5 Ways To Improve Workplace Productivity

Sandeep Kumar

Business is more than simply a collection of profit & loss reports, production facilities, websites, and other esoteric concepts. Companies are made up of human beings who have real feelings, emotions, and ideas about their jobs, their workplace, their co-workers, and their value within an organization.

When a workplace is not as productive as it could be – when employees are dissatisfied or unhappy, unmotivated, or feel trapped with little opportunity for advancement or even anything to look forward to – the negative impact on an organization can be profound.

Productivity can suffer. Customer service can falter. And profits will fall. It doesn’t have to be like this; you can improve workplace productivity.

The risk of doing nothing

Business owners today have a real motivation for keeping their employees happy. Jobs are much more transient than ever before; the possibility of your workers quitting to join a better and more progressive organization is very real.

Like it or not, keeping your workers happy is essential for maximizing your profits, minimizing your costs, and keeping your business operating smoothly. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to keep most workers happy and productive – and your company profitable.

Here are five fast, simple, and easy changes you can implement to turn around an unhappy workplace:

1. More employee reward and recognition programs

Whether they admit it or not, most workers want somebody to tell them they are doing a good job once in a while. A pat on the back, an “attaboy,” or even a simple “Thanks for a job well done” from a supervisor go a long way toward reversing negative employee attitudes.

Supervisors and managers need to be held to a higher standard when it comes to implementing employee recognition and rewards. Too often, management takes an “us vs them” approach to line-level labor. These kinds of divisions can quickly escalate if they aren’t addressed early on by ownership.

2. Loosen up a little

Most workers feel more comfortable if management isn’t so uptight all the time. If appropriate, declare one day per month a “casual dress” day where workers can opt not to wear their standard uniform or business attire. Or tap into enthusiasm for a local sports team by allowing workers to wear their jerseys before the big game.

3. Hold free-form pre-work meetings

The brief time just before an employee goes to work is the best time to hold short yet informative pre-shift meetings between direct-report supervisors and their team. But these shouldn’t be just for reading reports or listening to complaints (although both are important for different reasons).

Supervisors and managers should make an effort to humanize both themselves and the organization. These meetings should be kept upbeat and positive. Employees should look forward to them rather than dread them. And upper management should regularly participate to break down the divisions within the organization.

4. Encourage workers to relax

Studies have shown that employees who are more physically active and fit will not only perform better in their jobs, but have a more positive attitude about their workplace.

Encourage regular stretching, light exercise, and even simple yoga moves as part of the regular workday. This can be offered during lunch breaks and other non-working periods and should be completely voluntarily. You may be surprised by how many people choose to join these activities.

Encourage your workers to continue to pursue their physical fitness outside of work by negotiating a discount with an area fitness center, or even installing an exercise room right on the business’s premises where employees can work out at their leisure.

Not only will it improve their physical agility, but it can clear their mind, help them relax, and cause them to be happier in their work.

5. Automate time and attendance software

One of the easiest ways to anger an employee is to mess with their money or work schedule. Unfortunately, most managers and supervisors are only human, so mistakes are inevitable. Paperwork can get lost, time off requests forgotten, shift switches denied, and other scheduling problems occur that can quickly torpedo employee morale.

One easy way to get around this is to automate the organization’s time and attendance system so that it generates fair, honest work schedules, creates standardization that is fair for everybody, and removes the human frailty from the system.

Businesses are realizing how much the human side of their organization matters, and how important employee morale is to workplace productivity. Organizations like Google and Facebook have made dramatic moves to create fun workplaces – moves that most companies could never afford. Yet, it doesn’t have to break the bank to have high morale at work; implement the basic steps to a happier workplace and momentum will propel you forward.

Make sure the ways you measure your employees’ success are translating into your organization’s success. See Are Your Metrics and Incentives Rewarding Complexity or Simplification? 

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#boldlydigital: A Cult of Creation

Sam Yen

If you ask a roomful of first graders who among them is creative, they will all raise their hands and a gleam will come into their eyes. But if you ask executives in a conference room the same question, a lot of them will start gazing at their shoes.

It’s not that we lose the capacity to be creative as we get older; rather, somewhere along the way, the passion and excitement that drove our creative impulses as children fade away.

I blame that loss of passion on our educational systems and our workplaces, where we are taught that value lies in solving problems, not in being creative. That mindset needs to change if organizations want to be as innovative as possible.

In its typical art or science context, creativity is difficult to define and is usually thought of as an inherent trait—either you have it or you don’t. But in the business realm, creativity is neither elusive nor exclusive: it’s both possible to define and to put into practice. Creativity in business means going beyond mere problem-solving to what I call problem finding, a skill that anyone can acquire.

Don’t get me wrong. Problem-solving is crucial to innovation. The best idea in the world will remain just that—an idea—unless an organization can successfully turn it into a product or service, bring it to market, and commercialize it. But many organizations make the mistake of thinking that problem-solving alone is enough to succeed. They believe that innovation means researching their target customers and markets and developing products and services to fit specific needs. But solving problems that customers already know they have usually results in incremental innovations. To achieve innovation breakthroughs, you need to combine execution with creativity.

Enterprise-Scale Creativity

Leading into the unknown is the point where most executives give up. They outsource creativity to agencies to come up with radical new product ideas, or they hire a bunch of designers to come up with ideas internally. Both of those routes can work, but they don’t scale well. Few businesses can afford more than one-off relationships with agencies, and fewer still can hire enough designers to hit the 1:10 ratio of designers to employees that consumer-focused companies like Facebook or Google have. For most companies, that ratio is more like 1:1,000 or 1:10,000.

Yet finding a way to institutionalize creativity, to scale it across the organization—especially to employees and managers without art or design degrees—has become a crucial part of company value. A portfolio of 16 publicly traded companies that the Design Management Institute considers to be expert in creativity and design outperformed the S&P 500 by over 200% each year from 2013 to 2015.

To achieve breakthrough innovations, organizations must find problems that are relevant to customers but that no one else is working on.

Scaling creativity requires a structured process that reignites the passion that we all had as children—that makes it fun and easy, just as it was then. The most important element of the process is to start without a specific hypothesis. At the design school at Stanford University, where I taught in 2014–2015, we liked to illustrate this with a quote from the 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.” To achieve breakthrough innovations, organizations must find problems that are relevant to customers but that no one else is working on.

Craft a Problem-Finding Culture

The techniques for problem finding are all based on the principles of design thinking that originated in the 1970s. Design thinking is a broad term for using collaboration and iteration techniques to identify and solve problems and to scale the use of such techniques across the organization. There are many different design-thinking methodologies. At SAP, however, we follow a few basic guidelines:

  • Take a human-centric perspective. Problem-solving looks at market feasibility and technical feasibility and works toward a solution from there. Problem finding introduces a third element: the desirability and usability of a product or service from the customer’s perspective. Start by empathizing with the customer’s needs and desires and work backward to discover the problem that needs solving.
  • Bring together people from different backgrounds. In problem-solving, it’s usually most effective to assign tasks to specific groups like marketing or engineering. In problem finding, it’s best to have a team of people from different disciplines who can see the potential opportunities through different lenses. By brainstorming and iterating as a group, the team can bring those different perspectives together into a solution.
  • Define the experience first. Since problem finding is a user-centered process, organizations should never move into product or service design until they have defined the experience from the user’s perspective. The user perspective should dictate product or service features and functions.
  • Let designers lead. Problem finding should be part of your product and service design process. While not everyone on the problem-finding team needs to be a design expert, you need an expert to make sure that the team hits specific goals in the process. For example, the team needs to define the persona of the customer it is trying to reach. It’s also important to map out how customers will interact with the product or service you ultimately define, which is a skill that requires years of design experience.
  • Stop shipment of bad design experiences. Give the organization permission to make decisions based on the results of the design process. Having the ability to halt development of a product or service that would sacrifice the customer experience is critical to getting the organization to become serious about the importance of design.
  • Create the right space. Having a flexible design space creates visible, physical testimony that design matters to the organization, and it reinforces the types of behavior, such as open collaboration, that are important to the design process. But don’t build a new space before building the design culture. Without training, people won’t know how to work in the new environment and the whole process will fail.
  • View executive sponsorship as necessary but not sufficient. Developing a creative culture requires executive sponsorship, but that’s not enough. There must be a level of buy-in that can survive the departure of key leaders and the normal ebb and flow of organizational dynamics and politics. Middle managers must believe culture change is necessary and be willing to take responsibility for creating the processes to support it. They must also be empowered to support the unconventional decisions that arise from the problem-finding process, to enforce the right values, and to shelter their teams from attacks by conventional thinkers.

Developing a creative culture takes time—usually 3 to 5 years but up to 10 years at very large organizations. To begin to make a difference, business leaders must ensure that there is value associated with creativity. The design teams must show results early and often. They must demonstrate that doing things a different way leads to unexpected results that were never possible in a business-as-usual culture.

Practicing creativity across the organization inevitably leads to success because it takes the design process out of its traditionally narrow confines and ensures that customer needs always come first. Instilling creative confidence among those who never went to art or design school also has a positive impact on company culture. Work becomes more fun for everyone, restoring that gleam in the eye that many thought was lost forever. D!

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

Can Technology Remove Bias From The Workplace?

Tom Loeffert

Diversity in the workplace can help foster original ideas. It can help businesses reach out to a wider range of customers. It can even bring about a boost in profit and revenue. Yet, while many businesses understand the value of diversity, they also have a tendency to recruit and promote the same type of person, time and time again.

Seeing the invisible

The main culprit for this is unconscious bias – making quick mental judgments about people without even realizing it’s happening. In many ways it’s hard-wired into our brains, making it difficult to identify and even harder to tackle.

These unintentional biases can cause people to make decisions that favor certain types of people ahead of others. It’s why candidates with Asian or African sounding names are less likely to be called in for an interview. It’s why plus-sized employees are still treated poorly in the office. Or why women are underrepresented in the FTSE 100.

The diversity reports regularly published by tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft further reiterate the problem: there’s still a lot to be done in terms of boosting the low percentage of female and ethnic minority employees in the industry.

A truly diverse workforce requires more than just box-ticking by HR. It requires businesses to consider a broad range of factors when making everyday work decisions. Gender, race, and age are the obvious ones. But there are less obvious factors – such as an employee’s economic or academic background – that can contribute to a truly diverse work environment.

The million-dollar question is: how can we achieve this?

Technology to the rescue

Innovation in artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data, and automation is adding a dose of objectivity to business decision-making. For example, cloud-based solutions are giving HR managers the insight they need to eliminate bias. AI-powered language detectors can filter out gender-biased wording in job descriptions and performance feedback. This can encourage managers to reassess their language and hiring or promotion decisions. Anonymous recruitment processes can encourage recruiters to focus on skills, rather than a candidate’s first or last name. And tools that compare an employee’s KPIs against tenure can alert managers when someone is consistently assigned fewer or less important tasks because of unconscious bias.

Technology can help HR managers see which areas of their business need fine-tuning in order to encourage diversity, but it’s not infallible. AI can reflect society’s biases; language processing, for example, has been shown to reinforce gender biases (such as associating the word “doctor” with “man” and “nurse” with “woman”). AI is promising, but it can’t always understand context.

Another thing to consider is that technology tends to move faster than government – meaning regulating its effects can be difficult. In the UK, some protections already exist. Government services and businesses must disclose if a decision was made entirely by a machine, and if so, it can be challenged. For businesses, this means being cautious with how some technology is introduced.  AI must be brought in for the right reasons and in the most appropriate way. Transparency with all automated processes will be key. Avoiding creating over-hype and spurring ethical fear among the workforce will be important as well.

There’s still a long way to go before technology can address all the problems associated with bias in talent management. And even with the best technology in the world, human judgment will remain important. Because it’s not about calling out people who are guilty of bias, rather, it’s about teaching them to not be biased. Communication with people and coaching them to grow – without bias, but with some tech help – is the future of HR.

Remember: diversity attracts diversity. This needs to be reflected in an organization’s cultural foundation. From there, it will trickle into talent strategy, leadership development plans, and everyday decisions made with candidates, employees, vendors, and suppliers. Leveraging diversity can lead to better outcomes for everyone involved, and if the vision is right, technology can help us make it a reality.

Technology isn’t infallible; it still needs to be taught how to play fair. Find out “How AI Can End Bias.”

To keep up with the latest tech trends in HR, follow Tom on LinkedIn.

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Tom Loeffert

About Tom Loeffert

Tom Loeffert is the Director of HR (United Kingdom) at SAP.

The Blockchain Solution

By Gil Perez, Tom Raftery, Hans Thalbauer, Dan Wellers, and Fawn Fitter

In 2013, several UK supermarket chains discovered that products they were selling as beef were actually made at least partly—and in some cases, entirely—from horsemeat. The resulting uproar led to a series of product recalls, prompted stricter food testing, and spurred the European food industry to take a closer look at how unlabeled or mislabeled ingredients were finding their way into the food chain.

By 2020, a scandal like this will be eminently preventable.

The separation between bovine and equine will become immutable with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which will track the provenance and identity of every animal from stall to store, adding the data to a blockchain that anyone can check but no one can alter.

Food processing companies will be able to use that blockchain to confirm and label the contents of their products accordingly—down to the specific farms and animals represented in every individual package. That level of detail may be too much information for shoppers, but they will at least be able to trust that their meatballs come from the appropriate species.

The Spine of Digitalization

Keeping food safer and more traceable is just the beginning, however. Improvements in the supply chain, which have been incremental for decades despite billions of dollars of technology investments, are about to go exponential. Emerging technologies are converging to transform the supply chain from tactical to strategic, from an easily replicable commodity to a new source of competitive differentiation.

You may already be thinking about how to take advantage of blockchain technology, which makes data and transactions immutable, transparent, and verifiable (see “What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?”). That will be a powerful tool to boost supply chain speed and efficiency—always a worthy goal, but hardly a disruptive one.

However, if you think of blockchain as the spine of digitalization and technologies such as AI, the IoT, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, and drones as the limbs, you have a powerful supply chain body that can leapfrog ahead of its competition.

What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?

Here’s why blockchain technology is critical to transforming the supply chain.

Blockchain is essentially a sequential, distributed ledger of transactions that is constantly updated on a global network of computers. The ownership and history of a transaction is embedded in the blockchain at the transaction’s earliest stages and verified at every subsequent stage.

A blockchain network uses vast amounts of computing power to encrypt the ledger as it’s being written. This makes it possible for every computer in the network to verify the transactions safely and transparently. The more organizations that participate in the ledger, the more complex and secure the encryption becomes, making it increasingly tamperproof.

Why does blockchain matter for the supply chain?

  • It enables the safe exchange of value without a central verifying partner, which makes transactions faster and less expensive.
  • It dramatically simplifies recordkeeping by establishing a single, authoritative view of the truth across all parties.
  • It builds a secure, immutable history and chain of custody as different parties handle the items being shipped, and it updates the relevant documentation.
  • By doing these things, blockchain allows companies to create smart contracts based on programmable business logic, which can execute themselves autonomously and thereby save time and money by reducing friction and intermediaries.

Hints of the Future

In the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, we had no idea that the internet would become so large and pervasive, nor that we’d find a way to carry it all in our pockets on small slabs of glass.

But we could tell that it had vast potential.

Today, with the combination of emerging technologies that promise to turbocharge digital transformation, we’re just beginning to see how we might turn the supply chain into a source of competitive advantage (see “What’s the Magic Combination?”).

What’s the Magic Combination?

Those who focus on blockchain in isolation will miss out on a much bigger supply chain opportunity.

Many experts believe emerging technologies will work with blockchain to digitalize the supply chain and create new business models:

  • Blockchain will provide the foundation of automated trust for all parties in the supply chain.
  • The IoT will link objects—from tiny devices to large machines—and generate data about status, locations, and transactions that will be recorded on the blockchain.
  • 3D printing will extend the supply chain to the customer’s doorstep with hyperlocal manufacturing of parts and products with IoT sensors built into the items and/or their packaging. Every manufactured object will be smart, connected, and able to communicate so that it can be tracked and traced as needed.
  • Big Data management tools will process all the information streaming in around the clock from IoT sensors.
  • AI and machine learning will analyze this enormous amount of data to reveal patterns and enable true predictability in every area of the supply chain.

Combining these technologies with powerful analytics tools to predict trends will make lack of visibility into the supply chain a thing of the past. Organizations will be able to examine a single machine across its entire lifecycle and identify areas where they can improve performance and increase return on investment. They’ll be able to follow and monitor every component of a product, from design through delivery and service. They’ll be able to trigger and track automated actions between and among partners and customers to provide customized transactions in real time based on real data.

After decades of talk about markets of one, companies will finally have the power to create them—at scale and profitably.

Amazon, for example, is becoming as much a logistics company as a retailer. Its ordering and delivery systems are so streamlined that its customers can launch and complete a same-day transaction with a push of a single IP-enabled button or a word to its ever-attentive AI device, Alexa. And this level of experimentation and innovation is bubbling up across industries.

Consider manufacturing, where the IoT is transforming automation inside already highly automated factories. Machine-to-machine communication is enabling robots to set up, provision, and unload equipment quickly and accurately with minimal human intervention. Meanwhile, sensors across the factory floor are already capable of gathering such information as how often each machine needs maintenance or how much raw material to order given current production trends.

Once they harvest enough data, businesses will be able to feed it through machine learning algorithms to identify trends that forecast future outcomes. At that point, the supply chain will start to become both automated and predictive. We’ll begin to see business models that include proactively scheduling maintenance, replacing parts just before they’re likely to break, and automatically ordering materials and initiating customer shipments.

Italian train operator Trenitalia, for example, has put IoT sensors on its locomotives and passenger cars and is using analytics and in-memory computing to gauge the health of its trains in real time, according to an article in Computer Weekly. “It is now possible to affordably collect huge amounts of data from hundreds of sensors in a single train, analyse that data in real time and detect problems before they actually happen,” Trenitalia’s CIO Danilo Gismondi told Computer Weekly.

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials.

The project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, will change Trenitalia’s business model, allowing it to schedule more trips and make each one more profitable. The railway company will be able to better plan parts inventories and determine which lines are consistently performing poorly and need upgrades. The new system will save €100 million a year, according to ARC Advisory Group.

New business models continue to evolve as 3D printers become more sophisticated and affordable, making it possible to move the end of the supply chain closer to the customer. Companies can design parts and products in materials ranging from carbon fiber to chocolate and then print those items in their warehouse, at a conveniently located third-party vendor, or even on the client’s premises.

In addition to minimizing their shipping expenses and reducing fulfillment time, companies will be able to offer more personalized or customized items affordably in small quantities. For example, clothing retailer Ministry of Supply recently installed a 3D printer at its Boston store that enables it to make an article of clothing to a customer’s specifications in under 90 minutes, according to an article in Forbes.

This kind of highly distributed manufacturing has potential across many industries. It could even create a market for secure manufacturing for highly regulated sectors, allowing a manufacturer to transmit encrypted templates to printers in tightly protected locations, for example.

Meanwhile, organizations are investigating ways of using blockchain technology to authenticate, track and trace, automate, and otherwise manage transactions and interactions, both internally and within their vendor and customer networks. The ability to collect data, record it on the blockchain for immediate verification, and make that trustworthy data available for any application delivers indisputable value in any business context. The supply chain will be no exception.

Blockchain Is the Change Driver

The supply chain is configured as we know it today because it’s impossible to create a contract that accounts for every possible contingency. Consider cross-border financial transfers, which are so complex and must meet so many regulations that they require a tremendous number of intermediaries to plug the gaps: lawyers, accountants, customer service reps, warehouse operators, bankers, and more. By reducing that complexity, blockchain technology makes intermediaries less necessary—a transformation that is revolutionary even when measured only in cost savings.

“If you’re selling 100 items a minute, 24 hours a day, reducing the cost of the supply chain by just $1 per item saves you more than $52.5 million a year,” notes Dirk Lonser, SAP go-to-market leader at DXC Technology, an IT services company. “By replacing manual processes and multiple peer-to-peer connections through fax or e-mail with a single medium where everyone can exchange verified information instantaneously, blockchain will boost profit margins exponentially without raising prices or even increasing individual productivity.”

But the potential for blockchain extends far beyond cost cutting and streamlining, says Irfan Khan, CEO of supply chain management consulting and systems integration firm Bristlecone, a Mahindra Group company. It will give companies ways to differentiate.

“Blockchain will let enterprises more accurately trace faulty parts or products from end users back to factories for recalls,” Khan says. “It will streamline supplier onboarding, contracting, and management by creating an integrated platform that the company’s entire network can access in real time. It will give vendors secure, transparent visibility into inventory 24×7. And at a time when counterfeiting is a real concern in multiple industries, it will make it easy for both retailers and customers to check product authenticity.”

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials. Although the key parts of the process remain the same as in today’s analog supply chain, performing them electronically with blockchain technology shortens each stage from hours or days to seconds while eliminating reams of wasteful paperwork. With goods moving that quickly, companies have ample room for designing new business models around manufacturing, service, and delivery.

Challenges on the Path to Adoption

For all this to work, however, the data on the blockchain must be correct from the beginning. The pills, produce, or parts on the delivery truck need to be the same as the items listed on the manifest at the loading dock. Every use case assumes that the data is accurate—and that will only happen when everything that’s manufactured is smart, connected, and able to self-verify automatically with the help of machine learning tuned to detect errors and potential fraud.

Companies are already seeing the possibilities of applying this bundle of emerging technologies to the supply chain. IDC projects that by 2021, at least 25% of Forbes Global 2000 (G2000) companies will use blockchain services as a foundation for digital trust at scale; 30% of top global manufacturers and retailers will do so by 2020. IDC also predicts that by 2020, up to 10% of pilot and production blockchain-distributed ledgers will incorporate data from IoT sensors.

Despite IDC’s optimism, though, the biggest barrier to adoption is the early stage level of enterprise use cases, particularly around blockchain. Currently, the sole significant enterprise blockchain production system is the virtual currency Bitcoin, which has unfortunately been tainted by its associations with speculation, dubious financial transactions, and the so-called dark web.

The technology is still in a sufficiently early stage that there’s significant uncertainty about its ability to handle the massive amounts of data a global enterprise supply chain generates daily. Never mind that it’s completely unregulated, with no global standard. There’s also a critical global shortage of experts who can explain emerging technologies like blockchain, the IoT, and machine learning to nontechnology industries and educate organizations in how the technologies can improve their supply chain processes. Finally, there is concern about how blockchain’s complex algorithms gobble computing power—and electricity (see “Blockchain Blackouts”).

Blockchain Blackouts

Blockchain is a power glutton. Can technology mediate the issue?

A major concern today is the enormous carbon footprint of the networks creating and solving the algorithmic problems that keep blockchains secure. Although virtual currency enthusiasts claim the problem is overstated, Michael Reed, head of blockchain technology for Intel, has been widely quoted as saying that the energy demands of blockchains are a significant drain on the world’s electricity resources.

Indeed, Wired magazine has estimated that by July 2019, the Bitcoin network alone will require more energy than the entire United States currently uses and that by February 2020 it will use as much electricity as the entire world does today.

Still, computing power is becoming more energy efficient by the day and sticking with paperwork will become too slow, so experts—Intel’s Reed among them—consider this a solvable problem.

“We don’t know yet what the market will adopt. In a decade, it might be status quo or best practice, or it could be the next Betamax, a great technology for which there was no demand,” Lonser says. “Even highly regulated industries that need greater transparency in the entire supply chain are moving fairly slowly.”

Blockchain will require acceptance by a critical mass of companies, governments, and other organizations before it displaces paper documentation. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue: multiple companies need to adopt these technologies at the same time so they can build a blockchain to exchange information, yet getting multiple companies to do anything simultaneously is a challenge. Some early initiatives are already underway, though:

  • A London-based startup called Everledger is using blockchain and IoT technology to track the provenance, ownership, and lifecycles of valuable assets. The company began by tracking diamonds from mine to jewelry using roughly 200 different characteristics, with a goal of stopping both the demand for and the supply of “conflict diamonds”—diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance insurgencies. It has since expanded to cover wine, artwork, and other high-value items to prevent fraud and verify authenticity.
  • In September 2017, SAP announced the creation of its SAP Leonardo Blockchain Co-Innovation program, a group of 27 enterprise customers interested in co-innovating around blockchain and creating business buy-in. The diverse group of participants includes management and technology services companies Capgemini and Deloitte, cosmetics company Natura Cosméticos S.A., and Moog Inc., a manufacturer of precision motion control systems.
  • Two of Europe’s largest shipping ports—Rotterdam and Antwerp—are working on blockchain projects to streamline interaction with port customers. The Antwerp terminal authority says eliminating paperwork could cut the costs of container transport by as much as 50%.
  • The Chinese online shopping behemoth Alibaba is experimenting with blockchain to verify the authenticity of food products and catch counterfeits before they endanger people’s health and lives.
  • Technology and transportation executives have teamed up to create the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a forum for developing blockchain standards and education for the freight industry.

It’s likely that the first blockchain-based enterprise supply chain use case will emerge in the next year among companies that see it as an opportunity to bolster their legal compliance and improve business processes. Once that happens, expect others to follow.

Customers Will Expect Change

It’s only a matter of time before the supply chain becomes a competitive driver. The question for today’s enterprises is how to prepare for the shift. Customers are going to expect constant, granular visibility into their transactions and faster, more customized service every step of the way. Organizations will need to be ready to meet those expectations.

If organizations have manual business processes that could never be automated before, now is the time to see if it’s possible. Organizations that have made initial investments in emerging technologies are looking at how their pilot projects are paying off and where they might extend to the supply chain. They are starting to think creatively about how to combine technologies to offer a product, service, or business model not possible before.

A manufacturer will load a self-driving truck with a 3D printer capable of creating a customer’s ordered item en route to delivering it. A vendor will capture the market for a socially responsible product by allowing its customers to track the product’s production and verify that none of its subcontractors use slave labor. And a supermarket chain will win over customers by persuading them that their choice of supermarket is also a choice between being certain of what’s in their food and simply hoping that what’s on the label matches what’s inside.

At that point, a smart supply chain won’t just be a competitive edge. It will become a competitive necessity. D!


About the Authors

Gil Perez is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President, Futurist, and Internet of Things Evangelist, at SAP.

Hans Thalbauer is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

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

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.

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

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Four Retail Technology Trends To Take Off In 2018

Shaily Kumar

Over the past few years, technology has seen a significant shift from cyclical, invention-led spending on point solutions to investments targeting customer-driven, end-to-end value. The next wave of disruption and productivity improvements is here, which means a huge opportunity for digital-focused enterprises – if you are following the right roadmap.

Technology trends have significant potential over the next few years. Establishing a digital platform will not only set the stage for business innovation to provide competitive advantage, but it will also create new business models that will change the way we do business. Technology trends in 2018 will lay the foundation for the maturity of innovative technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning and will prepare both businesses and shoppers to be ready for their consumption.

Like any other industry, retail is being disrupted. It is no longer enough to simply stock racks with alluring products and wait for customers to rush through the door. Technological innovation is changing the way we shop. Customers can find the lowest price for any product with just a few screen touches. They can read online reviews, have products sent to their home, try them, and return anything they don’t want – all for little or nothing out of pocket. If there are problems, they can use social networks to call out brands that come up short.

Retailers are making their products accessible from websites and mobile applications, with many running effective Internet business operations rather than brick-and-mortar stores. They convey merchandise to the customer’s front entry and are set up with web-based networking media if things turn out badly.

Smart retailers are striving to fulfill changing customer needs and working to guarantee top customer service regardless of how their customer interacts with them.

2017 saw the development of some progressive technology in retail, and 2018 will be another energizing year for the retail industry. Today’s informed customers expect a more engaging shopping experience, with a consistent mix of both online and in-store recommendations. The retail experience is poised to prosper throughout next couple of years – for retailers that are prepared to embrace technology.

Here are four areas of retail technology I predict will take off in 2018:

In-store GPS-driven shopping trolleys

Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s now enable their customers to scan and pay for products using a mobile app instead of waiting in a checkout line. The next phase of this involves intelligent shopping trolleys, or grocery store GPS: Customers use a touch screen to load shopping lists, and the system helps them find the items in the store. Customers can then check off and pay for items as they go, directly on-screen. These shopping trolleys will make their way into stores around the last quarter of 2018.

Electronic rack edge names

Electronic rack edge names are not yet broadly utilized, but this could change in 2018 as more retailers adopt this technology. Currently, retail workers must physically select and update printed labels to reflect changes in price, promotions, etc. This technology makes the process more efficient by handling such changes electronically.

Reference point technology

Despite the fact that it’s been around since 2013, reference point technology hasn’t yet been utilized to its fullest potential. In the last few years, however, it’s started to pick up in industries like retail. It’s now being used by a few retailers for area-based promotions.

Some interesting uses I’ve observed: Retailers can send messages to customers when they’re nearby a store location, and in-store mannequins can offer information about the clothing and accessories they’re wearing. I anticipate that this innovation will take off throughout 2018 and into 2019.

Machine intelligence

The technological innovations describe above will also provide retailers with new data streams. These data sources, when merged with existing customer data, online, and ERP data, will lead to new opportunities. Recently Walmart announced it would begin utilizing rack examining robots to help review its stores. The machines will check stock, prices, and even help settle lost inventory. It will also help retailers learn more about changing customer behavior in real time, which will boost engagement.

Clearly, technology and digital transformation in retail have changed the way we live and shop. 2018 will see emerging technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence using structured and unstructured data to deliver innovation. As technology develops, it will continue to transform and enhance the retail experience.

For more insight on e-commerce, see Cognitive Commerce In The Digital World: Enhancing The Customer Journey.

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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.