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5 Ways Technology Is Changing The Face Of HR

Meghan M. Biro

Human resources departments are typically a frenzy of activity, but technology has given HR professionals tools that help reduce administrative tasks so that they can focus on issues that require more hands-on attention.

Before mobile apps and cloud computing, HR was defined by piles of paperwork and a constant struggle to keep up with compliance, hiring, and unending stacks of employee information. By simplifying responsibilities like recruitment, record keeping, and payroll, technology has drastically improved efficiency, accuracy, and even employee morale.

1. Less guesswork as recruitment goes digital

Recruiting new hires is a time-consuming and costly process, but it’s getting easier to find skilled people who are a great fit for your company.

In the past, recruiters would search high and low for employees using face-to-face networking, job postings, and even the newspaper. After winnowing hundreds of applicants to a few for the final interview stage – even to one final individual – some recruiters would find their carefully selected candidates actually fell short. That resulted in both time and money wasted, resulting in the selection of the wrong person for the job.

Between social networks like LinkedIn and pre-employment screening tests, HR departments can now reach a wide audience and more effectively and efficiently evaluate an applicant’s skills and personality, with a view of selecting the right fit for both the position and the company as a whole.

However, the hiring process isn’t the only one that’s been upgraded as a result of technology. We now have both a global and a mobile workforce. The integration of technology into human resources allows us to pair virtual classrooms, sophisticated AV systems that allow face-to-face communication even for remote teams, and/or apps developed specifically for onboarding purposes, and quickly bring a new group of employees quickly up to speed, no matter where they are and no matter what their positions might be.

2. Compliance doesn’t take boxes of paperwork

Staying compliant has often been a major challenge for HR teams. The laws are always changing and often require vast amounts of paperwork and information.

Compliance once required organization and dedicated IT storage capacity, but now technology allows us to securely store data in the cloud. As electronic files, personnel data is easy to search and organize, and can be accessed with a few clicks. Even when HR departments are required to keep employee information for a number of years, it no longer requires file cabinets and expansive storage rooms to keep everything in order and easily accessed.

In fact, the need for any sort of storage has been reduced, if not eliminated entirely, as a result of cloud technology. Forms no longer need to be stockpiled or completed in duplicate, and even government forms are easily accessed online and printed as needed. Everything about this part of compliance on the part of HR pros has been streamlined, which is a great time-saver, as well as a space-saver.

3. Performance management is more accurate

Performance management has long been an important HR function. HR pros have driven the performance management process, monitoring performance, collecting supervisory feedback, and managing the process of regular employee reviews. How did we do this before technology? With time-consuming meetings, performance reviews, and lots of paper. Today, technology has streamlined the process and eliminated a lot of unnecessary steps, while opening an ongoing – and more transparent – feedback loop.

There are many software programs designed to evaluate performance using key performance indicators (KPIs). These programs can be utilized to help HR pros maximize their efforts when it comes to performance management, pinpoint particular areas where an employee (or organization) needs improvement, and put the right systems in place to offer additional training as needed. With the integration of technology into the equation, learning and improvement can be an ongoing process, instead of just an exercise done once a year. That’s better for employees, better for the teams they are a part of, and also exponentially more expeditious for the HR pros managing the performance management process.

4. Pay and benefit information isn’t locked up

Workers like to know how their paychecks and benefits are allocated. How much do they pay in taxes? Are you contributing to a 401(K) or a flex spending account on their behalf? Employees want to see their personal payroll and benefit information without a long delay or jumping through hoops. In the past, this likely meant a lot of work for HR departments.

I’ve spoken before about payroll technology that allows access to this kind of information anytime, from anywhere. Many apps keep things simple by automating recordkeeping and data organization, and let employees explore their data online when it’s convenient for them. Another example of a win-win for everyone, as employees have what they want at their fingertips, and the burden on the HR team, in terms of capturing, updating, and monitoring this information, is greatly reduced.

5. Technology increases engagement

By harnessing the power of mobile and cloud technology in addition to Big Data, businesses have the opportunity to make huge changes for the better. Employee engagement is more important than ever; millennials, who make up the largest portion of the workforce, have repeatedly said they have no qualms going elsewhere if they’re not happy at their jobs.

We’ve talked here before about how technology can be used to attract and retain a younger workforce. Millennials want to be engaged, but it has to be done well. Using technology to manage performance, make the hiring process easier, and give people access to their own personnel information will bring businesses over the threshold that separates the traditional workplace from the modern one.

Artificial intelligence is changing how we live and work, and humans need to be the guides. Learn more in Our Digital Planet: Rise of The Digital Worker The New Breed of Worker.

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How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

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Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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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.

How Productive Could You Be With 45 Minutes More Per Day?

Michael Rander

Chances are that you are already feeling your fair share of organizational complexity when navigating your current company, but have you ever considered just how much time is spent across all companies on managing complexity? According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the global impact of complexity is mind-blowing – and not in a good way.

The study revealed that 38% of respondents spent 16%-25% of their time just dealing with organizational complexity, and 17% spent a staggering 26%-50% of their time doing so. To put that into more concrete numbers, in the US alone, if executives could cut their time spent managing complexity in half, an estimated 8.6 million hours could be saved a week. That corresponds to 45 minutes per executive per day.

The potential productivity impact of every executive having 45 minutes more to work every single day is clearly significant, and considering that 55% say that their organization is either very or extremely complex, why are we then not making the reduction of complexity one or our top of mind issues?

The problem is that identifying the sources of complexity is complex in of itself. Key sources of complexity include organizational size, executive priorities, pace of innovation, decision-making processes, vastly increasing amounts of data to manage, organizational structures, and the pure culture of the company. As a consequence, answers are not universal by any means.

That being said, the negative productivity impact of complexity, regardless of the specific source, is felt similarly across a very large segment of the respondents, with 55% stating that complexity has taken a direct toll on profitability over the past three years.  This is such a serious problem that 8% of respondents actually slowed down their company growth in order to deal with complexity.

So, if complexity oftentimes impacts productivity and subsequently profitability, what are some of the more successful initiatives that companies are taking to combat these effects? Among the answers from the EIU survey, the following were highlighted among the most likely initiatives to reduce complexity and ultimately increase productivity:

  • Making it a company-wide goal to reduce complexity means that the executive level has to live and breathe simplification in order for the rest of the organization to get behind it. Changing behaviors across the organization requires strong leadership, commitment, and change management, and these initiatives ultimately lead to improved decision-making processes, which was reported by respondents as the top benefit of reducing complexity. From a leadership perspective this also requires setting appropriate metrics for measuring outcomes, and for metrics, productivity and efficiency were by far the most popular choices amongst respondents though strangely collaboration related metrics where not ranking high in spite of collaboration being a high level priority.
  • Promoting a culture of collaboration means enabling employees and management alike to collaborate not only within their teams but also across the organization, with partners, and with customers. Creating cross-functional roles to facilitate collaboration was cited by 56% as the most helpful strategy in achieving this goal.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents found the implementation of new technology and tools to be a successful step towards reducing complexity and improving productivity. Enabling collaboration, reducing information overload, building scenarios and prognoses, and enabling real-time decision-making are all key issues that technology can help to reduce complexity at all levels of the organization.

While these initiatives won’t help everyone, it is interesting to see that more than half of companies believe that if they could cut complexity in half they could be at least 11%-25% more productive. That nearly one in five respondents indicated that they could be 26%-50% more productive is a massive improvement.

The question then becomes whether we can make complexity and its impact on productivity not only more visible as a key issue for companies to address, but (even more importantly) also something that every company and every employee should be actively working to reduce. The potential productivity gains listed by respondents certainly provide food for thought, and few other corporate activities are likely to gain that level of ROI.

Just imagine having 45 minutes each and every day for actively pursuing new projects, getting innovative, collaborating, mentoring, learning, reducing stress, etc. What would you do? The vision is certainly compelling, and the question is are we as companies, leaders, and employees going to do something about it?

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Program Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur.

Unlock Your Digital Super Powers: How Digitization Helps Companies Be Live Businesses

Erik Marcade and Fawn Fitter

The Port of Hamburg handles 9 million cargo containers a year, making it one of the world’s busiest container ports. According to the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA), that volume doubled in the last decade, and it’s expected to at least double again in the next decade—but there’s no room to build new roads in the center of Hamburg, one of Germany’s historic cities. The port needed a way to move more freight more efficiently with the physical infrastructure it already has.

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature1_images1The answer, according to an article on ZDNet, was to digitize the processes of managing traffic into, within, and back out of the port. By deploying a combination of sensors, telematics systems, smart algorithms, and cloud data processing, the Port of Hamburg now collects and analyzes a vast amount of data about ship arrivals and delays, parking availability, ground traffic, active roadwork, and more. It generates a continuously updated model of current port conditions, then pushes the results through mobile apps to truck drivers, letting them know exactly when ships are ready to drop off or receive containers and optimizing their routes. According to the HPA, they are now on track to handle 25 million cargo containers a year by 2025 without further congestion or construction, helping shipping companies bring more goods and raw materials in less time to businesses and consumers all across Europe.

In the past, the port could only have solved its problem with backhoes and building permits—which, given the physical constraints, means the problem would have been unsolvable. Today, though, software and sensors are allowing it to improve processes and operations to a previously impossible extent. Big Data analysis, data mining, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and other technologies have finally become sophisticated enough to identify patterns not just in terabytes but in petabytes of data, make decisions accordingly, and learn from the results, all in seconds. These technologies make it possible to digitize all kinds of business processes, helping organizations become more responsive to changing market conditions and more able to customize interactions to individual customer needs. Digitization also streamlines and automates these processes, freeing employees to focus on tasks that require a human touch, like developing innovative strategies or navigating office politics.

In short, digitizing business processes is key to ensuring that the business can deliver relevant, personalized responses to the market in real time. And that, in turn, is the foundation of the Live Business—a business able to coordinate multiple functions in order to respond to and even anticipate customer demand at any moment.

Some industries and organizations are on the verge of discovering how business process digitization can help them go live. Others have already started putting it into action: fine-tuning operations to an unprecedented level across departments and at every point in the supply chain, cutting costs while turbocharging productivity, and spotting trends and making decisions at speeds that can only be called superhuman.

Balancing Insight and Action

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature1_images2Two kinds of algorithms drive process digitization, says Chandran Saravana, senior director of advanced analytics at SAP. Edge algorithms operate at the point where customers or other end users interact directly with a sensor, application, or Internet-enabled device. These algorithms, such as speech or image recognition, focus on simplicity and accuracy. They make decisions based primarily on their ability to interpret input with precision and then deliver a result in real time.

Edge algorithms work in tandem with, and sometimes mature into, server-level algorithms, which report on both the results of data analysis and the analytical process itself. For example, the complex systems that generate credit scores assess how creditworthy an individual is, but they also explain to both the lender and the credit applicant why a score is low or high, what factors went into calculating it, and what an applicant can do to raise the score in the future. These server-based algorithms gather data from edge algorithms, learn from their own results, and become more accurate through continuous feedback. The business can then track the results over time to understand how well the digitized process is performing and how to improve it.

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature1_images5From Data Scarcity to a Glut

To operate in real time, businesses need an accurate data model that compares what’s already known about a situation to what’s happened in similar situations in the past to reach a lightning-fast conclusion about what’s most likely to happen next. The greatest barrier to this level of responsiveness used to be a lack of data, but the exponential growth of data volumes in the last decade has flipped this problem on its head. Today, the big challenge for companies is having too much data and not enough time or power to process it, says Saravana.

Even the smartest human is incapable of gathering all the data about a given situation, never mind considering all the possible outcomes. Nor can a human mind reach conclusions at the speed necessary to drive Live Business. On the other hand, carefully crafted algorithms can process terabytes or even petabytes of data, analyze patterns and detect outliers, arrive at a decision in seconds or less—and even learn from their mistakes (see How to Train Your Algorithm).

How to Train Your Algorithm 

The data that feeds process digitization can’t just simmer.
It needs constant stirring.

Successfully digitizing a business process requires you to build a model of the business process based on existing data. For example, a bank creates a customer record that includes not just the customer’s name, address, and date of birth but also the amount and date of the first deposit, the type of account, and so forth. Over time, as the customer develops a history with the bank and the bank introduces new products and services, customer records expand to include more data. Predictive analytics can then extrapolate from these records to reach conclusions about new customers, such as calculating the likelihood that someone who just opened a money market account with a large balance will apply for a mortgage in the next year.

Germany --- Germany, Lower Bavaria, Man training English Springer Spaniel in grass field --- Image by © Roman M‰rzinger/Westend61/CorbisTo keep data models accurate, you have to have enough data to ensure that your models are complete—that is, that they account for every possible predictable outcome. The model also has to push outlying data and exceptions, which create unpredictable outcomes, to human beings who can address their special circumstances. For example, an algorithm may be able to determine that a delivery will fail to show up as scheduled and can point to the most likely reasons why, but it can only do that based on the data it can access. It may take a human to start the process of locating the misdirected shipment, expediting a replacement, and establishing what went wrong by using business knowledge not yet included in the data model.

Indeed, data models need to be monitored for relevance. Whenever the results of a predictive model start to drift significantly from expectations, it’s time to examine the model to determine whether you need to dump old data that no longer reflects your customer base, add a new product or subtract a defunct one, or include a new variable, such as marital status or length of customer relationship that further refines your results.

It’s also important to remember that data doesn’t need to be perfect—and, in fact, probably shouldn’t be, no matter what you might have heard about the difficulty of starting predictive analytics with lower-quality data. To train an optical character recognition system to recognize and read handwriting in real time, for example, your samples of block printing and cursive writing data stores also have to include a few sloppy scrawls so the system can learn to decode them.

On the other hand, in a fast-changing marketplace, all the products and services in your database need consistent and unchanging references, even though outside the database, names, SKUs, and other identifiers for a single item may vary from one month or one order to the next. Without consistency, your business process model won’t be accurate, nor will the results.

Finally, when you’re using algorithms to generate recommendations to drive your business process, the process needs to include opportunities to test new messages and products against existing successful ones as well as against random offerings, Saravana says. Otherwise, instead of responding to your customers’ needs, your automated system will actually control their choices by presenting them with only a limited group of options drawn from those that have already received the most
positive results.

Any process is only as good as it’s been designed to be. Digitizing business processes doesn’t eliminate the possibility of mistakes and problems; but it does ensure that the mistakes and problems that arise are easy to spot and fix.

From Waste to Gold

Organizations moving to digitize and streamline core processes are even discovering new business opportunities and building new digitized models around them. That’s what happened at Hopper, an airfare prediction app firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which discovered in 2013 that it could mine its archives of billions of itineraries to spot historical trends in airfare pricing—data that was previously considered “waste product,” according to Hopper’s chief data scientist, Patrick Surry.

Hopper developed AI algorithms to correlate those past trends with current fares and to predict whether and when the price of any given flight was likely to rise or fall. The results were so accurate that Hopper jettisoned its previous business model. “We check up to 3 billion itineraries live, in real time, each day, then compare them to the last three to four years of historical airfare data,” Surry says. “When consumers ask our smartphone app whether they should buy now or wait, we can tell them, ‘yes, that’s a good deal, buy it now,’ or ‘no, we think that fare is too expensive, we predict it will drop, and we’ll alert you when it does.’ And we can give them that answer in less than one second.”

When consumers ask our smartphone app whether they should buy now or wait, we can tell them, ‘yes, that’s a good deal, buy it now’.

— Patrick Surry, chief data scientist, Hopper

While trying to predict airfare trends is nothing new, Hopper has told TechCrunch that it can not only save users up to 40% on airfares but it can also find them the lowest possible price 95% of the time. Surry says that’s all due to Hopper’s algorithms and data models.

The Hopper app launched on iOS in January 2015 and on Android eight months later. The company also switched in September 2015 from directing customers to external travel agencies to taking bookings directly through the app for a small fee. The Hopper app has already been downloaded to more than 2 million phones worldwide.

Surry predicts that we’ll soon see sophisticated chatbots that can start with vague requests from customers like “I want to go somewhere warm in February for less than $500,” proceed to ask questions that help users narrow their options, and finally book a trip that meets all their desired parameters. Eventually, he says, these chatbots will be able to handle millions of interactions simultaneously, allowing a wide variety of companies to reassign human call center agents to the handling of high-value transactions and exceptions to the rules built into the digitized booking process.

Port of Hamburg Lets the Machines Untangle Complexity

In early 2015, AI experts told Wired magazine that at least another 10 years would pass before a computer could best the top human players at Go, an ancient game that’s exponentially harder than chess. Yet before the end of that same year, Wired also reported that machine learning techniques drove Google’s AlphaGo AI to win four games out of five against one of the world’s top Go players. This feat proves just how good algorithms have become at managing extremely complex situations with multiple interdependent choices, Saravana points out.

The Port of Hamburg, which has digitized traffic management for an estimated 40,000 trucks a day, is a good example. In the past, truck drivers had to show up at the port to check traffic and parking message boards. If they arrived before their ships docked, they had to drive around or park in the neighboring residential area, contributing to congestion and air pollution while they waited to load or unload. Today, the HPA’s smartPORT mobile app tracks individual trucks using telematics. It customizes the information that drivers receive based on location and optimizes truck routes and parking in real time so drivers can make more stops a day with less wasted time and fuel.

The platform that drives the smartPORT app also uses sensor data in other ways: it tracks wind speed and direction and transmits the data to ship pilots so they can navigate in and out of the port more safely. It monitors emissions and their impact on air quality in various locations in order to adjust operations in real time for better control over environmental impact. It automatically activates streetlights for vehicle and pedestrian traffic, then switches them off again to save energy when the road is empty. This ability to coordinate and optimize multiple business functions on the fly makes the Port of Hamburg a textbook example of a Live Business.

Digitization Is Not Bounded by Industry

Other retail and B2B businesses of all types will inevitably join the Port of Hamburg in further digitizing processes, both in predictable ways and in those we can only begin to imagine.

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature1_images4Customer service, for example, is likely to be in the vanguard. Automated systems already feed information about customers to online and phone-based service representatives in real time, generate cross-selling and upselling opportunities based on past transactions, and answer customers’ frequently asked questions. Saravana foresees these systems becoming even more sophisticated, powered by AI algorithms that are virtually indistinguishable from human customer service agents in their ability to handle complex live interactions in real time.

In manufacturing and IT, Sven Bauszus, global vice president and general manager for predictive analytics at SAP, forecasts that sensors and predictive analysis will further automate the process of scheduling and performing maintenance, such as monitoring equipment for signs of failure in real time, predicting when parts or entire machines will need replacement, and even ordering replacements preemptively. Similarly, combining AI, sensors, data mining, and other technologies will enable factories to optimize workforce assignments in real time based on past trends, current orders, and changing market conditions.

Public health will be able to go live with technology that spots outbreaks of infectious disease, determines where medical professionals and support personnel are needed most and how many to send, and helps ensure that they arrive quickly with the right medication and equipment to treat patients and eradicate the root cause. It will also make it easier to track communicable illnesses, find people who are symptomatic, and recommend approaches to controlling the spread of the illness, Bauszus says.

He also predicts that the insurance industry, which has already begun to digitize its claims-handling processes, will refine its ability to sort through more claims in less time with greater accuracy and higher customer satisfaction. Algorithms will be better and faster at flagging claims that have a high probability of being fraudulent and then pushing them to claims inspectors for investigation. Simultaneously, the same technology will be able to identify and resolve valid claims in real time, possibly even cutting a check or depositing money directly into the insured person’s bank account within minutes.

Financial services firms will be able to apply machine learning, data mining, and AI to accelerate the process of rating borrowers’ credit and detecting fraud. Instead of filling out a detailed application, consumers might be able to get on-the-spot approval for a credit card or loan after inputting only enough information to be identified. Similarly, banks will be able to alert customers to suspicious transactions by text message or phone call—not within a day or an hour, as is common now, but in a minute or less.

Pitfalls and Possibilities

As intelligent as business processes can be programmed to be, there will always be a point beyond which they have to be supervised. Indeed, Saravana forecasts increasing regulation around when business processes can and can’t be digitized. Especially in areas involving data security, physical security, and health and safety, it’s one thing to allow machines to parse data and arrive at decisions to drive a critical business process, but it’s another thing entirely to allow them to act on those decisions without human oversight.

Automated, impersonal decision making is fine for supply chain automation, demand forecasting, inventory management, and other processes that need faster-than-human response times. In human-facing interactions, though, Saravana insists that it’s still best to digitize the part of the process that generates decisions, but leave it to a human to finalize the decision and decide how to put it into action.

“Any time the interaction is machine-to-machine, you don’t need a human to slow the process down,” he says. “But when the interaction involves a person, it’s much more tricky, because people have preferences, tastes, the ability to try something different, the ability to get fatigued—people are only statistically predictable.”

For example, technology has made it entirely possible to build a corporate security system that can gather information from cameras, sensors, voice recognition technology, and other IP-enabled devices. The system can then feed that information in a steady stream to an algorithm designed to identify potentially suspicious activity and act in real time to prevent or stop it while alerting the authorities. But what happens when an executive stays in the office unusually late to work on a presentation and the security system misidentifies her as an unauthorized intruder? What if the algorithm decides to lock the emergency exits, shut down the executive’s network access, or disable her with a Taser instead of simply sending an alert to the head of security asking what to do while waiting for the police to come?

sap_Q216_digital_double_feature1_images6The Risk Is Doing Nothing

The greater, if less dramatic, risk associated with digitizing business processes is simply failing to pursue it. It’s true that taking advantage of new digital technologies can be costly in the short term. There’s no question that companies have to invest in hardware, software, and qualified staff in order to prepare enormous data volumes for storage and analysis. They also have to implement new data sources such as sensors or Internet-connected devices, develop data models, and create and test algorithms to drive business processes that are currently analog. But as with any new technology, Saravana advises, it’s better to start small with a key use case, rack up a quick win with high ROI, and expand gradually than to drag your heels out of a failure to grasp the long-term potential.

The economy is digitizing rapidly, but not evenly. According to the McKinsey Global Institute’s December 2015 Digital America report, “The race to keep up with technology and put it to the most effective business use is producing digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-mores’—and the large, persistent gap between them is becoming a decisive factor in competition across the economy.” Companies that want to be among the have-mores need to commit to Live Business today. Failing to explore it now will put them on the wrong side of the gap and, in the long run, rack up a high price tag in unrealized efficiencies and missed opportunities. D!

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Erik Marcade

About Erik Marcade

Erik Marcade is vice president of Advanced Analytics Products at SAP.

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Digital Transformation Needs More Than Technology

Andreas Hauser

Digital transformation is a hyped-up topic these days. But it is much more than a buzzword. Technology trends like hyper-connectivity, Big Data, cloud, Internet of Things, and security provide new opportunities for companies to re-imagine their business and how they engage with their customers and users.

But what happens if you develop an amazing technical solution that people cannot use?

Let me tell you a story.

On a business trip recently, I had an experience that some of you might have also encountered from time to time. I wanted to enter the parking garage of a hotel and had to get a parking ticket to get in — sounds simple. The machine looked pretty modern. It had an integrated monitor and several buttons on the side. First I touched the screen, but nothing happened — it was not a touchscreen. Then I pressed some buttons on the side, and again, nothing happened. The rounded button at the bottom finally got me a ticket. Great technical solution … but not usable.

Endurance testing experiences like this one are actually easily preventable when taking into consideration human needs (desirability). This makes very clear that we need to connect three elements—viability, feasibility, and desirability—to be successful and remain competitive in the digital era.

Wikipedia defines digital transformation as “application of digital technology in all aspects of human society.” This is why companies with the most successful digital transformations have focused on people and applied a design-led approach.

One company that has excelled at creating a pleasant experience is Uber. Their app not only tells you how long it will take the car to arrive, but you can also watch the arrival on your mobile device. I like the user interface. But here’s what I personally like most about the Uber experience: You get out of the car, keep your mobile phone in your pocket, do nothing, pay automatically without thinking about how much you need to tip the driver, and get the receipt via e-mail.

That is the difference between simply focusing on the user interface and providing a great customer and user experience. To design and develop such a solution, you need to know what people really desire. Technology certainly plays a very important role to make this experience a reality, and you must be clear about the business model.

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Design-led digital transformation means leveraging breakthrough technology trends, re-imaging business processes and business models, and re-imaging the customer and user experience to achieve design-led innovations.

In today’s digital economy, companies understand that the experience their customers and users have must be the core focus of its brand and survival. Customers and users drive the current and future state of any business. Products and services, whether they are delivered to internal or external customers, must create a value for them and the company. Therefore, customers and users need to be an integral part—not an afterthought—of the entire product development process.

Design thinking to focus on human needs

To better understand what that experience can be, companies are using design thinking – a human-centered approach to innovation – and are putting the customer and user into the center of all activities. Design thinking focuses on human needs, problem finding, working in inter-disciplinary teams across the innovation lifecycle, and a fail-fast, fail-early approach.

My observation from about 500 customer projects is that more and more IT organizations are starting to apply design thinking within their organization. They are hiring designers to better understand the needs of their customers and users and are translating these needs into an experience design. In the past, they simply collected requirements from the business and implemented functions, features, and business processes. This was sufficient in last-decade enterprises, but consumerization of IT requires re-thinking of this approach.

Create business value with human-centered design

The goal is to create business value by engaging with customers and users throughout the end-to-end process—from discovery to design to delivery—and apply design thinking combined with agile methodologies. It is not about simply creating a cool design; rather it is all about creating business value and outcomes.

To do this, business and IT need to work hand in hand to take the company toward that single consumer’s experience.Slide2.JPG

Let’s look at an example.

As part of its business strategy, Mercedes-AMG, the sports car brand of Mercedes-Benz, aimed to increase its production drastically while keeping the excellent quality standards that have always characterized its products. In a co-innovation project, we have engaged on an intensive research plan and applied the principles of design thinking and agile software development to bring the Mercedes-AMG vision to life: a customizable collaborative planning solution that supports cross-functional competence teams and increases efficiency during the three-year production process. The solution, based on SAP HANA, provides access to relevant data in a holistic way and enables a seamless team collaboration in the remodeled process. One of the key success factors was engaging with users throughout the entire process by observing how they work and iterating on solutions with them.

Digital transformation is a journey, not just a one-time project. Ultimately, enterprises want to prepare their organization for sustainable design-led digital transformation.

So how can you embrace the human aspect of design in your digital transformation? This is our credo: Apply design thinking to engage with your customers and most importantly, with users, right from the beginning, in an iterative, user-centric design process.

If you are interested in more customer stories, check out the UX Design Services website. You can also find more information in this presentation, or check out this video recording.

This article originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

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Andreas Hauser

About Andreas Hauser

Andreas is global head of the design and co-innovation center at SAP. His team drives customer & strategic design projects through Co-Innovation and Design Thinking. Before he was Vice President of User Experience at SAP SE for OnDemand Solutions.