How iFuture Robotics Is Revolutionizing Smart Logistics

Sunaina Patnaik

Shooting was an early passion for Rajesh Manpat. As a student, he won several medals for air rifle shooting, including at the National Games, where he equaled a national record. But technological innovation and entrepreneurship were passions as well.

No surprise then that his first business foray was a device he invented called Elite Scorer – a device that helps in shooting practice. It uses infrared laser technology to score targets in real-time and provides a digital display of shot locations, transmitting them over WiFi. This was the beginning of iFuture Systems, in 2008. Starting with just US$90, Manpat obtained a patent for the Elite Scorer and began marketing it in 2013. It has since acquired customers, including defense personnel and shooting enthusiasts, across 26 countries.

But Manpat aspired for more. Having understood the nuances of building a service business in industrial automation, he handed over the charge of iFuture Systems to his family and launched iFuture Robotics. iFuture Robotics is an original equipment manufacturer that builds innovative robots to address warehouse automation needs.

Autonomous robot

In 2015, after carefully observing warehouse operations, Manpat devised ARK, which stands for Autonomous Robot for the Known environment. This robot can navigate a warehouse it has been familiarized with – the “known environment” – independently, to stack inventory or retrieve it as required, thereby reducing manpower costs and offering unlimited opportunity for scaling. “It was our first structural robot,” says Manpat. “It automated a lot of backend processes of e-commerce companies.” ARK was a winner at Qualcomm’s “Design in India” challenge, leading to Qualcomm becoming an early investor in the project, providing advice on technical, strategic, and intellectual property-related aspects and giving Manpat access to all its products built for Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The ARK robot will soon be available in three models of ascending size:

  • Mark1 can carry a payload of 20 kg and operate for six hours at a stretch
  • Mark2 can carry a payload of 50 kg and operate for 12 hours at a stretch
  • MINI can carry a payload of 500 kg and operate for eight hours at a stretch

Mark1 has been launched commercially, whereas the other two models will be available in 2018 along with another variant of ARK robot designed for factory floor automation. This variant can scan the environment and navigate its way to deliver parts and spares to different workers on the shop floor leading to lean and efficient manufacturing.

The customer base of iFuture Robotics is rapidly expanding in domestic and overseas markets. Among early users of Mark1 is one of India’s leading e-commerce retailers. “We have started a proof-of-concept with a large online retailer, distributing its products to its delivery vans,” says Manpat. iFuture Robotics has recently forayed into the European market by signing up a leading Swiss retailer in November 2017, and will deploy robots for sorting goods for retail stores in central warehouses. This makes iFuture Robotics the first Indian company to deploy robots abroad.

The robots are programmed to save both time and costs in innovative ways. “While loading the vans, for instance, the robots arrange the packages in such a way that no time is wasted when the vans reach the houses where deliveries are to be made,” says Manpat. “The process is structured to ensure that the least possible time is spent in the field. Our study shows 30%–40% increased efficiency in terms of both time and cost thanks to the robots because they can be used on multiple shifts in a single day, unlike human beings. Thus companies can run two or three shifts without any increase in manpower.”

Customization is key

Beyond the three basic robot models, Manpat takes pride in the customization that he, along with his team, has brought to the robots, enabling them to perform different tasks on the warehouse floor. “We have filed 10 patent applications in India and the United States,” he says. Manpat relies heavily on artificial intelligence (AI) tools. “The AI engine decides the best kind of robot for a job, the best product to pick at a particular point of time, the best path to take to reach each of the innumerable items in the warehouse, and more,” he adds. “AI technologies have been deployed to build models using large volumes of available data from which the system derives the best option.”

A unique feature of Manpat’s robots is the motion detection sensor they are equipped with, enabling them to maneuver their way even amid heavy traffic in any part of the warehouse. Such a safety measure is rare in mobile robotics, and Manpat acknowledges that he is still working on improvements. Sensor data is used to create better algorithms, leading to more reliable performance and data records captured in real time, which allows for preventive maintenance. For example, using the data helps predict the battery level of each robot at any stage so batteries can be changed in time to avoid disturbing warehouse operations. Manpat even hopes to use the data to capture real-time changes in the diameter of the robot’s wheels due to wear and tear and make adjustments so that the robot does not deviate from its path. This will lead to further savings on maintenance.

Manpat and his team have extensively deployed embedded hardware and computer-aided design in their robots. “We’ve used a lot of network and communications technology since we have multiple robots working in a single warehouse, which are connected to a single server,” he says. “A whole lot of different technologies have gone into building our solutions.”


Building the ARK was a challenge at every step. “The lack of local suppliers and vendors whose products met quality standards was a big hurdle in the early days,” says Manpat. “We had to import, which led to higher input costs and longer lead time. We had to plan production cycles well in advance. It was also difficult to raise capital from the market to acquire the hardware.” But he knows that to make his robots affordable, there is no alternative to procuring their parts locally. He also strives to find solutions that are scalable, so they can be applied in large numbers without incurring excessive costs.

Competition is another challenge – there are at least 10 companies manufacturing warehouse robots – but Manpat’s robots work out to be more economical because of their versatility. With labor costs low in India, a robot has to be able to perform the tasks of a number of workers to be worth a company’s investment. “I designed our products in such a way that each robot does more relevant tasks than other robots,” he says. “When my robots go around, they can handle six different SKUs at a time. In the United States or Europe, a robot handling a single SKU is enough to justify acquiring it, but not here.”

Since different Indian companies deploy different enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, another challenge for iFuture Robotics is creating robots whose application programming interface (API) is flexible enough to be compatible with all of them.

Another challenge is that building or acquiring a warehouse is itself a substantial investment, and companies are often reluctant to spend more on robots. Besides, most warehouses are designed for purely manual operations. “Our products suite is designed to work even in warehouses designed for manual operations only,” says Manpat. “But Indian companies need to factor in the future needs of automation and design warehouses accordingly.”

On the question of whether robots replacing people will lead to unemployment, Manpat remarked “Robots replace traditionally less value-added jobs with newer and more efficient jobs” He notes that robots have by no means increased unemployment in China, despite that country being the largest industrial robot manufacturing country in the world and the hub of cost-effective manufacturing solutions.

Looking ahead

In coming years, Manpat wants his company to grow beyond servicing only Indian needs. His team is working on technologies that will help make the robots function effectively across warehouses catering to different sectors, including opportunities in the West. “We want to build a large product portfolio addressing different segments of the logistics industry,” says Manpat. He has plans of moving beyond the warehouse. “We could develop underlying technologies outside the warehouse, perhaps creating autonomous driving capabilities in the logistics sector,” he adds. “We have a five-year product road map and are currently working on products we hope to launch in 2019. We aim to be global leaders in robotics for smart logistics by 2022.”

To learn more about the future evolution of the human-machine relationship, read the in-depth report Bring Your Robot to Work.


Sunaina Patnaik

About Sunaina Patnaik

Sunaina Patnaik writes features and editorials with focus on business and technology. She is also the author of the published book Warm Delinquencies.  

Four Ways To Fulfill Your Purpose Through Technology

Leanne Taylor

Because of their power and influence, every organization should operate with a purpose that transcends profitability. We know, modern consumers favor organizations that fulfill a higher purpose, so it’s not only smart, it’s the right thing to do.

We work in a world where we could offer significant impact if we strive to improve it through purpose-driven practice. Below are four ways your company can fulfill its purpose through technology.

1. Cut out everything that stands between your customers and what they want

You might not think you serve a higher purpose, but every organization does. Let’s say your company sells cars. Your purpose isn’t to provide customers with cars. It’s to give them freedom and convenience. Focusing on what your customers want delivers to their higher purpose.

Whatever you give customers, machine learning and AI assistants can cut the time it takes for them to reach it. This lets you fulfill your purpose faster every day.

A great example of this is Disneyland. The happiest place on Earth strives to bring people joy. The more its customers enjoy the rides and interact with employees, the more Disney fulfills their purpose. By using real-time analytics, Disney parks can deploy staff to shorten long lines in real time. This helps Disney bring more joy to people (especially parents who would otherwise be waiting in lines with impatient children).

2. Drive the global purpose of sustainability

Beyond giving your customers what they really want, preserving the world is a purpose we all serve. While technology has historically been the enemy of the environment, innovations in sustainability are moving the needle and driving much-needed change in this space.

An excellent example is healthy food maker Danone, which was able to make its product lifecycles almost completely sustainable.

By investing in sustainability innovations, organizations can align themselves with anyone interested in our planet’s survival. After all, they’re investing in the foundation of every organization: the Earth.

3. Sow seeds in emerging economies

As the economies of Africa, Asia, and India advance, organizations must invest in education of their future workforce. As well as fulfilling a noble purpose, advancing education in these areas gives organizations a head-start in securing top talent. It also offers a diverse workforce the skills they will need in a vastly changing world.

Technology is the best way to improve chances for children in emerging countries. This could involve education in critical skills like coding. It could also be as simple as holding virtual conferences with classrooms across the world. Whatever skills you can give to the world, technology enables you to give them to the places that most need them.

4. Connect with those who can help you fulfill your purpose

There is no doubt that technology has brought the world together. Today, you can use technology to integrate your operation with organizations who share your purpose. Whether it’s connecting nonprofits or overhauling your operations, you’ll fulfill your purpose faster by partnering with others.

At SAP we’re driven by our purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. To help you fulfill that purpose, partner with SAP today.


Leanne Taylor

About Leanne Taylor

Leanne Taylor is Vice President Sales and Strategic Customer Program, SAP Australia and New Zealand.

Meet Machine Learning, Your New Favorite Colleague

Kirsi Tarvainen

What if you had a colleague who would take care of all the dull, routine tasks without complaining? A colleague who lets you do interesting and challenging tasks, helps you solve them, then happily lets you take all the credit. A colleague who stays after office hours doing prep work for you so you will have a good start the next morning?

Meet machine learning, your new favorite colleague, who will dramatically change customer service both for customers and for customer service personnel.

Machine learning boosts customer service

Think about insurance companies. It’s estimated that 70%-80% of insurance claims are pretty straightforward, so this is an area where machine learning algorithms can find the right solution. For humans, it is hard to stay motivated if you have to repeatedly work through tons of claims for stolen bikes or broken mobile phones. But if you have machine learning as a colleague, you can let it solve the simple cases so you can focus on the more challenging ones – and you will have more time to carefully address each one since you don’t need to worry about the bikes and phones.

Or think about contact centers. For customer service agents, it is difficult to answer similar, repeated questions over and over again. What if you let machine learning field the routine questions while you take the more inspiring cases where customers want to speak with a live agent? A great example of this is Finland Post, which created a Christmas bot to help handle pre-Christmas peaks in customer service demands. Customers could chat with the bot to get answers to the easy, but frequent questions like, “What is the last day to send my packet to France,” which freed a lot of human resources to help customers with more complex queries.

Add more time to your day with machine learning

Machine learning is a colleague who can make you look smarter and perform better in your work. About 25% of contact center agent’s time is spent searching for information from different systems. That’s one-fourth of the workday! It is a total waste of time and shifts attention away from the customer interaction.

What if you had a chatbot that digs the information you need from all the data sources and conveniently provides it in a matter of seconds? You could fully concentrate on listening and understanding the customer, thereby providing first-class customer service.

Machine learning is a colleague we will all know very soon. It will help us get quicker and smarter – and it will help us transform our business in ways we can’t even imagine right now. But the key is to start imaging and experimenting now.

Technology is evolving; in the future almost anything will be possible, but we need to start envisioning how our customer service will look in the era of intelligent machines. There are no ready answers yet, as we are all creating the future together.

For inspiration, here is a great, short video on vision, future, and machine learning.

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.


Kirsi Tarvainen

About Kirsi Tarvainen

Believing strongly that we all deserve good customer service, Kirsi has been working in customer service field for more than fifteen years. In her current role in SAP Hybris she works for SAP Hybris Service Solutions, helping companies worldwide improve their customer experience.

Hack the CIO

By Thomas Saueressig, Timo Elliott, Sam Yen, and Bennett Voyles

For nerds, the weeks right before finals are a Cinderella moment. Suddenly they’re stars. Pocket protectors are fashionable; people find their jokes a whole lot funnier; Dungeons & Dragons sounds cool.

Many CIOs are enjoying this kind of moment now, as companies everywhere face the business equivalent of a final exam for a vital class they have managed to mostly avoid so far: digital transformation.

But as always, there is a limit to nerdy magic. No matter how helpful CIOs try to be, their classmates still won’t pass if they don’t learn the material. With IT increasingly central to every business—from the customer experience to the offering to the business model itself—we all need to start thinking like CIOs.

Pass the digital transformation exam, and you probably have a bright future ahead. A recent SAP-Oxford Economics study of 3,100 organizations in a variety of industries across 17 countries found that the companies that have taken the lead in digital transformation earn higher profits and revenues and have more competitive differentiation than their peers. They also expect 23% more revenue growth from their digital initiatives over the next two years—an estimate 2.5 to 4 times larger than the average company’s.

But the market is grading on a steep curve: this same SAP-Oxford study found that only 3% have completed some degree of digital transformation across their organization. Other surveys also suggest that most companies won’t be graduating anytime soon: in one recent survey of 450 heads of digital transformation for enterprises in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany by technology company Couchbase, 90% agreed that most digital projects fail to meet expectations and deliver only incremental improvements. Worse: over half (54%) believe that organizations that don’t succeed with their transformation project will fail or be absorbed by a savvier competitor within four years.

Companies that are making the grade understand that unlike earlier technical advances, digital transformation doesn’t just support the business, it’s the future of the business. That’s why 60% of digital leading companies have entrusted the leadership of their transformation to their CIO, and that’s why experts say businesspeople must do more than have a vague understanding of the technology. They must also master a way of thinking and looking at business challenges that is unfamiliar to most people outside the IT department.

In other words, if you don’t think like a CIO yet, now is a very good time to learn.

However, given that you probably don’t have a spare 15 years to learn what your CIO knows, we asked the experts what makes CIO thinking distinctive. Here are the top eight mind hacks.

1. Think in Systems

A lot of businesspeople are used to seeing their organization as a series of loosely joined silos. But in the world of digital business, everything is part of a larger system.

CIOs have known for a long time that smart processes win. Whether they were installing enterprise resource planning systems or working with the business to imagine the customer’s journey, they always had to think in holistic ways that crossed traditional departmental, functional, and operational boundaries.

Unlike other business leaders, CIOs spend their careers looking across systems. Why did our supply chain go down? How can we support this new business initiative beyond a single department or function? Now supported by end-to-end process methodologies such as design thinking, good CIOs have developed a way of looking at the company that can lead to radical simplifications that can reduce cost and improve performance at the same time.

They are also used to thinking beyond temporal boundaries. “This idea that the power of technology doubles every two years means that as you’re planning ahead you can’t think in terms of a linear process, you have to think in terms of huge jumps,” says Jay Ferro, CIO of TransPerfect, a New York–based global translation firm.

No wonder the SAP-Oxford transformation study found that one of the values transformational leaders shared was a tendency to look beyond silos and view the digital transformation as a company-wide initiative.

This will come in handy because in digital transformation, not only do business processes evolve but the company’s entire value proposition changes, says Jeanne Ross, principal research scientist at the Center for Information Systems Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “It either already has or it’s going to, because digital technologies make things possible that weren’t possible before,” she explains.

2. Work in Diverse Teams

When it comes to large projects, CIOs have always needed input from a diverse collection of businesspeople to be successful. The best have developed ways to convince and cajole reluctant participants to come to the table. They seek out technology enthusiasts in the business and those who are respected by their peers to help build passion and commitment among the halfhearted.

Digital transformation amps up the urgency for building diverse teams even further. “A small, focused group simply won’t have the same breadth of perspective as a team that includes a salesperson and a service person and a development person, as well as an IT person,” says Ross.

At Lenovo, the global technology giant, many of these cross-functional teams become so used to working together that it’s hard to tell where each member originally belonged: “You can’t tell who is business or IT; you can’t tell who is product, IT, or design,” says the company’s CIO, Arthur Hu.

One interesting corollary of this trend toward broader teamwork is that talent is a priority among digital leaders: they spend more on training their employees and partners than ordinary companies, as well as on hiring the people they need, according to the SAP-Oxford Economics survey. They’re also already being rewarded for their faith in their teams: 71% of leaders say that their successful digital transformation has made it easier for them to attract and retain talent, and 64% say that their employees are now more engaged than they were before the transformation.

3. Become a Consultant

Good CIOs have long needed to be internal consultants to the business. Ever since technology moved out of the glasshouse and onto employees’ desks, CIOs have not only needed a deep understanding of the goals of a given project but also to make sure that the project didn’t stray from those goals, even after the businesspeople who had ordered the project went back to their day jobs. “Businesspeople didn’t really need to get into the details of what IT was really doing,” recalls Ferro. “They just had a set of demands and said, ‘Hey, IT, go do that.’”

Now software has become so integral to the business that nobody can afford to walk away. Businesspeople must join the ranks of the IT consultants.

But that was then. Now software has become so integral to the business that nobody can afford to walk away. Businesspeople must join the ranks of the IT consultants. “If you’re building a house, you don’t just disappear for six months and come back and go, ‘Oh, it looks pretty good,’” says Ferro. “You’re on that work site constantly and all of a sudden you’re looking at something, going, ‘Well, that looked really good on the blueprint, not sure it makes sense in reality. Let’s move that over six feet.’ Or, ‘I don’t know if I like that anymore.’ It’s really not much different in application development or for IT or technical projects, where on paper it looked really good and three weeks in, in that second sprint, you’re going, ‘Oh, now that I look at it, that’s really stupid.’”

4. Learn Horizontal Leadership

CIOs have always needed the ability to educate and influence other leaders that they don’t directly control. For major IT projects to be successful, they need other leaders to contribute budget, time, and resources from multiple areas of the business.

It’s a kind of horizontal leadership that will become critical for businesspeople to acquire in digital transformation. “The leadership role becomes one much more of coaching others across the organization—encouraging people to be creative, making sure everybody knows how to use data well,” Ross says.

In this team-based environment, having all the answers becomes less important. “It used to be that the best business executives and leaders had the best answers. Today that is no longer the case,” observes Gary Cokins, a technology consultant who focuses on analytics-based performance management. “Increasingly, it’s the executives and leaders who ask the best questions. There is too much volatility and uncertainty for them to rely on their intuition or past experiences.”

Many experts expect this trend to continue as the confluence of automation and data keeps chipping away at the organizational pyramid. “Hierarchical, command-and-control leadership will become obsolete,” says Edward Hess, professor of business administration and Batten executive-in-residence at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. “Flatter, distributive leadership via teams will become the dominant structure.”

5. Understand Process Design

When business processes were simpler, IT could analyze the process and improve it without input from the business. But today many processes are triggered on the fly by the customer, making a seamless customer experience more difficult to build without the benefit of a larger, multifunctional team. In a highly digitalized organization like Amazon, which releases thousands of new software programs each year, IT can no longer do it all.

While businesspeople aren’t expected to start coding, their involvement in process design is crucial. One of the techniques that many organizations have adopted to help IT and businesspeople visualize business processes together is design thinking (for more on design thinking techniques, see “A Cult of Creation“).

Customers aren’t the only ones who benefit from better processes. Among the 100 companies the SAP-Oxford Economics researchers have identified as digital leaders, two-thirds say that they are making their employees’ lives easier by eliminating process roadblocks that interfere with their ability to do their jobs. Ninety percent of leaders surveyed expect to see value from these projects in the next two years alone.

6. Learn to Keep Learning

The ability to learn and keep learning has been a part of IT from the start. Since the first mainframes in the 1950s, technologists have understood that they need to keep reinventing themselves and their skills to adapt to the changes around them.

Now that’s starting to become part of other job descriptions too. Many companies are investing in teaching their employees new digital skills. One South American auto products company, for example, has created a custom-education institute that trained 20,000 employees and partner-employees in 2016. In addition to training current staff, many leading digital companies are also hiring new employees and creating new roles, such as a chief robotics officer, to support their digital transformation efforts.

Nicolas van Zeebroeck, professor of information systems and digital business innovation at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management at the Free University of Brussels, says that he expects the ability to learn quickly will remain crucial. “If I had to think of one critical skill,” he explains, “I would have to say it’s the ability to learn and keep learning—the ability to challenge the status quo and question what you take for granted.”

7. Fail Smarter

Traditionally, CIOs tended to be good at thinking through tests that would allow the company to experiment with new technology without risking the entire network.

This is another unfamiliar skill that smart managers are trying to pick up. “There’s a lot of trial and error in the best companies right now,” notes MIT’s Ross. But there’s a catch, she adds. “Most companies aren’t designed for trial and error—they’re trying to avoid an error,” she says.

To learn how to do it better, take your lead from IT, where many people have already learned to work in small, innovative teams that use agile development principles, advises Ross.

For example, business managers must learn how to think in terms of a minimum viable product: build a simple version of what you have in mind, test it, and if it works start building. You don’t build the whole thing at once anymore.… It’s really important to build things incrementally,” Ross says.

Flexibility and the ability to capitalize on accidental discoveries during experimentation are more important than having a concrete project plan, says Ross. At Spotify, the music service, and CarMax, the used-car retailer, change is driven not from the center but from small teams that have developed something new. “The thing you have to get comfortable with is not having the formalized plan that we would have traditionally relied on, because as soon as you insist on that, you limit your ability to keep learning,” Ross warns.

8. Understand the True Cost—and Speed—of Data

Gut instincts have never had much to do with being a CIO; now they should have less to do with being an ordinary manager as well, as data becomes more important.

As part of that calculation, businesspeople must have the ability to analyze the value of the data that they seek. “You’ll need to apply a pinch of knowledge salt to your data,” advises Solvay’s van Zeebroeck. “What really matters is the ability not just to tap into data but to see what is behind the data. Is it a fair representation? Is it impartial?”

Increasingly, businesspeople will need to do their analysis in real time, just as CIOs have always had to manage live systems and processes. Moving toward real-time reports and away from paper-based decisions increases accuracy and effectiveness—and leaves less time for long meetings and PowerPoint presentations (let us all rejoice).

Not Every CIO Is Ready

Of course, not all CIOs are ready for these changes. Just as high school has a lot of false positives—genius nerds who turn out to be merely nearsighted—so there are many CIOs who aren’t good role models for transformation.

Success as a CIO these days requires more than delivering near-perfect uptime, says Lenovo’s Hu. You need to be able to understand the business as well. Some CIOs simply don’t have all the business skills that are needed to succeed in the transformation. Others lack the internal clout: a 2016 KPMG study found that only 34% of CIOs report directly to the CEO.

This lack of a strategic perspective is holding back digital transformation at many organizations. They approach digital transformation as a cool, one-off project: we’re going to put this new mobile app in place and we’re done. But that’s not a systematic approach; it’s an island of innovation that doesn’t join up with the other islands of innovation. In the longer term, this kind of development creates more problems than it fixes.

Such organizations are not building in the capacity for change; they’re trying to get away with just doing it once rather than thinking about how they’re going to use digitalization as a means to constantly experiment and become a better company over the long term.

As a result, in some companies, the most interesting tech developments are happening despite IT, not because of it. “There’s an alarming digital divide within many companies. Marketers are developing nimble software to give customers an engaging, personalized experience, while IT departments remain focused on the legacy infrastructure. The front and back ends aren’t working together, resulting in appealing web sites and apps that don’t quite deliver,” writes George Colony, founder, chairman, and CEO of Forrester Research, in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Thanks to cloud computing and easier development tools, many departments are developing on their own, without IT’s support. These days, anybody with a credit card can do it.

Traditionally, IT departments looked askance at these kinds of do-it-yourself shadow IT programs, but that’s changing. Ferro, for one, says that it’s better to look at those teams not as rogue groups but as people who are trying to help. “It’s less about ‘Hey, something’s escaped,’ and more about ‘No, we just actually grew our capacity and grew our ability to innovate,’” he explains.

“I don’t like the term ‘shadow IT,’” agrees Lenovo’s Hu. “I think it’s an artifact of a very traditional CIO team. If you think of it as shadow IT, you’re out of step with reality,” he says.

The reality today is that a company needs both a strong IT department and strong digital capacities outside its IT department. If the relationship is good, the CIO and IT become valuable allies in helping businesspeople add digital capabilities without disrupting or duplicating existing IT infrastructure.

If a company already has strong digital capacities, it should be able to move forward quickly, according to Ross. But many companies are still playing catch-up and aren’t even ready to begin transforming, as the SAP-Oxford Economics survey shows.

For enterprises where business and IT are unable to get their collective act together, Ross predicts that the next few years will be rough. “I think these companies ought to panic,” she says. D!

About the Authors

Thomas Saueressig is Chief Information Officer at SAP.

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist at SAP.

Sam Yen is Chief Design Officer at SAP and Managing Director of SAP Labs.

Bennett Voyles is a Berlin-based business writer.

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


The Differences Between Machine Learning And Predictive Analytics

Shaily Kumar

Many people are confused about the specifics of machine learning and predictive analytics. Although they are both centered on efficient data processing, there are many differences.

Machine learning

Machine learning is a method of computational learning underlying most artificial intelligence (AI) applications. In ML, systems or algorithms improve themselves through data experience without relying on explicit programming. ML algorithms are wide-ranging tools capable of carrying out predictions while simultaneously learning from over trillions of observations.

Machine learning is considered a modern-day extension of predictive analytics. Efficient pattern recognition and self-learning are the backbones of ML models, which automatically evolve based on changing patterns in order to enable appropriate actions.

Many companies today depend on machine learning algorithms to better understand their clients and potential revenue opportunities. Hundreds of existing and newly developed machine learning algorithms are applied to derive high-end predictions that guide real-time decisions with less reliance on human intervention.

Business application of machine learning: employee satisfaction

One common, uncomplicated, yet successful business application of machine learning is measuring real-time employee satisfaction.

Machine learning applications can be highly complex, but one that’s both simple and very useful for business is a machine learning algorithm that compares employee satisfaction ratings to salaries. Instead of plotting a predictive satisfaction curve against salary figures for various employees, as predictive analytics would suggest, the algorithm assimilates huge amounts of random training data upon entry, and the prediction results are affected by any added training data to produce real-time accuracy and more helpful predictions.

This machine learning algorithm employs self-learning and automated recalibration in response to pattern changes in the training data, making machine learning more reliable for real-time predictions than other AI concepts. Repeatedly increasing or updating the bulk of training data guarantees better predictions.

Machine learning can also be implemented in image classification and facial recognition with deep learning and neural network techniques.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics can be defined as the procedure of condensing huge volumes of data into information that humans can understand and use. Basic descriptive analytic techniques include averages and counts. Descriptive analytics based on obtaining information from past events has evolved into predictive analytics, which attempts to predict the future based on historical data.

This concept applies complex techniques of classical statistics, like regression and decision trees, to provide credible answers to queries such as: ‘’How exactly will my sales be influenced by a 10% increase in advertising expenditure?’’ This leads to simulations and “what-if” analyses for users to learn more.

All predictive analytics applications involve three fundamental components:

  • Data: The effectiveness of every predictive model strongly depends on the quality of the historical data it processes.
  • Statistical modeling: Includes the various statistical techniques ranging from basic to complex functions used for the derivation of meaning, insight, and inference. Regression is the most commonly used statistical technique.
  • Assumptions: The conclusions drawn from collected and analyzed data usually assume the future will follow a pattern related to the past.

Data analysis is crucial for any business en route to success, and predictive analytics can be applied in numerous ways to enhance business productivity. These include things like marketing campaign optimization, risk assessment, market analysis, and fraud detection.

Business application of predictive analytics: marketing campaign optimization

In the past, valuable marketing campaign resources were wasted by businesses using instincts alone to try to capture market niches. Today, many predictive analytic strategies help businesses identify, engage, and secure suitable markets for their services and products, driving greater efficiency into marketing campaigns.

A clear application is using visitors’ search history and usage patterns on e-commerce websites to make product recommendations. Sites like Amazon increase their chance of sales by recommending products based on specific consumer interests. Predictive analytics now plays a vital role in the marketing operations of real estate, insurance, retail, and almost every other sector.

How machine learning and predictive analytics are related

While businesses must understand the differences between machine learning and predictive analytics, it’s just as important to know how they are related. Basically, machine learning is a predictive analytics branch. Despite having similar aims and processes, there are two main differences between them:

  • Machine learning works out predictions and recalibrates models in real-time automatically after design. Meanwhile, predictive analytics works strictly on “cause” data and must be refreshed with “change” data.
  • Unlike machine learning, predictive analytics still relies on human experts to work out and test the associations between cause and outcome.

Explore machine learning applications and AI software with SAP Leonardo.


Shaily Kumar

About Shaily Kumar

Shailendra has been on a quest to help organisations make money out of data and has generated an incremental value of over one billion dollars through analytics and cognitive processes. With a global experience of more than two decades, Shailendra has worked with a myriad of Corporations, Consulting Services and Software Companies in various industries like Retail, Telecommunications, Financial Services and Travel - to help them realise incremental value hidden in zettabytes of data. He has published multiple articles in international journals about Analytics and Cognitive Solutions; and recently published “Making Money out of Data” which showcases five business stories from various industries on how successful companies make millions of dollars in incremental value using analytics. Prior to joining SAP, Shailendra was Partner / Analytics & Cognitive Leader, Asia at IBM where he drove the cognitive business across Asia. Before joining IBM, he was the Managing Director and Analytics Lead at Accenture delivering value to its clients across Australia and New Zealand. Coming from the industry, Shailendra held key Executive positions driving analytics at Woolworths and Coles in the past. Please feel to connect on: Linkedin: Twitter: