Digitalist Flash Briefing: Transformation Pays Off For Digital Leaders

Peter Johnson

Today’s flash briefing covers how undergoing a digital transformation is paying off for leading companies.

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Peter Johnson

About Peter Johnson

Peter Johnson is a Senior Director of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership at SAP, responsible for developing easy to understand corporate level and cross solution messaging. Peter has proven experience leading innovative programs to accelerate and scale Go-To-Market activities, and drive operational efficiencies at industry leading solution providers and global manufactures respectively.

Meet the Digital You: How Emerging Technologies Are Changing Life Sciences

Jacqueline Prause

“Imagine knowing whether your DNA encodes a risk for migraines even before a headache strikes.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine suggests this as just one example for how emerging technologies will transform our perceptions of healthcare in the years to come.

What is driving this change? The disruption of the life sciences industry, which is experiencing unparalleled market and business changes due to breakthrough technologies like connected health, personalized medicine, health wearables, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, machine learning, and augmented reality.

On a recent episode of the Internet talk radio program Changing the Game in Life Sciences, a special edition series of Coffee Break with Game-Changers, presented by SAP, a panel of three industry-leading experts discussed how new digital innovations in medical products, data management, and patient care are changing the ways in which the life sciences industry delivers valuable medical solutions – as well as our roles and responsibilities as patients.

Joining moderator Bonnie D. Graham on the panel were: Joe Miles, formerly global vice president of life sciences at SAP, now managing director for life sciences and healthcare at Deloitte Consulting; Robert H. Eubanks, principal, life sciences MALS business unit, at Capgemini; and Hussain Mooraj, partner at Deloitte Consulting.

The following are just some of the observations presented during the one-hour show. For more information, listen to the complete show on demand: How the Digital Economy is Changing Life Sciences.

Patient and medical device information connected through smart technology

Joe Miles: From both a cost and technology perspective, we now have the ability to leverage a variety of different types of devices and sensors that are really giving us an opportunity to manage our own health in the ways that were never really feasible previously, whether that be with a pacemaker or maybe an insulin pump. It’s really giving individuals the opportunity to take more control of their own health, to be more accountable, more responsible, and in most cases more knowledgeable.

Wearables are becoming more seamless. The ability to track health data is becoming more invisible, for example, by utilizing something ubiquitous as a cellphone. A lot of these devices and sensors – although starting out as an overt device that you would see or you would wear – now are just becoming integrated into your daily routine and it’s somewhat seamless. The simplicity and the ease of access is really driving a lot of value for all involved.

Robert Eubanks: Joe brought up a great point around the questions: Do you think people are going to get engaged in this? And how are they going to feel about giving up more of their personal health data? Probably early on there’s going to be some reluctance because there are going to be some very legitimate privacy concerns that people will have. Once we start to understand the power of this, however, people are going to become more comfortable with sharing their information because we’re going to see the improved health outcomes.

For example, someone may come out with a Class II device that’s actually a band and in effect allows you to monitor your glucose 24/7. Think about this with the integration of Siri and artificial intelligence. You wake up in the morning and you ask Siri or Alexa, “How am I doing?” It is going to let you know what your insulin levels look like and maybe make recommendations. It may have access to your calendar and ask if you plan to go out and exercise in the morning. If you say “Yes,” then maybe you need to adjust your nutritional intake that morning or your insulin levels. Likewise, if you’re out and you have location services turned on, and you walk into a Panera Bread, you could ask Siri, “How am I doing?” It will understand where your glucose levels are and then give maybe recommendations on what to have for lunch. Once they realize the health benefits of this, that’s going to be when people start getting more on board with it.

Hussain Mooraj: One of the reasons why healthcare costs have spiraled out of control in the past few decades is that we have been focused on the symptoms rather than prevention. What embedded technologies and remote monitoring capabilities can really allow you to do in healthcare is to move from being reactive towards being proactive: proactive health and prevention. That in itself has massive implications for reducing the overall cost of healthcare, or at least slowing down the pace of increase, but this does not come without its challenges.

Cybersecurity for patient data and medical products: An industry-wide challenge

Hussain: We can talk about embedded innovation and remote monitoring, but what about the issues that we have to deal with around them, which we never had to consider before, like security, cybersecurity, medical product security, and the ability to hack into these various systems? From an industry perspective, we still haven’t really gotten our heads around these and we still haven’t really put practical solutions in place to prevent them.

Joe: I would agree with Hussain, the cybersecurity element is probably one that’s a little bit newer to the discussion and probably has a lot more dire consequences. What we’ve seen from companies like 23andMe and others is that if people can see value from giving their information and it’s anonymized or aggregated into a group, then there’s a willingness and patience to forgo their privacy for that greater benefit. I would agree though that cybersecurity is really a concern given the bad actors that are out there these days.

Digital you: DNA and genome sequencing opens the way to precision medicine

Hussain: We now have the ability to do full genome sequencing. We can take a look at our microbial and the proteo, our metabolome, and come up with what we might want to call the “Digital You.” It’s really the true workings of our body and what makes us unique. Because we have this ability to see that we have predispositions, we can then start taking actions very early to ideally mitigate the disease state for me. If it shows that I may have a high level of sugar sensitivity, then obviously I might be a candidate. The idea is at some point I need to start taking early actions to watch my diet and exercise to prevent the onset of diabetes. The ability to be very predictive here or preventative is going to be a big win for our healthcare ecosystem.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have precision medicine, where when we do have diseases, how do we begin to tailor therapies that work on our unique genomic profile? This is going to be one of the big transformations that the life science industry is going to go through [in] the next decade. Right now we develop therapies based on population averages. We develop pills and therapies that ideally we can sell to the broadest population possible. With the information out there and the ability to crunch this information, we’re going to start designing therapies that work on much smaller populations.

That’s going to cause a big transformation within the industry. It also is going to see the emergence of new players for the companies that are very good at managing very large data sets. There will be some interesting challenges as the industry goes through that, but we are right on the cusp of the next decade or two of just incredible changes in the way we think about our health and the way we administer our health.

Listen to recorded episodes of Changing the Game in Life Sciences to hear how the digital economy is changing the life sciences industry. For more up-to-the minute business and technology news, listen to Coffee Break with Game-Changers broadcast live every Wednesday, 8:00 a.m. PT / 11:00 a.m. ETime on the VoiceAmerica Business Channel. And follow Game-Changers Radio on Twitter at @SAPRadio and #SAPRadio.

The experts’ comments have been edited and condensed for this space.

This article originally appeared on SAP News Center.

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Jacqueline Prause

About Jacqueline Prause

Jacqueline Prause is the Senior Managing Editor of Media Channels at SAP. She writes, edits, and coordinates journalistic content for SAP.info, SAP's global online news magazine for customers, partners, and business influencers .

Metals Industry Braces For A Technological Disruption

Stefan Koch

You could be forgiven for assuming that innovation only happens in young or fast-moving sectors. Mature, commodity-based industries like metals hardly carry the sexy allure of, say, information tech or even automobiles. But that doesn’t mean you’d be right.

To the contrary, staying competitive in this industry requires innovation. You only have to consider the demands placed on metal companies to realize that innovation is happening all the time. On the topic of innovation for the products themselves, thousands of new patents for metal alloys are requested every decade. From spaceflight to automobiles to house and office building, these alloys provide an unparalleled strength.

Then consider innovation from a business perspective to support the changing marketing demands. Metals companies need to find solutions to be profitable in oversupplied, competitive, and constantly changing markets. Proven business models and business plans based on enormous capital investments in plants and assets will face significant challenges.

Leading companies are embracing the new paradigm shifts in technology and reimagining their processes, asset management frameworks, and customer relationships. This reimagination requires a digital metals business framework that overlays the production and distribution value chains of metal products. All participants – miners, primary metals producers, fabricators, and distributors – will use digital innovation to anticipate real-time demand and supply, enhance process excellence for operational efficiency, operate resilient supply chains, and innovate the customer experience.

Do companies like ArcelorMittal, Severstal, Kloeckner, NLMK, or Tata Steel really need to embrace the digital age? In one word: Yes. Here’s how they can – and are – doing so.

Better customer relationships

Leading metals companies are quickly embracing digital technology. This helps drive customer relationships, business process efficiency, innovation, and growth.

One company that has put a new emphasis on customer relationships is steel giant Severstal.

In order to secure value in the future, Severstal is reassessing and expanding its role as a cornerstone of the metals ecosystem.

With respect to Industry 4.0 and digital transformation, the company sees that a culture of accelerated innovations is incompatible with traditional ways of thinking, and it demands major cultural transformation from the organization – especially in how planning and execution impact customers. Severstal has been leading discussions with its customers, suppliers, and partners to make conscious decisions on where to follow change initiated by others, versus where to take a leadership role and drive change. Digital technology is giving Severstal more opportunities to understand its customers through their behavior and communicate with them through personalized experiences and online portals, with the goal being to manage the supply chain in order to best meet customer timelines and changing demand.

Here’s a specific use case for how technology can improve customer relationships in the metals industry: Customers expect metals producers to deliver on time as expected. But production schedules and quality outcomes fluctuate and can affect delivery schedules, which can cause problems for customers. So what’s the solution? Having a digital innovation system that allows metals producers to provide information about the products to help their customers react to changes. It also helps them understand how to better use, handle, or deploy a product. As a result, customers can adjust their own production plans. Or they can use quality data to change the welding power or decrease the heat level to save energy. Being able to provide the correct data to the customer about the exact location of the products could be an up-sell or value-added service, as well. The customer can plan more precisely because the expected arrival date is more reliable.

Responding to change – and being more sustainable

As metals companies begin reimagining their entire business, they need an IT architecture that provides stability for the core enterprise processes. They also need flexibility in areas where constant change happens, such as customer demand for innovation (e.g., products made from recycled material or high-strength steel). Efforts to reduce carbon footprint of metals production will drive new products that will also be easier to reuse, collect, and recycle. For example, companies will start offering metal rental as an alternative to purchase. Steel producers will offer new light-steel grades for cars and are already developing innovative ways to apply the new materials to avoid aluminum or carbon fiber becoming the material of choice.

As products become more intelligent and interconnected, we see big opportunities for producers. They can use sensors to both reduce costs and make sure they are producing exactly what customers order. Analyzing sensor data from machines helps predict possible failures early. The data also reduces unplanned downtime. Plus, it helps ensure product quality fits within expected parameters. For the mill products and mining industries, digital technology is helping by connecting customer information, assets, products and processes.

Versatile and revolutionary

From a consumer’s standpoint, technology is helping make transactions within the metals industry smoother and easier, not to mention producing products that are far superior.

As seen with Kloeckner, an international steel distribution company, innovations usher in product advances, software development, online marketing, and improved customer service. This promises more efficient processes and optimized data exchanges.

“Based on our digital solutions, we are redesigning all supplier and particularly customer-related processes to be simpler and more efficient,” says Gisbert Ruehl, CEO of Kloeckner & Co.

Quantifying precisely how much consumers or companies will benefit from technological advances is an exercise in futility. However, one thing is clear: The metals industry is undergoing a rapid disruption courtesy of innovations and technology. To read more about this transformation and how it impacts you, check out “Mill and Mining – Metals Industry in the Digital Transformation.”

A move to the cloud

Of course, any move towards digitization involves running in the cloud. For the metals industry, speed, flexibility, and cost reduction are the biggest drivers for moving to the cloud. Moving HR to the cloud is already common, and procurement is not far behind. Metals companies are also interested in integrated business planning functionality. They also want to leverage the cloud and make it simpler to access many sources for consolidation. They want to benchmark and compare different sites for their energy use.

Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation by downloading The IoT Imperative for Energy and Natural Resource Companies. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today by reading Industry 4.0: What’s Next?

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Stefan Koch

About Stefan Koch

Stefan Koch is responsible for SAP solutions for the metal industry globally. In this role, he looks closely at all aspects of how technology can be applied to drive efficiency, innovation and growth across the metals industry. He is in frequent discussions with leading metals companies, industry user groups, technology implementation partners and independent software vendors. Presently Stefan is guiding a number of ongoing discussion with metals companies on how to drive Digital Transformation in Metals and to identify the role of Industry 4.0 and IoT in this context.

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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Four Retail Technology Trends To Take Off In 2018

Shaily Kumar

Over the past few years, technology has seen a significant shift from cyclical, invention-led spending on point solutions to investments targeting customer-driven, end-to-end value. The next wave of disruption and productivity improvements is here, which means a huge opportunity for digital-focused enterprises – if you are following the right roadmap.

Technology trends have significant potential over the next few years. Establishing a digital platform will not only set the stage for business innovation to provide competitive advantage, but it will also create new business models that will change the way we do business. Technology trends in 2018 will lay the foundation for the maturity of innovative technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning and will prepare both businesses and shoppers to be ready for their consumption.

Like any other industry, retail is being disrupted. It is no longer enough to simply stock racks with alluring products and wait for customers to rush through the door. Technological innovation is changing the way we shop. Customers can find the lowest price for any product with just a few screen touches. They can read online reviews, have products sent to their home, try them, and return anything they don’t want – all for little or nothing out of pocket. If there are problems, they can use social networks to call out brands that come up short.

Retailers are making their products accessible from websites and mobile applications, with many running effective Internet business operations rather than brick-and-mortar stores. They convey merchandise to the customer’s front entry and are set up with web-based networking media if things turn out badly.

Smart retailers are striving to fulfill changing customer needs and working to guarantee top customer service regardless of how their customer interacts with them.

2017 saw the development of some progressive technology in retail, and 2018 will be another energizing year for the retail industry. Today’s informed customers expect a more engaging shopping experience, with a consistent mix of both online and in-store recommendations. The retail experience is poised to prosper throughout next couple of years – for retailers that are prepared to embrace technology.

Here are four areas of retail technology I predict will take off in 2018:

In-store GPS-driven shopping trolleys

Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s now enable their customers to scan and pay for products using a mobile app instead of waiting in a checkout line. The next phase of this involves intelligent shopping trolleys, or grocery store GPS: Customers use a touch screen to load shopping lists, and the system helps them find the items in the store. Customers can then check off and pay for items as they go, directly on-screen. These shopping trolleys will make their way into stores around the last quarter of 2018.

Electronic rack edge names

Electronic rack edge names are not yet broadly utilized, but this could change in 2018 as more retailers adopt this technology. Currently, retail workers must physically select and update printed labels to reflect changes in price, promotions, etc. This technology makes the process more efficient by handling such changes electronically.

Reference point technology

Despite the fact that it’s been around since 2013, reference point technology hasn’t yet been utilized to its fullest potential. In the last few years, however, it’s started to pick up in industries like retail. It’s now being used by a few retailers for area-based promotions.

Some interesting uses I’ve observed: Retailers can send messages to customers when they’re nearby a store location, and in-store mannequins can offer information about the clothing and accessories they’re wearing. I anticipate that this innovation will take off throughout 2018 and into 2019.

Machine intelligence

The technological innovations describe above will also provide retailers with new data streams. These data sources, when merged with existing customer data, online, and ERP data, will lead to new opportunities. Recently Walmart announced it would begin utilizing rack examining robots to help review its stores. The machines will check stock, prices, and even help settle lost inventory. It will also help retailers learn more about changing customer behavior in real time, which will boost engagement.

Clearly, technology and digital transformation in retail have changed the way we live and shop. 2018 will see emerging technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence using structured and unstructured data to deliver innovation. As technology develops, it will continue to transform and enhance the retail experience.

For more insight on e-commerce, see Cognitive Commerce In The Digital World: Enhancing The Customer Journey.

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Shaily Kumar

About Shaily Kumar

Shailendra has been on a quest to help organisations make money out of data and has generated an incremental value of over one billion dollars through analytics and cognitive processes. With a global experience of more than two decades, Shailendra has worked with a myriad of Corporations, Consulting Services and Software Companies in various industries like Retail, Telecommunications, Financial Services and Travel - to help them realise incremental value hidden in zettabytes of data. He has published multiple articles in international journals about Analytics and Cognitive Solutions; and recently published “Making Money out of Data” which showcases five business stories from various industries on how successful companies make millions of dollars in incremental value using analytics. Prior to joining SAP, Shailendra was Partner / Analytics & Cognitive Leader, Asia at IBM where he drove the cognitive business across Asia. Before joining IBM, he was the Managing Director and Analytics Lead at Accenture delivering value to its clients across Australia and New Zealand. Coming from the industry, Shailendra held key Executive positions driving analytics at Woolworths and Coles in the past.