Top 5 Trends In Automotive For 2017

William Newman

It’s always fun this time of year to look into the crystal ball and consider what the key trends for the coming year might be. After consuming key messaging over the past several months from a number of industry related briefings and research, I’m here to offer my top 5 trends in automotive for 2017. In no particular order they are:

  1. Products will become smarter, smaller, and more connected as platforms
  1. Industry disruption and confluence will continue and accelerate
  1. The talent war will become critical, even a pinch point to growth
  1. Customer engagement will continue to grow in importance
  1. New digital business models will emerge, and most haven’t been created yet

Let’s break each one of these down and discuss some of the relevant proof points on each and the industry impacts for 2017 and beyond.

1. Products will become smarter, smaller, and more connected as platforms

On the topic of product design, there are a number of factors. First, vehicles continue to be designed under emission reduction guidelines. As such, the notion of “light weighting” vehicles continues at a rapid pace. New tech companies working with composites and new alloys are popping up like Internet startups in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The ability to simulate structural impact conditions with the use of very sophisticated analysis tools (along with large, massive data calculations) makes the ability to “fast fail” before committing to physical metallurgy a reality. These are all positive indicators that automobiles will become faster, lighter, and more fuel efficient.

An interesting caveat and counter-balance trend to the progress of light-weighting is the effects the industry faces as we move from “Level 1 and 2” autonomous vehicles (requiring the use of a driver/controller) to “Level 4 and 5” (generally considered by approved for driverless operation – see this funky graphic for a simple explanation of the NHTSA and SAE levels). While vehicles will have more autonomous features, the need to add redundant systems – including the weight of the driver – will counterbalance vehicle-lightening initiatives during the transition period, until Level 4 becomes more reality and less fantasy (and is approved by regulators for general population). How automotive suppliers connect in terms of their respective digital products and platforms will also evolve (see #2).

2. Industry disruption and confluence will continue and accelerate

It’s already hard to tell how much a vehicle company is a manufacturer, retailer, bank, and marketing firm these days, and those segments will continue to muddle as the industry morphs into Transportation as a Service (TaaS) business models. As vehicles move into a TaaS-based operation environment, a funny thing happens: the rate of use skyrockets from about 20-30% of total available use (when a personal vehicle is parked or idle) to about 70-80% (when fully autonomous or fully driver/consumer engaged). Automakers are considering what this means to service and aftermarket parts, particularly when the rate of use can shift to non-owner/vehicle customers. Will the current dealer infrastructure be deep and wide enough to manage demand? What about the insurance industry? Who insures the car when it is not a personally owned asset? If the vehicle is a personally owned asset, can I as an automaker share driver information with the insurance industry as it is collected? Am I allowed to sell these assets? What does this mean in terms of micro-royalties passed to connected suppliers who provide automakers the platforms to connect this information?These elements need to be factored into tomorrow’s business models, business processes, and data analytics.

3. The talent war will become critical, even a pinch point to growth

The biggest challenge most manufacturing and engineering-related companies have today is the ability to attract and retain key technical talent. Without talent to move into the new demands of the connected and autonomous industry, products, and operations, the growth rate of companies could become constrained just like any other capital asset. At the recent OESA Annual Conference, management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group identified through its survey work that the #1 issue facing the automotive industry is management, with the top area of concern there being talent management. The big fight for talent is just getting started.

Case in point: Last year I was with a company whose entire IT architecture team was approaching mandatory retirement age. Earlier this year I was with another company that needed to maintain its engineering workforce as a key to growth as it replaced retiring skilled workers and designers and built product sales volume. In short, every company in the industry has a talent-management problem, and everyone is competing for the same skilled resources in science, technology, engineering, and math. These STEM resources are of top demand in the workforce and will command attention, compensation, and flexibility in terms of how work gets done in automotive and manufacturing companies.

4. Customer engagement will continue to grow in importance

Driver consumers will continue to demand greater engagement in services and other delivery models with automakers, and automakers are extremely interested to accommodate these new, largely millennial drivers. A McKinsey study published earlier this year suggested an estimated $1.5 trillion in digital services would be rendered through connected vehicles by 2030. This represents by far the largest growth area for the automotive industry, with personal vehicle sales expected to grow modestly between 2% and 4% during that time (IHS, Frost & Sullivan, others). So how do automakers tap into that engagement model at a deeper, more meaningful level? My colleague Thomas Leisen from our organization and talent group suggests the answer is be purpose-driven and authentic. According to Thomas, when it comes to millennials in particular, “this generation is really sensitive as to whether a brand purpose is authentic or not. If millennials don’t buy your claimed purpose on the fly, not only are you throwing away a lot of money for all of your marketing campaigns, but they might also get the wrong impression.” Pushing that level of authenticity – with deep data accuracy and meaning – to driver consumers will require new and evolved thinking to capture this massive future wallet share.

5. New digital business models will emerge, and most haven’t been created yet

And this is just what we know. What about digital business models that haven’t even been created yetAccording to IDC, by year-end 2017, over 70% of the G500 will have dedicated digital transformation and innovation teams. In addition to those digital (DX) transformation efforts, by 2019 40% of all digital transformation initiatives – and 100% of all effective Internet of Things (IoT) efforts – will be supported by cognitive/AI capabilities. When the industry moves into AI and machine learning concepts, the role of the human is one more of oversight and control and less one of execution: intelligent machines, building intelligent vehicles, servicing intelligent machines.

Case in point: Much like many household connected items, the first interaction with a digital device is with your phone to match/pair, personalize, and engage the product. What will the phone – or some other primary device – in the future represent? How will we use that to onboard and personalize a vehicle? These are questions that automakers are considering today, even with the rapid pace of current change, to be ready for tomorrow.

So how did I do? Long shot or bull’s eye? Check out my top trends for 2016, and listen to my crystal ball 2014 predictions from SAP Radio Coffee Break with Game Changers.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

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William Newman

About William Newman

William Newman is a Strategic Industry Advisor, providing industry perspective, strategic solution advice, and thought leadership to support SAP automotive and discrete industry customers and their co-innovation programs. He helps build and maintain SAP's leadership position in the automotive industry and associated industry segments. He manages SAP’s annual digital aftermarket survey program and serves as the ASUG Point of Contact for the NA Automotive SIG. He is the author of two SAP Press books and a LinkedIn Editor’s Choice contributor.

Fordlandia And The End Of The Vertically Integrated Company

James Marland

At River Rouge, Michigan, Henry Ford set up a company that would produce a million tractors a year. It was to include a blast furnace that would allow him to bring iron ore in on boats and turn the ore into steel, then into the tractors’ component parts, and the tractors would drive out of the other end. The plant also had shipyards, sawmills, concrete plants, and tanneries; this process was called “vertical integration.”

Ford did not want to be dependent on any outside suppliers at all. But there was one raw material that he did not control: rubber, which was controlled in Malaya and Sri Lanka by British agents.

So in 1927, Henry Ford, now the richest man in the world, bought a tract of land twice the size of Delaware in the Brazilian Amazon. His intention was to grow rubber for the wheels for his new Model T cars. In some ways, this was just an extension of his assembly line, one which now started in the fertile soil of the Amazon.

It ended in disaster, and the shells of his houses, chapels, schools, and hospitals can still be seen poking out of the resurgent rainforest. For some, this ended the vision of the vertically integrated company, with raw materials coming in one end and finished goods coming out of the other.

What we see now could not be more different. Companies often own no assets, buy no raw material, and hardly have anyone on the payroll. Apple doesn’t make anything. Facebook’s main assets are the habits and preferences of its customers. Boeing doesn’t make the cockpit on its own aircraft.

But many IT systems are still set up for the age of the vertically integrated company, because they focus only on the processes inside a company. But with most of the value created externally, this approach will always be inferior to a network-based value chain management approach, where the vital assets, intellectual property, and information from customers, suppliers, and stakeholders can be managed as effectively as Henry Ford managed his factories.

You don’t need to wait: Ariba Network is already doing with companies like Coca-Cola, FMC, Microsoft, Emirates, and BASF. Learn how Ariba is powering the world’s global supply chain.

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James Marland

About James Marland

James is responsible for defining and rolling out strategies for the Network with particular focus on Europe. He joined Ariba at the launch of the Ariba Network in 1998 after previously being a Solution Consultant at SAP America. In addition he has held the position of Director of Algorithms at Vendavo, an SAP Partner in the area of Pricing. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Southampton University. Follow James's twitter feed at @JamesMarland

Digital Transformation Outside – And Inside – The Box

Emma Reeve

A product’s packaging can be as important as the merchandise inside it. Effective packaging reflects the product’s quality and promotes the brand’s identity. Who hasn’t taken notice of an attractive, well-designed package and thought more highly of the brand behind it?

That crucial role of product packaging has a growing number of brands turning to packaging expert Marvinpac for the best packaging solutions. That’s good news for the company, which in the past few years has tripled its customer count.

But with growth comes challenges, as Jan Vrátil, CEO of Marvinpac CZ, is the first to acknowledge. “We are working with big international companies, and it’s always a challenge, because they are usually the leaders in the market … and they expect the same from their partners,” Vrátil says. “[So] you need [to] continuously innovate your service.”

To achieve that goal, Marvinpac turned to an in-memory computing platform for greater speed and accuracy, end-to-end supply chain traceability, and the flexibility and scalability to respond to customer needs.

Packaged fast, packaged right

Founded in 1999, Marnivpac is a leading provider of “contract packing” for the food, cosmetics, chemicals, and other industries. Its 500 employees in Switzerland and the Czech Republic pack 40 million products a year.

When Marvinpac opened its Czech facility in 2010, it was still a small company with 25 workers. But as customers pushed for more sophisticated services, the company saw opportunities for rapid growth. To respond, it knew it needed to replace manual, time-consuming, and error-prone activities with digitized, automated, and accurate processes built on a reliable and scalable IT platform.

“The company is growing more or less 50% each year,” Vrátil notes. “So for me, one of the challenges is to keep the company stable and make the process stable.”

By leveraging the platform, Marvinpac was able to standardize and simplify production processes. As a result, it could actually accommodate more complexity. “At the beginning, we had dedicated lines for dedicated customers,” Vrátil explains. But as the company gained clients, production became more complex. “We started to share the lines among customers and among products. And the technology enabled us to make this happen.”

Today, production is up an astounding 600%. Yet delivery accuracy is an enviable 99%. The secret was simplification through digitization. “We now have the key element to absorb more complexity,” Vrátil says.

Digitized from cradle to grave

In fact, digitization is no longer an option. As Marvinpac’s customers digitized, they demanded the same from Marvinpac so they could benefit from real-time connectivity and end-to-end transparency.

This traceability became an imperative as Marvinpac entered the food and cosmetics industries. Customers had high standards for quality assurance, and they needed accurate, fast visibility up and down the supply chain.

“Nothing ruins the relationship more with the customer than the wrong data,” Vrátil points out. “If you have wrong data, you cannot develop the business. [So] the main idea was to have all the processes under one environment, to have quick access to data, and to be able to provide the relevant information to the customers.”

That’s what Marvinpac is now delivering. “Today we are talking about full traceability everywhere,” Vrátil says.

Growing with the customer

Marvinpac’s customers often come calling when they need to get a product to market quickly. So the company needs the flexibility and scalability to get new production up and running fast. It might then need to scale back if the customer takes production in house, or to maintain that volume if the customer continues to outsource.

Vrátil reports that the in-memory computing platform is supporting such agility. It’s also enabling a more flexible supply chain as the company sources more materials from lower-cost markets in Asia. At the same time, the software has allowed Marvinpac to slash lead times by half and achieve 98% availability of raw materials.

For Vrátil, the solution has enabled him to focus on strategic decisions rather than operational tasks. Staff are empowered to solve day-to-day problems themselves so Vrátil and other leadership can plan for the future.

“We hope to grow around the world,” Vrátil says. With the implementation, he believes it will be simple to replicate systems in new markets and then rapidly expand to meet new demand. “If you have data you can trust and you have tools where you can analyze them,” he concludes, “you can continuously innovate your services.”

Learn more about how Marvinpac’s Jan Vrátil and other leaders are using SAP solutions to help their businesses run live. Watch our exclusive “Leaders Are Live” videos.

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Emma Reeve

About Emma Reeve

Emma Reeve has 20 years of experience creating world-class marketing initiatives that focus on customer and audience experience for technology, finance and pharmaceutical industries. She is currently the Global VP of Storytelling for SAP driving customer experience through storytelling. Prior to SAP, she has led strategic audience engagement on both the corporate and agency side from interactive storytelling; brand communications; digital creative and gaming; advertising; sponsorships and partnerships; branded events; interactive media; e-commerce; and social media strategy. While integrating storytelling as a key tenant professionally, Reeve has also used it as a tool is raising awareness philanthropically. She tells personal stories of women in Rwanda and their path towards hope through skills training, education and community support, while inciting a movement that encourages people to get involved in being part of the change in the world. Reeve communicates strongly her passion that storytelling can engage anyone to empathize, take action, make decisions and more - but at its core it is at the center of making change.

More Than Noise: Digital Trends That Are Bigger Than You Think

By Maurizio Cattaneo, David Delaney, Volker Hildebrand, and Neal Ungerleider

In the tech world in 2017, several trends emerged as signals amid the noise, signifying much larger changes to come.

As we noted in last year’s More Than Noise list, things are changing—and the changes are occurring in ways that don’t necessarily fit into the prevailing narrative.

While many of 2017’s signals have a dark tint to them, perhaps reflecting the times we live in, we have sought out some rays of light to illuminate the way forward. The following signals differ considerably, but understanding them can help guide businesses in the right direction for 2018 and beyond.

When a team of psychologists, linguists, and software engineers created Woebot, an AI chatbot that helps people learn cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for managing mental health issues like anxiety and depression, they did something unusual, at least when it comes to chatbots: they submitted it for peer review.

Stanford University researchers recruited a sample group of 70 college-age participants on social media to take part in a randomized control study of Woebot. The researchers found that their creation was useful for improving anxiety and depression symptoms. A study of the user interaction with the bot was submitted for peer review and published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health in June 2017.

While Woebot may not revolutionize the field of psychology, it could change the way we view AI development. Well-known figures such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates have expressed concerns that artificial intelligence is essentially ungovernable. Peer review, such as with the Stanford study, is one way to approach this challenge and figure out how to properly evaluate and find a place for these software programs.

The healthcare community could be onto something. We’ve already seen instances where AI chatbots have spun out of control, such as when internet trolls trained Microsoft’s Tay to become a hate-spewing misanthrope. Bots are only as good as their design; making sure they stay on message and don’t act in unexpected ways is crucial.

This is especially true in healthcare. When chatbots are offering therapeutic services, they must be properly designed, vetted, and tested to maintain patient safety.

It may be prudent to apply the same level of caution to a business setting. By treating chatbots as if they’re akin to medicine or drugs, we have a model for thorough vetting that, while not perfect, is generally effective and time tested.

It may seem like overkill to think of chatbots that manage pizza orders or help resolve parking tickets as potential health threats. But it’s already clear that AI can have unintended side effects that could extend far beyond Tay’s loathsome behavior.

For example, in July, Facebook shut down an experiment where it challenged two AIs to negotiate with each other over a trade. When the experiment began, the two chatbots quickly went rogue, developing linguistic shortcuts to reduce negotiating time and leaving their creators unable to understand what they were saying.

Do we want AIs interacting in a secret language because designers didn’t fully understand what they were designing?

The implications are chilling. Do we want AIs interacting in a secret language because designers didn’t fully understand what they were designing?

In this context, the healthcare community’s conservative approach doesn’t seem so farfetched. Woebot could ultimately become an example of the kind of oversight that’s needed for all AIs.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that chatbots have great potential in healthcare—not just for treating mental health issues but for helping patients understand symptoms, build treatment regimens, and more. They could also help unclog barriers to healthcare, which is plagued worldwide by high prices, long wait times, and other challenges. While they are not a substitute for actual humans, chatbots can be used by anyone with a computer or smartphone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of financial status.

Finding the right governance for AI development won’t happen overnight. But peer review, extensive internal quality analysis, and other processes will go a long way to ensuring bots function as expected. Otherwise, companies and their customers could pay a big price.

Elon Musk is an expert at dominating the news cycle with his sci-fi premonitions about space travel and high-speed hyperloops. However, he captured media attention in Australia in April 2017 for something much more down to earth: how to deal with blackouts and power outages.

In 2016, a massive blackout hit the state of South Australia following a storm. Although power was restored quickly in Adelaide, the capital, people in the wide stretches of arid desert that surround it spent days waiting for the power to return. That hit South Australia’s wine and livestock industries especially hard.

South Australia’s electrical grid currently gets more than half of its energy from wind and solar, with coal and gas plants acting as backups for when the sun hides or the wind doesn’t blow, according to ABC News Australia. But this network is vulnerable to sudden loss of generation—which is exactly what happened in the storm that caused the 2016 blackout, when tornadoes ripped through some key transmission lines. Getting the system back on stable footing has been an issue ever since.

Displaying his usual talent for showmanship, Musk stepped in and promised to build the world’s largest battery to store backup energy for the network—and he pledged to complete it within 100 days of signing the contract or the battery would be free. Pen met paper with South Australia and French utility Neoen in September. As of press time in November, construction was underway.

For South Australia, the Tesla deal offers an easy and secure way to store renewable energy. Tesla’s 129 MWh battery will be the most powerful battery system in the world by 60% once completed, according to Gizmodo. The battery, which is stationed at a wind farm, will cover temporary drops in wind power and kick in to help conventional gas and coal plants balance generation with demand across the network. South Australian citizens and politicians largely support the project, which Tesla claims will be able to power 30,000 homes.

Until Musk made his bold promise, batteries did not figure much in renewable energy networks, mostly because they just aren’t that good. They have limited charges, are difficult to build, and are difficult to manage. Utilities also worry about relying on the same lithium-ion battery technology as cellphone makers like Samsung, whose Galaxy Note 7 had to be recalled in 2016 after some defective batteries burst into flames, according to CNET.

However, when made right, the batteries are safe. It’s just that they’ve traditionally been too expensive for large-scale uses such as renewable power storage. But battery innovations such as Tesla’s could radically change how we power the economy. According to a study that appeared this year in Nature, the continued drop in the cost of battery storage has made renewable energy price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels.

This is a massive shift. Or, as David Roberts of news site Vox puts it, “Batteries are soon going to disrupt power markets at all scales.” Furthermore, if the cost of batteries continues to drop, supply chains could experience radical energy cost savings. This could disrupt energy utilities, manufacturing, transportation, and construction, to name just a few, and create many opportunities while changing established business models. (For more on how renewable energy will affect business, read the feature “Tick Tock” in this issue.)

Battery research and development has become big business. Thanks to electric cars and powerful smartphones, there has been incredible pressure to make more powerful batteries that last longer between charges.

The proof of this is in the R&D funding pudding. A Brookings Institution report notes that both the Chinese and U.S. governments offer generous subsidies for lithium-ion battery advancement. Automakers such as Daimler and BMW have established divisions marketing residential and commercial energy storage products. Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and General Electric are all experimenting with various electric propulsion systems for aircraft—which means that hybrid airplanes are also a possibility.

Meanwhile, governments around the world are accelerating battery research investment by banning internal combustion vehicles. Britain, France, India, and Norway are seeking to go all electric as early as 2025 and by 2040 at the latest.

In the meantime, expect huge investment and new battery innovation from interested parties across industries that all share a stake in the outcome. This past September, for example, Volkswagen announced a €50 billion research investment in batteries to help bring 300 electric vehicle models to market by 2030.

At first, it sounds like a narrative device from a science fiction novel or a particularly bad urban legend.

Powerful cameras in several Chinese cities capture photographs of jaywalkers as they cross the street and, several minutes later, display their photograph, name, and home address on a large screen posted at the intersection. Several days later, a summons appears in the offender’s mailbox demanding payment of a fine or fulfillment of community service.

As Orwellian as it seems, this technology is very real for residents of Jinan and several other Chinese cities. According to a Xinhua interview with Li Yong of the Jinan traffic police, “Since the new technology has been adopted, the cases of jaywalking have been reduced from 200 to 20 each day at the major intersection of Jingshi and Shungeng roads.”

The sophisticated cameras and facial recognition systems already used in China—and their near–real-time public shaming—are an example of how machine learning, mobile phone surveillance, and internet activity tracking are being used to censor and control populations. Most worryingly, the prospect of real-time surveillance makes running surveillance states such as the former East Germany and current North Korea much more financially efficient.

According to a 2015 discussion paper by the Institute for the Study of Labor, a German research center, by the 1980s almost 0.5% of the East German population was directly employed by the Stasi, the country’s state security service and secret police—1 for every 166 citizens. An additional 1.1% of the population (1 for every 66 citizens) were working as unofficial informers, which represented a massive economic drain. Automated, real-time, algorithm-driven monitoring could potentially drive the cost of controlling the population down substantially in police states—and elsewhere.

We could see a radical new era of censorship that is much more manipulative than anything that has come before. Previously, dissidents were identified when investigators manually combed through photos, read writings, or listened in on phone calls. Real-time algorithmic monitoring means that acts of perceived defiance can be identified and deleted in the moment and their perpetrators marked for swift judgment before they can make an impression on others.

Businesses need to be aware of the wider trend toward real-time, automated censorship and how it might be used in both commercial and governmental settings. These tools can easily be used in countries with unstable political dynamics and could become a real concern for businesses that operate across borders. Businesses must learn to educate and protect employees when technology can censor and punish in real time.

Indeed, the technologies used for this kind of repression could be easily adapted from those that have already been developed for businesses. For instance, both Facebook and Google use near–real-time facial identification algorithms that automatically identify people in images uploaded by users—which helps the companies build out their social graphs and target users with profitable advertisements. Automated algorithms also flag Facebook posts that potentially violate the company’s terms of service.

China is already using these technologies to control its own people in ways that are largely hidden to outsiders.

According to a report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the popular Chinese social network WeChat operates under a policy its authors call “One App, Two Systems.” Users with Chinese phone numbers are subjected to dynamic keyword censorship that changes depending on current events and whether a user is in a private chat or in a group. Depending on the political winds, users are blocked from accessing a range of websites that report critically on China through WeChat’s internal browser. Non-Chinese users, however, are not subject to any of these restrictions.

The censorship is also designed to be invisible. Messages are blocked without any user notification, and China has intermittently blocked WhatsApp and other foreign social networks. As a result, Chinese users are steered toward national social networks, which are more compliant with government pressure.

China’s policies play into a larger global trend: the nationalization of the internet. China, Russia, the European Union, and the United States have all adopted different approaches to censorship, user privacy, and surveillance. Although there are social networks such as WeChat or Russia’s VKontakte that are popular in primarily one country, nationalizing the internet challenges users of multinational services such as Facebook and YouTube. These different approaches, which impact everything from data safe harbor laws to legal consequences for posting inflammatory material, have implications for businesses working in multiple countries, as well.

For instance, Twitter is legally obligated to hide Nazi and neo-fascist imagery and some tweets in Germany and France—but not elsewhere. YouTube was officially banned in Turkey for two years because of videos a Turkish court deemed “insulting to the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” father of modern Turkey. In Russia, Google must keep Russian users’ personal data on servers located inside Russia to comply with government policy.

While China is a pioneer in the field of instant censorship, tech companies in the United States are matching China’s progress, which could potentially have a chilling effect on democracy. In 2016, Apple applied for a patent on technology that censors audio streams in real time—automating the previously manual process of censoring curse words in streaming audio.

In March, after U.S. President Donald Trump told Fox News, “I think maybe I wouldn’t be [president] if it wasn’t for Twitter,” Twitter founder Evan “Ev” Williams did something highly unusual for the creator of a massive social network.

He apologized.

Speaking with David Streitfeld of The New York Times, Williams said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Entrepreneurs tend to be very proud of their innovations. Williams, however, offers a far more ambivalent response to his creation’s success. Much of the 2016 presidential election’s rancor was fueled by Twitter, and the instant gratification of Twitter attracts trolls, bullies, and bigots just as easily as it attracts politicians, celebrities, comedians, and sports fans.

Services such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are designed through a mix of look and feel, algorithmic wizardry, and psychological techniques to hang on to users for as long as possible—which helps the services sell more advertisements and make more money. Toxic political discourse and online harassment are unintended side effects of the economic-driven urge to keep users engaged no matter what.

Keeping users’ eyeballs on their screens requires endless hours of multivariate testing, user research, and algorithm refinement. For instance, Casey Newton of tech publication The Verge notes that Google Brain, Google’s AI division, plays a key part in generating YouTube’s video recommendations.

According to Jim McFadden, the technical lead for YouTube recommendations, “Before, if I watch this video from a comedian, our recommendations were pretty good at saying, here’s another one just like it,” he told Newton. “But the Google Brain model figures out other comedians who are similar but not exactly the same—even more adjacent relationships. It’s able to see patterns that are less obvious.”

A never-ending flow of content that is interesting without being repetitive is harder to resist. With users glued to online services, addiction and other behavioral problems occur to an unhealthy degree. According to a 2016 poll by nonprofit research company Common Sense Media, 50% of American teenagers believe they are addicted to their smartphones.

This pattern is extending into the workplace. Seventy-five percent of companies told research company Harris Poll in 2016 that two or more hours a day are lost in productivity because employees are distracted. The number one reason? Cellphones and texting, according to 55% of those companies surveyed. Another 41% pointed to the internet.

Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, argues that many product designers for online services try to exploit psychological vulnerabilities in a bid to keep users engaged for longer periods. Harris refers to an iPhone as “a slot machine in my pocket” and argues that user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers need to adopt something akin to a Hippocratic Oath to stop exploiting users’ psychological vulnerabilities.

In fact, there is an entire school of study devoted to “dark UX”—small design tweaks to increase profits. These can be as innocuous as a “Buy Now” button in a visually pleasing color or as controversial as when Facebook tweaked its algorithm in 2012 to show a randomly selected group of almost 700,000 users (who had not given their permission) newsfeeds that skewed more positive to some users and more negative to others to gauge the impact on their respective emotional states, according to an article in Wired.

As computers, smartphones, and televisions come ever closer to convergence, these issues matter increasingly to businesses. Some of the universal side effects of addiction are lost productivity at work and poor health. Businesses should offer training and help for employees who can’t stop checking their smartphones.

Mindfulness-centered mobile apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Forest offer one way to break the habit. Users can also choose to break internet addiction by going for a walk, turning their computers off, or using tools like StayFocusd or Freedom to block addictive websites or apps.

Most importantly, companies in the business of creating tech products need to design software and hardware that discourages addictive behavior. This means avoiding bad designs that emphasize engagement metrics over human health. A world of advertising preroll showing up on smart refrigerator touchscreens at 2 a.m. benefits no one.

According to a 2014 study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, approximately 6% of the world’s population suffers from internet addiction to one degree or another. As more users in emerging economies gain access to cheap data, smartphones, and laptops, that percentage will only increase. For businesses, getting a head start on stopping internet addiction will make employees happier and more productive. D!


About the Authors

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

David Delaney is Global Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, SAP Health.

Volker Hildebrand is Global Vice President for SAP Hybris solutions.

Neal Ungerleider is a Los Angeles-based technology journalist and consultant.


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

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The “Purpose” Of Data

Timo Elliott

I’ve always been passionate about the ability of data and analytics to transform the world.

It has always seemed to me to be the closest thing we have to modern-day magic, with its ability to conjure up benefits from thin air. Over the last quarter century, I’ve had the honor of working with thousands of “wizards” in organizations around the world, turning information into value in every aspect of our daily lives.

The projects have been as simple as Disney using real-time analytics to move staff from one store to another to keep lines to a minimum: shorter lines led to bigger profits (you’re more likely to buy that Winnie-the-Pooh bear if there’s only one person ahead of you), but also higher customer satisfaction and happier children.

Or they’ve been as complex as the Port of Hamburg: constrained by its urban location, it couldn’t expand to meet the growing volume of traffic. But better use of information meant it was able to dramatically increase throughput – while improving the life of city residents with reduced pollution (less truck idling) and fewer traffic jams (smart lighting that automatically adapts to bridge closures).

I’ve seen analytics used to figure out why cheese was curdling in Wisconsin; count the number of bubbles in Champagne; keep track of excessive fouls in Swiss soccer, track bear sightings in Canada; avoid flooding in Argentina; detect chewing-gum-blocked metro machines in Brussels; uncover networks of tax fraud in Australia; stop trains from being stranded in the middle of the Tuscan countryside; find air travelers exposed to radioactive substances; help abused pets find new homes; find the best people to respond to hurricanes and other disasters; and much, much more.

The reality is that there’s a lot of inefficiency in the world. Most of the time it’s invisible, or we take it for granted. But analytics can help us shine a light on what’s going on, expose the problems, and show us what we can do better – in almost every area of human endeavor.

Data is a powerful weapon. Analytics isn’t just an opportunity to reduce costs and increase profits – it’s an opportunity to make the world a better place.

So to paraphrase a famous world leader, next time you embark on a new project:

“Ask not what you can do with your data, ask what your data can do for the world.”

What are your favorite “magical” examples, where analytics helped create win/win/win situations?

Download our free eBook for more insight on How the Port of Hamburg Doubled Capacity with Digitization.

This article originally appeared on Digital Business & Business Analytics.

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Timo Elliott

About Timo Elliott

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