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Real Time Is Key To Furthering Digital Agility

Kevin Benedict

It seems we read daily about the increasing role and importance of information, data analysis, and data security on politics, national security, and global economies.

More data is being generated than ever before, and successful companies are investing in business analytics and Big Data solutions to mine it for competitive advantages. There is a new sense of urgency today as businesses realise data has a shelf life, and the value of it diminishes rapidly over time. In an always-connected world where consumers and their needs are transient, timing is everything, and a special type of data is needed: real-time data. In order to capture competitive advantages and contextual relevance before data expires, enterprises must deploy information logistics systems (ILS) that deliver on the potential fast enough to exploit it.

Mobile consumers are impatient and demand instant results. IT infrastructures must be able to support real-time mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) interactions, and this requirement will increase as mobile commerce is predicted to grow to 47% of all e-commerce by 2018. Supporting real-time information requires not only real-time IT environments, but also digital transformation across the entire organisation. In order to succeed, businesses must react to location-based and time-sensitive information while it is still contextually relevant.

Data is the lifeblood of e-commerce, mobile commerce, and increasingly physical stores where the digital and physical worlds are rapidly converging. As commerce rapidly shifts online and to mobile, the success of products, brands, and companies are increasingly dependent on data and systems that consume it in order to support the demand for more personalised digital experiences. How an organisation makes sense of data, protects it, and disseminates it is a complex and challenging issue.

Data strategies

Data strategies and the execution of them will determine the market winners of the future, and the future is now. Businesses are learning from Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, and others that effective data and analytics strategies are the secret to success in digital markets. Information dominance is now the strategic business goal.

In the book Code Halos, authors Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig, and Benjamin Pring describe how the revolution today in data and analytic strategies are impacting industry structures in “consistent and violent patterns.” In another recent study, 82% of investors and equity analysts believe industries are being disrupted by innovations in data and analytics. They believe these innovations will alter competitive dynamics.

In addition to investments in IT, achieving real-time operational tempos in a enterprise takes rethinking business models, organisational structures, and business processes. It requires new ways of thinking and employee training. Supporting the tempo of real-time operations is a daunting task many will fail to prioritise, and they will suffer as a consequence.

The winners of a digital tomorrow will invest in four key areas:

  1. the quality and speed of their information logistics systems
  1. supporting real-time operational tempos
  1. business agility
  1. the ability to use real-time contextually relevant data to personalise digital user experiences

Businesses that embrace digital transformation will optimise their organisational structures and business models to support the operational tempos required by a mobile and connected world. Increasingly mobile and connected device users demand real-time responses. To support real-time responses requires an enterprise to move beyond “human time” and into the realm of “digital time.” Humans as biological entities operate at a pace governed by the sun, moon, and the physical requirements to keep our carbon-based bodies alive. These requirements and mental limitations make scaling humans beyond these time-cycles impossible without augmentation. Augmentation takes the form of intelligent process automation, artificial intelligence, and algorithms. These types of augmentation technologies have the advantage of being able to work 24/7, 365 days a year, and don’t (as yet) ask for holidays off.

Once an organisation is capable of supporting real-time tempos, and can support the personalised interactions mobile users demand, the challenge becomes business agility.

Agility is the speed at which a business can recognise, analyse, react, and profit from rapidly changing consumer demands in a hypercompetitive market. Businesses that can accurately understand customer demand and their competition, and then respond faster, will soon dominate those that are slower. The military strategist John Boyd called these competitive advantages, “getting inside of your competitor’s decision and response curves.” This means your actions and responses are occurring at a pace that surpasses your competitions’ ability to comprehend it.

Sub-optimal information logistics systems and the glacial operational tempos of yesteryear will not succeed in today’s or tomorrow’s world, and company valuations have already begun to reflect this. One-third of investors and equity analysts surveyed believe that good data and analytics strategies are rewarding companies with higher valuations. Gartner’s Douglas Laney has even coined the phrase “infonomics” to describe how information, as a new asset class, can be measured to estimate its impact on company valuations.

To succeed in the digital future, CIOs must implement innovative data strategies and information logistics systems capable of winning in a real-time world where contextually relevant, instant, and personalised experiences are required. They must develop company cultures where change is viewed as an opportunity. They must digitally transform their businesses to operate at real-time tempos and move beyond “human-time” limitations to algorithm supported “digital-time.” They must understand that rapidly changing digital consumer behaviours mandate companies operate in a more agile manner capable of rapid responses to new opportunities and competitive threats.

For more insight on aligning your digital and in-store sales and marketing (and why it’s essential to your customers’ satisfaction), see Our Digital Planet: See It, Click It, Touch It, Buy It.

This article originally appeared on the Guardian Media & Tech Network’s Digital Business hub and was syndicated with the author’s permission.

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Kevin Benedict

About Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict is senior analyst at Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work, SAP mentor alumnus, speaker, writer, and mobile and digital strategies expert. He is a popular keynote speaker who, in the past three years, has shared his insights into mobile and digital strategies with companies in 17 different countries. Benedict has over 30 years of experience working with enterprise applications, and he is a veteran mobile industry executive. He wrote the forward to SAP Press' best-selling book on enterprise mobility, "Mobilizing Your Enterprise with SAP," and has published over 3,000 articles. Find him on Twitter @krbenedict.

How HR Can Recruit For IT Departments Of The Future

Meghan M. Biro

I’ve written a lot about millennials and the massive impact they are having on the future of work. The largest generation in today’s workforce, they are the generation perfectly matched to ride the wave of digital technology and mobility that came of age more or less at the same time they did, and they’ve helped turn traditional business practices on its ear.

One of the areas in which these two “change makers” are having the biggest impact when it comes to the future of business is in IT. IT departments, and the professionals that staff them follow old school stereotypes no longer. Gone are the days of IT being a mysterious “NASA-esque” area of your organization that most of your employees never entered, let alone collaborated with.

Today’s up-and-coming IT professionals consider themselves partnered with their peers in the enterprise, and are eager (and able) to participate in strategy planning and long-term corporate goal setting. They tend to work more closely than ever these days with both sales and marketing teams, and understand—and make sure their teams know—how what they’re working on in the “back end” will impact what’s happening in the front end. The result? Excited, engaged teams, increased productivity, better products, happier customers and clients, and reduced turnover.

Hiring for IT departments of the future

Millennials are driving a majority of this change. These “digital natives” were practically born with a smartphone in their hands, and they live and breathe mobile devices, apps, and software. They are also the cohort who demand connection and collaboration in their work environments. That will not sit idly by and take orders from superiors; instead, they want to know the “why” behind tasks, projects, and business initiatives.

As an HR professional or anyone tasked with IT hiring, you need to be on top of these changing expectations when it comes to recruiting for the future of IT.

Seek out potential recruits who, though skilled in the technical areas as they should be, also score high when it comes to soft skills—things like excellent communication, negotiation, and interpersonal skills. Sharon Florentine, who writes for CIO.com, recently shared a quote from Kevin King, founder and CEO of the management consulting and assessment firm, Transformation Point. King says that there’s a direct relationship between soft skills and workers’ effectiveness, which translates to better overall business results.

“A higher degree of soft-skills competency brings improved effectiveness and improved organizational results, and that in turn drives greater employee engagement and retention… When people work more efficiently and effectively together, that means their organizations see better results and they’re more likely to stay,” says King. He adds, “You can have the best technology and processes in the world, but if your people aren’t able to communicate about them, if they aren’t effectively demonstrating teamwork, critical thinking and emotional intelligence, it doesn’t help your business succeed.”

What CIOs need to change

According to a recent Gartner study, the 2016 Gartner CIO Agenda Report, “talent has now been recognized globally as the single biggest issue standing in the way of CIOs achieving their objectives.” Where are the most significant talent gaps? Big Data, analytics, information management, and knowledge/acumen. The worst part of this revelation? These are many of the same talent gaps CIOs cited four years ago!

Gartner goes on to explore a little of what today’s CIO’s and other IT professionals can do to start bridging those gaps. The key here is to think about talent as a platform— and be innovative. When you’re thinking about staffing, don’t be afraid to think outside the box, and try new ways of sourcing talent—like these:

  • Recruiting/rotating staff from outside IT
  • Working more closely with universities on internships, co-designed courses, etc.
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Considering customers, citizens, vendors, and partners as extensions (and digital accelerators) of the talent platform

Today’s CIOs, in many cases, are already seen as a corporation’s digital and/or innovation leaders. And most of those tech leaders also feel their power and influence is increasing as they become more cross-functional and collaborative across the enterprise. The successful IT departments of the future will maintain a focus on new technology, new software, and hardware, and the “hottest” new skills. To build an IT department at this level, IT staffers will be required to be just as cross-functional, collaborative, and engaged as their CIOs are learning to be.

Empathetic, “big-picture” thinkers, who are comfortable moving between the confines of the IT department to a client meeting to customer service or the corporate boardroom, are the types of IT professionals you will need to seek out when hiring and/or staffing for the IT departments of the future.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you seen such an evolution in your organization’s IT department? Do you find yourself collaborating and teaming up on projects more often these days with IT teams? Or are you seeing pushback from IT teams who aren’t ready (or able) to adapt to this new way of enterprise business? I would love to hear what you think.

For more recruiting strategies, see Hire For Keeps—The ATS Way.

A version of this post was first published on Converge.xyz

Photo Credit: codiepie via Compfight cc

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3 Reasons Data Warehouses Are Moving To The Cloud

Neil McGovern

Research shows that as many as one-third of businesses that use a data warehousing solution have migrated to the cloud (or built their data warehouse in the cloud it to begin with). Cloud-based data warehousing is on the rise, and this momentum is likely to continue in the coming months. Everybody wants in on the action; there are offerings from new vendors as well as more established ones.

What’s driving the shift away from the traditional on-premises data warehouse to private, public, and hybrid cloud deployments? There are a number of factors. As the cloud matures, concerns over security or lack of enterprise capability in the public cloud are fading. Meanwhile, a deeper understanding of the benefits of cloud deployment is emerging. Most businesses that have recently decided to migrate to the cloud or to build their data warehouse there from scratch are likely responding to one or more of these three major drivers:

1. Save money now (and later)

One of the most obvious advantages of cloud deployment is the up-front cost savings. Buying or upgrading hardware and software is both costly and time-consuming. Implementing a new infrastructure isn’t just about improving the bottom line (as critical as that obviously is). Businesses can invest the money saved on other strategic initiatives, such as better understanding customers, streamlining logistical processes, and entering new markets. Moving the data warehouse to the cloud can give your business a competitive advantage over businesses that keep theirs on premises. Those up-front savings can lead not only to longer-term savings, but to increased profits and stronger market share.

And it isn’t just the time and money; cloud deployment can also free up resources that would otherwise be dedicated to managing the new environment. The impact of this benefit depends on a number of factors:

  • The level of service offered by the cloud provider. Some provide a bare-bones, infrastructure-as-a-service cloud offering, while others provide a full-service, set-it-and-forget-it package.
  • The extent to which the new data warehouse is a standard or customized effort. (For the more robust projects, somebody will need to do all that work.)
  • How much control the organization is prepared to give up in making the move to the cloud. The natural disdain that many IT shops have for “not-invented-here” can be easily transferred to “not-managed-here.”

But even the most cautious organization will experience a significant lightening of administrative load when it comes to managing their data warehouse in the cloud. As with the monetary savings, the real benefit comes from wisely investing the resources that have been freed up.

2. What happens in the cloud…

Unlike in Las Vegas, what happens in the cloud doesn’t necessarily stay in the cloud. But there is a growing consensus that perhaps more of it should. Once upon a time, the on-premises data warehouse collected most or all of its nicely structured, transactional data from on-premises operational systems. Today, not so much. Businesses are dealing with massive volumes of data from mobile apps, Internet of Things applications, and social platforms. That data all starts out in the cloud, and some businesses are beginning to ask why it ever needs to go anywhere else.

The Big Data phenomenon has not spelled the end of the data warehouse, as some early pundits inaccurately predicted. Other industry watchers took a more nuanced approach and predicted that what we are really witnessing is the death of the EDW, the traditional enterprise data warehouse. Even that may be overstating the case, but it’s important to note that Gartner recently touted the idea of the LDW, the logical data warehouse, as a sort of next-generation alternative to the EDW, if not its heir apparent. An LDW “uses repositories, virtualization, and distributed processes in combination” and is as much at home in the cloud — or to be perfectly frank, probably much more at home in the cloud — than on-premises. You might say we are being drawn into the cloud by the very nature of the data we’re dealing with, and the new challenges and opportunities that data carries with it.

3. Turn on a dime

When you install servers on premises, you have the infrastructure you have. It may be perfect for today, or even next week, but totally inadequate for what’s coming in 18 months. Or you may have far more capacity than you currently need or will need for a while, and that’s wonderful — except for the fact that you have sunk a lot of money and effort into this environment, which might have been more profitably spent elsewhere. Or you may even have infrastructure that’s too big most of the time — except for those few minutes each month when demand spikes.

Cloud-based deployments eliminate such problems through elasticity. Resources are dynamically reassigned as workloads change. So you can grow your environment, shrink your environment, or, for example, spin off a whole new environment just for a two-week promotion. As with the on-premises deployment, you have the infrastructure you have. But unlike on-prem, you might have something completely different tomorrow. Keeping pace with a rapidly changing business and data landscape is no easy task; having an environment that is ready to change in any direction at any time might just make all the difference.

It’s cloud time

As businesses continue to move their data warehousing environments to the cloud (and build net new ones there), we will get a clearer idea of whether cost and resource savings, having a native solution, or elasticity is the primary driver for the move. But that comparison may miss the point. For most businesses, it could well be that it is the interplay between these three major drivers that really matters.

Why deploy in the cloud? Maybe the best answer is, “All of the above.”

For more cloud deployment strategies, see The Ascendance Of Cloud In The Enterprise.

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Neil McGovern

About Neil McGovern

Neil McGovern is a Senior Director of Marketing, Capital Markets, at SAP. Drawing on his 25+ years of experience in the software industry, Neil is responsible for product marketing for SAP Internet of Things strategy, and the SAP HANA platform. In addition, Neil focuses on high performance analytics for risk, trading, and compliance and has presented at conferences around the world on the latest trends and technologies required for cutting edge performance in capital markets. Prior to Sybase, Neil was VP of Engineering at New Era of Networks,= and CTO of Convoy Corporation, where he was a pioneer in the enterprise application integration market. Neil has a degree in Computer Science and an MBA.

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The Robotics Race

Stephanie Overby

As robotic technologies continue to advance, along with related technologies such as speech and image recognition, memory and analytics, and virtual and augmented reality, better, faster, and cheaper robots will emerge. These machines – sophisticated, discerning, and increasingly autonomous – are certain to have an impact on business and society. But will they bring job displacement and danger or create new categories of employment and protect humankind?

We talked to SAP’s Kai Goerlich, along with Doug Stephen of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and Brett Kennedy from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about the advances we can expect in robotics, robots’ limitations, and their likely impact on the world.

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qa_qWhat are the biggest drivers of the robot future?

Kai Goerlich: Several trends will come together to drive the robotics market in the next 15 to 20 years. The number of connected things and sensors will grow to the billions and the data universe will likewise explode. We think the speed of analytics will increase, with queries answered in milliseconds. Image and voice recognition – already quite good – will surpass human capabilities. And the virtual and augmented reality businesses will take off. These technologies are all building blocks for a new form of robotics that will vastly expand today’s capabilities in a diversity of forms and applications.

Brett Kennedy: When I was getting out of school, there weren’t that many people working in robotics. Now kids in grade school are exposed to a lot of things that I had to learn on the job, so they come into the workplace with a lot more knowledge and fewer preconceptions about what robots can or can’t do based on their experiences in different industries. That results in a much better-trained workforce in robotics, which I think is the most important thing.

In addition, many of the parts that we need for more sophisticated robots are coming out of other fields. We could never create enough critical mass to develop these technologies specifically for robotics. But we’re getting them from other places. Improvements in battery technology, which enable a robot to function without being plugged in, are being driven by industries such as mobile electronics and automotive, for example. Our RoboSimian has a battery drive originally designed for an electric motorcycle.

qa_qDo you anticipate a limit to the tasks robots will be able to master as these core technologies evolve?

Goerlich: Robots will take over more and more complex functions, but I think the ultimate result will be that new forms of human-machine interactions will emerge. Robots have advantages in crunching numbers, lifting heavy objects, working in dangerous environments, moving with precision, and performing repetitive tasks. However, humans still have advantages in areas such as abstraction, curiosity, creativity, dexterity, fast and multidimensional feedback, self-motivation, goal setting, and empathy. We’re also comparatively lightweight and efficient.

Doug Stephen: We’re moving toward a human-machine collaboration approach, which I think will become the norm for more complex tasks for a very long time. Even when we get to the point of creating more-complex and general-purpose robots, they won’t be autonomous. They’ll have a great deal of interaction with some sort of human teammate or operator.

qa_qHow about the Mars Rover? It’s relatively autonomous already.

Kennedy: The Mars Rover is autonomous to a certain degree. It is capable of supervised autonomy because there’s no way to control it at that distance with a joystick. But it’s really just executing the intent of the operator here on the ground.

In 2010, DARPA launched its four-year Autonomous Robotic Manipulator Challenge to create machines capable of carrying out complex tasks with only high-level human involvement. Some robots completed the challenge, but they were incredibly slow. We may get to a point where robots can do these sorts of things on their own. But they’re just not as good as people at this point. I don’t think we’re all going to be coming home to robot butlers anytime soon.

Stephen: It’s extremely difficult to program robots to behave as humans do. When we trip over something, we can recover quickly, but a robot will topple over and damage itself. The problem is that our understanding of our human abilities is limited. We have to figure out how to formally define the processes that human beings or any legged animals use to maintain balance or to walk and then tell a robot how to do it.

You have to be really explicit in the instructions that you give to these machines. Amazon has been working on these problems for a while with its “picking challenge”: How do you teach a robot to pick and pack boxes the way a human does? Right now, it’s a challenge for robots to identify what each item is.

qa_qSo if I’m not coming home to a robot butler in 20 years, what am I coming home to?

Goerlich: We naturally tend to imagine humanoid robots, but I think the emphasis will be on human-controlled robots, not necessarily humanshaped units. Independent robots will make sense in some niches, but they are more complex and expensive. The symbiosis of human and machine is more logical. It will be the most efficient way forward. Robotic suits, exoskeletons, and robotic limbs with all kinds of human support functions will be the norm. The future will be more Iron Man than Terminator.

qa_qWhat will be the impact on the job market as robots become more advanced?

SAP_Robotics_QA_images2400x16004Goerlich: The default fear is of a labor-light economy where robots do most of the work and humans take what’s left over. But that’s lastcentury thinking. Robots won’t simply replace workers on the assembly line. In fact, we may not have centralized factories anymore; 3D printing and the maker movement could change all that. And it is probably not the Terminator scenario either, where humanoid robots take over the world and threaten humankind. The indicators instead point to human-machine coevolution.

There’s no denying that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will displace some jobs performed by humans today. But for every repetitive job that is lost to automation, it’s possible that a more interesting, creative job will take its place. This will require humans to focus on the skills that robots can’t replicate – and, of course, rethink how we do things and how the economy works.

qa_qWhat can businesses do today to embrace the projected benefits of advanced robotics?

Kennedy: Experiment. The very best things that we’ve been able to produce have come from people having the tools an d then figuring out how they can be used. I don’t think we understand the future well enough to be able to predict exactly how robots are going to be used, but I think we can say that they certainly will be used. Stephanie Overby is an independent writer and editor focused on the intersection of business and technology.

Stephanie Overby  is an independent writer and editor focused on the intersection of business and technology

To learn more about how humans and robots will co-evolve, read the in-depth report Bring Your Robot to Work.

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What Is The Key To Rapid Innovation In Healthcare?

Paul Clark

Healthcare technology has already made incredible advancements, but digital transformation of the healthcare industry is still considered in its infancy. According to the SAP eBook, Connected Care: The Digital Pulse of Global Healthcare, the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for the Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT) are astounding.

Many health organizations recognize the importance of going digital and have already deployed programs involving IoT, cloud, Big Data, analytics, and mobile technologies. However, over the last decade, investments in many e-health programs have delivered only modest returns, so the progress of healthcare technology has been slow out of the gate.

What’s slowing the pace of healthcare innovation?

In the past, attempts at rapid innovation in healthcare have been bogged down by a slew of stakeholders, legacy systems, and regulations that are inherent to the industry. This presents some Big Data challenges with connected healthcare, such as gathering data from disparate silos of medical information. Secrecy is also an ongoing challenge, as healthcare providers, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions tend to protect personal and proprietary data. These issues have caused enormous complexity and have delayed or deterred attempts to build fully integrated digital healthcare systems.

So what is the key to rapid innovation?

According to the Connected Care eBook, healthcare organizations can overcome these challenges by using new technologies and collaborating with other players in the healthcare industry, as well as partners outside of the industry, to get the most benefit out of digital technology.

To move forward with digital transformation in healthcare, there is a need for digital architectures and platforms where a number of different technologies can work together from both a technical and a business perspective.

The secret to healthcare innovation: connected health platforms

New platforms are emerging that foster collaboration between different technologies and healthcare organizations to solve complex medical system challenges. These platforms can support a broad ecosystem of partners, including developers, researchers, and healthcare organizations. Healthcare networks that are connected through this type of technology will be able to accelerate the development and delivery of innovative, patient-centered solutions.

Platforms and other digital advancements present exciting new business opportunities for numerous healthcare stakeholders striving to meet the increasing expectations of tech-savvy patients.

The digital evolution of the healthcare industry may still be in its infancy, but it is growing up fast as new advancements in technology quickly develop. Are you ready for the next phase of digital transformation in the global healthcare industry?

For an in-depth look at how technology is changing the face of healthcare, download the SAP eBook Connected Care: The Digital Pulse of Global Healthcare.

See how the digital era is affecting the business environment in the SAP eBook The Digital Economy: Reinventing the Business World.

Discover the driving forces behind digital transformation in the SAP eBook Digital Disruption: How Digital Technology is Transforming Our World.

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Paul Clark

About Paul Clark

Paul Clark is the Senior Director of Technology Partner Marketing at SAP. He is responsible for developing and executing partner marketing strategies, activities, and programs in joint go-to-market plans with global technology partners. The goal is to increase opportunities, pipeline, and revenue through demand generation via SAP's global and local partner ecosystems.