Health Insurance Private Exchanges: Are They Making The Cut?

Meghan M. Biro

It wasn’t long ago that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) swept over the American healthcare landscape, bringing with it a real focus on private exchanges. Consultants, brokers – and anyone with products to sell – were all focusing on these exchanges, which had a dramatic impact on both individuals and businesses of all sizes concerning the healthcare benefits afforded employees.

Fast forward to today.

Have private health exchanges lived up to the hype?

With the cost of healthcare on the rise, many companies in the United States have been trying to figure out how to cut those hefty employee insurance premiums. Businesses have responded in different ways, with some organizations eliminating coverage altogether.

Of course, that’s only an option for the smallest of businesses due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) employer mandate and penalty, which go into effect this year.

Another response has been for companies to increase the deductible their employees must pay before employer-sponsored coverage kicks in. Still other organizations have turned to private health insurance exchanges, which emerged in the wake of the ACA as an insurance marketplace for employers.

Private health exchanges allow companies to control contributions while giving employees the ability to choose from different plans and find a policy that best fits their needs. The use of private health exchanges is an approach to employee benefits which has been thriving over the past few years.

In 2014, the private health exchange market included 2.5 million users. Last year, that number doubled. Industry analysts, such as consulting firms Accenture and Oliver Wyman, expect the market to grow to as many as 40 million users by 2018.

Private health exchanges offer a chance for employers to manage their costs and risks while giving employees control over their health coverage. But exchanges aren’t a revolutionary cure-all, either. To be the solution they could be, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Private exchanges get mixed grades

According to a survey by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, most employers who’ve made the switch from traditional benefit models to private health exchanges are happy with the result; just eight percent of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied with their experience. The majority of them saw their costs drop and say they now play a less active role in providing benefits that are comparable, if not of higher quality, to what employees had before.

One such example is Sears, which saved $38 million the first year after it made the switch, according to chief human resources officer Dean Carter. Not every organization can provide such a glowing review, however, and that‘s putting a damper on growth.

In fact, one industry expert gave the private health exchange model just passing grades last fall. Mike Smith, of Lockton Benefit Group, said cost savings need to improve to make a meaningful difference to employers. Smith noted that technology needs to work – and work well – for end users (i.e., HR administrators and employees), while platform providers need to offer fee structures that clearly define provider compensation. He also pointed out that right now private exchanges are still figuring things out while the marketplace continues to change.

Some platform providers are making their marks as respected leaders while others are merging with more successful players. New models from outliers, including benefits administrators and payroll companies such as ADP, may further change the way the private exchange marketplace evolves.

What does a private exchange platform need to get top marks?

With all the changes in the insurance market, it’s inevitable that there will be hits and misses. Some companies that have moved to private health exchanges haven’t seen the cost savings they expected; others have run into problems with service delivery models and little participation.

On the whole, however, private health exchanges are a good option with a lot of advantages. The ones that succeed will have some, if not all, of the following attributes:

  • A forward-looking approach to the ACA. The ACA changes that will take effect this year are only the tip of the iceberg. Many employers are concerned about 2018 when a 40% tax – commonly referred to as the “Cadillac tax” – will be applied to what employers and employees jointly pay for coverage above a certain amount. Staying on top of these changes and offering compliance-driven products will set platforms above their competitors.
  • A strong focus on technology. Multiple technological failures set the ACA program back when it launched in 2013. Our expectations as users are high; if a platform doesn’t work well, it won’t last. Exchanges with platforms that aren’t consistent, easy-to-use, and high-functioning will be passed over for more user-friendly options.
  • Demonstrated compensation transparency. For the private exchange system to thrive, all stakeholders need to receive some value, and transparency of data and benefit will play a fundamental role in current and future success. Employers that want to stay on top of costs will gravitate toward providers that offer clear fee schedules and compensation information.
  • Demonstrated administrator experience. Inexperience has been a stumbling block for private exchanges so far. Both benefits and exchange administrators may not have the industry experience or training needed to manage day-to-day operations of the exchange setup effectively. Better training and communication will drive successful relationships between employers and exchange providers in the years to come.

Right now, the private health exchange market is growing and becoming increasingly successful – but not as quickly as experts predicted five years ago. Of course, this doesn’t mean private health exchanges aren’t a solid option; it only means the industry needs more time to evaluate how the new model measures up.

For more on how digitalization is changing every type of business, see The Digital Economy: Disruption, Transformation, Opportunity.


About Meghan M. Biro

Meghan Biro is talent management and HR tech brand strategist, analyst, digital catalyst, author and speaker. I am the founder and CEO of TalentCulture and host of the #WorkTrends live podcast and Twitter Chat. Over my career, I have worked with early-stage ventures and global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent. I have been a guest on numerous radio shows and online forums, and has been a featured speaker at global conferences. I am the co-author of The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Revolution of Leadership One Person at a Time, and a regular contributor at Forbes, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and several other media outlets. I also serve on advisory boards for leading HR and technology brands.

Your Duty Of Care And The Increase In Traveler Concerns

Tina Gunn

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) reports that spending on global business travel is growing and is expected to reach $1.6 trillion by 2020. Despite increasing global uncertainty around unforeseen events, organizations show no signs of slowing down business travel. Therefore, the duty of care and travel risk management programs need to be at the forefront of your organization’s security conversations, as outlined in a report produced by the Business Travel News (BTN) group.

Your organization most likely has some level of a duty-of-care solution in place; however, even organizations with a good track record in providing safety and security measurements still have some gaps in providing the right level of duty of care to their travelers and employees – and gaps that may be perceived by the organization as small could be viewed as negligent.

Risks for travelers and employees are on the rise

With the continual increase in business travel – global crises that are hitting the headlines are grabbing the attention of travel decision makers at organizations. The potential risks your travelers could encounter, domestically and internationally, are numerous – including geopolitical, health-related, and environmentally-related incidents. Even historically low-risk areas are reporting catastrophic events that are adding to the growing concerns for traveling employees.

Not only do organizations need to be prepared to fulfill duty-of-care obligations in high-profile incidents; they need to consider the smaller, more common travel risks that can happen when commuting into the office, including pedestrian accidents, car accidents, and incidents on public transportation.

“The broader notion of traveler well-being and duty of care issues are not only linked to emergencies and medical incidents,” notes GBTA’s Corporate Social Responsibility Toolkit. “The stress of business travel caused by delays, lost baggage, less productivity (yet consistently high workload), or the simple fact of being away from friends and family should not be underestimated.”

Travel risk management programs need to incorporate all your employees’ (not just travelers’) safety and security and be prepared to assist with the range of risks and incidents possible.

An ethical responsibility, not just a legal one

Legal obligations concerning insurance, lawsuits, and costs are what typically drive most organizations to implement duty-of-care initiatives. However, the moral obligation to your travelers and employees needs to be a driving factor as well.

“When companies concentrate on the moral part, their actions tend to answer the legal questions as well,” explains Stephen Barth, University of Houston law professor and founder of the Hospitality Lawyer media and information platform. “The companies that we see take the more proactive approach are the ones that don’t view it as a legal obligation, but view it as an ethical corporate responsibility.”

In the U.S., workers’ compensation reaches only so far, covering those who get injured on the job, and within a certain distance of their workplace. However, with growth and expansion increasingly taking business across borders – where an organization’s duty of care responsibilities begin and end are unclear when sending employees abroad.

In recent years, numerous countries around the world have started implementing legal statutes that side with the employee when there is a gross breach of duty-of-care responsibilities resulting in the death of an employee.

A recent traveler survey demonstrates that safety and security is one of the fastest-growing topics of concern for employees traveling on behalf of their organizations. Proactively incorporating an ethical responsibility in your duty-of-care program assists in addressing the increase in employee anxiety about medical and security disruptions while traveling.

Mitigating business risks while protecting your greatest asset: People

A single duty-of-care incident can result in staggering costs to an organization including medical expenses, sick pay, employment litigation, morale and productivity loss, and employee fall out – as well as damage to the organization’s reputation.

To help mitigate liability risks while fulfilling the moral obligation to your employees’ safety and security, industry experts suggest:

  • Consistent travel risk management policy and procedures encompassing all employees
  • Proactive safety training
  • Clear monitoring and communication channels
  • Multi-channel data management for tracking and response coordination
  • Legal and executive management cooperation
  • Incident response reporting and measurement for ongoing improvement

Organizations cannot afford to be negligent with the safety and security of their travelers and employees in today’s global landscape. It’s imperative to implement a travel risk management program or re-evaluate your existing program to determine that you’ll be able to monitor, locate, and communicate to all employees and fulfill your duty-of-care obligation if a crisis arises.

Download the full BTN report, The Travel Risk Management Imperative. Learn more about how to fulfill your duty of care with SAP Concur solutions.


Tina Gunn

About Tina Gunn

Tina Gunn is the content marketing manager for the Enterprise Americas team at SAP Concur. Tina earned her degree in Journalism from the University of Washington and brings her experience in content strategy and digital marketing to SAP Concur. When she’s not creating thought leadership and sales enablement content, Tina writes fiction and screenplays of the horror and sci-fi genres.

Purpose Matters When Building Your Long-Game Digital Strategy

Paul Kurchina

Digital transformation. It’s at the top of every boardroom agenda, prompting much debate over data management, analytics-driven decision-making, personalized user experiences, and automation. Yet, for most executives, the primary purpose and end goal of such initiatives remain, at best, fuzzy.

Rapid, proactive response to changing data, competitive conditions, and customer behaviors is undoubtedly a necessity for surviving in this increasingly hyperconnected and hypercompetitive world. However, according to Jeff Stier, co-founder of the Global EY Sinek Performance Practice for EY, businesses must do more to produce purposeful outcomes that drive life-sustaining change to everyone on our planet.

“Digitalization promises to help organizations do things well over and over again without human intervention. At the same time, we must reflect on what humans can do better. What important role will employees, partners, suppliers, and customers play in this new digital world?” said Stier during the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG) Webcast “The Art & Science of Accelerating a Digital Transformation … with Purpose.

Why is Stier’s question relevant to your business? Simply put, your answers can mean the difference between building a revenue generator for a couple years and offering a clean, equitable, and prosperous future that outlasts us all.

Purpose sets the foundation for infinite and impactful change

Traditional change strategies have enabled businesses to acquire the skills and create the processes needed to successfully execute a digital initiative, such as implementing a new ERP system. But what companies often miss is the one thing that can turn that project into a real digital transformation: people who understand the purpose of the change and are motivated to take action and achieve desirable results.

“Short- and long-term value from any business change is accelerated by integrating purpose and motivation with traditional strategies for digital transformation,” Stier advised. “Similar to the double-helix structure of DNA, digital transformation strategies and purpose and motivation strategies must zip tightly with each other – with digital strategies running through the middle to guide innovation, inspiration, and strategic engagement toward desirable business outcomes.”

Maintaining a perfect union of motivation and purpose with digital transformation enables your company to gain a return of sustainable growth across the spectrum of the business network:

  • Inside-out: Trust in the employee relationship increases because the digital initiative delivered what business leadership promised. The workplace culture gradually embraces the change, leading to high-performing teams, better employee engagement, and continuous innovation.
  • Outside-in: Customers begin to trust your brand more now that the digital experience matches their wants, needs, and expectations. Over time, their loyalty and retention grow, while customers decide to advocate your products and services. Plus, your ties with the customer community strengthen and your sales revenue and margins significantly improve.

By combining motivation and purpose with digital transformation and digital strategies, your business can tap into the best of our human nature to move forward.

“Science tells us that we all want to be inspired, trusted, valued, and fulfilled in everything we do,” said Stier. “Leaders, organizations, and businesses that operate with an infinite mindset are always looking to optimize their motivation and purpose strategies as they understand how human beings react to the way they treat them, communicate to them, and interact with them. And ultimately, the business becomes a brand that is beloved by employees and customers alike.”

Reframe your digital transformation into an inspiring social movement of change that impacts generations to come. Get the best practices and insights you need to get started by listening to the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG) Webcast replay “The Art & Science of Accelerating a Digital Transformation … with Purpose,” featuring Jeff Stier, co-founder of Global EY Sinek Performance Practice, EY.


Paul Kurchina

About Paul Kurchina

Paul Kurchina is a community builder and evangelist with the Americas’ SAP Users Group (ASUG), responsible for developing a change management program for ASUG members.

Hack the CIO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Think in Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Work in Diverse Teams

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

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

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

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

3. Become a Consultant

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

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

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

4. Learn Horizontal Leadership

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

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

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

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

5. Understand Process Design

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

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

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

6. Learn to Keep Learning

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

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

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

7. Fail Smarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Every CIO Is Ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Authors

Thomas Saueressig is Chief Information Officer at SAP.

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist at SAP.

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

Bennett Voyles is a Berlin-based business writer.

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

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Survey: Four Ways Machine Learning Will Disrupt Your Business

Dan Wellers and Dirk Jendroska

We are entering the era of the machine learning enterprise, in which this subset of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities will revolutionize operating models, shake up staffing methods, upend business models, and potentially alter the nature of competition itself. The adoption of machine learning capabilities will be limited only by an organization’s ability to change – but not every company will be willing or able to make such a radical shift.

Very soon, the difference between the haves and the have-nots of machine learning will become clear. “The disruption over the next three to five years will be massive,” says Cliff Justice, principal in KPMG’s Innovation and Enterprise Solutions team. Companies hanging onto their legacy processes will struggle to compete with machine learning enterprises able to compete with a fraction of the resources and entirely new value propositions.

For those seeking to be on the right side of the disruption, a new survey, conducted by SAP and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), offers a closer look at organizations we’ve identified as the Fast Learners of machine learning: those that are already seeing benefits from their implementations.

Machine learning is unlike traditional programmed software. Machine learning software actually gets better – autonomously and continuously – at executing tasks and business processes. This creates opportunities for deeper insight, non-linear growth, and levels of innovation previously unseen.

Given that, it’s not surprising that machine learning has evolved from hype to have-to-have for the enterprise in seemingly record time. According to the SAP/EIU survey, more than two-thirds of respondents (68%) are already experimenting with it. What’s more, many of these organizations are seeing significantly improved performance across the breadth of their operations as a result, and some are aiming to remake their businesses on the back of these singular, new capabilities.

So, what makes machine learning so disruptive? Based on our analysis of the survey data and our own research, we see four primary reasons:

1. It’s probabilistic, not programmed

Machine learning uses sophisticated algorithms to enable computers to “learn” from large amounts of data and take action based on data analysis rather than being explicitly programmed to do something. Put simply, the machine can learn from experience; coded software does not. “It operates more like a human does in terms of how it formulates its conclusions,” says Justice.

That means that machine learning will provide more than just a one-time improvement in process and productivity; those improvements will continue over time, remaking business processes and potentially creating new business models along the way.

2. It creates exponential efficiency

When companies integrate machine learning into business processes, they not only increase efficiency, they are able to scale up without a corresponding increase in overhead. If you get 5,000 loan applications one month and 20,000 the next month, it’s not a problem, says Sudir Jha, head of product management and strategy for Infosys; the machines can handle it.

3. It frees up capital – financial and human

Because machine learning can be used to automate any repetitive task, it enables companies to redeploy resources to areas that make the organization more competitive, says Justice. It also frees up the employees within an organization to perform higher-value, more rewarding work. That leads to reduced turnover and higher employee satisfaction. And studies show that happier employees lead to higher customer satisfaction and better business results.

4. It creates new opportunities

AI and machine learning can offer richer insight, deeper knowledge, and predictions that would not be possible otherwise. Machine learning can enable not only new processes, but entirely new business models or value propositions for customers – “opportunities that would not be possible with just human intelligence,” says Justice. “AI impacts the business model in a much more disruptive way than cloud or any other disruption we’ve seen in our lifetimes.”

Machine learning systems alone, however, will not transform the enterprise. The singular opportunities enabled by these capabilities will only occur for companies that dedicate themselves to making machine learning part of a larger digital transformation strategy. The results of the SAP/EIU survey explain the makeup of the evolving machine learning enterprise. We’ve identified key traits important to the success of these machine-learning leaders that can serve as a template for others as well as an overview of the outcomes they’re already seeing from their efforts.

Learn more and download the full study here.  

 


About Dan Wellers

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

Dirk Jendroska

About Dirk Jendroska

Dr. Dirk Jendroska is Head of Strategy and Operations Machine Learning at SAP. He supports the vision of SAP Leonardo Machine Learning to enable the intelligent enterprise by making enterprise applications intelligent. He leads a team working on machine learning strategy, marketing and communications.