Let Siri Do The Selling While People Manage Change

Judith Magyar

Companies that are transforming successfully in the digital world understand that technology is important, but it’s really about people. Employees must be empowered with the right skills. Not every millennial is tech-savvy, and many baby boomers remain flexible and eager to learn.

Thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), more and more tasks in all lines of business are being automated. To differentiate themselves from machines, people will need skills to solve problems that arise when bots can’t answer the standard questions. People will need more training than ever.

Selling value

“In the manufacturing world today, investments in innovation and technology are happening on the retail side of the house,” says Naveen Kandasami, global IT executive director, business partnership & CRM strategy at Sealed Air, the innovative packaging solution company that invented Bubble Wrap. “People are transacting on a more personal level because they have become accustomed to doing it with applications like Uber. Consumers expect seamless transactions, and if expectations are not met, it leads to frustration.”

What that means for commerce is a need for outcome-based selling. Customers want more flexibility and different models. Sealed Air doesn’t just sell products; it sells value: Sealed Air sees itself as a knowledge-based provider backed by scientists, engineers, and industry experts delivering tailored solutions for their customers, running on state-of-the-art technology like a cloud-based commerce platform.

“We don’t just sell packaging—we provide knowledge based solutions which includes product, services and consulting. Customer demands are increasing and the business models are changing. Sealed Air is transforming commercially with innovative technology that is enabling go to market strategies and driving customer experience,” says Naveen.

Recruiting the right people

Value-based selling is becoming prevalent in all industries and all regions, but finding the right staff can be challenging.

“People who come to Hornbach aren’t just buying plants. They want to create a garden,” says Amelie Widlak, head of recruiting at Hornbach, a European DIY and garden superstore chain. “Traditionally, do it yourself meant exactly that. People were used to buying products and putting everything together on their own. Our ideal scenario today is to help the customer visualize their project, create a list of materials, and watch tutorials online to get an understanding of what needs to be done to put in a new bathroom. But they will still need help in the store.”

Like Sealed Air, Hornbach is successful because they provide a set of services around their products. Their challenge is attracting better salespeople in a market with a high turnover.

In the past it was OK to put a carpenter in a sales role. Today, salespeople have to be trained to ask the right questions to make sure the customer’s project turns out as envisioned. Salespeople must communicate better and be comfortable in a multichannel environment. They also need competitive insight, so they can clearly articulate the overall value of the investment when customers compare prices at other DIY stores. Hornbach is working with local government  training programs to help reduce the skills gap and create a broader talent pool.

The DIY industry requires high-volume seasonal recruiting. The process of attracting and hiring talent at the right time for a specific job requries a career site that caters to the needs of candidates, recuriters, and hiring managers.  The site must be available on all devices, present on social media, easy to navigate, and all parties must have full transparency into their own part of the process.

“The push to digitally transform our recruiting process came from the candidates. We see them as unique consumers. We want them to understand they won’t just be selling light bulbs, that we offer real career choices. Our career site should communicate to candidates that Hornbach is an employer of choice,” says Amelie. “Providing an individualized, user-friendly end to end experience with a cloud-based recruiting solution helps us find the best candidates for each job. Only engaged salespeople are able to inspire customers.”

RACI charts for people and robots

All industries are experiencing a huge shift in the type of  human capacity and skills needed for doing business. Tutorials, chat bots, and other technologies are streamlining processes and eliminating the need for certain headcount.

Industry experts like Naveen see this as an opportunity to repurpose people for other tasks, but people are still in their comfort zones. In past industrial eras, the masses “reinvented” themselves by transitioning from low-skilled work in agriculture to industry to services. But how can people reinvent themselves to compete with artificial intelligence?

“The last industrial revolution was marked by the rise of machines. This industrial revolution will be marked by bots and people,” says Naveen. “In retail, most sales processes will be automated. We’ll be selling through Siri. RACI charts will be adjusted to include robots. In the future we will need humans to manage change, not for standard operational tasks that can be automated.”

While we may not know what skills will be relevant 30 years from now, the ability to ask the right questions and to solve problems are skills that are surely needed today. Though technology can help companies automate processes and get better at recruiting, training and maintaining the right skill set, at least when it comes to retail, we still need human beings and leadership to deploy new models and new technology.

This article first appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Follow me on Twitter: @magyarj


Answers To Two Burning Questions About Conversational AI

Warren Miller

Fire: one of civilization’s earliest and most groundbreaking technological advancements.

Two million years ago, when the first homo erectus shared his newfound discovery with his hominid peers, they likely ran for the hills. But once they realized everything they could achieve with fire—from seeing in the dark and keeping warm to cooking food and fashioning tools—they quickly came around.

People have always feared the unknown. Even today, innovative technology initially intimidates most people. But if a tool proves sound and benefits individuals in some tangible way, they’ll eagerly embrace it.

One technology that people are currently on the fence about—particularly in the enterprise space—is conversational artificial intelligence (AI).

While voice-activated digital assistants powered by conversational AI have been a mainstay in the home for the past several years, organizations are just beginning to bring them into the workplace. Many companies remain skeptical, however. They wonder whether these digital assistants can truly help them simplify the lives of their customers and employees. They wonder if they can leverage the technology to save time, cut costs, and increase productivity.

But most of all, they wonder if they can rely on these digital assistants to support people around the globe who speak different languages, and if this technology can securely protect their most sensitive data and proprietary information.

Here are two burning questions companies have about adopting conversational AI tools—and reasons they can finally put their reservations to rest.

1. Does conversational AI support my native language?

Multilingualism is an impressive characteristic, and the ability to fluently speak multiple languages opens up whole new worlds.

What if you could speak 21 different languages? Imagine what you could achieve. Imagine how much you could help others.

Apple’s Siri can do just that. In fact, the company’s digital assistant is way ahead of its conversational AI competitors when it comes to the number of languages it supports. Comparatively, Microsoft’s Cortana supports eight languages, Google Assistant supports four, and Amazon Alexa supports two.

The important thing to note here, however, is that because conversational AI is a branch of machine learning, it has the ability to support any native tongue—eventually.

First, your digital assistant needs a strong knowledge base in each language, be it one widely spoken around the globe, like English, or one used in a specific area of the world, like Shanghainese.

It then requires deep learning algorithms that help your device process structured and unstructured language data in the form of e-mails, online chat logs, or phone transcripts. By studying this data, digital assistants can iron out complex communication issues and improve how they interact with users, no matter the language.

Rather than using a linguistic, rules-based approach—where the device would have to identify nouns, verbs, and adjectives—machine learning is a more scalable solution that enables digital assistants to figure out how words are connected and what phrases do or don’t make sense. In other words, no one has to continue defining specific syntactical rules for the device. It learns them on its own.

If a voice-activated digital assistant doesn’t currently support your native language, rest assured—it can and it will.

2. Will digital assistants threaten the security of my company’s data and proprietary information?

Security is a major concern for companies in today’s digital age—and understandably so.

Cybercrime affected nearly one-third of all organizations in 2016, according to a PwC survey. And Vanson Bourne research found that 87% of CIOs believe their companies lack the security controls necessary to adequately protect their businesses in the future.

While security breaches are certainly something to worry about, sharing your data with digital assistants is more helpful than harmful. And the more data your digital assistants collect, the more their conversational AI capabilities improve, and the better they can assist you.

So, the solution to protecting your data isn’t to stop communicating and sharing your data with digital assistants. Instead, your security depends on taking the proper safety precautions. These include:

  • Muting your device: Although digital assistants wait to hear a trigger word or phrase before helping you, their microphones are always listening—unless you mute them, of course. Find the mute button on your device, and only unmute your digital assistant when you’re actively using it.
  • Sharing only what’s necessary: Giving your digital assistant access to your calendar is one thing. Sharing confidential financial information is something else altogether. Exercise caution in what details you provide your digital assistant.
  • Deleting old recordings: Digital assistants retain audio files of the questions you ask them for months or even years. You do, however, have the option to erase these recordings, and you don’t need to be a magician to make these files disappear; simply visit a website and hit the delete button.

There are also steps that technology companies and developers can take to protect your data. For example, they can ensure that your information is inaccessible to unauthorized users. Today, digital assistants cannot tell the difference between voices. But in the future, with greater conversational AI capabilities, these devices will come equipped with biometric-based authentication such as voice recognition technology—so if your digital assistant is hacked or stolen, an unauthorized user will be unable to control your device and access your data.

Technology companies could also impose severe restrictions around the use and sharing of your company’s proprietary information. If an organization develops a digital assistant for both you and an industry competitor, it can keep your trade secrets private. Your knowledge base will be reserved for your business only. That means no other company can benefit from the questions your employees ask your digital assistant.

By taking the proper precautions with your device—and trusting that the enterprises developing them will do the same—you can rest easy that your company’s data and propriety information will remain safe.

Hesitate to adopt a digital assistant and you’re playing with fire

Two million years ago, our ancestors took a revolutionary step when they discovered how to control fire. But they also learned that if you play with fire, you’re bound to get burned.

Today, if you fear emerging technologies like conversational AI and hesitate to adopt a digital assistant in the workplace, you risk the painful sting of missed opportunities.

Interested in learning more about conversational AI and how digital assistants can empower your enterprise to thrive? Join Juergen Mueller’s strategy talk at SAP TechEd in Las Vegas, September 25-29, or sign up to attend an upcoming SAP TechEd event in Bangalore on October 25-27, or Barcelona on November 14–16 to hear from inspiring industry thought leaders and see innovative technology solutions in action.


Robots Are Moving Into Our Human Resources Functions

Agnes Desplechin

“When we react it will be too late,” said Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors (a pioneer in the connected car market), in July at the U.S. National Governors Association Summer Meeting. The businessman expressed his concern about the development of artificial intelligence and the delay in terms of regulation that would represent “a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”

Today, the thought that humans can (in some activities) be substituted by robots no longer belongs solely to fictional works such as Frankenstein (1818) or current television shows Black Mirror and Westworld.

Concerns about potential failures caused by robots are very real and present today. Even before the most advanced prototypes of robots and the possibilities offered by artificial intelligence were considered, economist John Maynard Keynes prophesied the substitution of man by machines. In “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” published in 1930, he questioned the effects of automation on jobs, well-being, and happiness, seeking to find solutions to the issue of “technological unemployment.”

A century later, the replacement of human workers by robots is anticipated across the job spectrum. According to Laurent Alexandre, technocrat, urological surgeon, and artificial intelligence (AI) advocate, all professions will, in the near future, be threatened by AI, which will soon be everywhere. Indeed, AI it is already in your pocket; Siri and Google Assistant are early chatbots, conversational robots that will replace salesmen, attorneys, journalists, and eventually, human resource assistants.

To better understand the stakes, we must understand what AI is. Consider a machine without AI, which makes decisions based on manually defined rules. When a machine facing a large data flow learns to analyze and make decisions, intelligence is born; this is machine learning. If you’re still confused about machine learning based on this description, let’s take the example of email that you define manually as “spam” within your mailbox. Once it learns the form, structure, sender, and other details that led you to mark a message as spam (i.e., the rules you defined, even subconsciously), the machine can make the decision that a message is spam. Unlike human intelligence, the machine can be caught off guard when there are exceptions.

How AI develops is of great interest in the context of HR functions. Some examples include using automated and intelligent filters for recruitment, using robots for interviews, or having chatbots act as human resource assistants in order to answer recurring questions from employees.

AI’s contribution is often measured in terms of time and cost savings, but it can also lead to more impartiality and efficiency. Even so, the human aspects and ethics must remain the core part of the HR role. As Elon Musk suggests, we must now ensure AI retains our standards, and, crucially for the HR profession, keeps the “human” in human resources.

Will intelligent machines and HR one day walk hand in hand? AI offers prospects that are very promising and prompt many questions that will shape the evolution of our profession.

AI’s ability to end bias hinges on teaching it to play fair and constantly questioning the results.

Agnes Desplechin

About Agnes Desplechin

Agnes Desplechin started her professional life in the finance area before deciding to give her career a more human touch. After working for auditing companies for a couple of years, she acccepted an HR generalist position at a pharmaceutical company, where she dove into the world of recruiting, administration, and payroll. She later left Paris to live and raise her kids in the South of France. In the meantime, she joined Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) as an HR specialist. After 10 years at Accenture, she opted for a new challenge with SAP Labs France as its HR Director.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich


Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.

What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”

Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.

Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.


Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu


Jenny Dearborn: Soft Skills Will Be Essential for Future Careers

Jenny Dearborn

The Japanese culture has always shown a special reverence for its elderly. That’s why, in 1963, the government began a tradition of giving a silver dish, called a sakazuki, to each citizen who reached the age of 100 by Keiro no Hi (Respect for the Elders Day), which is celebrated on the third Monday of each September.

That first year, there were 153 recipients, according to The Japan Times. By 2016, the number had swelled to more than 65,000, and the dishes cost the already cash-strapped government more than US$2 million, Business Insider reports. Despite the country’s continued devotion to its seniors, the article continues, the government felt obliged to downgrade the finish of the dishes to silver plating to save money.

What tends to get lost in discussions about automation taking over jobs and Millennials taking over the workplace is the impact of increased longevity. In the future, people will need to be in the workforce much longer than they are today. Half of the people born in Japan today, for example, are predicted to live to 107, making their ancestors seem fragile, according to Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, professors at the London Business School and authors of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.

The End of the Three-Stage Career

Assuming that advances in healthcare continue, future generations in wealthier societies could be looking at careers lasting 65 or more years, rather than at the roughly 40 years for today’s 70-year-olds, write Gratton and Scott. The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

It will be replaced by a new model in which people continually learn new skills and shed old ones. Consider that today’s most in-demand occupations and specialties did not exist 10 years ago, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum.

And the pace of change is only going to accelerate. Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist, the report notes.

Our current educational systems are not equipped to cope with this degree of change. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is outdated by the time students graduate, the report continues.

Skills That Transcend the Job Market

Instead of treating post-secondary education as a jumping-off point for a specific career path, we may see a switch to a shorter school career that focuses more on skills that transcend a constantly shifting job market. Today, some of these skills, such as complex problem solving and critical thinking, are taught mostly in the context of broader disciplines, such as math or the humanities.

Other competencies that will become critically important in the future are currently treated as if they come naturally or over time with maturity or experience. We receive little, if any, formal training, for example, in creativity and innovation, empathy, emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, persuasion, active listening, and acceptance of change. (No wonder the self-help marketplace continues to thrive!)

The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

These skills, which today are heaped together under the dismissive “soft” rubric, are going to harden up to become indispensable. They will become more important, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will usher in an era of infinite information, rendering the concept of an expert in most of today’s job disciplines a quaint relic. As our ability to know more than those around us decreases, our need to be able to collaborate well (with both humans and machines) will help define our success in the future.

Individuals and organizations alike will have to learn how to become more flexible and ready to give up set-in-stone ideas about how businesses and careers are supposed to operate. Given the rapid advances in knowledge and attendant skills that the future will bring, we must be willing to say, repeatedly, that whatever we’ve learned to that point doesn’t apply anymore.

Careers will become more like life itself: a series of unpredictable, fluid experiences rather than a tightly scripted narrative. We need to think about the way forward and be more willing to accept change at the individual and organizational levels.

Rethink Employee Training

One way that organizations can help employees manage this shift is by rethinking training. Today, overworked and overwhelmed employees devote just 1% of their workweek to learning, according to a study by consultancy Bersin by Deloitte. Meanwhile, top business leaders such as Bill Gates and Nike founder Phil Knight spend about five hours a week reading, thinking, and experimenting, according to an article in Inc. magazine.

If organizations are to avoid high turnover costs in a world where the need for new skills is shifting constantly, they must give employees more time for learning and make training courses more relevant to the future needs of organizations and individuals, not just to their current needs.

The amount of learning required will vary by role. That’s why at SAP we’re creating learning personas for specific roles in the company and determining how many hours will be required for each. We’re also dividing up training hours into distinct topics:

  • Law: 10%. This is training required by law, such as training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Company: 20%. Company training includes internal policies and systems.

  • Business: 30%. Employees learn skills required for their current roles in their business units.

  • Future: 40%. This is internal, external, and employee-driven training to close critical skill gaps for jobs of the future.

In the future, we will always need to learn, grow, read, seek out knowledge and truth, and better ourselves with new skills. With the support of employers and educators, we will transform our hardwired fear of change into excitement for change.

We must be able to say to ourselves, “I’m excited to learn something new that I never thought I could do or that never seemed possible before.” D!