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

sap_Q216_digital_double_creators_images2
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.

sap_Q216_digital_double_creators_images3

“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!

Comments

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.

Comments

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.”

Comments

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.

Comments

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

Tags:

Retail Tomorrow: How Today’s Technology Is Shaping Retail’s Future

Stephen Sparrow

Do you ever think about tomorrow? Many retailers don’t. They’re too concerned with what’s happening in the moment. They’re too wrapped up in managing their daily business operations or maintaining profit margins.

Don’t get me wrong – those things are important. But tomorrow matters more than they know.

With game-changing technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality, and machine learning reshaping the retail landscape, tomorrow can no longer be ignored. If your company wants to stay ahead of the competition – both now and in the future – you need to begin experimenting with these innovations today.

Beer, there, and everywhere: Create an immersive customer experience

Imagine you’re a Brooklyn-based brewery. You craft the most delicious beer anyone’s ever tasted, and Brooklynites are absolutely gaga over your product. But how do you spread the word? How can you make people in Seattle or San Francisco thirst for your beverage?

Virtual reality and IoT tools can help you create a more immersive customer experience – one that gives people an in-depth view into your brewery – so folks across the country can get excited about sampling your suds.

By setting up a 360-degree video camera and implementing virtual reality capabilities, you can invite people all over the world to tour your facility. They can visit the tasting room, check out the outdoor patio, and watch the kettles work their magic in the production area.

IoT sensors, meanwhile, can provide prospective customers with insight around your brewing processes. Attached to the brew kettles, these sensors enable you to share real-time data about each batch of beer, from when the hops reach a boil to when fermentation is complete.

If viewers like what they see, they can order a case of your beer online.

Creating an immersive customer experience, where people get a glance behind the curtain to see how your company operates and how your product is made, is a surefire recipe for retail success.

A passion for fashion: Predict trends so your customers are always dressed to kill

Instagram, the popular image-sharing app, has a global community of more than 800 million users. These users share upwards of 95 million photos and videos per day.

If a woman from the United States is traveling to Tokyo for an upcoming vacation and wants to make sure she looks fashionable while visiting Japan’s capital city, where can she turn?

Instagram, of course.

With a simple keyword search for “fashion” and “Tokyo,” this woman could be knee-deep in results highlighting the top trends from this chic metropolitan hotspot. Now, with a better idea of what the locals are wearing, she can pick up a few new outfits before her trip, and she won’t feel so out of place in her American attire when she visits.

Retailers, particularly fashion brands, can benefit from how consumers are using apps like Instagram. By analyzing what people are wearing in photos taken in fashion meccas like London, Paris, Tokyo, Milan, or New York, your business can have its finger firmly on the pulse.

Pairing your analysis with machine learning capabilities can enable your retailer to detect and predict the hottest fashion trends. This will help your designers tailor the clothing they create to what’s happening – or what will be happening – in the market.

If more people are wearing floral-print miniskirts, you can design matching leggings. If more people are dressing in denim, you can ramp up production on jean jackets.

Staying up to date on the latest fashion trends can keep your retailer at the top of its game. Predicting the next big thing in fashion using machine learning? That will have your business declaring “game over” to all your competitors.

Not your grandma’s kitchen: Increase customer convenience through greater connectivity

Connected products are invading our homes. We have smart TVs in our living rooms. We have showerheads equipped with Bluetooth speakers in our bathrooms. We have lights that brighten or dim based on our sleeping schedules in our bedrooms.

In the kitchen, though, things are getting really intelligent. From precision cookers that alert you when dinner’s ready to coffee makers you can operate with your smartphone, kitchen appliances are creating a whole new level of convenience for customers.

With a smart refrigerator, customers can create shopping lists using a touch screen on the door. IoT capabilities enable people to add or remove items from their lists using a mobile device. Customers can even submit their grocery orders to a nearby store through their smart fridge, a convenient click-and-collect shopping scenario.

Augmented reality, meanwhile, allows people to peek inside their refrigerators without even opening them. If a woman at work wants to see if she has enough milk for a bowl of cereal tomorrow, she can check using a tablet or smartphone.

Retailers and consumer products companies can leverage this technology to deliver a more engaging product experience. The packaging of a stick of butter, for instance, might have a code on it. When a man peers into his refrigerator using his smartphone, he could click on the code and find out the product’s expiration date. Or perhaps he can learn a few new recipes he could bake using the butter.

By creating a hassle-free shopping experience and enhancing how your buyers engage with your products, you can increase sales and earn your customers’ loyalty.

Home sweet home: Modernize retail like real-estate agents have revolutionized homebuying

Think of how the realty business has changed over the past 25 years. In the early ‘90s, prospective homebuyers had to schedule an appointment with a Realtor or attend an open house to see a home they liked.

In the mid-2000s, house hunting went online, with sites like Trulia and Zillow springing up. Today, homebuyers can snap a photo of an on-the-market house they like using a mobile app and see pictures of the home’s interior, learn the price, find out the square footage, and discover how many bathrooms it has.

Retailers should strive to modernize their industry like the realty business has revolutionized homebuying. Barcode scanning and sensor tracking are just a couple technologies that could help.

If a customer is walking through the aisles of your store, you could offer them the opportunity to scan a tag on a shirt with their mobile device and instantly give them access to outfit ideas or show them accessories that match the top.

Sensors, meanwhile, could track where a shopper is in a store, allowing your retailer to send timely and relevant offers based on their location.

Adding value to your customer experience is the name of the game in retail. And there’s no better way to create a more valuable in-store customer experience than with the latest technology.

Innovation experimentation: Forge your path to a brighter future with revolutionary tech tools

Innovations like IoT, virtual reality, and machine learning are shaping what retail’s future will look like.

Your company’s success – both today and tomorrow – will depend on your willingness to embrace these technologies and experiment with new ways to engage and satisfy your customers.

Join us at the National Retail Forum’s 2018 conference and EXPO at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on January 14–16 to learn how the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system can help your organization bring these exciting technologies to life.

Comments

Stephen Sparrow

About Stephen Sparrow

Stephen Sparrow is the Director of Retail Marketing at SAP. He defines, champions and executes marketing strategies to increase penetration and capture of revenue opportunities across SAP's retail enterprise accounts. He also develops industry advancing and perception enhancing programs to drive brand preference for SAP in the retail community.