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How Will Automation Affect A Changing Workforce?

Alexander Arnold

According to a study conducted by the German Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, the population pyramid no longer exists; rather, it is morphing into a mushroom shape. By 2030, the German workforce will comprise 38 million people—5 million fewer than the current 43 million, and 3 million fewer than in 2010.

A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study, presented in the TED Talk The workforce crisis of 2030 — and how to start solving it now, shows a likely scenario in which German economic growth will create a labor demand for 46 million people, leaving a gap of a breathtaking 8 million workers.

The sheer size of this gap is sobering, but the assumptions behind the study’s 38 million projection are also worth noting (all figures are compared to 2010):

  • The working population is defined as people between 15 and 74 years old. This assumes that people will work much longer than they do today, with 3 million people over age 55 working. We will have 4.8 million fewer people between 25 and 54 years old.
  • 0.5 million more women will work.
  • 0.9 million more labor will be created by part-time workers who increase the percentage of work they give.
  • 3 million more people will have a university degree.
  • 0.2 million fewer people with a dual education (typical for Germany) will bring skilled labor to the labor market.
  • 3.4 million fewer people who have completed vocational training will be in the workforce.
  • 0.2 million net immigration into Germany. Before the refugee crisis, around 0.9 million people left Germany each year, so a net immigration of .2 million will require 1.1 million people to immigrate into Germany.

You might think that we could simply increase net immigration. As BCG’s analysis shows, the aging population crisis will hit many major economies in 2030, including China, so there will be fierce competition to prevent “brain drain” and attract skilled immigrants. And there is no guarantee that Germany will win this talent war.

With this is mind, we might take a new look at automation brought by digitization. The basic formula is that automation is the result of digitization and connectivity. For example, machine data from a wind turbine is broadcast via the Internet to service technicians, enabling them to more quickly and thoroughly understand what to do if there’s a problem. This reduces time-consuming inspections and allows technicians to identify issues quickly and efficiently so they can fix things right the first time. That, in turn, helps optimize maintenance intervals, reduces downtime, and enables service technicians to service more wind turbines.

Predictive analytics based on huge amounts of data from many wind turbines takes this a step further: An algorithm can detect breakdowns before they occur, trigger a work order, and order the required spare parts in advance, making the work of the service technician even more efficient.

Here’s the formula:

Digitization + Connectivity + Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) = Hyper-automation

Admittedly, this can be a scary scenario in a world with sufficient or excess labor supply—but it is comforting in the labor market projections described above.

With some studies predicting that half of all jobs will be killed by robots or AI bots, you might worry that automation will lead to mass unemployment, even with a reduced workforce. That’s why it’s helpful to look at a study conducted by McKinsey that analyzes the U.S. labor market in terms of automation potential of existing technologies. The research organizes jobs into seven basic work categories:

  • Management tasks: 9%
  • Application of expert knowledge: 18%
  • Interaction with stakeholders, i.e. customers: 20%
  • Unpredictable physical labor: 25%
  • Data collection: 64%
  • Data processing: 69%
  • Predictable physical labor: 78%

For each category, McKinsey analyzed the percentage of existing technology that can automate these tasks (shown above). The study also looked at each job and the level at which each category is required to fulfill this job. At the end, it shows the overall automation potential of each job.

If you are a CEO, for example, your job comprises a very high percentage of management, interaction with stakeholders, and application of expert knowledge to make informed decisions. These tasks are difficult to automate; thus, CEOs are less likely to be replaced by robots or automation technology. Similarly, if you are a firefighter, much of your work involves physical labor and unpredictable conditions. Each fire is different and requires expert knowledge, so this is another job that is unlikely to be automated.

On the other hand, if you are a factory worker who performs highly repetitive tasks, your job is much more likely to be automated and replaced with a robot.

The authors of the study point out that their analysis looks only at the potential of automation. Additional factors such as costs, availability of skills, and benefits such as improved safety, higher quality, and increased speed are also required in order to make automation decisions.

Rather than completely replacing workers, automation could increase value by taking over tasks that require less skill—think of a doctor who, instead of spending time on the common cold or flu, is able to focus on more complex medical cases. This will likely lead to further disruption in the labor market: the need for upskilling in each job. Those who are unable to keep up will be hit hard.

In short, automation could create a work environment in which professionals and robots work efficiently together and elevate the quality of the work performed — much like a chess player whose skills are supported by a sophisticated chess program.

What is the call to action for companies and participants in the labor market? It all starts with sound workforce planning: Analyze where you are most likely see a skill shortage in the future, and take action. Work to build a reputation as an attractive employer for the talent you anticipate needing, while also embracing digitization to reduce dependency in areas with more limited resources.

This will likely require a radical transformation of your core processes as you collect and process data from within and outside the company and use it in a way that empowers your employees. For this to happen, you must digitize how your organization interfaces with suppliers and customers, eliminating unnecessary steps and enabling real-time reactions to changing market conditions. As shown above in the example of the service technician, companies need to build systems that collect and process data from the Internet of Things. This will allow processes to transform in ways never seen before.

For employers and employees, constant skill development and renewal is essential. Many jobs that do not yet exist will be created. Who predicted, 10 or 15 years ago, that data science or search engine optimization professionals would earn a very good living today? This is the other side of digitization: New businesses, business models, and job opportunities will help counterbalance the negative effects of automation.

For more insight on how digital transformation is affecting the workplace, see An AI Shares My Office.

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Alexander Arnold

About Alexander Arnold

Alexander Arnold is Vice President Industries for Middle and Eastern Europe at SAP. He is based in based in Walldorf, Germany. His team provides industry and SAP expertise to help customers succeed in a digital world.

How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

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

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

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

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

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

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

Michael Rander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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Michael Rander

About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur. Share your thoughts with Michael on Twitter @michaelrander.

Running Future Cities on Blockchain

Dan Wellers , Raimund Gross and Ulrich Scholl

Building on the Blockchain Framework

Some experts say these seemingly far-future speculations about the possibilities of combining technologies using blockchain are actually both inevitable and imminent:


Democratizing design and manufacturing by enabling individuals and small businesses to buy, sell, share, and digitally remix products affordably while protecting intellectual property rights.
Decentralizing warehousing and logistics by combining autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and smart contracts to optimize delivery of products and materials, and even to create them on site as needed.
Distributing commerce by mixing virtual reality, 3D scanning and printing, self-driving vehicles, and artificial intelligence into immersive, personalized, on-demand shopping experiences that still protect buyers’ personal and proprietary data.

The City of the Future

Imagine that every agency, building, office, residence, and piece of infrastructure has an entry on a blockchain used as a city’s digital ledger. This “digital twin” could transform the delivery of city services.

For example:

  • Property owners could easily monetize assets by renting rooms, selling solar power back to the grid, and more.
  • Utilities could use customer data and AIs to make energy-saving recommendations, and smart contracts to automatically adjust power usage for greater efficiency.
  • Embedded sensors could sense problems (like a water main break) and alert an AI to send a technician with the right parts, tools, and training.
  • Autonomous vehicles could route themselves to open parking spaces or charging stations, and pay for services safely and automatically.
  • Cities could improve traffic monitoring and routing, saving commuters’ time and fuel while increasing productivity.

Every interaction would be transparent and verifiable, providing more data to analyze for future improvements.


Welcome to the Next Industrial Revolution

When exponential technologies intersect and combine, transformation happens on a massive scale. It’s time to start thinking through outcomes in a disciplined, proactive way to prepare for a future we’re only just beginning to imagine.

Download the executive brief Running Future Cities on Blockchain.


Read the full article Pulling Cities Into The Future With Blockchain

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Dan Wellers

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.

Raimund Gross

About Raimund Gross

Raimund Gross is a solution architect and futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network, where he evaluates emerging technologies and trends to address the challenges of businesses arising from digitization. He is currently evaluating the impact of blockchain for SAP and our enterprise customers.

Ulrich Scholl

About Ulrich Scholl

Ulrich Scholl is Vice President of Industry Cloud and Custom Development at SAP. In this role, Ulrich discovers and implements best practices to help further the understanding and adoption of the SAP portfolio of industry cloud innovations.

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Why HR Is The New Marketing

Michael Brenner

In a world of infinite media choices, the best way to reach new buyers and new talent might be right under your nose. Your own employees represent the greatest opportunity to create meaningful marketing and to develop human resources programs that increase sales, while also finding and retaining top talent. Is HR the new marketing?

In the battle for new talent, HR departments have been forced to expand their role from hiring and firing, overseeing personnel systems and processes, and handling benefit management to include leadership development and training, employer branding, and diversity initiatives.

HR has been forced to adopt strategies that look, well, very much like marketing. These days, HR develops campaigns to grow employer awareness, to build the employer brand as a “great place to work,” and to retain top talent—all traditional marketing objectives.

While many in HR have embraced these traditional marketing skills, the most effective companies are moving beyond HR simply applying marketing techniques to a whole new opportunity. These effective companies are actually activating employees as a new marketing channel to achieve both HR and marketing objectives.

Proceed with caution

One of the biggest obstacles to achieving the potential of employees as a new marketing channel is the perception of marketing as advertising.

Asking (or forcing) your employees to share product content on their social media channels is just as dangerous as asking them to share (or guilting them into sharing) what a great place your company is to work.

Consumers are increasingly ignoring and blocking advertising messages, with some research even suggesting that promotional messages from brands can have the opposite of their intended effect. These misguided efforts can actually cause sales to decline!

While some employees may authentically share their excitement and passion for the products they work on, the projects they are engaged in, and the company they work for (and we should celebrate that), this is not a sustainable strategy for getting new customer or talent.

Content marketing and HR

Content marketing has emerged as one of the hottest trends in marketing. Marketers are learning to think and act like publishers to create entertaining, interesting, or helpful content that consumers actually want to read and share (vs. promotional ads). And this approach allows a brand to reach, engage, convert and retain new customers.

The opportunity to activate employees to achieve marketing and HR objectives starts by creating content they naturally want to share.

As the first VP of content marketing at SAP, I learned to tap into the power of my fellow employees to create a marketing program that delivered massive ROI. The biggest lesson I learned: HR is the new marketing!

With a limited budget for content, I asked our internal experts to write articles on whatever they wanted. We had one editorial rule: no product promotion. Our internal experts could explore their professional or personal passions and interests, even if it meant writing about cat videos. Because somewhere out in the world, I believed there was a potential customer, employee, partner or investor who might also loved cat videos. (No one ever wrote about cat videos. Bummer!)

I even created a slideshare deck to explain the value for these employees/budding content marketers:

  • Grow your personal brand
  • Increase or establish your authority on the topics you are interested in
  • Gain new social media followers
  • Maybe even find that new job or get promoted

We also encouraged this behavior by publicly recognizing our top articles and authors each week in a round-up post. We made rock stars of the best performers as their social connections and influence increased. And this drove more employees to sign up.

Today, that site has hundreds of employee contributors. All are growing their personal brand, while expressing their passions and expertise to the world. And many of the employees who don’t write articles voluntarily share the content with their social connections.

As LinkedIn’s own Jason Miller mentioned in his article, the trick is to define what’s in it for them.

Why does this work?

Because you can create massive momentum when we combine the needs of our customers, our employees, and our company based on THEIR own distinct interests:

  • Companies want more loyal customers and talented employees.
  • Employees want purpose and meaningful work that has real impact on their career and the world.
  • Customers want to form relationships with brands on their terms and based on their self-interest

What you can do to activate HR as the new marketing

1. Create a customer-centric vision

Look around your organization, and you will see people above you, below you, and beside you. The traditional org chart still exists to focus on your position in the hierarchy. But where’s the customer? Where is the customer in your org chart? 

Even if your company mission isn’t customer-centric (“we are the leading provider of widgets”), your marketing vision must be. And there is one simple formula to get there:

Become a sought-after destination for which topicin order to deliver what customer value or impact.

2. Create content employees who want to share

According to LinkedIn, the combined connections of employees on the LinkedIn platform is 10 times larger than any company’s followers. And just 3 percent of company employees sharing branded content generate 30 percent of the views and clicks on that content.

Platforms such as LinkedIn Elevate, social selling programs, and other tools can dramatically increase the reach of your content, grow your company’s social presence, and improve the effectiveness of marketing programs — without spending a single dollar on paid media.

But you have to create content your employees want to share. You might even ask them to help you. The trick is to explain what’s in it for them: creating or sharing content can help them build more connections, establish relationships with other leaders in your industry, and grow their personal brand so they can achieve happiness in their careers.

3. Measure the results

Measure the impact of your employee content sharing for your company. Demonstrate how it has benefited the employees (increased connections, awards, and recognition). Discuss ways to profile your best customers as well.

And partner with your colleagues across HR, marketing, and sales to determine the best ways to continuously optimize what is working for everyone.

If you’re in marketing, it’s time to start thinking about your colleagues in HR as your new best friend. And if you’re in HR, it’s time to think about how marketing can help you acquire and retain the best talent — while making the leadership team happy as well.

For more strategies that create a culture that drives business growth, see Employee Advocacy = Engaged Employees.

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Michael Brenner

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of  The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider GroupHe has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and   a top  CMO influencer by Forbes.