Asset Management: Position Your Business For Success With AIN

Srikanth Gopalakrishnan

Managing an asset is a lot like raising a child: It’s a job best suited for multiple people.

Parents, grandparents, and other family members pitch in to show children the way, while manufacturers, operators, and third-party service providers collaborate to ensure the short- and long-term success of assets.

For effective asset management to take place, all relevant stakeholders need access to essential asset data. In the past, organizations shared information with one another through paperwork – mailing physical documents or e-mailing digital files.

Today, your enterprise can modernize and streamline this process with an asset intelligence network (AIN), which provides you and your stakeholders with real-time, around-the-clock access to vital asset insight.

Making sure manufacturers, operators, and service providers stay on the same page

Imagine you operate a regional rail line. You’re responsible for ensuring your trains remain in tip-top shape so they can safely transport passengers to and from work, school, and home.

One evening during the rush-hour commute, a train stalls on its way to a major metropolitan area. Hundreds of passengers are stranded in crowded, hot railcars. Hordes of people, exhausted after a long day’s work, grow more and more agitated by the minute – and with good reason. They’re desperate to get home to their families, and you’ve let them down.

Using AIN to share real-time asset information with a third-party service provider could have prevented this nightmare scenario. The service provider could have analyzed data gathered from an Internet of Things-enabled sensor attached to your train and detected the potential issue before it turned the evening commute into a catastrophe.

Now, say you discover the cause of the breakdown was a prematurely overheated engine. With AIN, the engine manufacturer could have could have sent you a new engine long before yours failed – without so much as asking for a model number, since it already had visibility into that information. The manufacturer could also use this insight to make improvements to future models, so other engines won’t be built with the same flaws.

4 ways a more collaborative network can benefit your business

With a complete view of real-time asset data through AIN, your company can:

  1. Save time: You no longer need to send service providers or manufacturers paperwork through the mail or get on the phone to explain asset problems you’re encountering. They can see everything that happens – as it happens – for themselves.
  1. Increase asset uptime: Service providers can continuously monitor the condition of an asset. If they detect even the slightest anomaly, they can address it before the asset has to be pulled offline and fixed.
  1. Reduce maintenance costs: AIN gives you the opportunity to be predictive rather than reactive. And by tending to issues before they become major problems, you can avoid expensive equipment repairs.
  1. Create new business models: The constant connectivity provided by AIN enables companies to reimagine their businesses. An organization that periodically inspects and certifies elevator safety, for instance, could morph into a company that provides maintenance as a service.

Connecting businesses and assets with a single master data store

Today, most companies in asset management work in silos. But there needs to be a paradigm shift, one that involves organizations embracing a more collaborative, networked approach.

AIN empowers your business and all key stakeholders to access the same collection of asset data at the same time – be it maintenance history, equipment model numbers, or spare parts information – so you and your partners are better equipped to more collaboratively manage your assets.

Explore how you can take your organization into the world of Asset Management 4.0, where every business and machine is connected. Download Revolutionize Asset Management with Global Collaboration now.

Want to learn more about AIN networks?  Check out SAP Asset Intelligence Network – The global registry for industrial assets, a short video that describes the global registry of industrial equipment to be shared between manufacturers, operators and service providers of these SAP provides.

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Srikanth Gopalakrishnan

About Srikanth Gopalakrishnan

Srikanth Gopalakrishnan is Vice President of the Internet of Things and Digital Connected Assets at SAP Labs India Private Ltd.

Mission: Pet Nutrition

Conor Brophy

Healthy eating is sweeping the nation and the world. Millions are becoming more sensitive to the foods they strategically consume. From organic produce to preservative-free proteins or the occasional kale salad, the clean-eating trend has become a global phenomenon that is influencing diets far and wide.

Now, this trend is infiltrating the diets of our pets. Pet owners are becoming more aware that organic, nutrient-rich diets offer a variety of health benefits for their beloved dogs and cats. They are looking beyond the crusty kibble to alternative pet nutrition solutions that all pets can enjoy. Including, if they so choose, the pet owners themselves…

The Honest Kitchen is a pet nutrition company founded by pet nutritionist Lucy Postins. Lucy says the company was founded by accident. That may be true, but ultimately, it is a company born from solving a personal problem.

In 2002, Lucy’s dog Mosi, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, was suffering from chronic ear infections. Lucy was spending too much time and money on veterinarian visits, ear flushes, steroids, and antibiotics for short-term results. She needed to find a solution that would help cure Mosi’s ear infections once and for all.

After determining that food was both the “culprit and potential medicine,” of the problem, she began working on a homemade, raw-food diet for Mosi.

Results were apparent within a few short weeks. Mosi’s health was continuously improving, but the downside was that the family’s kitchen was a disaster.

“The raw food diet was incredibly messy to prepare,” said Postins.

But after considering Mosi’s impressive turnaround, Lucy began to ponder how she could help other pet owners dealing with similar situations. And how to keep the kitchen clean along the way.

“I landed on dehydration as a solution. Still a way to feed a healthy, whole-food diet without the mess. There was nothing like it in the market, so I decided to make a little business out of it,” added Postins.

Lucy took a $7,000 loan from her husband to launch and scale the business. She converted a spare bedroom into an office and the garage into a shipping center. After additional financing, The Honest Kitchen found its stride by focusing on quality and brand integrity.

“We (The Honest Kitchen) source food directly from human-food supply chains. The finished products are finalized by human-food producers,” said Postins. It’s rare for a pet food brand to be manufactured next to breakfast cereals and bakery mixes, but the practice helps ensure the products are held to the highest standards of quality and care.

After 14 years, the company has built a workforce of over 50 employees and amassed $40 million in annual revenue last year. It has also been able to deliver 30% year-over-year growth during that timespan.

The company’s innovative ways of manufacturing pet food helped it achieve a high honor from the Food and Drug Administration. “We are the first and only pet food company in the world to have FDA approval to say human-grade on our labels,” said Postins.

Critical decision-making happens often at The Honest Kitchen. Postins claims that avoiding “paralysis by analysis,” is key in making decisions. The company cares deeply about “maintaining a balanced mindset,” between the entrepreneurial energy of the company and analytics. They understand the value data presents, “but still trust (our) gut in the end,” she said. One way the company is achieving this is by introducing new technologies that are helping the business run better.

With technology as a critical appliance in The Honest Kitchen, the company is able to better understand its customers. Specifically, their buying habits and brand expectations. Postins hopes that a more dynamic relationship with The Honest Kitchen customer base will help better articulate how the company should operate from the ground up. By doing so, it can deliver better products to the right pets at the right time.

The Honest Kitchen has become one of the most disruptive brands in the pet food industry with the help of SAP Business One.

This article originally appeared on Growth Matters Network.

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Conor Brophy

About Conor Brophy

Conor Brophy works with the SAP Global Marketing Customer Storytelling team as a content specialist. When he is not writing about stories of "Run Simple," he enjoys golf, hiking and spending time with his fiance, friends and family.

How Artificial Intelligence And Machine Learning Will Transform The Wholesale Industry

Karen Lynch

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are quickly becoming “the new normal.” Despite alarmist sci-fi predictions about AI from Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, these innovations are set to transform the way wholesale distributors do business.

A new level of insight

Machines, computer software, and algorithms can now understand written and spoken words at a deep level. Some are refined enough to determine the meaning of images and video media. They can even extrapolate possible futures. Analytics and data intelligence are enhancing business processes and facilitating more intuitive customer service practices.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies have enabled computers to compete with and, in many cases, surpass human ability. They are making their way into many domains that were previously reserved for humans, and this frees up human resources for more value-added tasks.

In addition to automating mundane tasks, machines are taking over increasingly complex functions in all lines of business. Machines with the ability to take on more intricate work tasks enable a new level of automation across all areas of business. These innovations are particularly valuable for wholesale distributors.

Automation frees up assets for strategic advances

Just as in the retail space, clients in the wholesale distribution industry have higher expectations as well as heightened influence. Increased efficiency, being easy to do business with and reducing errors is paramount.

Wholesale distributors are now able to create smarter, more intuitive and more efficient processes than ever before. With the supply chain process streamlined, resources are freed up for more strategic activities.

Digital transformation embodies making full use of machine learning as well as the internet of things, data intelligence, more refined analytics, big data, block chain, the cloud, design thinking and related innovative technologies.

Wholesalers of all sizes can benefit

The IoT (Internet of Things) is a dynamic “network of networks” connecting components and endpoints in the business world. This facilitates communication without the need for human interaction. This advance is foundational to the efficacy of artificial intelligence and machine learning in business.

Wholesalers operate almost exclusively in a B2B environment. While there is a bit less urgency for transformation in this realm than in the consumer space, IoT adoption is still robust. The digital revolution has already transformed the wholesale business in the past decade, and machine learning and artificial intelligence are set to take the industry into new realms altogether.

Giant online wholesalers like Alibaba and Amazon are setting the stage for what’s to come. Wholesalers of all sizes will be pursuing new initiatives that make the most of the IoT and technologies like 3D printing. These additions will enable new service capabilities and product offerings for business customers.

A more intuitive way of doing business

These revolutionary changes raise the bar for all companies in the wholesale industry. Sitting on the sidelines is simply not an option; businesses are becoming accustomed to the increased innovation these changes facilitate, and they will quickly lose patience with wholesalers who are not making the most of these technologies.

Keeping track of inventory at all times is crucial to success as a wholesaler. One of the most robust aspects of this evolution for wholesale companies is the capacity for highly accurate real-time reporting.

Some of the key benefits of these innovations include:

Better customer service: Artificial intelligence and machine learning will allow wholesale distributors to anticipate and intuit future customer needs based upon past and present activity.  (Delete the word “your” before wholesale distributors)

Reduced costs: In addition to always having enough product to meet customer demand, fluctuations in demand can be better anticipated. This information will inform purchasing decisions for higher accuracy than ever before. This in turn will reduce overages and inventory surpluses that can cause a high number of “unsaleable” and wasted expenditures on these products.

Predictive maintenance: Sensors on key equipment and processes within factories and warehouses that are plugged into the IoT will allow components to be serviced and replaced before they become a problem. Remotely installed commerce assets such as vending machines, refrigerators and coolers can also be accurately monitored. This increases uptime and further enhances customer service.

Overall, a digital transformation in the wholesale industry using these technologies will help to improve internal visibility across all lines of business. This will allow exponentially better customer service while reducing both waste and overages.

A new world of innovation

As you can see, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies will facilitate a range of innovations for the wholesale industry. Better process automation, improved customer engagement, more effective assets and even new revenue models are now possible. Real-time data will be taken to new levels with the ability of these technologies to anticipate customer needs and extrapolate futures.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the digital revolution are transforming the world. Is your business ready?

Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation: The IoT Imperative for Consumer Industries. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today: Industry 4.0: What’s Next?

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Karen Lynch

About Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch is the Vice President, Global Wholesale Distribution Industry Business Unit at SAP. She sets the vision and direction and execute the go to market plan to address the needs of Wholesale Distributors across the globe by using SAP solutions.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Outside the Margins

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing New Worlds

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

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

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

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

Do You Need a Futurist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

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

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

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

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make the Future Part of the Culture

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

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

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


About the Authors

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

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

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


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

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Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

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

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

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

About Stephanie Overby

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Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

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

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

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

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

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

How will jobs change?

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

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

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

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

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

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

So, what skills are needed?

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

Today's workplace reality

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

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