments, governmental power, and economic incentives.

China and some countries within the EU, such as Germany and France, are the most likely leaders in the transition toward a renewable, energy-based infrastructure because they have been able to align the government and private sectors in long-term energy planning. In the EU for example, wind has already overtaken coal as the second largest form of power capacity behind natural gas, according to an article in The Guardian newspaper. Indeed, Rifkin has been working with China, the EU, and governments, communities, and utilities in Northern France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg to begin building these new internets.

Hauts-de-France, a region that borders the English Channel and Belgium and has one of the highest poverty rates in France, enlisted Rifkin to develop a plan to lift it out of its downward spiral of shuttered factories and abandoned coal mines. In collaboration with a diverse group of CEOs, politicians, teachers, scientists, and others, it developed Rev3, a plan to put people to work building a renewable energy network, according to an article in Vice.

Today, more than 1,000 Rev3 projects are underway, encompassing everything from residential windmills made from local linen to a fully electric car–sharing system. Rev3 has received financial support from the European Investment Bank and a handful of private investment funds, and startups have benefited from crowdfunding mechanisms sponsored by Rev3. Today, 90% of new energy in the region is renewable and 1,500 new jobs have been created in the wind energy sector alone.

Meanwhile, thanks in part to generous government financial support, Germany is already producing 35% of its energy from renewables, according to an article in The Independent, and there is near unanimous citizen support (95%, according to a recent government poll) for its expansion.

If renewables are to move forward …, it must come from the ability to make green, not act green.

If renewable energy is to move forward in other areas of the world that don’t enjoy such strong economic and political support, however, it must come from the ability to make green, not act green.

Not everyone agrees that renewables will produce cost savings sufficient to cause widespread cost disruption anytime soon. A recent forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that in 2040, oil, natural gas, and coal will still be the planet’s major electricity producers, powering 77% of worldwide production, while renewables such as wind, solar, and biofuels will account for just 15%.

Skeptics also say that renewables’ complex management needs, combined with the need to store reserve power, will make them less economical than fossil fuels through at least 2035. “All advanced economies demand full-time electricity,” Benjamin Sporton, chief executive officer of the World Coal Association told Bloomberg. “Wind and solar can only generate part-time, intermittent electricity. While some renewable technologies have achieved significant cost reductions in recent years, it’s important to look at total system costs.”

On the other hand, there are many areas of the world where distributed, decentralized, renewable power generation already makes more sense than a centralized fossil fuel–powered grid. More than 20% of Indians in far flung areas of the country have no access to power today, according to an article in The Guardian. Locally owned and managed solar and wind farms are the most economical way forward. The same is true in other developing countries, such as Afghanistan, where rugged terrain, war, and tribal territorialism make a centralized grid an easy target, and mountainous Costa Rica, where strong winds and rivers have pushed the country to near 100% renewable energy, according to The Guardian.

The Light and the Darknet

Even if all the different IoT-enabled economic platforms become financially advantageous, there is another concern that could disrupt progress and potentially cause widespread disaster once the new platforms are up and running: hacking. Poorly secured IoT sensors have allowed hackers to take over everything from Wi-Fi enabled Barbie dolls to Jeep Cherokees, according to an article in Wired magazine.

Humans may be lousy drivers, but at least we can’t be hacked (yet). And while the grid may be prone to outages, it is tightly controlled, has few access points for hackers, and is physically separated from the Wild West of the internet.

If our transportation and energy networks join the fray, however, every sensor, from those in the steering system on vehicles to grid-connected toasters, becomes as vulnerable as a credit card number. Fake news and election hacking are bad enough, but what about fake drivers or fake energy? Now we’re talking dangerous disruptions and putting millions of people in harm’s way.

The only answer, according to Rifkin, is for businesses and governments to start taking the hacking threat much more seriously than they do today and to begin pouring money into research and technologies for making the internet less vulnerable. That means establishing “a fully distributed, redundant, and resilient digital infrastructure less vulnerable to the kind of disruptions experienced by Second Industrial Revolution–centralized communication systems and power grids that are increasingly subject to climate change, disasters, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism,” he says. “The ability of neighborhoods and communities to go off centralized grids during crises and re-aggregate in locally decentralized networks is the key to advancing societal security in the digital era,” he adds.

Start Looking Ahead

Until today, digital transformation has come mainly through the networking and communications efficiencies made possible by the internet. Airbnb thrives because web communications make it possible to create virtual trust markets that allow people to feel safe about swapping their most private spaces with one another.

But now these same efficiencies are coming to two other areas that have never been considered core to business strategy. That’s why businesses need to begin managing energy and transportation as key elements of their digital transformation portfolios.

Microsoft, for example, formed a senior energy team to develop an energy strategy to mitigate risk from fluctuating energy prices and increasing demands from customers to reduce carbon emissions, according to an article in Harvard Business Review. “Energy has become a C-suite issue,” Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s top environmental and sustainability executive told the magazine. “The CFO and president are now actively involved in our energy road map.”

As Daimler’s experience shows, driverless vehicles will push autonomous transportation and automated logistics up the strategic agenda within the next few years. Boston Consulting Group predicts that the driverless vehicle market will hit $42 billion by 2025. If that happens, it could have a lateral impact across many industries, from insurance to healthcare to the military.

Businesses must start planning now. “There’s always a period when businesses have to live in the new and the old worlds at the same time,” says Rifkin. “So businesses need to be considering new business models and structures now while continuing to operate their existing models.”

He worries that many businesses will be left behind if their communications, energy, and transportation infrastructures don’t evolve. Companies that still rely on fossil fuels for powering traditional transportation and logistics could be at a major competitive disadvantage to those that have moved to the new, IoT-based energy and transportation infrastructures.

Germany, for example, has set a target of 80% renewables for gross power consumption by 2050, according to The Independent. If the cost advantages of renewables bear out, German businesses, which are already the world’s third-largest exporters behind China and the United States, could have a major competitive advantage.

“How would a second industrial revolution society or country compete with one that has energy at zero marginal cost and driverless vehicles?” asks Rifkin. “It can’t be done.” D!


About the Authors

Maurizio Cattaneo is Director, Delivery Execution, Energy and Natural Resources, at SAP.

Joerg Ferchow is Senior Utilities Expert and Design Thinking Coach, Digital Transformation, at SAP.

Daniel Wellers is Digital Futures Lead, Global Marketing, at SAP.

Christopher Koch is Editorial Director, SAP Center for Business Insight, at SAP.


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

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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.