Will Technology Make Custom Clothing More Affordable?

Simon Davies

From tech startups to e-commerce titans, the quest is on to bring custom-made clothing to a new generation whose income would usually prevent them from being able to afford it. Bespoke clothing tends to be exclusive to high-end stores and is often seen as a rare luxury to all but the wealthiest of people.

The problem is that most of us are walking around with comparatively ill-fitting clothes; however, with the introduction of custom-sizing tech, not only could the fashion industry be transformed, your wardrobe could be too.

The problem with the size of our clothes

Despite the fact they are one of the most commonly worn items of clothing in history, we have come to begrudgingly accept that our t-shirts won’t quite fit most of the time. A so-called medium in one store may be too large and too small in the next. The problem dates back to the 1800s, when advances in technology meant that clothing could start to be mass-produced. Prior to this, as all clothing was hand-tailored, customized sizes were the norm and more affordable for the masses, who would simply own far less clothing.

Even t-shirt manufacturers have come to accept that there’s a problem, with one suggesting three primary reasons why t-shirt sizes vary so significantly. First, there is no restriction on standard clothing sizes, so although agencies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) may have certain expectations, physically enforcing clothing sizes is technically impossible. Sizing varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, which brings us to our second reason: vanity sizing.

Vanity sizing is the process of stores labeling clothing in a smaller size than it actually is. The theory is, not unsurprisingly, that people will be happier buying clothes that they feel thinner in. If that makes you feel slightly disturbed, the third reason that the size of clothes differ significantly from store to store is because some businesses do the opposite. In trendier stores, sizes labeled large are anything but. In 2006, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch came under fire for eliminating its plus-size clothing, saying that “we don’t market to anyone other than…cool, good-looking people.”

Of course, there’s another reason why machine technology has been inferior to the human hand when producing bespoke clothing: the simple fact that bodies come in a wide range of different sizes. There is no one small, medium, or large, and that is a problem machine production hasn’t circumvented…until now.

The rise of bespoke clothing technology

Custom clothing has been described as the future of fashion, and, through the use of automation, that future may be very likely. Amazon’s patent for an “on-demand” apparel manufacturing system can quickly fill online orders for suits and dresses. This would, in theory, be able to make mass-produced, custom-made clothing, and in turn make custom clothing more affordable.

It works like this: The customer enters their exact measurements and other information like style, color, etc. Various computer-driven systems then produce the clothing. First, the aptly named cut engine cuts out pieces of fabric. Then a robotic arm places the fabric into a conveyer belt, which delivers the pieces to a sewing station, where an automated sewing machine (basically a robot) stitches them together. The entire process is monitored via cameras to ensure quality control.

However, it isn’t just Amazon that’s looking at ways to produce machine-made, custom clothing. In a piece in Apparel News, Andrew Asch talked to the inventors and entrepreneurs behind Susarel, a California company that aims to build a fully integrated vertical factory with an automated sewing component that will eventually produce custom clothing.

The plant will be able to produce all sorts of clothing – not just high-end suits – including t-shirts, yoga pants, leggings, board shorts, and hoodies. Susarel’s project will focus on energy-efficiency and being eco-friendly. However, the important thing for many consumers is whether or not it will actually make custom clothing any cheaper.

Will this service eventually become truly affordable?

Susarel seems to think so. Because this tech will allow it to produce clothes domestically in the United States, it believes it will benefit from tariff-free trade. Tom Keefer, one of the entrepreneurs behind the business, reasons that “[although] the cost of the factory build-out will be higher in order to incorporate these technologies, the resulting efficiencies will makes us cost-competitive with offshore manufacturers who handle the lowest-cost labor pool.”

Susarel is planning a soft launch next year, while Amazon’s patent is still just that: a patent. So all this talk of cheap, robot-made, custom clothing remains hypothetical. However, one business is already using a combination of tech and the human hand to bring genuinely cheaper custom clothes.

Copenhagen-based startup Son Of A Tailor offers t-shirts created to fit the wearer perfectly by producing them via a specially developed online algorithm. It works by asking the user five questions (height, weight, age, jeans, and shoe size), then using what it calls its Ideal Size Algorithm to calculate a perfect-sized tee. The pattern is then laser-cut before humans take over, stitching the garment by hand.

Although Son Of A Tailor only offers t-shirts, this combination of machine and human may be the best way to get affordable, custom clothing today.

For more on technological change in manufacturing, learn 6 Surprising Ways 3D Printing Will Disrupt Manufacturing.

Comments

About Simon Davies

Simon Davies is a London-based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues, and solutions. He works explores new markets and disruptive technologies and communicates those recent developments to a wide, public audience. Simon is also a contributor at socialbarrel.com, socialnomics.net, and tech.co. Follow Simon @simontheodavies on Twitter.

Five Trends Keeping Supply Chain Specialists Up At Night

Franz Hero

It’s easy to sleep with a clear mind. But with increasing supply chain pressures gnawing at your brain, it can be hard to get any shuteye.

Between meeting customers’ needs for individualized products and ensuring your partners, people, processes, and products remain connected, supply chain specialists have plenty of issues to worry about.

How can you solve your enterprise’s greatest industry challenges and finally rest easy? Technology is the answer.

Let’s examine five key trends impacting supply chain and look at how your organization can excel with innovative solutions.

Trend #1: Individualization

One-third of today’s consumers are interested in personalized products. From shampoos with specific fragrances to automobiles with uniquely tailored dashboard displays, buyers have their sights set on items that are specially designed for them.

The problem with this, of course, is twofold: The cost of manufacturing customized products can be high, and creating too many unique goods may not be commercially viable.

So, how can your enterprise meet customers’ demands for personalized products without breaking the bank or producing a surplus of goods?

By using an integrated business planning solution – one that combines demand sensing, machine learning capabilities, and multi-tier inventory optimization – you can more accurately predict demand and lower your overall inventory levels.

With enhanced demand sensing and planning, your business can analyze demand signals – such as ordering patterns, point-of-sale data, seasonal events, and promotions – to create accurate monthly, weekly, and even daily forecasts. More accurate forecasts ensure you don’t wind up manufacturing, ordering, or carrying too much or too little of a particular product.

The ability to predict the precise number of goods required helps guarantee you have enough of a certain product available for customers, allowing you to maintain high service levels while also ensuring your distribution centers aren’t overstocked with surplus target and safety stock inventory.

Better demand sensing and planning capabilities have helped businesses improve forecast accuracy by as much as 60%.

Trend #2: Globalization

Globalization has ushered in the sharing economy. In your personal life, you’ve likely benefited from this new reality by catching a ride home with Uber after a night out or renting a vacation home through Airbnb.

But how has the sharing economy impacted your business? It’s possible it hasn’t. After all, only nine percent of companies consider themselves “fast movers” when it comes to capitalizing on the monetization opportunities presented by the sharing economy.

Still, many companies are embracing this networking idea, sharing warehouse and transportation capacity, as well as supply chain planning, execution, point-of-sale, device, and sensor data. This helps enterprises reduce costs, improve visibility, and provide customers with superior service.

By extending your company’s integrated business planning and supply chain execution to your partners, you can synchronize planning and streamline operations across your entire supply chain network. Adding these capabilities is crucial to sharing essential data and documents and orchestrating processes in real time, regardless of company, system, and geographical borders.

Deploying a business network platform is the key to achieving this. In addition to profiting from a connected community, shared content, and hosted applications, your business benefits from stronger infrastructure and operations that result in better and more secure visibility, collaboration, and business-to-business integration. For instance, a global, multi-modal logistics business network can provide your enterprise with greater end-to-end shipment visibility and help support efficient international trade collaboration.

With a business network platform easing communication and reducing costs, there’s no better way for your supply chain network to capitalize on the opportunities presented by today’s sharing economy.

Trend #3: Connectivity

Connectivity makes business partner collaboration stronger. By integrating machines, devices, and sensors – and sharing real-time data generated from your assets – you can ensure more accurate planning and digitalize your logistics processes.

In the warehouse, connectivity can help you optimize your operations through automation. You can use intelligent storage and retrieval systems, conveyor belts, sorters, and autonomous guided vehicles to radically transform your warehouse processes.

By connecting your products and transportation resources with innovative Internet of Things (IoT) technology, you can achieve real-time visibility with end-to-end, in-transit tracking and performance insight. When a truck is close to a pickup area or delivery destination, your business can automatically provide customers and business partners with just-in-time delivery notifications, gate check-in details, time-slot booking options, and outbound processing alerts.

Moreover, continuously monitoring the condition of your products and their location can help you mitigate risk. By analyzing your data with an advanced supply chain solution, you can predict delivery arrival times and delays and explore how that will impact future production and shipments.

Real-time connectivity between business partners and vehicles also equips your enterprise with the ability to resolve issues quickly and commence transportation re-planning, if necessary.

Trend #4: Mobility

By the end of 2017, more than 2 billion people will have made purchases on their mobile phones or tablets. And just as consumers are increasingly using mobile devices to buy goods, employees are using mobile devices to process, fulfill, and deliver e-commerce orders.

Connecting your mobile devices with an integrated e-commerce, warehousing, and transportation system allows you to streamline your order fulfillment processes for quick, efficient, and flexible customer delivery.

An integrated supply chain execution platform that works with your company’s mobile devices can help you achieve this, enabling you to deliver goods during customers’ preferred drop-off times and better manage order consolidation, truckload planning, routing, and outbound processing.

With handheld and hands-free devices, including pick-by-voice and augmented reality tools, you can simplify your employees’ jobs. Warehouse pickers can more efficiently process orders, while truck drivers know exactly which route to take or package to deliver. Additionally, event management software with real-time location tracking provides transportation planners, drivers, and customers with information around expected delays or delivery changes.

This is a prime example of how IoT can help you support a fully integrated, end-to-end order fulfillment process and save your company time and money with lower shipping costs and faster customer deliveries.

Trend #5: Sustainability

Sustainability has long been a key supply chain trend – and it’s an industry topic that will continue to grow in importance.

The best method for creating a sustainable supply chain organization is running your supply chain as efficiently as possible. One way your company can achieve this is by using integrated business planning and transportation management software.

These tools can help you optimize logistics, enabling you to consolidate shipments, maximize truck and container load utilization, streamline transportation routing, and support just-in-time cross-docking and delivery appointments. This results in fewer delivery vehicles on the road, a decrease in fuel consumption, and a reduced carbon footprint – not to mention considerable cost savings.

Avoid becoming a supply chain insomniac

The five trends impacting today’s supply chain industry – individualization, globalization, connectivity, mobility, and sustainability – present myriad challenges. And while they can be cause for concern, they don’t have to keep you up at night.

After all, now that you understand how the latest technologies can help you navigate these waters, you can gain the agility and responsiveness you need to elevate your enterprise to new heights.

This should help you rest easy – and avoid becoming a supply chain insomniac.

The supply chain is evolving at an unprecedented pace. SAP solutions help you to connect people and processes to optimize efficiency and delight customers. To find out more, download our white paper “Transform the Supply Chain and Logistics into Demand Networks: How SAP Solutions Enable Next-Generation, Real-Time Demand Networks.”

Comments

Franz Hero

About Franz Hero

Franz Hero is Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Logistics Development at SAP.

Four Steps To Prepare For Industry 4.0

Bruce Mckinnon

As Industry 4.0 is poised to disrupt all sectors of the global economy, companies must stay innovative by investigating the trend and ways they can integrate with it. In Australia, efforts to bring manufacturing into this new era are being driven by the government through partnerships with Germany; a leader in Industry 4.0. Clearly this trend is being recognised for its importance to the future of industry. If you wish to future-proof your company in the face of Industry 4.0, follow these four steps:

1. Assess your company’s needs

Do you need to manufacture more product in less time? Is your business being slowed down by the need to communicate between each stage of your production cycle? As we enter the era of Industry 4.0, identifying areas of improvement is the first step to accessing the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution.

2. Identify how smart factory technology could better meet those needs

If you’re part of an SME, you probably feel as though Industry 4.0 can’t meet your organisation’s needs. But before you reject the future, consider the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution:

  • Responsive shipping and manufacturing driven by real-time cloud data
  • Real-time information on all stages of product development delivered by the Internet of Things
  • Predictive optimisation of business operation through machine learning

If you’ve ever had to put your business on hold while waiting for a vital shipment, or wanted advice tailored to your everyday operations, you should consider integrating with Industry 4.0.

3. Create a five-year plan for meeting those needs through new technology

By the mid 2020’s, many major industrialised nations will have adapted the mass market to Industry 4.0 technology. For instance, the Chinese government is investing more than $1.5 billion into such sectors as the Internet ofThings as part of its “Made in China 2025” strategy. This gives Australian companies roughly five years to ensure they’ll be caught up.

You must begin approaching local technology firms and formulating plans to integrate these new solutions. As you do, ensure you remain aware of developments related to international standards regarding Industry 4.0 technology. In addition, insist on modular technological solutions to remain open to new developments during this exciting period of innovation.

4. Begin educating your workforce in the operation of this new technology

For each phase of integration, ensure employees across your organisation are educated in the operations of new technology. This will ensure a smooth transition while reducing the anxiety and Luddism that accompanies every new era of industry.

At SAP, we believe collaboration is key to success in Industry 4.0. If you’d like to know more, investigate how your industry could benefit from Industry 4.0 solutions.

Comments

Bruce Mckinnon

About Bruce Mckinnon

Bruce is the Head of Digital Business Services for SAP ANZ. He is responsible for the delivery and support of SAP related business transformation for our customers across Australia and New Zealand. Bruce is Responsible for approximately 450 people within our A/NZ team, we look to deliver business outcomes based on SAP technology to help our customers digitally transform their organisations.

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:

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.

Comments

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.