Quayside: A Reminder That Canada Can Define The Digital Democracy

Colleen Hardwick and John Ramsell

Toronto is right to feel good about Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs choosing the city for its high-tech redevelopment of a 12-acre strip of the eastern waterfront. The Quayside project could be a watershed moment for the burgeoning global smart city movement.

In a Globe and Mail op-ed, Sidewalk CEO and chairman Daniel Doctoroff and Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt said in Toronto they’d “found a city with unequalled diversity and a remarkable spirit of openness” for their futuristic vision.

But they also implied Toronto is an ideal test bed because of what it doesn’t have. “Like other successful cities, Toronto is struggling to maintain diversity as housing prices soar, congestion worsens and cost of living skyrockets.”

For all the potential of this innovative venture, Doctoroff and Schmidt acknowledged what Quayside cannot become: a wealthy, high-tech enclave. “The eastern waterfront should be a model for using technology and data as tools to enhance personal connections and the urban environment – not to close us off to each other and from our surroundings.”

In other words, data and algorithms alone cannot be allowed to drive the project. “Sophisticated modeling techniques” and the like will have value in determining how the city takes shape, but people and their wishes must remain part of the equation. Tracking people’s habits, behaviors and movements is not the same as asking them how they feel.

In fairness, Sidewalk Labs is adamant that policymakers, city leaders and citizens will remain part of the conversation. It’s in Canada, you feel, that this integration between government and corporation for the good of citizens could actually happen.

Canada’s democracy is considered one of the strongest in the world. The country is currently an “island of stability” in a Western world reeling from the effects of distrust in political parties and desperate lashes out for change, according to the Environics Institute.

Sidewalk isn’t the first to recognize Canada as a good bet for trialing government-friendly tech projects. Code for Canada – a non-profit committed to “technology and design for the common good” – shows the Canadian appetite for greater collaboration between government innovators and the country’s tech community to pursue better digital public services.

Elsewhere, Vancouver-based PlaceSpeak is tapping into the potential for municipalities to use the internet to better involve citizens in discussions that usually only happen in sparsely attended town hall meetings.

For it to work, governments had to be open to the idea of a civic engagement platform that puts location-verified citizens in direct contact with them and each other online. And they were – municipalities across Canada have embraced the tool with zeal.

Placespeak’s new feature, SentiMap, takes it a step further by generating colour-coded maps showing a constituent’s sentiment on whatever issues are up for discussion. The in-memory computing platform takes real-time measures of citizen sentiment, pulls it up from the gutter of social media shouting matches and rants, and turns it into an exciting way to see digital democracy in action. It’s a Canadian-made glimpse of the example we can set in using the internet to rejuvenate and reinvigorate policy making, and the antithesis of what could become an algorithm-defined democracy if Quayside is not properly governed.

While such examples can be cherry-picked, it would be disingenuous to suggest Canada is currently leading the way in digital democracy. When comparing, say, an Accenture study that placed Canada 14th in the G20’s most digitally innovative countries, to world-renowned success stories like Estonia’s, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go if we are to reach our potential.

If we can get there, it would be well worth our while. Technology brings great hope, but there are challenges in making it work for everyone. What Silicon Valley is to no-holds-barred innovation, Canada is to good government. It’s this complement that could make Quayside just one of many projects that helps Canada define digital democracy for the world.

For more on technology and smart cities, see How Cities Become What We Want Them To Be.

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Colleen Hardwick

About Colleen Hardwick

Colleen Hardwick was headed for a career in urban planning when a twist of fate launched her into a 20-year career in the film industry. Circling back to her roots in 2010, Colleen began to innovate in online public participation and decision-making. The result is PlaceSpeak, the first location-based community consultation platform. Colleen has a degree in Urban Geography from UBC, is a former member of the City of Vancouver's Development Permit Board Advisory Panel, and is a member of Lambda Alpha International.

John Ramsell

About John Ramsell

John Ramsell is the head of the west region and public sector sales for SAP Canada. In this role, John works with Canada’s largest and most important companies and government organizations across a range of industries, creating road maps that lead to effective digital transformation.

How Business-Driven Analytics Make Public Transportation Smarter In Brussels

John Ward

Modern public transportation seems fueled as much by data and analytics as it is by diesel, natural gas, or electricity.

Want to know where your bus is right now and exactly when it should arrive at your stop? These days, there’s an app for that.

Using technologies such as IoT, Big Data, and advanced analytics to improve the movement of citizens across urban areas has become a hallmark of the world’s smartest cities.

Brussels is a case in point.

Traveling the epicenter of the European Union

Belgium’s capital region is served by the Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (when speaking French) or the Maatschappij voor het Intercommunaal Vervoer te Brussel (if Flemish is your preference).

Usually referred to as STIB-MIVB, this public transportation company maintains an extensive network of over a thousand vehicles serving four metro train lines, 17 tram lines, and 50 bus lines.

“We are responsible for all the public transportation in Brussels,” says Olivier Bauden, sales director at STIB-MIVB, in a recent video. He points out that STIB-MIVB is used by around 1 million people every day. “So basically, you can say that in just more than one week, we are transporting the whole population of Belgium,” Bauden quips.

This amount of travel generates a wealth of data. Ticket sales are tallied at vending machines, sensors count passengers moving through the turnstiles, time and location are recorded as bus doors open to let on new riders.

“All that data is collected and we use it to analyze the performance of our network and to make sure we offer the best service possible to our customers,” says Rob Roemers, BI solutions manager, at STIB-MIVB.

Analyzing the flow

Roemers explains that STIB-MIVB leverages a full portfolio of analytics tools to help optimize daily operations and guide longer-term planning. “We can actually see how many people are in a specific vehicle,” Roemers says. “We know if the capacity of that vehicle is adequate for the route.”

And this data analysis can have citywide applications. “We have some very good information, for example, on where our mobility ramps are used,” Roemers adds, talking about the devices that provide improved access to persons with physical disabilities. According to Roemers, insight gained from this kind of information could lead to infrastructure improvements across the capital region.

Benefiting from real-time data streams

But while Big Data’s impact on business and urban planning may be significant, it’s often access to in-the-moment info that seems to matter the most to the average citizen.

In a Gartner press release about smart cities, research vice president Bettina Tratz-Ryan observes, “the city becomes ‘smart’ when the data is collected and governed in a way that can produce valuable real-time streams, rather than just backward-looking statistics or reports.”

Again, Brussels is a good example.

STIB-MIVB offers free, geo-enabled mobile apps that let people use their smartphones to quickly locate the nearest stop in town and to plan their journeys on the spot with real-time information.

It also makes the underlying datasets, such as timetables, stop names and locations, and line routes, available in digital format via an open data portal. STIB-MIVB encourages the riding public to create their own applications and to help foster further innovation. As STIB-MIVB sees it, “making our data available goes beyond basic data sharing. It’s a source of inspiration for all talented individuals who want to improve and build tomorrow’s solutions today.”

Internally, STIB-MIVB finds great value in the data that today’s public transportation systems generate. As Roemers observes, “Being more efficient and better at our job is exactly why we are trying to analyze as much data as possible.”

Hear more from STIB-MIVB in this video. You can also learn more about how your organization can take full advantage of embedded IoT capabilities, advanced analytics, and other innovation technologies through the cloud.

This article originally appeared on Forbes SAPVoice.

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Harnessing Digitization To Power Up Governance In ASEAN

Claus Andresen

As ASEAN celebrates 50 years of its establishment this year, one of its key achievements has been the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)—a platform that enables the economic integration of its ten member states. It is already making an impact on the economy of the region, which would be far greater in the years to come.

The potential for ASEAN is huge: With 630 million people (more than half of whom are under 30) and a US$1.5 trillion consumer market, it is poised to be the shining star of foreign investors. Southeast Asia is the fourth-largest exporting region in the world, accounting for 7% of global exports. As a single economic entity, ASEAN would be the world’s seventh-largest economy. The region has seen economic growth average a healthy 4-5% per annum since its formation.

Member countries in ASEAN are fully cognizant of this huge potential, and their goals of accelerating the economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors and promoting regional peace and stability underline that. The ASEAN goals are aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals: to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. From a development and governance point of view, it also includes goals such as sustainable cities and communities, and responsible production and consumption.

Key challenges before ASEAN

However, in a fast-changing and volatile world where digital transformation is impacting businesses, governments, and even individual lives, ASEAN faces some key challenges that will test the resilience of governments: the increasing pace of business and tech life cycles, the rise of the disruptive platforms and their impact on services, use of data analytics to engage citizens, the rise of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotics and how they have upped the ante for governments, and the constant threats of cybersecurity.

The larger impact of these challenges faced by ASEAN nations today have implications for the economic conditions of their citizens, loss and automation of jobs, and the overall quality of life. These problems will only grow in complexity in the coming years.

Solving society’s problems through digitization

While digitization has been a disrupter, it also has the potential to solve some of ASEAN’s key problems.  It will touch upon businesses, people, and governments to bring growth, jobs, and service delivery.

For this to happen, governments in ASEAN should go for smart, connected, ubiquitous, and disruptive “intelligentization.” The World Bank recommends that digitization must be “a whole of government agenda” and cannot just be done in siloes.

Digitization can accelerate growth for countries as it enables organizations to reach new markets, improves service delivery for citizens, and strengthens institutions. For example, World Bank studies show that Vietnamese firms that are using e-commerce have high total factor productivity growth. Similarly, in the space of service delivery to citizens, digitization increases the capacity to resolve complaints quickly and creates transparency in e-government systems. Similarly, digitization strengthens institutions through population registers, payment platforms, and information delivery mechanisms.

To increase the pace of digitization, ASEAN governments will have to invest in making the Internet more affordable and sorting out the legal and regulatory issues to make digitization ubiquitous. Currently, Singapore and Thailand lead the region in terms of both broadband and mobile Internet speed. The good news is that countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines are also investing heavily in developing their national broadband networks and smart city projects.

The move towards smart nations and cities

The best way governments can deal with the challenge of digital transformation is to endeavour to convert the whole nation into a smart nation, composed of numerous smart cities.

While Singapore took the lead in this direction, all major countries in ASEAN are focusing on building their model smart cities. In its neighbourhood, countries like India, Japan, and Korea are pushing for smart cities in a big way. India has announced an ambitious project to build 100 smart cities.

Smart cities and smart nations are built on data, engagement, and collaboration, and by meshing up these three principles/approaches, governments can take a 360-degree approach to serve their citizens. For example, the Singapore government has created SingPass as a ubiquitous product with 3.3 million accounts. It helps in extending digital identity of users for 220 services across 80 agencies. Contrast this with Indonesia, the biggest economy in the block. It does not even have a common ID but it wants to harness technologies such as Big Data and AI in tax fraud detection. In the Jakarta Smart City, the Indonesian government is using community data for startups, which are building apps to solve problems such as garbage collection from municipal areas.

Harnessing digitization to build better citizen services in ASEAN

While connectivity remains a big issue for ASEAN countries and skills gaps still need to be tackled, Big Data, analytics, and AI will be the biggest game-changers for ASEAN economies. By bringing together both transactional processes and analytical intelligence – and combining all agency knowledge sources in one platform – organizations can turn data into actionable information. That will allow decisions based on facts and provides predictive insights. As issues arise, agencies can be more agile and responsive, incrementally adding connected solutions to address new problems – without disrupting operations.

For more on how technology is shaping the future of cities and their economies, see Future Cities: A Nexus Of Smart Utilities, Smart Transport, And Smart Tourism.

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Claus Andresen

About Claus Andresen

Claus Andresen is President and Managing Director for SAP Southeast Asia (SEA). He is responsible for business strategy, operations, profit and loss, and sustainable growth for SAP across SEA, building on SAP’s success in its 28-year establishment in the region. Claus leads high-performing teams across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and other emerging markets in SEA.

Tick Tock: Start Preparing for Resource Disruption

By Maurizio Cattaneo, Joerg Ferchow, Daniel Wellers, and Christopher Koch

Businesses share something important with lions. When a lion captures and consumes its prey, only about 10% to 20% of the prey’s energy is directly transferred into the lion’s metabolism. The rest evaporates away, mostly as heat loss, according to research done in the 1940s by ecologist Raymond Lindeman.

Today, businesses do only about as well as the big cats. When you consider the energy required to manage, power, and move products and services, less than 20% goes directly into the typical product or service—what economists call aggregate efficiency (the ratio of potential work to the actual useful work that gets embedded into a product or service at the expense of the energy lost in moving products and services through all of the steps of their value chains). Aggregate efficiency is a key factor in determining productivity.

After making steady gains during much of the 20th century, businesses’ aggregate energy efficiency peaked in the 1980s and then stalled. Japan, home of the world’s most energy-efficient economy, has been skating along at or near 20% ever since. The U.S. economy, meanwhile, topped out at about 13% aggregate efficiency in the 1990s, according to research.

Why does this matter? Jeremy Rifkin says he knows why. Rifkin is an economic and social theorist, author, consultant, and lecturer at the Wharton School’s Executive Education program who believes that economies experience major increases in growth and productivity only when big shifts occur in three integrated infrastructure segments around the same time: communications, energy, and transportation.

But it’s only a matter of time before information technology blows all three wide open, says Rifkin. He envisions a new economic infrastructure based on digital integration of communications, energy, and transportation, riding atop an Internet of Things (IoT) platform that incorporates Big Data, analytics, and artificial intelligence. This platform will disrupt the world economy and bring dramatic levels of efficiency and productivity to businesses that take advantage of it, he says.

Some economists consider Rifkin’s ideas controversial. And his vision of a new economic platform may be problematic—at least globally. It will require massive investments and unusually high levels of government, community, and private sector cooperation, all of which seem to be at depressingly low levels these days.

However, Rifkin has some influential adherents to his philosophy. He has advised three presidents of the European Commission—Romano Prodi, José Manuel Barroso, and the current president, Jean-Claude Juncker—as well as the European Parliament and numerous European Union (EU) heads of state, including Angela Merkel, on the ushering in of what he calls “a smart, green Third Industrial Revolution.” Rifkin is also advising the leadership of the People’s Republic of China on the build out and scale up of the “Internet Plus” Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure to usher in a sustainable low-carbon economy.

The internet has already shaken up one of the three major economic sectors: communications. Today it takes little more than a cell phone, an internet connection, and social media to publish a book or music video for free—what Rifkin calls zero marginal cost. The result has been a hollowing out of once-mighty media empires in just over 10 years. Much of what remains of their business models and revenues has been converted from physical (remember CDs and video stores?) to digital.

But we haven’t hit the trifecta yet. Transportation and energy have changed little since the middle of the last century, says Rifkin. That’s when superhighways reached their saturation point across the developed world and the internal-combustion engine came close to the limits of its potential on the roads, in the air, and at sea. “We have all these killer new technology products, but they’re being plugged into the same old infrastructure, and it’s not creating enough new business opportunities,” he says.

All that may be about to undergo a big shake-up, however. The digitalization of information on the IoT at near-zero marginal cost generates Big Data that can be mined with analytics to create algorithms and apps enabling ubiquitous networking. This digital transformation is beginning to have a big impact on the energy and transportation sectors. If that trend continues, we could see a metamorphosis in the economy and society not unlike previous industrial revolutions in history. And given the pace of technology change today, the shift could happen much faster than ever before.

The speed of change is dictated by the increase in digitalization of these three main sectors; expensive physical assets and processes are partially replaced by low-cost virtual ones. The cost efficiencies brought on by digitalization drive disruption in existing business models toward zero marginal cost, as we’ve already seen in entertainment and publishing. According to research company Gartner, when an industry gets to the point where digital drives at least 20% of revenues, you reach the tipping point.

“A clear pattern has emerged,” says Peter Sondergaard, executive vice president and head of research and advisory for Gartner. “Once digital revenues for a sector hit 20% of total revenue, the digital bloodbath begins,” he told the audience at Gartner’s annual 2017 IT Symposium/ITxpo, according to The Wall Street Journal. “No matter what industry you are in, 20% will be the point of no return.”

Communications is already there, and energy and transportation are heading down that path. If they hit the magic 20% mark, the impact will be felt not just within those industries but across all industries. After all, who doesn’t rely on energy and transportation to power their value chains?

The eye of the technology disruption hurricane has moved beyond communications and is heading toward … the rest of the economy.

That’s why businesses need to factor potentially massive business model disruptions into their plans for digital transformation today if they want to remain competitive with organizations in early adopter countries like China and Germany. China, for example, is already halfway through an US$88 billion upgrade to its state electricity grid that will enable renewable energy transmission around the country—all managed and moved digitally, according to an article in The Economist magazine. And it is competing with the United States for leadership in self-driving vehicles, which will shift the transportation process and revenue streams heavily to digital, according to an article in Wired magazine.

Once China’s and Germany’s renewables and driverless infrastructures are in place, the only additional costs are management and maintenance. That could bring businesses in these countries dramatic cost savings over those that still rely on fossil fuels and nuclear energy to power their supply chains and logistics. “Once you pay the fixed costs of renewables, the marginal costs are near zero,” says Rifkin. “The sun and wind haven’t sent us invoices yet.”

In other words, zero marginal cost has become a zero-sum game.

To understand why that is, consider the major industrial revolutions in history, writes Rifkin in his books, The Zero Marginal Cost Society and The Third Industrial Revolution. The first major shift occurred in the 19th century when cheap, abundant coal provided an efficient new source of power (steam) for manufacturing and enabled the creation of a vast railway transportation network. Meanwhile, the telegraph gave the world near-instant communication over a globally connected network.

The second big change occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, when inexpensive oil began to displace coal and gave rise to a much more flexible new transportation network of cars and trucks. Telephones, radios, and televisions had a similar impact on communications.

Breaking Down the Walls Between Sectors

Now, according to Rifkin, we’re poised for the third big shift. The eye of the technology disruption hurricane has moved beyond communications and is heading toward—or as publishing and entertainment executives might warn, coming for—the rest of the economy. With its assemblage of global internet and cellular network connectivity and ever-smaller and more powerful sensors, the IoT, along with Big Data analytics and artificial intelligence, is breaking down the economic walls that have protected the energy and transportation sectors for the past 50 years.

Daimler is now among the first movers in transitioning into a digitalized mobility internet. The company has equipped nearly 400,000 of its trucks with external sensors, transforming the vehicles into mobile Big Data centers. The sensors are picking up real-time Big Data on weather conditions, traffic flows, and warehouse availability. Daimler plans to establish collaborations with thousands of companies, providing them with Big Data and analytics that can help dramatically increase their aggregate efficiency and productivity in shipping goods across their value chains. The Daimler trucks are autonomous and capable of establishing platoons of multiple trucks driving across highways.

It won’t be long before vehicles that navigate the more complex transportation infrastructures around the world begin to think for themselves. Autonomous vehicles will bring massive economic disruption to transportation and logistics thanks to new aggregate efficiencies. Without the cost of having a human at the wheel, autonomous cars could achieve a shared cost per mile below that of owned vehicles by as early as 2030, according to research from financial services company Morgan Stanley.

The transition is getting a push from governments pledging to give up their addiction to cars powered by combustion engines. Great Britain, France, India, and Norway are seeking to go all electric as early as 2025 and by 2040 at the latest.

The Final Piece of the Transition

Considering that automobiles account for 47% of petroleum consumption in the United States alone—more than twice the amount used for generators and heating for homes and businesses, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration—Rifkin argues that the shift to autonomous electric vehicles could provide the momentum needed to upend the final pillar of the economic platform: energy. Though energy has gone through three major disruptions over the past 150 years, from coal to oil to natural gas—each causing massive teardowns and rebuilds of infrastructure—the underlying economic model has remained constant: highly concentrated and easily accessible fossil fuels and highly centralized, vertically integrated, and enormous (and enormously powerful) energy and utility companies.

Now, according to Rifkin, the “Third Industrial Revolution Internet of Things infrastructure” is on course to disrupt all of it. It’s neither centralized nor vertically integrated; instead, it’s distributed and networked. And that fits perfectly with the commercial evolution of two energy sources that, until the efficiencies of the IoT came along, made no sense for large-scale energy production: the sun and the wind.

But the IoT gives power utilities the means to harness these batches together and to account for variable energy flows. Sensors on solar panels and wind turbines, along with intelligent meters and a smart grid based on the internet, manage a new, two-way flow of energy to and from the grid.

Today, fossil fuel–based power plants need to kick in extra energy if insufficient energy is collected from the sun and wind. But industrial-strength batteries and hydrogen fuel cells are beginning to take their place by storing large reservoirs of reserve power for rainy or windless days. In addition, electric vehicles will be able to send some of their stored energy to the digitalized energy internet during peak use. Demand for ever-more efficient cell phone and vehicle batteries is helping push the evolution of batteries along, but batteries will need to get a lot better if renewables are to completely replace fossil fuel energy generation.

Meanwhile, silicon-based solar cells have not yet approached their limits of efficiency. They have their own version of computing’s Moore’s Law called Swanson’s Law. According to data from research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), Swanson’s Law means that for each doubling of global solar panel manufacturing capacity, the price falls by 28%, from $76 per watt in 1977 to $0.41 in 2016. (Wind power is on a similar plunging exponential cost curve, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.)

Thanks to the plummeting solar price, by 2028, the cost of building and operating new sun-based generation capacity will drop below the cost of running existing fossil power plants, according to BNEF. “One of the surprising things in this year’s forecast,” says Seb Henbest, lead author of BNEF’s annual long-term forecast, the New Energy Outlook, “is that the crossover points in the economics of new and old technologies are happening much sooner than we thought last year … and those were all happening a bit sooner than we thought the year before. There’s this sense that it’s not some distant risk or distant opportunity. A lot of these realities are rushing toward us.”

The conclusion, he says, is irrefutable. “We can see the data and when we map that forward with conservative assumptions, these technologies just get cheaper than everything else.”

The smart money, then—72% of total new power generation capacity investment worldwide by 2040—will go to renewable energy, according to BNEF. The firm’s research also suggests that there’s more room in Swanson’s Law along the way, with solar prices expected to drop another 66% by 2040.

Another factor could push the economic shift to renewables even faster. Just as computers transitioned from being strictly corporate infrastructure to becoming consumer products with the invention of the PC in the 1980s, ultimately causing a dramatic increase in corporate IT investments, energy generation has also made the transition to the consumer side.

Thanks to future tech media star Elon Musk, consumers can go to his Tesla Energy company website and order tempered glass solar panels that look like chic, designer versions of old-fashioned roof shingles. Models that look like slate or a curved, terracotta-colored, ceramic-style glass that will make roofs look like those of Tuscan country villas, are promised soon. Consumers can also buy a sleek-looking battery called a Powerwall to store energy from the roof.

The combination of solar panels, batteries, and smart meters transforms homeowners from passive consumers of energy into active producers and traders who can choose to take energy from the grid during off-peak hours, when some utilities offer discounts, and sell energy back to the grid during periods when prices are higher. And new blockchain applications promise to accelerate the shift to an energy market that is laterally integrated rather than vertically integrated as it is now. Consumers like their newfound sense of control, according to Henbest. “Energy’s never been an interesting consumer decision before and suddenly it is,” he says.

As the price of solar equipment continues to drop, homes, offices, and factories will become like nodes on a computer network. And if promising new solar cell technologies, such as organic polymers, small molecules, and inorganic compounds, supplant silicon, which is not nearly as efficient with sunlight as it is with ones and zeroes, solar receivers could become embedded into windows and building compounds. Solar production could move off the roof and become integrated into the external facades of homes and office buildings, making nearly every edifice in town a node.

The big question, of course, is how quickly those nodes will become linked together—if, say doubters, they become linked at all. As we learned from Metcalfe’s Law, the value of a network is proportional to its number of connected users.

The Will Determines the Way

Right now, the network is limited. Wind and solar account for just 5% of global energy production today, according to Bloomberg.

But, says Rifkin, technology exists that could enable the network to grow exponentially. We are seeing the beginnings of a digital energy network, which uses a combination of the IoT, Big Data, analytics, and artificial intelligence to manage distributed energy sources, such as solar and wind power from homes and businesses.

As nodes on this network, consumers and businesses could take a more active role in energy production, management, and efficiency, according to Rifkin. Utilities, in turn, could transition from simply transmitting power and maintaining power plants and lines to managing the flow to and from many different energy nodes; selling and maintaining smart home energy management products; and monitoring and maintaining solar panels and wind turbines. By analyzing energy use in the network, utilities could create algorithms that automatically smooth the flow of renewables. Consumers and businesses, meanwhile, would not have to worry about connecting their wind and solar assets to the grid and keeping them up and running; utilities could take on those tasks more efficiently.

Already in Germany, two utility companies, E.ON and RWE, have each split their businesses into legacy fossil and nuclear fuel companies and new services companies based on distributed generation from renewables, new technologies, and digitalization.

The reason is simple: it’s about survival. As fossil fuel generation winds down, the utilities need a new business model to make up for lost revenue. Due to Germany’s population density, “the utilities realize that they won’t ever have access to enough land to scale renewables themselves,” says Rifkin. “So they are starting service companies to link together all the different communities that are building solar and wind and are managing energy flows for them and for their customers, doing their analytics, and managing their Big Data. That’s how they will make more money while selling less energy in the future.”

The digital energy internet is already starting out in pockets and at different levels of intensity around the world, depending on a combination of citizen support, utility company investments, governmental power, and economic incentives.

China and some countries within the EU, such as Germany and France, are the most likely leaders in the transition toward a renewable, energy-based infrastructure because they have been able to align the government and private sectors in long-term energy planning. In the EU for example, wind has already overtaken coal as the second largest form of power capacity behind natural gas, according to an article in The Guardian newspaper. Indeed, Rifkin has been working with China, the EU, and governments, communities, and utilities in Northern France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg to begin building these new internets.

Hauts-de-France, a region that borders the English Channel and Belgium and has one of the highest poverty rates in France, enlisted Rifkin to develop a plan to lift it out of its downward spiral of shuttered factories and abandoned coal mines. In collaboration with a diverse group of CEOs, politicians, teachers, scientists, and others, it developed Rev3, a plan to put people to work building a renewable energy network, according to an article in Vice.

Today, more than 1,000 Rev3 projects are underway, encompassing everything from residential windmills made from local linen to a fully electric car–sharing system. Rev3 has received financial support from the European Investment Bank and a handful of private investment funds, and startups have benefited from crowdfunding mechanisms sponsored by Rev3. Today, 90% of new energy in the region is renewable and 1,500 new jobs have been created in the wind energy sector alone.

Meanwhile, thanks in part to generous government financial support, Germany is already producing 35% of its energy from renewables, according to an article in The Independent, and there is near unanimous citizen support (95%, according to a recent government poll) for its expansion.

If renewables are to move forward …, it must come from the ability to make green, not act green.

If renewable energy is to move forward in other areas of the world that don’t enjoy such strong economic and political support, however, it must come from the ability to make green, not act green.

Not everyone agrees that renewables will produce cost savings sufficient to cause widespread cost disruption anytime soon. A recent forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that in 2040, oil, natural gas, and coal will still be the planet’s major electricity producers, powering 77% of worldwide production, while renewables such as wind, solar, and biofuels will account for just 15%.

Skeptics also say that renewables’ complex management needs, combined with the need to store reserve power, will make them less economical than fossil fuels through at least 2035. “All advanced economies demand full-time electricity,” Benjamin Sporton, chief executive officer of the World Coal Association told Bloomberg. “Wind and solar can only generate part-time, intermittent electricity. While some renewable technologies have achieved significant cost reductions in recent years, it’s important to look at total system costs.”

On the other hand, there are many areas of the world where distributed, decentralized, renewable power generation already makes more sense than a centralized fossil fuel–powered grid. More than 20% of Indians in far flung areas of the country have no access to power today, according to an article in The Guardian. Locally owned and managed solar and wind farms are the most economical way forward. The same is true in other developing countries, such as Afghanistan, where rugged terrain, war, and tribal territorialism make a centralized grid an easy target, and mountainous Costa Rica, where strong winds and rivers have pushed the country to near 100% renewable energy, according to The Guardian.

The Light and the Darknet

Even if all the different IoT-enabled economic platforms become financially advantageous, there is another concern that could disrupt progress and potentially cause widespread disaster once the new platforms are up and running: hacking. Poorly secured IoT sensors have allowed hackers to take over everything from Wi-Fi enabled Barbie dolls to Jeep Cherokees, according to an article in Wired magazine.

Humans may be lousy drivers, but at least we can’t be hacked (yet). And while the grid may be prone to outages, it is tightly controlled, has few access points for hackers, and is physically separated from the Wild West of the internet.

If our transportation and energy networks join the fray, however, every sensor, from those in the steering system on vehicles to grid-connected toasters, becomes as vulnerable as a credit card number. Fake news and election hacking are bad enough, but what about fake drivers or fake energy? Now we’re talking dangerous disruptions and putting millions of people in harm’s way.

The only answer, according to Rifkin, is for businesses and governments to start taking the hacking threat much more seriously than they do today and to begin pouring money into research and technologies for making the internet less vulnerable. That means establishing “a fully distributed, redundant, and resilient digital infrastructure less vulnerable to the kind of disruptions experienced by Second Industrial Revolution–centralized communication systems and power grids that are increasingly subject to climate change, disasters, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism,” he says. “The ability of neighborhoods and communities to go off centralized grids during crises and re-aggregate in locally decentralized networks is the key to advancing societal security in the digital era,” he adds.

Start Looking Ahead

Until today, digital transformation has come mainly through the networking and communications efficiencies made possible by the internet. Airbnb thrives because web communications make it possible to create virtual trust markets that allow people to feel safe about swapping their most private spaces with one another.

But now these same efficiencies are coming to two other areas that have never been considered core to business strategy. That’s why businesses need to begin managing energy and transportation as key elements of their digital transformation portfolios.

Microsoft, for example, formed a senior energy team to develop an energy strategy to mitigate risk from fluctuating energy prices and increasing demands from customers to reduce carbon emissions, according to an article in Harvard Business Review. “Energy has become a C-suite issue,” Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s top environmental and sustainability executive told the magazine. “The CFO and president are now actively involved in our energy road map.”

As Daimler’s experience shows, driverless vehicles will push autonomous transportation and automated logistics up the strategic agenda within the next few years. Boston Consulting Group predicts that the driverless vehicle market will hit $42 billion by 2025. If that happens, it could have a lateral impact across many industries, from insurance to healthcare to the military.

Businesses must start planning now. “There’s always a period when businesses have to live in the new and the old worlds at the same time,” says Rifkin. “So businesses need to be considering new business models and structures now while continuing to operate their existing models.”

He worries that many businesses will be left behind if their communications, energy, and transportation infrastructures don’t evolve. Companies that still rely on fossil fuels for powering traditional transportation and logistics could be at a major competitive disadvantage to those that have moved to the new, IoT-based energy and transportation infrastructures.

Germany, for example, has set a target of 80% renewables for gross power consumption by 2050, according to The Independent. If the cost advantages of renewables bear out, German businesses, which are already the world’s third-largest exporters behind China and the United States, could have a major competitive advantage.

“How would a second industrial revolution society or country compete with one that has energy at zero marginal cost and driverless vehicles?” asks Rifkin. “It can’t be done.” D!


About the Authors

Maurizio Cattaneo is Director, Delivery Execution, Energy and Natural Resources, at SAP.

Joerg Ferchow is Senior Utilities Expert and Design Thinking Coach, Digital Transformation, at SAP.

Daniel Wellers is Digital Futures Lead, Global Marketing, at SAP.

Christopher Koch is Editorial Director, SAP Center for Business Insight, at SAP.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

One of my favorite movies of 2016 was Hidden Figures. The main character, Katherine Johnson, and her team of colleagues had an interesting job title: Computer. Here’s what Katherine said about her job: “On any given day, I analyze the binomial levels of air displacement, friction, and velocity. And compute over 10 thousand calculations by cosine, square root, and lately analytic geometry. By hand.”

That was the 1960s. It was amazing work, but work that took hours to complete – and something an in-memory computer could do in a fraction of a second today.

Just as in-memory computing transformed calculating by hand (and made jobs like Katherine’s much easier), digital technologies are transforming the way we work today – and making our day-to-day activities more efficient.

What’s the real impact of technology in today’s workplace?

We are surrounded by technology, both at home and at work. Machine learning and robotics are making their way into everyday life and are affecting the way we expect to engage with technology at work. That has a big impact on organizations: If a machine can do a job safely and more efficiently, a company, nonprofit, or government – and its employees – will benefit. Digital technologies are becoming increasingly more feasible, affordable, and desirable. The challenge for organizations now is effectively merging human talent and digital business to harness new capabilities.

How will jobs change?

What does this mean for humans in the workplace? In a previous blog, Kerry Brown showed that as enterprises continue to learn, human/machine collaboration increases. People will direct technology and hand over work that can be done more efficiently by machine. Does that mean people will go away? No – but they will need to leverage different skills than they have today.

Although we don’t know exactly how jobs will change, one thing is for sure: Becoming more digitally proficient will help every employee stay relevant (and prepare them to move forward in their careers). Today’s workforce demographic complicates how people embrace technology – with up to five generations in the workforce, there is a wide variety in digital fluency (i.e., the ability to understand which technology is available and what tools will best achieve desired outcomes).

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

Digital fluency is the combination of several capabilities related to technology:

  • Foundation skills: The ability to use technology tools that enhance your productivity and effectiveness
  • Information skills: The ability to research and develop your own perspective on topics using technology
  • Collaboration skills: The ability to share knowledge and collaborate with others using technology
  • Transformation skills: The ability to assess your own skills and take action toward building your digital fluency

No matter how proficient you are today, you can continue to build your digital IQ by building new habits and skills. This is something that both the organization and employee will have to own to be successful.

So, what skills are needed?

In a Technical University of Munich study released in July 2017, 64% of respondents said they do not have the skills necessary for digital transformation.

Today's workplace reality

These skills will be applied not only to the jobs of today, but also to the top jobs of the future, which haven’t been imagined yet! A recent article in Fast Company mentions a few, which include Digital Death Manager, Corporate Disorganizer, and 3D Printing Handyman.

And today’s skills will be used differently in 2025, as reported by another Fast Company article:

  • Tech skills, especially analytical skills, will increase in importance. Demand for software developers, market analysts, and computer analysts will increase significantly between now and 2025.
  • Retail and sales skills, or any job related to soft skills that are hard for computers to learn, will continue to grow. Customer service representatives, marketing specialists, and sales reps must continue to collaborate and understand how to use social media effectively to communicate worldwide.
  • Lifelong learning will be necessary to keep up with the changes in technology and adapt to our fast-moving lives. Teachers and trainers will continue to be hot jobs in the future, but the style of teaching will change to adapt to a “sound bite” world.
  • Contract workers who understand how businesses and projects work will thrive in the “gig economy.” Management analysts and auditors will continue to be in high demand.

What’s next?

How do companies address a shortage of digital skills and build digital fluency? Here are some steps you can take to increase your digital fluency – and that of your organization:

  • Assess where you are today. Either personally or organizationally, knowing what skills you have is the first step toward identifying where you need to go.
  • Identify one of each of the skill sets to focus on. What foundational skills do you or your organization need? How can you promote collaboration? What thought leadership can your team share – and how can they connect with the right information to stay relevant?
  • Start practicing! Choose just one thing – and use that technology every day for a month. Use it within your organization so others can practice too.

And up next for this blog series – a look at the workplace of the future!

The computer made its debut in Hidden Figures. Did it replace jobs? Yes, for some of the computer team. But members of that team did not leave quietly and continue manual calculations elsewhere. They learned how to use that new mainframe computer and became programmers. I believe humans will always be the next big thing.

If we want to retain humanity’s value in an increasingly automated world, we need to start recognizing and nurturing Human Skills for the Digital Future.

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Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

Traci Maddox is the Director of the North America Customer Transformation Office at SAP, where she is elevating customer success through innovation and digital transformation. Traci is also part of the Digital Workforce Taskforce, a team of SAP leaders whose mission is to help companies succeed by understanding and addressing workforce implications of digital technology.