Creators: Zipline Offers Drone Aid to Remote Health Clinics

Stephanie Overby

Keller Rinaudo, co-founder and CEO, Zipline
Image Credit: Flickr CC: TED Conference

Drones get a bad rap. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), first introduced decades ago, have a largely negative connotation in modern life—from the Predator drones used to conduct targeted killings to law enforcement drones engaging in potentially unwarranted surveillance to mishandled consumer drones menacing the public.

Credit: Zipline

Keller Rinaudo, co-founder and CEO of Zipline International, sees the technology instead as a lifesaving mode of transport. In 2016, the Half Moon Bay, California, based drone delivery service signed its first partnership with the government of Rwanda to make the last-mile delivery of blood to transfusion facilities throughout the country. In August 2017, the company signed a larger deal with the government of Tanzania to provide 2,000 medical deliveries a day to its far-flung health facilities.

But Rinaudo’s drone dreams are even bigger: to enable on-demand, low-cost delivery of medicines and other products for the planet.

Pivotal Pivots

Rinaudo earned a degree in biotech from Harvard, where he built DNA computers. After spending a few years on the professional rock-climbing circuit, he shifted to robotics. Rinaudo was particularly interested in how smartphone components could open up new doors for robotics, ultimately launching the company Romotive in 2012 with the Vegas Tech Fund.

Romotive raised some US$7 million and spent more than two years developing an app-controlled robotic toy for iOS devices before Rinaudo determined he wanted to do something more impactful with robotics. Robots are really good at repetitive tasks, so Rinaudo spent a year exploring seemingly mundane tasks that were ripe for disruption, ultimately settling on an area where he thought robots could have the most impact: medical logistics and delivery.

The Last-Mile Problem

Zipline’s aircraft, called “Zips” can fly 10 times the distance of existing commercial UAVs. Credit: Zipline

In 2014, Rinaudo traveled to Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, where he met a grad student working to digitalize part of the country’s medical supply chain. The student had built a mobile alert system that enabled health workers to text requests for emergency blood and medical supplies for critically ill patients. However, owing to the country’s difficult topography and its slow and inefficient medical supply chain, there was no way for the government to deliver many of these materials.

Browsing the growing backlog of medical supply requests that the student had collected, Rinaudo says he realized he was looking at a “database of death.” More than 2 billion people around the world lack adequate access to essential medical products, according to the World Health Organization, often due to challenging terrain and gaps in infrastructure. Over 2.9 million children under age five die every year and up to 150,000 pregnancy-related deaths result from lack of access to safe blood.

Robotic aircraft could solve the problem. Rinaudo established Zipline and moved to develop the Zip, a first-of-its-kind drone delivery service, as the final link in the medical supply chain for problematic geographies.

An Inside Job

Zipline’s team of 60 includes seasoned aerospace engineers recruited from companies like SpaceX, Google, Boeing, and NASA. “They’ve been drawn to the mission,” Rinaudo says, “using cutting-edge technology to save lives.”

The fixed-wing aircraft that Zipline has developed are capable of flying farther on less power and in more variable weather than the multirotor machines typically referred to as drones. The Zips can fly 10 times the distance of existing commercial UAVs. The company has built the robotic systems for launching and landing their Zips, as well as the algorithms in the flight computer and air traffic control software, in-house. “Off-the-shelf quadcopters can’t get the job done,” Rinaudo explains. “We need a purpose-driven vehicle capable of making deliveries at a national scale.”

Rwanda’s Leap of Faith

Zipline began its deliveries in Rwanda, which is known as the country of a thousand hills. The topography makes for a striking landscape but challenging logistics. “The government was ready to step forward and make a national commitment to expanding healthcare access with technology,” Rinaudo says. Because Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, with a land area the size of Maryland, Zipline could serve almost half of the nation’s population from its single distribution center. (Ultimately, the Rwandan government has said it wants to ensure that delivery of essential medical supplies is no more than 30 minutes away from all 12 million Rwandans.)

“Millions of people across the world die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it. It’s a problem in both developed and developing countries.We can help solve it with on-demand drone delivery.”

Zipline launched its first blood drops from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, late in 2016. The company flies 15 planes (which weigh about 14 kilograms fully loaded) simultaneously, using data provided by GPS and Rwanda’s Civil Aviation Authority to guide the flights. Powered by lithium-ion battery packs and twin electric motors, the Zips don’t have to be refueled.

To make deliveries, the planes fly about 40 feet above what Zipline calls the “mailbox” near a clinic (an area approximately the size of two parking spots) and drop the packages to it. The clinics do not need to install any infrastructure. To begin service to a new site, Zipline performs a survey flight to map the area and can start deliveries within two days.

One of Zipline’s central innovations is the aircraft landing system at its distribution centers. “We need to take off and land from the same place with limited space,” says Rinaudo. Mimicking the wire and tailhook systems the U.S. Navy uses to snag jets onto its carriers, Zipline engineers developed a pair of robotic arms that hold a wire. On approach, the plane sends a signal to the robotic arms, triggering them to raise the wire to the right height for the plane to snag it before stopping on an inflated landing mat nearby. The solution enables the planes to decelerate from 100 kilometers an hour to zero in half a second with no runway.

Developing the technology to operate and land the UAVs safely and effectively was easy, Rinaudo says, compared to integrating with Rwanda’s national health system. There were challenges with back-end systems integration. Zipline has also had to consider local air traffic and health regulations and develop education and training for distribution center workers. “We work hand in hand with military and civil aviation authorities, the national blood center, clinics around the country, hospital staff, and members of the surrounding community,” Rinaudo says. “All of them have a key role to play. And building those relationships while strengthening the overall operation takes time.”

Reverse Innovation

A healthcare professional collects air-delivered supplies. Credit: Zipline

Last summer, the government of Tanzania signed a deal with Zipline to develop the largest national drone delivery service in the world with four distribution centers and more than 100 drones. The initiative aims to serve 10 million Tanzanians (approximately the population of the U.S. state of Georgia). Zips in Tanzania will deliver not just blood but also emergency vaccines, HIV medications, antimalarial drugs, and critical medical supplies like sutures and IV tubes.

Although Zipline is focused on its East African operations, its approach could prove valuable anywhere. “Millions of people across the world die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it. It’s a problem in both developed and developing countries,” Rinaudo says. “We can help solve it with on-demand drone delivery. And African nations are showing the world how.”

The company has worked with the U.S. government to explore tests of medical supply drone delivery to remote communities such as Smith Island in Maryland, Pyramid Lake Tribal Health Clinic in Nevada, and the San Juan Islands in Washington. It plans to expand within the United States in 2018.

Taking Drones to New Heights

Rinaudo’s focus on using drones to deliver items that have a significant impact on someone’s life has attracted prominent funders, including Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang.

It’s not clear yet whether drone delivery cuts costs. A report published in 2016 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center noted that using UAVs to deliver vaccines in low- and middle-income countries may save money and improve vaccination rates. Zipline executives have reported that its deliveries for routine restocking are more expensive than standard trips by road, but responding to emergencies costs less.

To evaluate Zipline’s impact, global health researchers from the Ifakara Health Institute and the University of Glasgow will assess how deliveries from one of its planned distribution centers affect the clinics the company serves.

The value in lives saved is clear, says Rinaudo, and that is fueling development. Costs will come down over time, he adds, and the practical use cases within healthcare will expand. Eventually, Rinaudo envisions, Zipline’s approach could be practical for a range of possibilities beyond medical supplies. Meanwhile, the success of companies like his could serve as a springboard for a new category of aircraft more reliable and durable than cheap consumer drones but less expensive than multimillion dollar unmanned military aircraft. D!


Stephanie Overby

About Stephanie Overby

A Boston-based Journalist, Stephanie Overby has covered everything from Wall Street to weddings during her career. She is currently focused on the implications of digital transformation.

How Can Machine Learning Help Eradicate Modern Slavery In Supply Chains?

Shelly Dutton

Hidden in the dark corners of everyday supply chains is a US$51 billion illegal market, comprised of 40.3 million enslaved people – 75% of whom are women. From agriculture and manufacturing to domestic servitude, women are trapped in a supply chain that contains an inescapable cycle of forced labor with little to no pay, daily violence, threats, substandard conditions, and long hours.

Investigative journalists have for years exposed modern slavery in many leading brands’ supply chains. And often the response from reported companies is met with shock, denial, and silence.

But if we look closely at their released statements or lack of acknowledgment, a persisting underlying problem emerges: a lack of transparency across the entire supply chain, including the suppliers of their suppliers.

Unraveling the pervasiveness of forced labor practices in supply chains

The more connected and globalized our world becomes, the riskier supply chains become. Competitive realities are forcing businesses to make decisions that balance cost and quality as well as access and sustainability. But in an environment where cost and access are typically valued more, companies act unknowingly as an accessory to modern-day slavery.

According to Justin Dillion, CEO and founder of Made in a Free World, the best way to eradicate this problem is to help consumers and businesses buy better. During the SAP-sponsored Webcast Monitoring Ethics Deep in the Supply Chain, he said that businesses need to be empowered to “look at these issues more specifically – and do that through the lens of spend data.”

Consider, for example, a global firm with a supply chain consisting of 60,000 vendors and resellers. Such a high volume of suppliers in its network would likely include at least a couple hundred vendors that could expose operations to instances of women in forced labor. And this is not a fictional hypothetical. In fact, Thomson Reuters’ 2016 Global Third-Party Risk Survey revealed that only 36% of surveyed businesses thoroughly monitor their suppliers for risks, while 61% have no knowledge of the outsourcing activities of their third parties.

Overcoming growing complexity to end supply chain exploitation

Businesses can overcome exposure with a platform that gives a clear view of the entire supply chain. Access to real-time intelligence data from online news, media, and government organizations enable buyers, procurement managers, and supply chain leaders to make better-informed sourcing strategies. When drilling down into the data, everyone who touches the supply chain can identify high-risk exposure based on a variety of factors.

With a sense of the risks behind their purchases, they can remediate known sources of modern slavery to improve brand integrity and document it to comply with reporting regulations – but this is just the beginning. Machine learning can further extend insights by uncovering unknown, otherwise invisible, events through the detection of patterns.

Self-learning procurement processes empower businesses to connect the dots quickly between primary, secondary, and tertiary supplier relationships. This application of machine learning not only roots out hidden enslavement practices deep in the supply chain, but it accomplishes it in a way that minimizes supply chain disruption and keeps costs low.

Machine learning turns a noble purpose into a business opportunity

Machine learning gives procurement and supply chain organizations a strategic weapon for freeing millions of women from modern slavery. However, this digital approach is more than just a noble purpose. It’s a strategic investment for identifying effective supply chain practices that meet the demands of customers, investors, and employees that want to see slavery eradicated for good.

It doesn’t matter how far in the supply chain modern slavery resides. Every business along the value chain – from the originating supplier to the final seller – will feel its impact. By “walking the walk” on ethical supply chain operations, businesses are not just doing good – they’re lifting their bottom lines with new sources of growth and innovation.

For more on this topic, see Combating Modern Slavery: It’s More Than Compliance, It’s Ethics!


How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Swati Sinha

About Swati Sinha

Swati is part of the Analytic Applications for Line of Business team at SAP. She is passionate about marketing and is a technologist with a masters in business administration and masters in computer applications. Her experience spans development and product management with various technology companies.

How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Derek Klobucher

About Derek Klobucher

Derek Klobucher is a digital storyteller, writer and video journalist for SAP.

How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Susan Galer

About Susan Galer

Susan Galer is the Communications Director, SAP News Services.

How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Saj Hoffman-Hussain

About Saj Hoffman-Hussain

Saj is a former BBC News journalist who decided to hop over the pond to the USA in 2014 and since then has worked as a freelance media professional for CBS/NPR and local TV affiliates before transitioning to marketing content development. He has specialist expertise in digital technologies, politics, and commerce. His philosophy is to never underestimate the power of a well-brewed cup of tea, and don’t be afraid to take calculated risks after said cup of tea. Also, be nice to people who bring you tea.

How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Elvira Wallis

About Elvira Wallis

Elvira Wallis is the Senior Vice President of SAP’s IoT Smart Connected Business organization. Elvira is responsible for ideating, defining, delivering and taking-to-market IoT business solutions to increase revenue, adoption and thought leadership.

How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Bonnie D. Graham

About Bonnie D. Graham

Bonnie D. Graham is the creator, producer and host/moderator of Game-Changers Radio series presented by SAP, bringing technology and business strategy discussions to a global audience. A broadcast journalist with over 20 years in media production and hosting, Bonnie has held marketing communications management roles in a variety of industries. Listen to the flagship series, Coffee Break with Game-Changers.

How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Bernard Chung

About Bernard Chung

Bernard Chung is Head of Audience Marketing for Marketing Line of Business at SAP Hybris.

How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Vaag Durgaryan

About Vaag Durgaryan

Vaag Durgaryan is the commercial finance director for SAP in the Middle East and North Africa, which comprises of over 20 countries. Starting in 2017, he oversees a multinational team that provides finance expertise, knowledge, and strategy outlook for finance sales support in the region. Prior to that, Vaag was chief of staff for the CFO for SAP Global Field Finance and co-drove global transformation initiatives with focus on process simplification and people enablement. He holds an Executive MBA degree from ESSEC Business School and Mannheim Business School. Vaag has a passion in digitalization and learning culture.

How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


How High Will Your Supply Chain Jump To Build Customer Centric Business Processes?

Richard Howells

The 21st century consumer is always on, always connected, and doesn’t make a move without consulting the Internet. The millennial generation is emerging as a major demand driver, with access to huge amounts of information about products and trends on “what’s hot and what’s not,” via social media.

Take my teenage son (please!!!) for example, a basketball player in his high school. Every season, he wants the latest and greatest sneakers that will make him run, jump, and rebound better and faster. So what does he do? He turns on his tablet to go online to check out what’s available. And here he can not only see and buy what the NBA stars are wearing, but he can also customize the shoes to match his school colors and have his name and team number stitched into each sneaker. Through the advent of omni-channel sales, he can (once he gets my credit card of course) order from anywhere, on any device he has access too. Long gone are the days of the only option being the white high top!

And what happens when my son posts a pic of his new kicks on his social networks? Inevitably many of his friends are going to jump on their devices and order a pair for themselves. Is your business prepared to deliver to meet demand when your product is deemed “hot” and goes viral among the millennials?

Point of sales at the store is not the ONLY source of data to drive the replenishment process. It is no longer good enough just to be “demand driven.” We need to be “market driven.” We not only need the information from orders and sales forecasts, but also from weather forecasts, traffic reports, market share reports, and customer sentiment. We need to know what is being tweeted about our products, what and where products are hot, and what is being said, both good and (sometimes more importantly) bad via social media. This involves all the sources of data that describe the market and where the market is going at the most granular level.

Why is this important? Because the customer, or consumer, is becoming more demanding. If I order something online, I expect the delivery on the same day, or at least the next day. That introduces the need to think about demand differently. It is not possible to compete with aggregated demand for a product family in a region. To respond with speed, we need the information at the detailed level, so that it can be aggregated and analyzed to service a channel, market sector, customer, and specific order.

It sounds so simple, but to deliver those custom basketball sneakers to my son before he gets impatient, how high does the supply chain have to jump to enable him to make that three pointer?

Here are a few ways that we have to re-imagine this business process to be centered around the customer.

  • Design a customizable sneaker, with all possible allowed combinations of colors.
  • This design is handed over to both the sales and manufacturing organizations, to enable customers to design their own sneaker, and to the manufacturing site to produce it.
  • At the moment an order is placed, through any sales channel (in store, online etc.), the specific demand is instantly visible. The customer can specify unique text or numbers to be stacked onto the sneaker. They can also determine the shipping rules and instructions.
  • The specific order is planned and scheduled at an appropriate manufacturing facility.
  • The production line is set up to create all combinations of the sneaker for a “lot size of one.
  • At the final manufacturing step the unique text is stitched onto each sneaker.
  • The logistics processes are configured to uniquely pack and shipped to the desired pick up or delivery location based on the shipping rules determined by the customer.
  • Processes need to be in place to capture real demand signals coming from social media as demand for these custom sneakers take off in certain markets, regions, or even cities.

This is just a simple example of some of the business processes that have to be adjusted, and how leveraging a digitized extended supply chain can deliver a personalized solution by putting the customer in the center of the process.

The benefits of this scenario are significant:

  • Improved customer service and engagement
  • Stronger competitive differentiation
  • Compelling and holistic brand experience
  • Improved revenue

For more on supply chain optimization, download the free e-book How to Attack Supply Chain Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: The Quick Guide.


Dilip Khandelwal

About Dilip Khandelwal

Dilipkumar is the President of SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud (SAP HEC) and the Managing Director of SAP Labs India. In addition, he heads the Enterprise Cloud Services department. His global team ensures that SAP solutions run best in the Cloud, on-premise and in hybrid landscapes. He is a member of the SAP Global Executive Team reporting to the Executive Board. Dilip was recognized by The Economic Times as a ’40 under 40’ leader, India’s prestigious award for the top young business leaders.

The Human Angle

By Jenny Dearborn, David Judge, Tom Raftery, and Neal Ungerleider

In a future teeming with robots and artificial intelligence, humans seem to be on the verge of being crowded out. But in reality the opposite is true.

To be successful, organizations need to become more human than ever.

Organizations that focus only on automation will automate away their competitive edge. The most successful will focus instead on skills that set them apart and that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning. Those skills can be summed up in one word: humanness.

You can see it in the numbers. According to David J. Deming of the Harvard Kennedy School, demand for jobs that require social skills has risen nearly 12 percentage points since 1980, while less-social jobs, such as computer coding, have declined by a little over 3 percentage points.

AI is in its infancy, which means that it cannot yet come close to duplicating our most human skills. Stefan van Duin and Naser Bakhshi, consultants at professional services company Deloitte, break down artificial intelligence into two types: narrow and general. Narrow AI is good at specific tasks, such as playing chess or identifying facial expressions. General AI, which can learn and solve complex, multifaceted problems the way a human being does, exists today only in the minds of futurists.

The only thing narrow artificial intelligence can do is automate. It can’t empathize. It can’t collaborate. It can’t innovate. Those abilities, if they ever come, are still a long way off. In the meantime, AI’s biggest value is in augmentation. When human beings work with AI tools, the process results in a sort of augmented intelligence. This augmented intelligence outperforms the work of either human beings or AI software tools on their own.

AI-powered tools will be the partners that free employees and management to tackle higher-level challenges.

Those challenges will, by default, be more human and social in nature because many rote, repetitive tasks will be automated away. Companies will find that developing fundamental human skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, within the organization will take on a new importance. These skills can’t be automated and they won’t become process steps for algorithms anytime soon.

In a world where technology change is constant and unpredictable, those organizations that make the fullest use of uniquely human skills will win. These skills will be used in collaboration with both other humans and AI-fueled software and hardware tools. The degree of humanness an organization possesses will become a competitive advantage.

This means that today’s companies must think about hiring, training, and leading differently. Most of today’s corporate training programs focus on imparting specific knowledge that will likely become obsolete over time.

Instead of hiring for portfolios of specific subject knowledge, organizations should instead hire—and train—for more foundational skills, whose value can’t erode away as easily.

Recently, educational consulting firm Hanover Research looked at high-growth occupations identified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and determined the core skills required in each of them based on a database that it had developed. The most valuable skills were active listening, speaking, and critical thinking—giving lie to the dismissive term soft skills. They’re not soft; they’re human.


This doesn’t mean that STEM skills won’t be important in the future. But organizations will find that their most valuable employees are those with both math and social skills.

That’s because technical skills will become more perishable as AI shifts the pace of technology change from linear to exponential. Employees will require constant retraining over time. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is already outdated by the time students graduate, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF’s report further notes that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.” By contrast, human skills such as interpersonal communication and project management will remain consistent over the years.

For example, organizations already report that they are having difficulty finding people equipped for the Big Data era’s hot job: data scientist. That’s because data scientists need a combination of hard and soft skills. Data scientists can’t just be good programmers and statisticians; they also need to be intuitive and inquisitive and have good communication skills. We don’t expect all these qualities from our engineering graduates, nor from most of our employees.

But we need to start.

From Self-Help to Self-Skills

Even if most schools and employers have yet to see it, employees are starting to understand that their future viability depends on improving their innately human qualities. One of the most popular courses on Coursera, an online learning platform, is called Learning How to Learn. Created by the University of California, San Diego, the course is essentially a master class in human skills: students learn everything from memory techniques to dealing with procrastination and communicating complicated ideas, according to an article in The New York Times.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing.

Although there is a longstanding assumption that social skills are innate, nothing is further from the truth. As the popularity of Learning How to Learn attests, human skills—everything from learning skills to communication skills to empathy—can, and indeed must, be taught.

These human skills are integral for training workers for a workplace where artificial intelligence and automation are part of the daily routine. According to the WEF’s New Vision for Education report, the skills that employees will need in the future fall into three primary categories:

  • Foundational literacies: These core skills needed for the coming age of robotics and AI include understanding the basics of math, science, computing, finance, civics, and culture. While mastery of every topic isn’t required, workers who have a basic comprehension of many different areas will be richly rewarded in the coming economy.
  • Competencies: Developing competencies requires mastering very human skills, such as active listening, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration.
  • Character qualities: Over the next decade, employees will need to master the skills that will help them grasp changing job duties and responsibilities. This means learning the skills that help employees acquire curiosity, initiative, persistence, grit, adaptability, leadership, and social and cultural awareness.


The good news is that learning human skills is not completely divorced from how work is structured today. Yonatan Zunger, a Google engineer with a background working with AI, argues that there is a considerable need for human skills in the workplace already—especially in the tech world. Many employees are simply unaware that when they are working on complicated software or hardware projects, they are using empathy, strategic problem solving, intuition, and interpersonal communication.

The unconscious deployment of human skills takes place even more frequently when employees climb the corporate ladder into management. “This is closely tied to the deeper difference between junior and senior roles: a junior person’s job is to find answers to questions; a senior person’s job is to find the right questions to ask,” says Zunger.

Human skills will be crucial to navigating the AI-infused workplace. There will be no shortage of need for the right questions to ask.

One of the biggest changes narrow AI tools will bring to the workplace is an evolution in how work is performed. AI-based tools will automate repetitive tasks across a wide swath of industries, which means that the day-to-day work for many white-collar workers will become far more focused on tasks requiring problem solving and critical thinking. These tasks will present challenges centered on interpersonal collaboration, clear communication, and autonomous decision-making—all human skills.

Being More Human Is Hard

However, the human skills that are essential for tomorrow’s AI-ified workplace, such as interpersonal communication, project planning, and conflict management, require a different approach from traditional learning. Often, these skills don’t just require people to learn new facts and techniques; they also call for basic changes in the ways individuals behave on—and off—the job.

Attempting to teach employees how to make behavioral changes has always seemed off-limits to organizations—the province of private therapists, not corporate trainers. But that outlook is changing. As science gains a better understanding of how the human brain works, many behaviors that affect employees on the job are understood to be universal and natural rather than individual (see “Human Skills 101”).

Human Skills 101

As neuroscience has improved our understanding of the brain, human skills have become increasingly quantifiable—and teachable.

Though the term soft skills has managed to hang on in the popular lexicon, our understanding of these human skills has increased to the point where they aren’t soft at all: they are a clearly definable set of skills that are crucial for organizations in the AI era.

Active listening: Paying close attention when receiving information and drawing out more information than received in normal discourse

Critical thinking: Gathering, analyzing, and evaluating issues and information to come to an unbiased conclusion

Problem solving: Finding solutions to problems and understanding the steps used to solve the problem

Decision-making: Weighing the evidence and options at hand to determine a specific course of action

Monitoring: Paying close attention to an issue, topic, or interaction in order to retain information for the future

Coordination: Working with individuals and other groups to achieve common goals

Social perceptiveness: Inferring what others are thinking by observing them

Time management: Budgeting and allocating time for projects and goals and structuring schedules to minimize conflicts and maximize productivity

Creativity: Generating ideas, concepts, or inferences that can be used to create new things

Curiosity: Desiring to learn and understand new or unfamiliar concepts

Imagination: Conceiving and thinking about new ideas, concepts, or images

Storytelling: Building narratives and concepts out of both new and existing ideas

Experimentation: Trying out new ideas, theories, and activities

Ethics: Practicing rules and standards that guide conduct and guarantee rights and fairness

Empathy: Identifying and understanding the emotional states of others

Collaboration: Working with others, coordinating efforts, and sharing resources to accomplish a common project

Resiliency: Withstanding setbacks, avoiding discouragement, and persisting toward a larger goal

Resistance to change, for example, is now known to result from an involuntary chemical reaction in the brain known as the fight-or-flight response, not from a weakness of character. Scientists and psychologists have developed objective ways of identifying these kinds of behaviors and have come up with universally applicable ways for employees to learn how to deal with them.

Organizations that emphasize such individual behavioral traits as active listening, social perceptiveness, and experimentation will have both an easier transition to a workplace that uses AI tools and more success operating in it.

Framing behavioral training in ways that emphasize its practical application at work and in advancing career goals helps employees feel more comfortable confronting behavioral roadblocks without feeling bad about themselves or stigmatized by others. It also helps organizations see the potential ROI of investing in what has traditionally been dismissed as touchy-feely stuff.

In fact, offering objective means for examining inner behaviors and tools for modifying them is more beneficial than just leaving the job to employees. For example, according to research by psychologist Tasha Eurich, introspection, which is how most of us try to understand our behaviors, can actually be counterproductive.

Human beings are complex creatures. There is generally way too much going on inside our minds to be able to pinpoint the conscious and unconscious behaviors that drive us to act the way we do. We wind up inventing explanations—usually negative—for our behaviors, which can lead to anxiety and depression, according to Eurich’s research.

Structured, objective training can help employees improve their human skills without the negative side effects. At SAP, for example, we offer employees a course on conflict resolution that uses objective research techniques for determining what happens when people get into conflicts. Employees learn about the different conflict styles that researchers have identified and take an assessment to determine their own style of dealing with conflict. Then employees work in teams to discuss their different styles and work together to resolve a specific conflict that one of the group members is currently experiencing.

How Knowing One’s Self Helps the Organization

Courses like this are helpful not just for reducing conflicts between individuals and among teams (and improving organizational productivity); they also contribute to greater self-awareness, which is the basis for enabling people to take fullest advantage of their human skills.

Self-awareness is a powerful tool for improving performance at both the individual and organizational levels. Self-aware people are more confident and creative, make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. They are also less likely to lie, cheat, and steal, according to Eurich.

It naturally follows that such people make better employees and are more likely to be promoted. They also make more effective leaders with happier employees, which makes the organization more profitable, according to research by Atuma Okpara and Agwu M. Edwin.

There are two types of self-awareness, writes Eurich. One is having a clear view inside of one’s self: one’s own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. The second type is understanding how others view us in terms of these same categories.

Interestingly, while we often assume that those who possess one type of awareness also possess the other, there is no direct correlation between the two. In fact, just 10% to 15% of people have both, according to a survey by Eurich. That means that the vast majority of us must learn one or the other—or both.

Gaining self-awareness is a process that can take many years. But training that gives employees the opportunity to examine their own behaviors against objective standards and gain feedback from expert instructors and peers can help speed up the journey. Just like the conflict management course, there are many ways to do this in a practical context that benefits employees and the organization alike.

For example, SAP also offers courses on building self-confidence, increasing trust with peers, creating connections with others, solving complex problems, and increasing resiliency in the face of difficult situations—all of which increase self-awareness in constructive ways. These human-skills courses are as popular with our employees as the hard-skill courses in new technologies or new programming techniques.

Depending on an organization’s size, budget, and goals, learning programs like these can include small group training, large lectures, online courses, licensing of third-party online content, reimbursement for students to attain certification, and many other models.

Human Skills Are the Constant

Automation and artificial intelligence will change the workplace in unpredictable ways. One thing we can predict, however, is that human skills will be needed more than ever.

The connection between conflict resolution skills, critical thinking courses, and the rise of AI-aided technology might not be immediately obvious. But these new AI tools are leading us down the path to a much more human workplace.

Employees will interact with their computers through voice conversations and image recognition. Machine learning will find unexpected correlations in massive amounts of data but empathy and creativity will be required for data scientists to figure out the right questions to ask. Interpersonal communication will become even more important as teams coordinate between offices, remote workplaces, and AI aides.

While the future might be filled with artificial intelligence, deep learning, and untold amounts of data, uniquely human capabilities will be the ones that matter. Machines can’t write a symphony, design a building, teach a college course, or manage a department. The future belongs to humans working with machines, and for that, you need human skills. D!


About the Authors

Jenny Dearborn is Chief Learning Officer at SAP.

David Judge is Vice President, SAP Leonardo, at SAP.

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President and Internet of Things Evangelist at SAP.

Neal Ungerleider is a Los Angeles-based technology journalist and consultant.

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

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HR In The Age Of Digital Transformation

Neha Makkar Patnaik

HR has come a long way from the days of being called Personnel Management. It’s now known as People & Culture, Employee Experience, or simply People, and the changes in the last few years have been especially far-reaching, to say the least; seismic even.

While focused until recently on topics like efficiency and direct access to HR data and services for individual employees, a new and expanded HR transformation is underway, led by employee experience, cloud capabilities including mobile and continuous upgrades, a renewed focus on talent, as well as the availability of new digital technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. These capabilities are enabling HR re-imagine new ways of delivering HR services and strategies throughout the organization. For example:

  • Use advanced prediction and optimization technologies to shift focus from time-consuming candidate-screening processes to innovative HR strategies and business models that support growth
  • Help employees with tailored career paths, push personalized learning recommendations, suggest mentors and mentees based on skills and competencies
  • Predict flight risk of employees and prescribe mitigation strategies for at-risk talent
  • Leverage intelligent management of high-volume, rules-based events with predictions and recommendations

Whereas the traditional view of HR transformation was all about doing existing things better, the next generation of HR transformation is focused on doing completely new things.

These new digital aspects of HR transformation do not replace the existing focus on automation and efficiency. They work hand in hand and, in many cases, digital technologies can further augment automation. Digital approaches are becoming increasingly important, and a digital HR strategy must be a key component of HR’s overall strategy and, therefore, the business strategy.

For years, HR had been working behind a wall, finally got a seat at the table, and now it’s imperative for CHROs to be a strategic partner in the organization’s digital journey. This is what McKinsey calls “Leading with the G-3” in An Agenda for the Talent-First CEO, in which the CEO, CFO, and CHRO (i.e., the “G-3”) ensure HR and finance work in tandem, with the CEO being the linchpin and the person who ensures the talent agenda is threaded into business decisions and not a passive response or afterthought.

However, technology and executive alignment aren’t enough to drive a company’s digital transformation. At the heart of every organization are its people – its most expensive and valuable asset. Keeping them engaged and motivated fosters an innovation culture that is essential for success. This Gallup study reveals that a whopping 85% of employees worldwide are performing below their potential due to engagement issues.

HR experiences that are based on consumer-grade digital experiences along with a focus on the employee’s personal and professional well-being will help engage every worker, inspiring them to do their best and helping them turn every organization’s purpose into performance. Because, we believe, purpose drives people and people drive business results.

Embark on your HR transformation journey

Has your HR organization created a roadmap to support the transformation agenda? Start a discussion with your team about the current and desired state of HR processes using the framework with this white paper.

Also, read SAP’s HR transformation story within the broader context of SAP’s own transformation.


Neha Makkar Patnaik

About Neha Makkar Patnaik

Neha Makkar Patnaik is a principal consultant at SAP Labs India. As part of the Digital Transformation Office, Neha is responsible for articulating the value proposition for digitizing the office of the CHRO in alignment with the overall strategic priorities of the organization. She also focuses on thought leadership and value-based selling programs for retail and consumer products industries.