The Real Revolution In Performance Management

Steven Hunt

After years spent complaining about performance management, companies are finally redesigning this critical, yet much maligned, part of human capital management. Here’s a quick snapshot of what the real revolution in performance management is about based on my experience working with hundreds of companies.  And it is not about ratings.

Performance management refers to processes used to communicate job expectations, provide ongoing support to help employees achieve those expectations, and make decisions about pay, promotions, and other scarce resources based on employee performance against expectations.  The revolution taking place in performance management is a result of companies realizing that performance management is not a single activity.  It is two distinct activities that must be kept separate to be effective but must be linked to be impactful.

Performance coaching: maintaining ongoing discussions about performance expectations.

Performance investment: accurately assessing employee performance and using this data to make decisions related to pay, staffing, and development.

Thinking of these two areas as separate but linked allows companies to make major advances in how they engage employees throughout the year while ensuring the company also invests its resources in a manner that reflects the level of contributions different employees make to the company.

The performance coaching revolution. Managers and employees should discuss performance throughout the year so there are no surprises at the end-of-year review.  But managers and employees inevitably fail to hold these ongoing discussions.  They either forget to have regular check-in meetings or they use the meetings for tactical problem solving instead of engaging in coaching conversations about goal alignment and performance expectations. Happily this is starting to change.

Companies are starting to seriously address managers whose behaviors, intentional or not, suggest they have little interest in the career success of their direct reports.  It has long been said that employees don’t quit companies, they quit lousy managers.  In a scarce labor market companies cannot afford to lose talent due to poor management practices.

To address this issue, companies are making use of innovative, continuous performance management technology that helps managers and employees schedule and hold productive ongoing one-on-one coaching sessions.  It reminds them to have the meetings, helps guide session agendas, and tracks data from the meetings that can be referred to over time.  It also allows companies to measure whether managers are performing the core tasks required to be an effective manager (i.e., talking with direct reports about their jobs and careers).  This technology might be likened to a “health app” for employee-manager dialogue.  Instead of reminding you to eat right and exercise regularly, it reminds you and your manager to have clear goals and discuss them regularly.

The performance investment revolution.  Despite claims about companies “getting rid of ratings”, all companies rate their employees in the sense that they place them in different categories based on perceived performance contributions. I have yet to meet a business leader who didn’t want to know who the high performers are in their company and who didn’t believe there should be some link between pay and performance. Consequently, I have yet to see a company that doesn’t rate its employees in some manner.  The question is whether those ratings are accurate and impactful.

Historically, most companies had managers provide an annual overall rating of the performance of their direct reports.  The problem is these ratings were often inaccurate, failed to differentiate between employees, and/or had limited influence on decisions related to compensation and staffing.  People often viewed the rating process as an exercise in stress, futility, and bad data. Rather than continue using a flawed rating process, many companies have decided to eliminate ratings made by individual managers operating in isolation. The old annual ratings are being replaced by calibration sessions that stress collaborative discussion between managers and other stakeholders to determine which employees provide the greatest impact on company success.

Note that calibration is not the same as forced ranking. Calibration is about coming together to discuss and agree on the performance levels of employees. This may include placing employees into a predefined performance distribution, but forced distributions are not a necessary component of effective calibration sessions.

The shift to calibration is fueled by three things:

  1. Companies are recognizing that the only way to develop a consistent definition of performance across managers and employees is to discuss what defines high performance in their group.
  2. Second, companies are recognizing that how you evaluate someone’s performance is heavily influenced by your perspective.  When a manager evaluates their direct reports, they are primarily evaluating them based on their interactions with that person. To get a true picture of a person’s performance you need input from multiple people who interact with them in different situations and settings.
  3. Third, technology is making it easier to conduct calibration reviews.  It used to take weeks to assemble the performance records and employee profiles necessary to hold a calibration session.  The data was often out of date by the time the session was conducted.  Companies can now access employee data in real time, enabling more frequent and focused use of calibration to gain insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the workforce.

Performance management is both difficult and necessary.  Performance management is difficult because it addresses the reality of performance differences.  Employees do not all perform at the same level and most people believe employees who contribute more to the organization should receive more in return.  But addressing performance differences requires managing issues that can quickly blow up if not dealt with appropriately. Performance management is necessary because it impacts business-critical and legally sensitive decisions around pay, job assignments, and employment.  Leaving managers to make these sorts of high stakes decisions based on intuition is not a good formula for long-term success.  When you consider the sorts of activities and decisions involved in performance management it is not surprising that companies have struggled to do it well.

The good news is there’s a revolution going on in performance management. This revolution is about creating continuous performance conversations between employees and managers and using calibration sessions to gain accurate insight into employee contributions.  Annual ratings are not going away due to this revolution.  But they are playing an increasingly minor role as companies shift their emphasis from collecting performance ratings to creating more effective ongoing performance dialogue between employees, managers, and leaders.

It is my privilege to work with many companies who are on the forefront of the performance management revolution. These companies are demonstrating how technology enables us to rethink this important but historically troublesome HCM practice.  For videos with tips on how to improve one-on-one meetings, please visit these links for employees, managers, and HR professionals.

For more insight on performance management strategies, see How To Get Better At Receiving Feedback.

This story also appeared in the SAP Business Trends community.

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Steven Hunt

About Steven Hunt

Steven Hunt is the Senior Vice President of Customer Value at SAP. He is responsible for guiding the strategy and deployment of knowledge, tools and process improvements that increase the value customers receive from SuccessFactors & SAP Cloud software as a service solutions.

Analytics And Big Data: Driving Agility In The Chemical Industry

Michael Laprocido

How important are concepts like Big Data and analytics to the modern enterprise environment? In a word: Very. One study estimates there are currently six million developers all over the world currently working on Big Data and advanced analytics projects. To put that into perspective, that’s about the size of the populations of Houston and Los Angeles combined.

Spending on Big Data tech is expected to reach $57 billion by the end of the year. The business intelligence and analytics market worldwide will be worth about $18.3 billion by the same time. But the true strengths of concepts like Big Data and analytics comes by way of their symbiotic relationship. As the quality of data improves, so does the value of the insight generated by sophisticated analytics solutions.

This is particularly true in the chemical industry, where many companies are currently using Big Data and analytics to support a bold new level of strategic agility that has not been available until now.

Dynamic visibility empowers dynamic resource allocation

Resource planning and allocation have always been critical processes in the chemical industry. Until the somewhat recent past, changes both upstream and downstream from the chemical manufacturer evolved more slowly and predictably. Analysis of markets and competitive position in target segments performed either as a one-off annual or even biennial exercise were adequate to enable a chemical company to have the requisite amount of agility to compete successfully.

Today, complexity and fundamental change are increasing exponentially due to the impacts of globalization, the rapidly shifting center of gravity for demand towards the rising middle class in Asia, the unprecedented influence of US unconventional oil production on raw material costs and global competition, the ongoing compression of product lifecycles experienced by their customers, and the speedy adoption of technology to evolve business models. Thus, analysis must be continually rendered as events and change unfold to be effective in responding. In fact, agility is becoming increasingly important as a source of competitive advantage as the pace of change accelerates making the attainment of an agile culture a board-level imperative.

Unfortunately, being agile is particularly difficult for chemical companies given the breadth and scope of their target markets. Specifically, the challenge lies in the ubiquitous application of their products (in that they are sometimes applied in many industries and in millions of uses) and that the industry is usually at least one step (sometimes several) removed from the ultimate consumer. Thus, chemical companies must be agile on many fronts to be successful. This requires a thorough understanding of the dynamics associated with the value chains for each major product/application/market combination they serve – no small feat given the complexity associated with a single value chain in today’s reality! If attained, this level of insight will not only ensure that chemical companies are providing the appropriate level of resources to support these target segments but that they are focused on the right ones to begin with.

This segues into the true value of Big Data and analytics in this context. Capacity, capital, and skilled people are hardly abundant. It is senior management’s responsibility to ensure that these critical resources are applied to the firm’s best prospects in the light of their strategic objectives. Leveraging Big Data and analytics will allow senior management to guarantee that these finite resources can accomplish both current and future goals at the same time. Not only can organizations put themselves in the best position to maximize shareholder return through action today, but they can also build a bridge to profitable and sustainable growth in the long term.

To become agile, you need to glean insight from data generated both internally and externally. Leveraging internally generated data can help companies see how well they are making use of their available resources today. Layering in external data allows you to get a better understanding of how a chemical business needs to allocate their resources in the future so that it can then better position itself in the direction that leadership wants.

Case in point: Big Data and analytics are invaluable when examining something like growth versus share. Tracking changes in growth and share dynamically based on analytical data gives leadership an almost real-time view into how things are changing, how well the business is positioned to address that change, and the strategic implications of it. Important metrics like profitability, cost to serve, and competitive position are added into the mix, generating an additional level of context to this data to help quickly discern potential opportunities and threats that may be emerging. Use of predictive analytics can lead to strategies to capture or mitigate these under any given timeframe by identifying trends and patterns in things like short to mid-term inflections in demand that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Over the longer term, having a dynamic capability to analyze markets in real time will also let you examine things like potential structural market changes. The ability to consider how your competitive advantage will change given the potential for things like competitor capacity addition, supply disruption, and more gives you a much more dynamic ability to understand your business in the context of your target markets. Applying these scenarios in your planning will provide the ability to perpetually allocate scarce resources to provide the greatest return under any condition at a moment’s notice.

It may not be possible to see into the future, but the insights and projections generated by analytics and Big Data may very well be the next big thing. This is certainly true in the chemicals industry, where organizations are struggling to stay malleable and agile amidst ever-changing market conditions.

Using the path to build the future

In the end, it’s important to understand that the true pathway to strategic agility for chemical companies begins with possessing a capability to make sense of the flood of data that is both inside and outside its walls. Insights derived from real-time Big Data and analytics is the key to realizing a dynamic ability to understand your business as it exists in the current context of the market, and can make it easier to take advantage of strategic opportunities as they arise. By gaining a superior level of visibility into both the state of an organization as it exists today and a forward-looking view of their future markets, leaders have the best and most accurate information to work from when making decisions that affect things tomorrow, a year from now, and beyond. You can reallocate scarce resources to provide the best return for any set of conditions, which is what strategic agility is really all about.

Hidden inside your organization’s data is the key to remaining nimble moving forward. Analytical tools let chemical companies go beyond that data, extracting the valuable insight and narrative hidden underneath. That narrative then lets organizational leaders write the future of the company on their own terms.

Learn how to innovate at scale by incorporating individual innovations back to the core business to drive tangible business value: read  Accelerating Digital Transformation in Chemicals. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today: read Industry 4.0: What’s Next?

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Michael Laprocido

About Michael Laprocido

Mike Laprocido serves as a Strategic Industry Advisor for SAP. He is responsible for developing thought leadership and driving SAP solution adoption in the chemical and oil and gas industries. With over three decades in various executive roles at BP Oil, BP Chemicals, Kuraray America, Panda Energy and IBM prior to joining SAP, Mike has gained a broad and deep industry knowledge base that he leverages to help his clients to innovate and transform their business through the application of digital technology.

City Of Cambridge Proves ‘Smart City’ Doesn’t Always Mean Glitz And Glamour

Katie Fischer

Whether it’s taking part in Waterloo Region’s Smart City Challenge or being joined by the likes of Buenos Aires, Dubai, and Los Angeles to serve as a United Nations data hub, the City of Cambridge in Ontario has never been shy about its aspirations to become a smart city.

But behind the glitz and glamour often associated with smart city projects and global data initiatives lies a humbler story; one of a city using digital technology to improve access to financial information that serves better-informed decision-making.

The benefits of bringing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system into the digital age must not go underestimated. Governments especially need to remain proactive and understand that a tidier ship means better service for citizens and a more productive city.

The City of Cambridge recently completed its transition to a next-generation ERP system referred to in-house as cityONE. Our previous solution had become outdated and demanded a level of manual work that seemed at odds with what is possible in a time of automation and app wizardry. We recognized that we were being severely limited in what we could do, and we were at serious risk of being left behind.

The new system came with an overall business process redesign built around giving public servants better access to information so they can make better decisions and cutting out manual work that was weighing them down.

A user experience application allows workers who aren’t hands-on with data and technology to more easily manage budgets, automate tasks such as expense reimbursements, and access financial information by providing them with user-friendly tools and a consumer-grade dashboard.  Staff from all levels of the organization appreciate the app-like user interface, graphical display of financial information, and drill-down to attachments at their fingertips.

Not only is information more visual and easier to access, it’s also available in real-time, so workers can be quick on their feet when making decisions and reacting to the wishes of citizens more efficiently.

The move to cityONE is part of the City of Cambridge’s wider range of digital transformation work, redefining the way we do business in the digital age. By collecting data and using tools to analyze trends, we’re able to make more informed decisions, listen to the feedback of the community, and deliver more effectively on what they want now and in the future. It may not be glamorous, but it’s certainly smart.

Join the City of Cambridge alongside leaders and technologists from cities around the world at the SAP Smart Cities Forum in Toronto on April 23.

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Katie Fischer

About Katie Fischer

Katie Fischer is the Manager of Finance for the City of Cambridge in Ontario, Canada.

The Blockchain Solution

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

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

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

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

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

The Spine of Digitalization

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

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

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

What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?

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

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

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

Why does blockchain matter for the supply chain?

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

Hints of the Future

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

But we could tell that it had vast potential.

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

What’s the Magic Combination?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blockchain Is the Change Driver

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges on the Path to Adoption

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

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

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

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

Blockchain Blackouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customers Will Expect Change

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

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

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

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


About the Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CEO Priorities And Challenges In The Digital World

Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

Digital transformation is here, and it is moving fast. Companies are starting to realize the enormous power of digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) and blockchain. These technologies will drive massive opportunities—and threats—for every company, and they will impact all aspects of business, including the business model. In fact, business velocity has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.

To move quickly, companies need to be clear on what they want to achieve through digital transformation and understand the possible roadblocks. Based on my meetings with customer executives across regions and industries, I have learned that CEOs often have the same three priorities and face the same three challenges:

1. Customer experience – No longer defined by omnichannel and personalized marketing.

Not surprisingly, 92 percent of digital leaders focus on customer experience. However, this is no longer just about omnichannel and personalized marketing – it is about the total customer experience. Businesses are realizing that they need to reimagine their value proposition and orchestrate changes across the value chain – from the first point of interaction to manufacturing, to shipment, to service – and be able to deliver the total customer experience. In some cases, it will even be necessary to change the core product or service itself.

2. Step change in productivity – Transform productivity and cost structure through digital technologies.

Businesses have been using technology to achieve growth for decades, but by combining emerging technologies, they can now achieve a significant productivity boost and reduce costs. For this to happen, companies must first identify the scenarios that will drive significant change in productivity, prioritize them based on value, and then determine the right technologies and solutions. Both Mckinsey and Boston Consulting Group expect a 15 to 30 percent improvement in productivity through digital advancements – blowing the doors off business-as-usual and its incremental productivity growth of 1 to 2 percent.

3. Employee engagement – Fostering a culture of innovation should be at the core of any business.

Companies are looking to create an environment that encourages creativity and innovation. Leaders are attracting the needed talent and building the right skill sets. Additionally, they aim for ways to attract a diverse workforce, improve collaborations, and empower employees – because engaged employees are crucial in order to achieve the best results. This Gallup study reveals that approximately 85 percent of employees worldwide are performing below their potential due to engagement issues.

As CEOs work towards achieving these three desired outcomes, they face some critical challenges that they must address. I define the top three challenges as follows: run vs. innovate, corporate cholesterol, and digital transformation roadmap.

1. Run vs. innovate – To be successful you must prioritize the future.

The foremost challenge that CEOs are facing is how they can keep running current profitable businesses while investing in future innovations. Quite often these two conflict as most executives mistakenly prioritize the first and spend much less time on the latter. This must change. CEOs and their management teams need to spend more time thinking about what digital is for them, discuss new ideas, and reimagine the future. According to Gartner, approximately 50 percent of boards are pushing their CEOs to make progress on digital. Although this is a promising sign, digital must become a priority on every CEOs agenda.

2. Corporate cholesterol – Do not let company culture get in the way of change.

The older the company is, the more stuck it likely is with policies, procedures, layers of management, and risk averseness. When a company’s own processes get in the way of change, that is what I call “corporate cholesterol.” CEOs need to change the culture, encourage cross-team collaborations, and bring in more diverse thinking to reduce the cholesterol levels. In fact, both Mckinsey and Capgemini conclude that culture is the number-one obstacle to digital effectiveness.

3. Digital transformation roadmap – Digital transformation is a journey without a destination.

Many CEOs struggle with their digital roadmap. Questions like: Where do I start? Can a CDO or another executive run this innovation for me? What is my three- to five-year roadmap? often come up during the conversations. Most companies think that there is a set roadmap, or a silver bullet, for digital transformation, but that is not the case. Digital transformation is a journey without a destination, and each company must start small, acquire the necessary skills and knowledge, and continue to innovate.

It is time to face the digital reality and make it a priority. According to KPMG, 70 percent to 80 percent of CEOs believe that the next three years are more critical for their company than the last fifty. And there is good reason to worry, as 75 percent of S&P 500 companies from 2012 will be replaced by 2027 at the current disruption rate.

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Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

About Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

Dr. Chakib Bouhdary is the Digital Transformation Officer at SAP. Chakib spearheads thought leadership for the SAP digital strategy and advises on the SAP business model, having led its transformation in 2010. He also engages with strategic customers and prospects on digital strategy and chairs Executive Digital Exchange (EDX), which is a global community of digital innovation leaders. Follow Chakib on LinkedIn and Twitter