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Early Adoption Of Strategic HR Solutions In 2016

Robert Cordray

HR departments often bear the brunt of unfair criticism during difficult economic times. However, as businesses  stabilize, business leaders once again realize the benefits of strategic HR solutions. Industry leaders are seeing the need to implement new HR strategies at each level of growth. In 2016, technology advances and improved solutions for HR departments will drive their disruptive involvement into the overall business growth strategy.

Economic importance of HR

Industry experts note that when the economy performs well, executives begin to appreciate and invest in HR strategies in order to find and retain the best employees. When companies struggle with impassable labor issues, the HR department is suddenly valued as a strategic business partner. However, when the economy starts to slow down or when labor relations are fine, company executives immediately turn their attention to operations and finances. In 2016, a movement has started to reevaluate the benefits and usefulness of HR departments.

Whenever the economy or certain industries begin to stabilize after a temporary crash, businesses tend to procrastinate prioritizing HR oversight. However, more and more companies are trying to get ahead of market shifts by involving HR decision-makers at the very beginning. In this way, HR professionals will guide their companies through upcoming market changes while also strategically planning for future scenarios. In order to accomplish this, more and more HR professionals are assertively providing fact-based opinions and comprehensive risk assessments.

Changing dynamics

HR professionals have made great strides in becoming more involved in certain business activities. For example, at least 25 percent of all layoffs still occur without any HR involvement. This surprising lack of participation may result in serious legal and staffing ramifications. For example, a production line that suddenly loses a few employees will be unable to function properly and stay on schedule. Instead of suddenly expecting HR professionals to hire new staff, many managers are holding supervisors accountable to follow HR procedures. Because HR professionals have the highest levels of expertise in this area, supervisors receive valuable one-on-one training and HR experience.

As HR professionals cultivate positive relationships with supervisors, they better understand departmental and operational needs. As a result, they are able to identify and recruit better candidates based on the supervisor’s needs and preferences. As HR professionals become more involved in the recruitment process, turnover rates and litigation risks will naturally decrease. Because HR professionals have more influence with employee management, they are able to promote positive practices such as flexible work arrangements, which increases employee satisfaction and engagement levels. HR professionals also contribute to effective performance management through coaching and mentoring supervisors.

Culture management

In 2016, millennials will be the driving force of improving transparency and employee feedback. Already, companies like Tiny Pulse are pushing the envelope of timely and open feedback between all levels of employees and executive. Gone are the days of quarterly or annual satisfaction surveys. Companies now are taking action on a daily basis to improve employee retention and engagement.

HR technology

63% of HR functions agree that using technology on a daily basis to recognize and evaluate employees would be a valuable business tool. In 2016, we will see an increase in technology integrating HR systems and their involvement in the overall decision-making processes. For example, Big Data has made excellent contributions to HR functions. Companies are using the power of Big Data to analyze workforce data to answer specific questions related to productivity, learning programs, and employee and supervisor performance outcomes. A lot of this data can be mined from common HR software programs.

For example, companies that have a workforce of thousands of employees continually face serious talent shortage risks if they fail to comprehensively plan for retirement. Big Data allows HR professionals to identify key talent areas and create manageable timelines for getting new employees cross trained. Specifically, workforce analytics allow HR professionals to calculate how many employees will retire per year, the types of employees needed to replace them, and where the new hires will most likely come from.

As a result of increased direction and support from HR professionals, many companies have enjoyed lower turnover and higher employee satisfaction rates. Through the power of technology, HR professionals use HR software to extract actionable business intelligence for strategic planning. As business intelligence drives HR analytics in 2016, gamification will continue to find its way into HR platforms. Most notably, gamification will take over recruiting platforms in order to track applicants and improve talent management with the new career force.

In 2016, employee performance management will improve as mobile applications speed up data insights, communication, and feedback. More millennials in the workforce will also push the majority of recruiting tools to be mobile-optimized. Already 43% of job-seekers have used their smartphone or tablet to look for or apply to jobs. In 2016, more companies are taking action to improve their HR strategy in each stage of growth.

A recent study still shows 42 percent of business leaders believe their HR teams are under-performing or just getting by. With the lack of trust in HR teams, many businesses put off developing early strategies for growth in these departments. As HR strategy becomes a priority in each area of growth in a company, the effects downstream will be exponentially positive.

The key to making a difference and building a case around change is to incorporate new and innovative ways of improving all HR functions. In 2016 these trends are a great start to improving your business.

For more on HR tech, see 5 Ways Technology Is Changing The Face Of HR.

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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 Research 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. Share your thoughts with Michael on Twitter @michaelrander.

From E-Business to V-Business

Josh Waddell, Pascal Lessard, Lori Mitchell-Keller, and Fawn Fitter

Some moments are so instantly, indelibly etched into pop culture that they shape the way we think for years to come. For virtual reality (VR), that moment may have been the scene in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix when the Keanu Reeves character Neo learns that his entire life has been a computer-generated simulation so fully realized that he could have lived it out never knowing that he was actually an inert body in an isolation tank. Ever since, that has set the benchmark for VR: as a digital experience that seems completely, convincingly real.

Today, no one is going to be unaware, Matrix-like, that they’re wearing an Oculus Rift or a Google Cardboard headset, but the virtual worlds already available to us are catching up to what we’ve imagined they could be at a startling rate. It’s been hard to miss all the Pokémon Go players bumping into one another on the street as they chased animated characters rendered in augmented reality (AR), which overlays and even blends digital artifacts seamlessly with the actual environment around us.

Believe the Hype

For all the justifiable hype about the exploding consumer market for VR and, to a lesser extent, AR, there’s surprisingly little discussion of their latent business value—and that’s a blind spot that companies and CIOs can’t afford to have. It hasn’t been that long since consumer demand for the iPhone and iPad forced companies, grumbling all the way, into finding business cases for them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images1If digitally enhanced reality generates even half as much consumer enthusiasm as smartphones and tablets, you can expect to see a new wave of consumerization of IT as employees who have embraced VR and AR at home insist on bringing it to the workplace. This wave of consumerization could have an even greater impact than the last one. Rather than risk being blindsided for a second time, organizations would be well advised to take a proactive approach and be ready with potential business uses for VR and AR technologies by the time they invade the enterprise.

They don’t have much time to get started.

The two technologies are already making inroads in fields as diverse as medicine, warehouse operations, and retail. And make no mistake: the possibilities are breathtaking. VR can bring human eyes to locations that are difficult, dangerous, or physically impossible for the human body, while AR can deliver vast amounts of contextual information and guidance at the precise time and place they’re needed.

As consumer adoption and acceptance drives down costs, enterprise use cases for VR and AR will blossom. In fact, these technologies could potentially revolutionize the way companies communicate, manage employees, and digitize and automate operations. Yet revolution is rarely bloodless. The impact will probably alter many aspects of the workplace that we currently take for granted, and we need to think through the implications of those changes.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images2Digital Realities, Defined

VR and AR are related, but they’re not so much siblings as cousins. VR is immersive. It creates a fully realized digital environment that users experience through goggles or screens (and sometimes additional equipment that provides physical feedback) that make them feel like they’re surrounded by and interacting entirely within this created world.

AR, by contrast, is additive. It displays text or images in glasses, on a window or windshield, or inside a mirror, but the user is still aware of and interacting with reality. There is also an emerging hybrid called “mixed reality,” which is essentially AR with VR-quality digital elements, that superimposes holographic images on reality so convincingly that trying to touch them is the only way to be sure they aren’t actually there.

Although VR is a hot topic, especially in the consumer gaming world, AR has far more enterprise use cases, and several enterprise apps are already in production. In fact, industry analyst Digi-Capital forecasts that while VR companies will generate US$30 billion in revenue by 2020, AR companies will generate $120 billion, or four times as much.

Both numbers are enormous, especially given how new the VR/AR market is. As recently as 2014, it barely existed, and almost nothing available was appropriate for enterprise users. What’s more, the market is evolving so quickly that standards and industry leaders have yet to emerge. There’s no guarantee that early market entrants like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and HTC’s Vive will continue to exist, never mind set enduring benchmarks.

Nonetheless, it’s already clear that these technologies will have a major impact on both internal and customer-facing business. They will make customer service more accurate, personalized, and relevant. They will reduce human risk and enhance public safety. They will streamline operations and smash physical boundaries. And that’s just the beginning.

Cleveland Clinic: Healing from the Next Room

Medicine is already testing the limits of learning with VR and AR.

sap_q316_digital_double_feature1_imageseightThe most potentially disruptive operational use of VR and AR could be in education and training. With VR, students can be immersed in any environment, from medieval architecture to molecular biology, in classroom groups or on demand, to better understand what they’re studying. And no industry is pursuing this with more enthusiasm than medicine. Even though Google Glass hasn’t been widely adopted elsewhere, for example, it’s been a big success story in the medical world.

Pamela Davis, MD, senior vice president for medical affairs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of the leading proponents of medical education using VR and AR. She’s the dean of the university’s medical school, which is working with Cleveland Clinic to develop the Microsoft HoloLens “mixed reality” device for medical education and training, turning MRIs and other conventional 2D medical images into 3D images that can be projected at the site of a procedure for training and guidance during surgery. “As you push a catheter into the heart or place a deep brain stimulation electrode, you can see where you want to be and guide your actions by watching the hologram,” Davis explains.

The HoloLens can also be programmed as a “lead” device that transmits those images and live video to other “learner” devices, allowing the person wearing the lead device to provide oversight and input. This will enable a single doctor to demonstrate a delicate procedure up-close to multiple students at once, or do patient examinations remotely in an emergency or epidemic.

Davis herself was convinced of the technology’s broader potential during a demonstration in which she put on a learner HoloLens and rewired a light switch, something decidedly outside her expertise, under the guidance of an engineer wearing a lead HoloLens in the next room. In the near future, she predicts, it will help people perform surgery and other sensitive, detailed tasks not just from the next room, but from the next state or country.

Customer Experience: From E-Commerce to V-Commerce

Consumers are already getting used to sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images3thinking of VR and AR in the context of entertainment. Companies interested in the technologies should be thinking about how they might engage consumers as part of the buying experience.

Because the technologies deliver more information and a better shopping experience with less effort, e-commerce is going to give rise to v-commerce, where people research, interact with, and share products in VR and AR before they order them online or go to a store to make a purchase.

Online eyewear retailers already allow people to “try on” glasses virtually and share the images with friends to get their feedback, but that’s rudimentary compared to what’s emerging.

Mirrors as Personal Shoppers

Clothing stores from high-end boutiques to low-end fashion chains are experimenting with AR mirrors that take the shopper’s measurements and recommend outfits, showing what items look like without requiring the customer to undress.

Instant Designer Shows

Luxury design house Dior uses Oculus Rift VR goggles to let its well-heeled customers experience a runway show without flying to Paris.

Custom Shopping Malls

British designer Allison Crank has created an experimental VR shopping mall. As people walk through it, they encounter virtual people (and the occasional zoo animal) and shop in stores stocked only with items that users are most likely to buy, based on past purchase information and demographic data.

A New Perspective

IKEA’s AR application lets shoppers envisage a piece of furniture in the room they plan to use it in. They can look at products from the point of view of a specific height—useful for especially tall or short customers looking for comfortable furniture or for parents trying to design rooms that are safe for a toddler or a young child.

Painless Do-it-Yourself Instructions

Instead of forcing customers to puzzle over a diagram or watch an online video, companies will be able to offer customers detailed VR or AR demonstrations that show how to assemble and disassemble products for use, cleaning, and storage.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images4Operations and Management: Revealing the Details

The customer-facing benefits of VR and AR are inarguably flashy, but it’s in internal business use that these technologies promise to shine brightest: boosting efficiency and productivity, eliminating previously unavoidable risks, and literally giving employers and managers new ways to look at information and operations. The following examples aren’t blue-sky cases; experts say they’re promising, realistic, and just around the corner.

Real-Time Guidance

A combination of AR glasses and audio essentially creates a user-specific, contextually relevant guidance system that confirms that wearers are in the right place, looking at the right thing, and taking the right action. This technology could benefit almost any employee who is not working at a desk: walking field service reps through repair procedures, guiding miners to the best escape route in an emergency, or optimizing home health aides’ driving routes and giving them up-to-date instructions and health data when they arrive at each patient’s home.

Linking to the Hidden

AR technology will be able to display any type of information the wearer needs to know. Linked to facial identification software, it could help police officers identify suspects or missing persons in real time. Used to visualize thermal gradients, chemical signatures, radioactivity, and other things that are invisible to the naked eye, it could help researchers refine their experiments or let insurance claims assessors spot arson. Similarly, VR will allow users to create and manipulate detailed three-dimensional models of everything from molecules to large machinery so that they can examine, explore, and change them.

Reducing the Human Risk

VR will allow users to perform high-risk jobs while reducing their need to be in harm’s way. The users will be able to operate equipment remotely while seeing exactly what they would if they were there, a use case that is ideal for industries like mining, firefighting, search and rescue, and toxic site cleanup. While VR won’t necessarily eliminate the need for humans to perform these high-risk jobs, it will improve their safety, and it will allow companies to pursue new opportunities in situations that remain too dangerous for humans.

Reducing the Commercial Risk

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images5VR can also reduce an entirely different type of operational risk: that of introducing new products and services. Manufacturers can let designers or even customers “test” a product, gather their feedback, and tweak the design accordingly before the product ever goes into production. Indeed, auto manufacturer Ford has already created a VR Immersion Lab for its engineers, which, among other things, helped them redesign the interior of the 2015 Ford Mustang to make the dashboard and windshield wipers more user-friendly, according to Fortune. In addition to improving customer experience, this application of VR is likely to accelerate product development and shorten time to market.

Similarly, retailers can use VR to create and test branch or franchise location designs on the fly to optimize traffic flow, product display, the accessibility of products, and even decor. Instead of building models or concept stores, a designer will be able to create the store design with VR, do a virtual walkthrough with executives, and adjust it in real time until it achieves the desired effect.

Seeing in Tongues

At some point, we will see an AR app that can translate written language in near-real time, which will dramatically streamline global business communications. Mobile apps already exist to do this in certain languages, so it’s just a matter of time before we can slip on glasses that let us read menus, signs, agendas, and documents in our native tongue.

Decide with the Eye

More dramatically, AR project management software will be able to deliver real-time data at a literal glance. On a construction site, for example, simply scanning the area could trigger data about real-time costs, supply inventories, planned versus actual spending, employee and equipment scheduling, and more. By linking to construction workers’ own AR glasses that provide information about what to know and do at any given location and time, managers could also evaluate and adjust workloads.

Squeeze Distance

Farther in the future, VR and AR will create true telepresence, enhancing collaboration and potentially replacing in-person meetings. Users could transmit AR holograms of themselves to someone else’s office, allowing them to be seen as if they were in the room. We could have VR workspaces with high-fidelity avatars that transmit characteristic facial expressions and gestures. Companies could show off a virtual product in a virtual room with virtual coworkers, on demand.

Reduce Carbon Footprint

If nothing else, true telepresence could practically eliminate business travel costs. More critically, though, in an era of rising temperatures and shrinking resources, the ability to create and view virtual people and objects rather than manufacturing and transporting physical artifacts also conserves materials and reduces the use of fossil fuel.

Employees: Under Observation

The strength of digitally enhanced reality—and AR in particular—is its ability to determine a user’s context and deliver relevant information accordingly. This makes it valuable for monitoring and managing employee behavior and performance. Employees could, for example, use the location and time data recorded by AR glasses to prove that they were (or weren’t) in a particular place at a particular time. The same glasses could provide them with heads-up guided navigation, alert employers that they’re due for a legally mandated break, verify that they completed an assigned task, and confirm hours worked without requiring them to fill out a timesheet.

However, even as these capabilities improve data governance and help manage productivity, they also raise critical issues of privacy and autonomy (see The Norms of Virtual Behavior). If you’re an employee using VR or AR technology, and if your company is leveraging it to monitor your performance, who owns that information? Who’s allowed to use it, and for what purposes? These are still open legal questions for these technologies.

Another unsettled—and unsettling—question is how far employers can use these technologies to direct employees’ work. While employers have the right to tell employees how to do their jobs, autonomy is a key component of workplace satisfaction. The extent to which employees are required to let a pair of AR glasses govern their actions could have a direct impact on hiring and retention.

Finally, these technologies could be one more step toward greater automation. A warehouse-picking AR application that guides pickers to the appropriate product faster makes them more productive and saves them from having to memorize hundreds or even thousands of SKUs. But the same technology that can guide a person will also be able to guide a semiautonomous robot.

The Norms of Virtual Behavior

VR and AR could disrupt our social norms and take identity hacking to a new level.

The future of AR and VR isn’t without its hazards. We’ve all witnessed how distracting and even dangerous smartphones can be, but at least people have to pull a phone out of a pocket before getting lost in the screen. What happens when the distraction is sitting on their faces?

This technology is going to affect how we interact, both in the workplace and out of it. The annoyance verging on rage that met the first people wearing Google Glass devices in public proves that we’re going to need to evolve new social norms. We’ll need to signal how engaged we are with what’s right in front of us when we’re wearing AR glasses, what we’re doing with the glasses while we interact, or whether we’re paying attention at all.

More sinister possibilities will present themselves down the line. How do you protect sensitive data from being accessed by unauthorized or “shadow” VR/AR devices? How do you prove you’re the one operating your avatar in a virtual meeting? How do you know that the person across from you is who they say they are and not a competitor or industrial spy who’s stolen a trusted avatar? How do you keep someone from hacking your VR or AR equipment to send you faulty data, flood your field of vision with disturbing images, or even direct you into physical danger?

As the technology gets more sophisticated, VR and AR vendors will have to start addressing these issues.

Technical Challenges

To realize the full business value of VR and AR, companies will need to tackle certain technical challenges. To be precise, they’ll have to wait for the vendors to take them on, because the market is still so new that standards and practices are far from mature.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images6For one thing, successful implementation requires devices (smartphones, tablets, and glasses, for now) that are capable of delivering, augmenting, and overlaying information in a meaningful way. Only in the last year or so has the available hardware progressed beyond problems like overheating with demand, too-small screens, low-resolution cameras, insufficient memory, and underpowered batteries. While hardware is improving, so many vendors have emerged that companies have a hard time choosing among their many options.
The proliferation of devices has also increased software complexity. For enterprise VR and AR to take off, vendors need to create software that can run on the maximum number of devices with minimal modifications. Otherwise, companies are limited to software based on what it’s capable of doing on their hardware of choice, rather than software that meets their company’s needs.

The lack of standards only adds to the confusion. Porting data to VR or AR systems is different from mobilizing front-end or even back-end systems, because it requires users to enter, display, and interact with data in new ways. For devices like AR glasses that don’t use a keyboard or touch screen, vendors must determine how to enter data (voice recognition? eye tracking? image recognition?), how to display it legibly in any given environment, and whether to develop their own user interface tools or work with a third party.

Finally, delivering convincing digital enhancements to reality demands such vast amounts of data that many networks simply can’t accommodate it. Much as videoconferencing didn’t truly take off until high-speed broadband became widely available, VR and AR adoption will lag until a zero-latency infrastructure exists to
support them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images7Coming Soon to a Face Near You

For all that VR and AR solutions have improved dramatically in a short time, they’re still primarily supplemental to existing systems, and not just because the software is still evolving. Wearables still have such limited processing power, memory, and battery life that they can handle only a small amount of information. That said, hardware is catching up quickly (see The Supporting Cast).

The Supporting Cast

VR and AR would still be science fiction if it weren’t for these supporting technologies.

The latest developments in VR and AR technologies wouldn’t be possible without other breakthroughs that bring things once considered science fiction squarely into the realm of science fact:

  • Advanced semiconductor designs pack more processing power into less space.
  • Microdisplays fit more information onto smaller screens.
  • New power storage technologies extend battery life while shrinking battery size.
  • Development tools for low-latency, high-resolution image rendering and improved 3D-graphics displays make digital artifacts more realistic and detailed.
  • Omnidirectional cameras that can record in 360 degrees simultaneously create fully immersive environments.
  • Plummeting prices for accelerometers lower the cost of VR devices.

Companies in the emerging VR/AR industry are encouraging the makers of smartglasses and safety glasses to work together to create ergonomic smartglasses that deliver information in a nondistracting way and that are also comfortable to wear for an eight-hour shift.

The argument in favor of VR and AR for business is so powerful that once vendors solve the obvious hardware problems, experts predict that existing enterprise mobile apps will quickly start to include VR or AR components, while new apps will emerge to satisfy as yet unmet needs.

In other words, it’s time to start thinking about how your company might put these technologies to use—and how to do so in a way that minimizes concerns about data privacy, corporate security, and employee comfort. Because digitally enhanced reality is coming tomorrow, so business needs to start planning for it today. D!

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

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Finding Value In IoT Data

Paul Taylor

One day soon, we will wake up and wonder how we ever survived in a world of “dumb” disconnected things. Our homes, including our pantries, closets, and shoe racks, and our offices, factories, and vehicles will be full of connected devices.

The World Economic Forum estimates that the number of connected devices will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.6% over the next four years from 22.9 billion in 2016 to a headline-grabbing 50.1 billion by 2020 – equivalent to almost five connected devices for every person on the planet.

By 2020, there will be an estimated 5 connected devices to every 1 person on the planet.

But that will be just the beginning. Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Underpinning the growth of IoT are tumbling prices for the sensors that turn “dumb” things into “smart” devices and capture data from the environment around them, and the vast data-centric and mostly wireless networks that connect these devices to each other and to the broader Internet.

As the sensors grow ever cheaper, and the network grows ever larger, the more data we as individuals, professionals, companies, and governments can collect and analyze to make ever more intelligent decisions.

Just like other commoditizing electronic components, fierce competition, and Moore’s Law has driven down prices, especially for accelerometers and gyroscope sensors typically used in smartphones and other mobile devices.

As a result, manufacturers can add sensor and communications modules to almost any product for a few dollars, bringing the day when everything (valued at $10 or more is) I0T-ready a big step closer.

“Our perspective is that cost of both the sensors and devices is approaching free and the size is approaching invisible,” said James Bailey, managing director of the mobility practice at Accenture, last year. “Literally everything will have IoT technology at some point.”

At the same time, the cost of embedded processors, networking and cloud-based computing – other key components in the IoT world – have all fallen.

The opportunity for transformation

IoT, particularly the Internet of Industrial Internet of Things (IoIT), is about hyperconnectivity and sensor-generated data – huge amounts of it. But the real value lies in what you can do with that data – in the outcomes it enables, rather than the collection, transmission, or storage of that data.

“We need more data-driven decision making,” said Tanja Rückert, executive vice president of Digital Assets and IoT at SAP,  during the SAP Executive Summit on the Internet of Things that took place earlier this month.

Her views were echoed by Nils Herzberg, senior vice president and global co-lead of IoT Go to Market, who stressed that “data is the fuel of the 21st century.”

Nevertheless, a recent study found that while 81 percent of business executives believe that successful adoption of industrial IoT is critical to their company’s future success, only 25 percent have a clear industrial IoT strategy.

A challenge and a huge opportunity remains for those enterprise software and services companies that have the technology and tools available to help people and businesses make sense of, analyze, and harness the tsunami of data that we are about to be engulfed by.

Here’s the real business potential to add value through IoT: Companies in almost every industry will transform into digital businesses which means oversight must be powered by real-time data – fed in large part by sensors.

As Herzberg, says, the beauty of sensors that they bring real-time data to applications: “Customers run applications for business critical processes, which could run better with real-time awareness.”

Big Data analytics and machine learning will deliver personal and business insights and will enable us to make immediate decisions based on that data – rather than relying as we have in the past, on guesswork or out-of-date forecasts. “When sensors provide real-time information, customers can make better decisions, rather than using guess work,” says Herzberg.

IoT data is already helping companies track goods on their way through the supply chain and immediately alert managers in case of theft or damage, reducing waiting times in busy ports, playing a key roll in jet engine and tractor predictive maintenance, helping farmers optimize crop yields, and improving safety across a number of public and private enterprises.

The market

So how big is the market opportunity? Cisco, the networking equipment group, predicts the global Internet of Things market will be $14.4 trillion by 2022, with the majority invested in improving customer experiences.

Cisco suggested that additional areas of investment would include reducing the time-to-market ($3T), improving supply chain and logistics ($2.7T) and cost reduction strategies ($2.5T) and increasing employee productivity ($2.5T).

But the implications of IoT and the Big Data analytics that it feeds will go far beyond traditional business models and have a profound impact on both enterprises and individuals. When combined with machine learning and cognitive computing, the insights derived from IoT data will enable us as individuals and businesses users to deploy intelligent agents empowered to make autonomous decisions and negotiate with other agents on our behalf.

This is not about machines replacing humans. Rather, intelligent apps augment humans’ ability to run the business. Predicted businesses will deploy intelligent agents across multiple areas to help all employees, from sales to suppliers to shop floor.

Things to outcomes

Ultimately, machines will help people understand connections between information by monitoring, analyzing, and correlating data that people wouldn’t see ordinarily. This helps people improve outcomes. For example, in healthcare it can mean improving patients’ recovery times.

Enterprise IoT may be Big Data’s killer app, but ultimately it is still about people.

For more insight on the Internet of Things, see IoT, Sensors, And All Things Digital: Can We Handle It All?

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