Securing Environmental Insurance Risk Using Data Automation Technologies

Brian Kahl

By 2020, experts predict that Internet-connected devices and sensors will reach 50 billion. As cloud-based technologies become integral to everyday business functionality, companies are discovering new ways to optimize and in some cases, completely re-imagine their products and services. These innovations force their competitors to rethink their business models and additionally create market ripple effects that can reshape dependent industries.

Auto insurance is an example of a traditional product that is under pressure from innovative market forces like cloud-based ride-sharing services (Uber, Lyft), accident avoidance systems, and self-driving car technology. In addition to writing new types of policies and re-evaluating their driver risk models, auto insurance companies are embracing mobile communication technology and data analytics for efficient and rapid management of quotes, claims, and reporting. According to a survey by IHS Markit, usage-based auto insurance enabled by digital connectivity will grow nearly 1200% by 2023. This new form of insurance assesses actuarial risk based on real-time information about a driver’s actual driving habits.

Similar changes are in store for environmental liability insurance. Historically, environmental risk has been treated like a catastrophic risk product: Policies are offered at premiums set based on actuarial modeling of historical claims incurred for environmental events such as the dispersal, release, or escape of pollutants (which tend to occur on a scale comparable to catastrophic events). However, actuarial modeling of environmental liabilities is biased by an historical lack of environmental stewardship by businesses with neglected spills that exponentially increase liabilities.

To address the limitations of actuarial modeling for catastrophic risk, some insurers have committed resources to “emerging risk” research groups with the goal of identifying early signs of potential catastrophic risks and to quantify those risks. Using Big Data analytics, insurers can mine the immense scientific and product data sets available through the web and conduct predictive modeling and “what-if” analyses to assess emerging risks. This approach supports development of catastrophic liability models which can help insurers head off issues such as toxic ingredients in manufactured products.

However, emerging risk research has its challenges with heading off environmental pollution events. Not much can be done to eliminate environmental time bombs left by poor environmental stewards, but insurance companies can go a long way to ensure that future environmental liabilities are limited in scale by proactively screening or actively monitoring policy holder operations. Merger & acquisition assets should receive similar scrutiny to protect investors and underwriters from legacy environmental liabilities.

Forward-thinking insurance companies will be using temporal event monitoring services to underwrite policies for environmentally risky clients to better manage risk, control losses, and secure premiums.

As environmental consultants can attest, costs for pollution investigation and remediation are generally proportional to the complexity of the release. And since event complexity reflects a chemical’s fate and transport to sensitive receptor mediums like groundwater, soil, and indoor air, it can be argued that environmental liabilities can be greatly reduced if events are discovered early (prior to significant migration). Advanced early-warning technologies and temporal monitoring systems are already available that can detect and alert certain chemical release and/or exposure events. Forward-thinking insurance companies will be using temporal event monitoring services to underwrite policies for environmentally risky clients to better manage risk, control losses, and secure premiums.

For the underwriting process, facility audits can be supplemented with assessment and monitoring technologies to confirm risk assumptions, transfer known risks, and better align policy pricing with risk. For example, a chemical manufacturer that boasts a clean track record can secure a competitive premium by agreeing to a baseline screening of site conditions such as subsurface soil vapor levels or indoor air quality.

For the loss control process, insurers can prevent or immediately control losses from release events by requiring periodic or ongoing event monitoring at the insured facilities. With sensor-based continuous monitoring, first notice of loss could occur instantly via email alerts. Early warning event monitoring can be used to privately manage risk exposures, quantify cost impacts, and optimize responses to reduce mitigation costs. Unlike compliance response approaches, proactive environmental management approaches like this are beneficial to all stakeholders and reduce overall compliance expenditures.

For the claims process, insurers can utilize these technologies to challenge exposure risk claims and reduce tort settlements. For example, chemical vapor intrusion claims can be actively managed using real-time continuous monitoring of indoor air quality where high-density sample data is automatically archived for legally defensible liability management. Furthermore, stakeholders can use the real-time event alerts to trigger rapid mitigation responses to eliminate or at least reduce exposure claims. When it comes to acute toxins such as Trichloroethylene (TCE), the ability to respond before an exposure duration of concern has transpired can mean the difference between a non-issue and tens of millions in legal fees alone. It goes without saying that environmental liabilities that can be identified before regulatory involvement or prior to tort actions can be controlled and mitigated with far less cost.

When pricing liability policies, insurers look at the frequency and severity of the insured potential environmental “perils” and the expected average payout resulting from those perils. Premiums may be further adjusted using loss ratios, expense loads, and loss relativities. Real-time monitoring technologies offer a form of “physical insurance” for the insurer/underwriter to secure their loss assumptions. The value of having increased control over risk is perhaps obvious for an insurance company, but what about the policy holder they are insuring?

It is no doubt that customer expectations are changing. With the mobile generation well entrenched, consumers are beginning to expect alternative products and services optimized by Internet connectivity. Consumers are also recognizing that economics, human health, and well-being are interdependent and are therefore demanding eco-friendly products and services provided by companies following environmentally sustainable practices. Putting aside the positive benefits of being a good corporate citizen, what is the return on investment (ROI) for choosing to be proactively accountable for chemical releases?

  1. Reduced compliance costs: The USEPA has been advocating efforts to modernize the regulatory compliance process by encouraging the use of modern and emerging pollution detection and monitoring technologies, timely electronic (digital) reporting, and public transparency measures. Notwithstanding the concerns about transparency, the self-monitoring aspects can be very appealing to business.
  1. Efficient liability management: Self-monitoring permits can be structured to allow a facility to build in a time buffer for operational and liability management. A permit holder can use real-time monitoring information to accommodate data validation, emergency mitigation response, expert analysis, and reporting review prior to releasing the self-monitoring report to regulators.
  1. Lower liability expenditures: Proactive testing and advanced early detection systems can identify events of concern before they become large environmental liabilities or OSHA exposures. For example, temporal and spatial monitoring of indoor air quality can distinguish between vapor intrusion sources and indoor operational sources of contamination. These technologies can also be used for “cause and effect” analysis determining and verifying mitigation strategies. The same systems can be combined with SCADA controls for real-time activation of engineering controls (blowers, etc.) to manage liabilities and prevent exposures. Significant cost savings can be realized if continuous monitoring of indoor air quality provides verification that existing HVAC systems are resolving exposure issues.
  1. Efficient use of management resources: Companies with existing environmental issues expend significant resources accommodating the phased compliance process. Compliance investigation and remediation approaches can take years to complete and although the traditional sampling methods may still be necessary, some approaches can be automated for efficiency. Technology innovations over the last decade have demonstrated the means to expedite impact assessments, support low risk conclusions, direct mitigation activities, and document remedial effectiveness. These emerging technologies improve professional decision-making by providing much more information with temporal and spatial resolution.
  1. Collaboration: The economy seems to be shifting towards digital platform-centric ecosystems where a connected digital infrastructure replaces the factory-centric model of the past. In this digital platform economy, resources and expertise are linked for efficiency and optimized service delivery. Although environmental management is not yet supported by a similar digital platform, capabilities are on the horizon. These digital connected ecosystems promise efficiencies and cost control through linking of resources.
  1. Productive workforce: Environmentally responsible companies have better retention rates for skilled workers. A 2016 Millennial Employee Engagement Study by Cone Communications revealed that 75% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a socially and environmentally responsible company.

When it comes to environmental compliance, responsible parties may opt to implement the minimally acceptable field campaigns to minimize costs. However, insurance companies need an unbiased understanding of the potential risks before issuing a policy. They need to be able to identify and quantify liabilities by minimizing ambiguity and by employing high quality data that can result in an informed decision with lasting effect. Insurers need to insulate themselves from the growing threat of vapor intrusion risks by securing temporally-resolved indoor air quality data that is not easily challenged. The EPA has clearly acknowledged that vapor intrusion conditions and policies change, and the traditional methods currently accepted for evaluating indoor air quality require more time to process than the acute TCE exposure duration of concern. As such, use of traditional methods are readily susceptible to legal challenges because they do not always represent exposure conditions, are not preventative, and can yield false negative and false positive results.

As facility self-monitoring models become more common, it seems plausible that regulators will begin to shift their enforcement focus to facilities that avoid such transparency measures. Policyholders who invest in monitoring systems that automatically assess and report environmental conditions will benefit from simplified compliance costs and lower insurance premiums since their underwriting risk will be calculated outside the traditional risk pool. For policyholders that do experience a risk event such as a chemical spill, electronic monitoring can instantly alert stakeholders to enable rapid mitigation which limits costs and associated liabilities (including compliance costs). However, the value of real-time monitoring isn’t limited to risk management, perhaps of even more value is the accumulated data archive which can be analyzed by insurance companies to build a customer-specific risk profile. This approach is beneficial to both the policyholder and the carrier since it brings risk more in line with reality and reduces premiums and auditing costs.

Moving forward, we can expect that a growing number of insurance companies will turn to digital automation platforms to confirm, manage, and price risks, control losses, and reduce claims for environmental exposures. Companies that can harness the capabilities of these technologies will be better positioned to shape the direction of their business and compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

For more on the role on advanced analytics in the insurance industry, see How Cybersecurity Can Get A Big Boost From Insurance Data.


About Brian Kahl

Brian Kahl is a Professional Geologist with over 30 years of experience managing environmental pollution issues. Mr. Kahl works with technology partners to implement real-time automated environmental monitoring solutions using sensor-based remote data acquisition and processing. As a contributing writer, Mr. Kahl shares insights about emerging digital automation technologies that are transforming the professional environmental management industry.

How Real-Time Consumer Intent Is Changing The Sales Cycle

Ralf Kern

As a marketer, it’s your job to know what a consumer bought, thought, and did a month ago, a week ago, and even yesterday. But do you know what a consumer is thinking right now?

Understanding real-time consumer intent allows marketers to deliver targeted information, like special product promos or offers, at the exact moment in time when a consumer is searching for this information. Real-time intent is a powerful marketing tool that helps businesses close more deals by providing the information consumers need at the exact moment they’re open to receiving this information. This drives decision-maker consensus, reduces barriers to sales, and primes consumer to take immediate action.

The contemporary sales cycle: More options, more stakeholders, more challenges

Motivating a customer to complete a purchase has always been a challenge for sales and marketing professionals at both B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) companies. At B2B companies, for example, shrinking budgets and a greater wealth of available options has led to longer sales cycles. More decision-makers means everyone needs to weigh in on a potential decision. This makes it more difficult to drive stakeholder consensus and also lengthens the decision-making process. Everyone wants to have a voice in the decision, but no one wants to be the deciding voice and risk getting blamed if the decision is a mistake.

The B2C decision-making cycle is also changing, thanks to social media and smartphone technology. Mobile shopping is disrupting the consumer decision journey for retail. Google reports that while foot traffic in retail stores has declined by 57% in the past five years, the value of every visit has nearly tripled. With smartphones in tow, consumers are researching product information, checking social media for product reviews, and doing a quick price comparison search before they make a purchase. Most significantly, these mobile searches are happening at the exact moment consumers are in stores. They’re holding the product in their hands, asking, “Should I buy this right now?”

How does intent targeting increase sales?

Intent targeting allows businesses to reach consumers at these critical, decision-making moments. Whether it’s delivering a case study that drives decision-maker consensus at a B2B company or targeting consumers with a special promo discount while they’re doing a mobile price comparison, intent targeting delivers the right information at the right moment.

Intent targeting is different than showing an ad on a website that simply mirrors that website’s content. When businesses truly understand real-time customer intent, they can target a customer with information aligned with the consumer’s needs across a variety of touch points. Most importantly, the timing is spot-on: marketers can target a customer at the exact moment that customer is open to receiving information.

Targeting consumers in the moment with dynamic, contextually relevant experiences

Successful customer engagement must be proactive, tapping into the emotional drivers behind the buying process and delivering relevant customer experiences in real time. The more compelling and relevant the experience, the more likely customers will stay engaged (or re-engage) during the buying journey.

In order to successfully engage with today’s customers, businesses need more than just historical data. They need knowledge of “in-the-moment” customer activity to accurately target and deliver relevant and engaging customer offers and promotions. They need to understand the real-time intent of each customer and dynamically deliver contextually relevant experiences across channels. This requires a 360-degree view of customer’s behavior and actions. Businesses need to be able to process large volumes of structured and unstructured data, score implicit and explicit behavior across channels, and convert this information into real-time insights that drive marketing decisions.

Static customer segmentation approaches don’t cut it anymore. Progressive customer profiling taking into account each and every customer interaction and sentiment are required to show empathy, build trust, and earn customer loyalty. Customer happiness is the ultimate currency in retail. A concise and contextual brand experience based on a deep understanding of the customer is a prerequisite to creating customers for life.

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


Ralf Kern

About Ralf Kern

Ralf Kern is the Global Vice President, Business Unit Retail, at SAP, responsible for the future direction of SAP’s solution and global Go-to-Market strategy for Omnicommerce Retail, leading them into today’s digital reality.

How Is IoT Driving Growth In Equipment-as-a-Service Options?

Dietmar Bohn

The Internet of Things (IoT) is poised to deliver significant growth to many industries over the next few years. Within three years, it’s expected that companies selling IoT solutions will see revenues of over $450 billion. By 2025, it’s expected that there will be 75.4 billion connected devices worldwide. This provides a strong market for growth in many industries. The manufacturing industry is no different, with opportunities to improve uptime for customers and reduce high-dollar repairs.

At the same time, digitalization and disruption are providing the opportunity for companies with revolutionary new business models to enter the market. One new business model that shows great promise is integrating IoT technology and equipment with aspects of software-as-a-service models. But how will this model work in real life, what impact will it have on the companies that use it, and what benefits will it offer across a wide range of industries? Here’s a quick look.

How is the IoT driving growth in equipment-as-a-service options?

With the advent of cloud computing, software-as-a-service became popular. Essentially, it provided users with software access for a subscription fee, with the software-providing company handling maintenance, upgrades, and security issues. This concept has grown into a wide range of IT and other areas. As an example, from another industry, Netflix provides video services as a service through a monthly subscription fee.

Now the as-a-service model is being applied to a wide range of other industries. Equipment for many industries has often used the service contract or lease model. However, these models have had their own problems. Clients often don’t catch early warning signs that the equipment is having issues. The maintenance schedule may not be appropriate to the client’s site conditions. The equipment may be more than the end user needs. For whatever reason, service contracts can be expensive on both sides.

Equipment-as-a-service that implements IoT technology benefits both sides. Let’s take a look at how it might work in a business. ABC Manufacturing is an electronics manufacturing firm that uses automated MIG welders (metal inert gas welders) to produce part of its electronics components. It has service contracts for these welders, but it is not happy with the downtime and unexpected machine failures, which cost the company money. They’re also not quite sure that the equipment is right for their needs, with the limited-axis welders making somewhat sloppy welds when they reach particular angles.

XYZ  Equipment provides the welding machines but is not happy with the number of failures that could be prevented. These failures cost a lot of time and parts to fix. The unpredictable nature of the failures means sometimes they’re paying repair technicians to sit around while paying overtime when a machine breaks down at odd hours. At the same time, they’re also losing profitability from refunds to ABC Manufacturing for downtime on their lines. They know the customer isn’t quite sure about the machinery, but they’re not quite sure what they want to be changed.

After attending an equipment conference, XYZ’s CTO comes back to the office very excited about new IoT technology and business models. He convinces XYZ’s CEO to try an experiment with ABC’s service contract. XYZ’s CTO sets up an appointment with ABC’s production director and CEO to discuss options.

At the meeting, they talk about the issues with the welders. ABC doesn’t want to invest in any significant money in machinery it isn’t sure will work for their issues, so XYZ offers to set them up with a few 7-axis welders on an equipment-as-a-service option. ABC will pay a monthly fee for the use of the machinery, based on the outcome of the machinery. If they’re not happy with the equipment, ABC can end the subscription at the end of that subscription period without any penalty. XYZ will install sensors that use IoT technology to allow them to remotely monitor the equipment. This allows XYZ to determine when preventative maintenance is needed. The advanced notice lets XYZ schedule maintenance when it makes sense for both companies. XYZ makes fewer repairs and saves money. ABC avoids risk on the equipment. Everyone is happy.

Equipment-as-a-service provides great options for both equipment manufacturers and businesses. By integrating IoT technology with equipment contracts, many companies are gaining better uptime without the heavy investment. Equipment companies are also profiting from the lower failure rate as equipment is being serviced before problems get out of control. IoT technology is expected to add between $10 and $15 trillion to the worldwide GDP by 2030. Where does your company fall with these new possibilities?

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


Dietmar Bohn

About Dietmar Bohn

Dietmar Bohn is the Vice President of Industry Cloud at SAP. He brings more than 15 years of CRM experience from both outside and inside SAP and more than 25 years of industry experience. Bohn has held different executive roles spanning CRM strategy projects, CRM implementation projects, CRM development and CRM product management. He holds degrees in Electrical Engineering and in Telecommunications.

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.



The Differences Between Machine Learning And Predictive Analytics

Shaily Kumar

Many people are confused about the specifics of machine learning and predictive analytics. Although they are both centered on efficient data processing, there are many differences.

Machine learning

Machine learning is a method of computational learning underlying most artificial intelligence (AI) applications. In ML, systems or algorithms improve themselves through data experience without relying on explicit programming. ML algorithms are wide-ranging tools capable of carrying out predictions while simultaneously learning from over trillions of observations.

Machine learning is considered a modern-day extension of predictive analytics. Efficient pattern recognition and self-learning are the backbones of ML models, which automatically evolve based on changing patterns in order to enable appropriate actions.

Many companies today depend on machine learning algorithms to better understand their clients and potential revenue opportunities. Hundreds of existing and newly developed machine learning algorithms are applied to derive high-end predictions that guide real-time decisions with less reliance on human intervention.

Business application of machine learning: employee satisfaction

One common, uncomplicated, yet successful business application of machine learning is measuring real-time employee satisfaction.

Machine learning applications can be highly complex, but one that’s both simple and very useful for business is a machine learning algorithm that compares employee satisfaction ratings to salaries. Instead of plotting a predictive satisfaction curve against salary figures for various employees, as predictive analytics would suggest, the algorithm assimilates huge amounts of random training data upon entry, and the prediction results are affected by any added training data to produce real-time accuracy and more helpful predictions.

This machine learning algorithm employs self-learning and automated recalibration in response to pattern changes in the training data, making machine learning more reliable for real-time predictions than other AI concepts. Repeatedly increasing or updating the bulk of training data guarantees better predictions.

Machine learning can also be implemented in image classification and facial recognition with deep learning and neural network techniques.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics can be defined as the procedure of condensing huge volumes of data into information that humans can understand and use. Basic descriptive analytic techniques include averages and counts. Descriptive analytics based on obtaining information from past events has evolved into predictive analytics, which attempts to predict the future based on historical data.

This concept applies complex techniques of classical statistics, like regression and decision trees, to provide credible answers to queries such as: ‘’How exactly will my sales be influenced by a 10% increase in advertising expenditure?’’ This leads to simulations and “what-if” analyses for users to learn more.

All predictive analytics applications involve three fundamental components:

  • Data: The effectiveness of every predictive model strongly depends on the quality of the historical data it processes.
  • Statistical modeling: Includes the various statistical techniques ranging from basic to complex functions used for the derivation of meaning, insight, and inference. Regression is the most commonly used statistical technique.
  • Assumptions: The conclusions drawn from collected and analyzed data usually assume the future will follow a pattern related to the past.

Data analysis is crucial for any business en route to success, and predictive analytics can be applied in numerous ways to enhance business productivity. These include things like marketing campaign optimization, risk assessment, market analysis, and fraud detection.

Business application of predictive analytics: marketing campaign optimization

In the past, valuable marketing campaign resources were wasted by businesses using instincts alone to try to capture market niches. Today, many predictive analytic strategies help businesses identify, engage, and secure suitable markets for their services and products, driving greater efficiency into marketing campaigns.

A clear application is using visitors’ search history and usage patterns on e-commerce websites to make product recommendations. Sites like Amazon increase their chance of sales by recommending products based on specific consumer interests. Predictive analytics now plays a vital role in the marketing operations of real estate, insurance, retail, and almost every other sector.

How machine learning and predictive analytics are related

While businesses must understand the differences between machine learning and predictive analytics, it’s just as important to know how they are related. Basically, machine learning is a predictive analytics branch. Despite having similar aims and processes, there are two main differences between them:

  • Machine learning works out predictions and recalibrates models in real-time automatically after design. Meanwhile, predictive analytics works strictly on “cause” data and must be refreshed with “change” data.
  • Unlike machine learning, predictive analytics still relies on human experts to work out and test the associations between cause and outcome.

Explore machine learning applications and AI software with SAP Leonardo.


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. Please feel to connect on: Linkedin: Twitter: