5 Ways The Internet Of Things Is Changing The Game For Education And Learning

Geetika Shukla

There’s been so much buzz about the Internet of Things (IoT) lately – maybe not as much as for the U.S. presidential campaigns, but it’s pretty close. For today’s youngsters, the day will come when a computer is no longer seen as a separate object or device. With technology very much entwined in the basic fabric of everyday living, our children might feel offended if their obedient room lamp doesn’t immediately acknowledge their presence by switching itself on.

Over time, the IoT will be a mindset, rather than a steady stream of technology. Even though every other device in our home, workplace, or surrounding environment will be intelligent enough to connect and talk to each other, people will inevitably focus on the transformational possibilities for our world.

The realm of education is no exception to the IoT’s influence. Until now, educational technology has pivoted more or less around virtual conferencing and classrooms, online tutorials, and similar offerings. However, this is only the beginning. Here are five ways the IoT can transform education.

1. Connect academies all over the map

Some of the latest IoT artillery in this field includes digital highlighters, smart boards, and even smarter boards. This means your printed text could be digitally transferred to your smartphone or any other app at an incredible speed through tools like C-Pen and Scanmarker. Interactive boards can receive, acknowledge, and reciprocate information, simplifying and accelerating the overall learning experience.

Just imagine a scenario where students sitting in a classroom or at their desk at home can interact with their classmates, mentors, and educators scattered across the world. Now, let’s suppose the lesson of the day is focused on sea life. To give students a really exciting – and highly educational – experience, the teacher decides to access live information generated through sensors and live feeds monitoring a particular body of water.

2. Conserve and sustain to survive and flourish

With the aid of the IoT, a variety of options are possible in terms of environmental and energy conservation, ecosystem regulation, traffic, and transport, to name a few, that can help schools build up their budgets and offer better learning opportunities. For example, a school district in Pennsylvania saved a fortune on energy by using the IoT to support its energy monitoring and control program and reinvested the savings into its education programs. After all, living a green lifestyle is the way to go for all of us – we might as well put it to work so we can invest in more critical areas.

3. Win over students (and parents) with a safe and secure learning environment

The safety and security of students are paramount – whether you are a parent, educational authority, security official, or concerned citizen. With empowered sensors, RFIDs, cameras, and connected devices, monitoring and surveillance of entire buildings is possible. Instant notifications, alerts, and configured actions would be a significant addition to the security and safety of schools and other educational institutions.

4. Grant parity for all

The connected world of everything has a lot to offer students who need modified learning plans and exceptions. There are already a number of devices, tools, and apps that create appropriate learning experiences while bringing them on par with the rest of the class. One such example is the Lechal shoe project, which enables the visually challenged to better navigate the world through technology.

5. Turn learners into creators

The IoT indeed promotes and paves the way for creativity – and for children, there’s nothing better than learning the nuances and applications of hyperconnectivity firsthand. After all the predictions regarding the enormous number of connected communication and decision-making devices in the years to come, this is an excellent opportunity for schoolchildren to understand, build, and control such systems themselves.

The future trajectory of IoT-enabled education: Bumpy or smooth?

The IoT has the potential to strip away common barriers in education such as economic status, geography, language, and physical location. But once the initial glitz of being “super and hyperconnected” fizzles out, there are more important questions that need to be answered.

Converging education with technology is not just about bringing learning resources or making learning simpler and faster – it’s about quality, impact, and community acceptance too. Even with all the fancy resources and technology at our children’s fingertips, it is still a long and tough road ahead for the IoT to reform education in a path-breaking and everlasting way. Nevertheless, the seeds are sown well and the harvest appears to be promising.

Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate; if you want to be successful, it’s a lifelong endeavor. Learn How to Create a Culture of Continuous Learning.


Geetika Shukla

About Geetika Shukla

My association with SAP is eight wonderful years. I have a disposition for the latest technological trends and a fascination for all the digital buzz apart from the world of process orchestration, cloud, and platforms.

Why You Need To Rethink The Way Your Business Operates

Simon Dale

The pace of change in business today is staggering. As expectations for quality user experiences rise ever higher, this need for speed is driving enterprises to embark on digital transformation.

Rising expectations

You could call it life imitating art, but customers’ online behavior is now setting sky-high expectations for real-world encounters. Customers demand a single, consistent experience across every touch point.

Everyone has access to multiple channels, which puts pressure on companies to provide an integrated experience. You just can’t deliver a slick experience on a mobile device in isolation. You can’t expect your customers to be happy with one great experience that doesn’t extend beyond the confines of their mobile screens.

But it’s not just about meeting customer expectations. Inside the enterprise, employees are leading the charge. They want to collaborate with their coworkers in the same way as they can with friends. At work, you expect the same powerful technology that you use at home.

Yet on the customer experience side, many of the executives I speak with in manufacturing, retail, services, life sciences, and other sectors are still struggling to create the perfect cross-channel experiences for their customers. Many organizations persist with clunky apps even though they’re a serious drag on productivity.

We are all technology companies

These days, all successful companies are technology companies that just happen to produce other things as well. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re selling beauty products, manufacturing industrial cement, or educating young minds, the market and people have changed.

Adopting digital technologies is crucial if you want to meet modern expectations. You need to take advantage of digital tools and technology to provide customers with what they want in a targeted, effective, and seamless way.

Getting ahead in the digital journey

While large traditional companies—with decades of history and legacy—are very different from nimble digital entrants, clearly only those organizations that take advantage of an always-on, digitally connected and Big Data-driven world can hope to succeed.

Cloud and mobile computing combined with endless streams of data have created the potential to transform nearly everything.

For established organizations there’s an urgent need to rewire your end-to-end business processes for the digital world. You need to modernize core systems to support new kinds of digital interactions.

Accumulating and analyzing more valid data

Take the case of a long-established cement producer based in Thailand. While Siam City Cement is not an obvious early candidate for digital transformation, its needs were compelling. Digital transformation is now well underway in its business as the company strives to respond to changing consumer behavior.

For Siam City, the only way to keep up with customer demand was to understand customer data better. Using a next-generation ERP business suite as its digital core, it now has critical information available in real time, helping the company make decisions quickly and ensure it is offering customers the best products and services possible. The organization has also cut month-end closing in half.

In pursuit of excellence

Over in Australia, Melbourne’s La Trobe University went from having a fragmented finance system with over 15 years of customizations to an ERP-based finance solution in under 20 weeks.

By simplifying its entire IT landscape and architecture, the university’s financial process is now much faster. Access to real-time data is leading to swifter decision making. By comparison, under the old finance system, 72 customized reports were produced each month. Now, there are just five. This has eliminated an entire day of work from the university’s finance administration team, freeing them up to focus on more useful projects.

But more than this, with reliable financial data, the university can now make informed decisions on which programs to increase or which facilities to enhance.

Pioneering a new beauty category

And for the Korean beauty products startup Memebox, within six months of going live with an ERP-based finance solution, the company saw a dramatic uptick in sales productivity.

These efficiencies stem from improved inventory accuracy. With real-time tracking, Memebox has reduced product delivery lead times, so customers are receiving the right products more quickly while revenue for Memebox continues to grow.

Customer experience is the heart of digital transformation

These days, attracting, winning, and retaining customers requires personalized cross-channel interactions and individualization of products and services. Organizations that embrace digital technologies and modernize their end-to-end processes will place themselves in the strongest position to succeed.

Read more SAP S/4HANA success stories and follow me at @SimonDWork to stay on top of the latest developments.


Simon Dale

About Simon Dale

Simon Dale has the responsibility at SAP Asia Pacific and Japan to establish and scale the business for SAP S/4HANA, the next-generation business suite from SAP. His portfolio encompasses both the traditional on-premise solution go-to-market strategy, as well as the latest cloud solutions. Prior to this role, Simon launched and ran SAP's managed service for SAP solutions, SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, in Asia. A veteran of 25 years in the IT industry, Simon sits on the advisory boards of both the Singapore Management University of Information Systems as well as the Nanyang Polytechnic School of IT. Simon is an occasional angel investor in startups and committed to active mentoring and coaching, especially to early talent and women in IT.

$18.5 Billion On Back To School Tech

Danielle Beurteaux

It’s been a long time since shopping for supplies for the new school year meant grabbing a bunch of spiral notebooks and a new pencil case. If your August budget is a bit tight this year, blame technology. Because this year, parents will be spending more than ever for their kids’ back-to-school items.

According to a new report from American Express, the average back-to-school bill this year will hit $1,642. Compare that to 2015, when the average spend was $1,239. That amount includes everything from shoes to violins, but a driver in the increased bill is technology. Fifty-nine percent of parents plan to buy new technology for the coming school year, compared to 46% last year. Almost all parents (92%) say that tech is now an integral part of their kids’ education. Last year, that number was 82%. Parents are buying laptops, tablets, and cellphones, in that order; almost three-quarters of those cellphones will be smartphones, which are increasingly perceived as a necessary part of the educational experience.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) reports that 59% of American’s back-to-school shopping includes tech purchases, a 12% increase from last year. The organization is projecting that a whopping $18.5 billion will be spent on tech in 2016’s school shopping season. The top purchases on the CTA’s ranked list are smaller purchases and accessories; laptops are number 6 on the list and tablets way down at number 9.

While American Express reports that some parents say they’ll be cutting back on other expenses so they can buy all these new devices and accessories, another report found that they’re feeling more confident about their personal finances. That’s a driver of the likely increase in spending. The report also says that most shoppers will start their back-to-school buying by researching products online, but will head to a brick-and-mortar store to actually make the purchase.

According to the National Retail Federation, another reason for the increase is because we’ve entered a “stock up” period. The organization defines two spending periods: “stock up” is when parents are buying new; “make do” are the periods in-between when the technology is still working and their kids’ clothes still fit. But the NRF also says that growing confidence in the economy is also a factor. But many shoppers are still looking for bargains, and also starting the shopping process earlier than usual this year.

The NRF figures put the average technology spend this year at almost double the amount that will be spent on traditional stationery.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, college students (and/or their parents) will be spending the most, to the tune of $48.5 billion. Compare that to 2009, when that number was $30.1 billion. Of that, $11.54 billion will be spent on electronics.

Compared to the historical high of $30.3 billion in 2012 for back-to-school and $53.5 billion for back-to-college, this year won’t be a record-breaker. But the trend is upward, and it looks as if this year’s school shopping period will make many retailers very happy.

Engage customers by to responding to – and creating – moments that matter to customers, anytime and anywhere. Learn more in Live Business: Live Customer Experiences for the Digital Economy.


From E-Business to V-Business

Josh Waddell, Pascal Lessard, Lori Mitchell-Keller, and Fawn Fitter

Some moments are so instantly, indelibly etched into pop culture that they shape the way we think for years to come. For virtual reality (VR), that moment may have been the scene in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix when the Keanu Reeves character Neo learns that his entire life has been a computer-generated simulation so fully realized that he could have lived it out never knowing that he was actually an inert body in an isolation tank. Ever since, that has set the benchmark for VR: as a digital experience that seems completely, convincingly real.

Today, no one is going to be unaware, Matrix-like, that they’re wearing an Oculus Rift or a Google Cardboard headset, but the virtual worlds already available to us are catching up to what we’ve imagined they could be at a startling rate. It’s been hard to miss all the Pokémon Go players bumping into one another on the street as they chased animated characters rendered in augmented reality (AR), which overlays and even blends digital artifacts seamlessly with the actual environment around us.

Believe the Hype

For all the justifiable hype about the exploding consumer market for VR and, to a lesser extent, AR, there’s surprisingly little discussion of their latent business value—and that’s a blind spot that companies and CIOs can’t afford to have. It hasn’t been that long since consumer demand for the iPhone and iPad forced companies, grumbling all the way, into finding business cases for them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images1If digitally enhanced reality generates even half as much consumer enthusiasm as smartphones and tablets, you can expect to see a new wave of consumerization of IT as employees who have embraced VR and AR at home insist on bringing it to the workplace. This wave of consumerization could have an even greater impact than the last one. Rather than risk being blindsided for a second time, organizations would be well advised to take a proactive approach and be ready with potential business uses for VR and AR technologies by the time they invade the enterprise.

They don’t have much time to get started.

The two technologies are already making inroads in fields as diverse as medicine, warehouse operations, and retail. And make no mistake: the possibilities are breathtaking. VR can bring human eyes to locations that are difficult, dangerous, or physically impossible for the human body, while AR can deliver vast amounts of contextual information and guidance at the precise time and place they’re needed.

As consumer adoption and acceptance drives down costs, enterprise use cases for VR and AR will blossom. In fact, these technologies could potentially revolutionize the way companies communicate, manage employees, and digitize and automate operations. Yet revolution is rarely bloodless. The impact will probably alter many aspects of the workplace that we currently take for granted, and we need to think through the implications of those changes.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images2Digital Realities, Defined

VR and AR are related, but they’re not so much siblings as cousins. VR is immersive. It creates a fully realized digital environment that users experience through goggles or screens (and sometimes additional equipment that provides physical feedback) that make them feel like they’re surrounded by and interacting entirely within this created world.

AR, by contrast, is additive. It displays text or images in glasses, on a window or windshield, or inside a mirror, but the user is still aware of and interacting with reality. There is also an emerging hybrid called “mixed reality,” which is essentially AR with VR-quality digital elements, that superimposes holographic images on reality so convincingly that trying to touch them is the only way to be sure they aren’t actually there.

Although VR is a hot topic, especially in the consumer gaming world, AR has far more enterprise use cases, and several enterprise apps are already in production. In fact, industry analyst Digi-Capital forecasts that while VR companies will generate US$30 billion in revenue by 2020, AR companies will generate $120 billion, or four times as much.

Both numbers are enormous, especially given how new the VR/AR market is. As recently as 2014, it barely existed, and almost nothing available was appropriate for enterprise users. What’s more, the market is evolving so quickly that standards and industry leaders have yet to emerge. There’s no guarantee that early market entrants like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and HTC’s Vive will continue to exist, never mind set enduring benchmarks.

Nonetheless, it’s already clear that these technologies will have a major impact on both internal and customer-facing business. They will make customer service more accurate, personalized, and relevant. They will reduce human risk and enhance public safety. They will streamline operations and smash physical boundaries. And that’s just the beginning.

Cleveland Clinic: Healing from the Next Room

Medicine is already testing the limits of learning with VR and AR.

sap_q316_digital_double_feature1_imageseightThe most potentially disruptive operational use of VR and AR could be in education and training. With VR, students can be immersed in any environment, from medieval architecture to molecular biology, in classroom groups or on demand, to better understand what they’re studying. And no industry is pursuing this with more enthusiasm than medicine. Even though Google Glass hasn’t been widely adopted elsewhere, for example, it’s been a big success story in the medical world.

Pamela Davis, MD, senior vice president for medical affairs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of the leading proponents of medical education using VR and AR. She’s the dean of the university’s medical school, which is working with Cleveland Clinic to develop the Microsoft HoloLens “mixed reality” device for medical education and training, turning MRIs and other conventional 2D medical images into 3D images that can be projected at the site of a procedure for training and guidance during surgery. “As you push a catheter into the heart or place a deep brain stimulation electrode, you can see where you want to be and guide your actions by watching the hologram,” Davis explains.

The HoloLens can also be programmed as a “lead” device that transmits those images and live video to other “learner” devices, allowing the person wearing the lead device to provide oversight and input. This will enable a single doctor to demonstrate a delicate procedure up-close to multiple students at once, or do patient examinations remotely in an emergency or epidemic.

Davis herself was convinced of the technology’s broader potential during a demonstration in which she put on a learner HoloLens and rewired a light switch, something decidedly outside her expertise, under the guidance of an engineer wearing a lead HoloLens in the next room. In the near future, she predicts, it will help people perform surgery and other sensitive, detailed tasks not just from the next room, but from the next state or country.

Customer Experience: From E-Commerce to V-Commerce

Consumers are already getting used to sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images3thinking of VR and AR in the context of entertainment. Companies interested in the technologies should be thinking about how they might engage consumers as part of the buying experience.

Because the technologies deliver more information and a better shopping experience with less effort, e-commerce is going to give rise to v-commerce, where people research, interact with, and share products in VR and AR before they order them online or go to a store to make a purchase.

Online eyewear retailers already allow people to “try on” glasses virtually and share the images with friends to get their feedback, but that’s rudimentary compared to what’s emerging.

Mirrors as Personal Shoppers

Clothing stores from high-end boutiques to low-end fashion chains are experimenting with AR mirrors that take the shopper’s measurements and recommend outfits, showing what items look like without requiring the customer to undress.

Instant Designer Shows

Luxury design house Dior uses Oculus Rift VR goggles to let its well-heeled customers experience a runway show without flying to Paris.

Custom Shopping Malls

British designer Allison Crank has created an experimental VR shopping mall. As people walk through it, they encounter virtual people (and the occasional zoo animal) and shop in stores stocked only with items that users are most likely to buy, based on past purchase information and demographic data.

A New Perspective

IKEA’s AR application lets shoppers envisage a piece of furniture in the room they plan to use it in. They can look at products from the point of view of a specific height—useful for especially tall or short customers looking for comfortable furniture or for parents trying to design rooms that are safe for a toddler or a young child.

Painless Do-it-Yourself Instructions

Instead of forcing customers to puzzle over a diagram or watch an online video, companies will be able to offer customers detailed VR or AR demonstrations that show how to assemble and disassemble products for use, cleaning, and storage.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images4Operations and Management: Revealing the Details

The customer-facing benefits of VR and AR are inarguably flashy, but it’s in internal business use that these technologies promise to shine brightest: boosting efficiency and productivity, eliminating previously unavoidable risks, and literally giving employers and managers new ways to look at information and operations. The following examples aren’t blue-sky cases; experts say they’re promising, realistic, and just around the corner.

Real-Time Guidance

A combination of AR glasses and audio essentially creates a user-specific, contextually relevant guidance system that confirms that wearers are in the right place, looking at the right thing, and taking the right action. This technology could benefit almost any employee who is not working at a desk: walking field service reps through repair procedures, guiding miners to the best escape route in an emergency, or optimizing home health aides’ driving routes and giving them up-to-date instructions and health data when they arrive at each patient’s home.

Linking to the Hidden

AR technology will be able to display any type of information the wearer needs to know. Linked to facial identification software, it could help police officers identify suspects or missing persons in real time. Used to visualize thermal gradients, chemical signatures, radioactivity, and other things that are invisible to the naked eye, it could help researchers refine their experiments or let insurance claims assessors spot arson. Similarly, VR will allow users to create and manipulate detailed three-dimensional models of everything from molecules to large machinery so that they can examine, explore, and change them.

Reducing the Human Risk

VR will allow users to perform high-risk jobs while reducing their need to be in harm’s way. The users will be able to operate equipment remotely while seeing exactly what they would if they were there, a use case that is ideal for industries like mining, firefighting, search and rescue, and toxic site cleanup. While VR won’t necessarily eliminate the need for humans to perform these high-risk jobs, it will improve their safety, and it will allow companies to pursue new opportunities in situations that remain too dangerous for humans.

Reducing the Commercial Risk

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images5VR can also reduce an entirely different type of operational risk: that of introducing new products and services. Manufacturers can let designers or even customers “test” a product, gather their feedback, and tweak the design accordingly before the product ever goes into production. Indeed, auto manufacturer Ford has already created a VR Immersion Lab for its engineers, which, among other things, helped them redesign the interior of the 2015 Ford Mustang to make the dashboard and windshield wipers more user-friendly, according to Fortune. In addition to improving customer experience, this application of VR is likely to accelerate product development and shorten time to market.

Similarly, retailers can use VR to create and test branch or franchise location designs on the fly to optimize traffic flow, product display, the accessibility of products, and even decor. Instead of building models or concept stores, a designer will be able to create the store design with VR, do a virtual walkthrough with executives, and adjust it in real time until it achieves the desired effect.

Seeing in Tongues

At some point, we will see an AR app that can translate written language in near-real time, which will dramatically streamline global business communications. Mobile apps already exist to do this in certain languages, so it’s just a matter of time before we can slip on glasses that let us read menus, signs, agendas, and documents in our native tongue.

Decide with the Eye

More dramatically, AR project management software will be able to deliver real-time data at a literal glance. On a construction site, for example, simply scanning the area could trigger data about real-time costs, supply inventories, planned versus actual spending, employee and equipment scheduling, and more. By linking to construction workers’ own AR glasses that provide information about what to know and do at any given location and time, managers could also evaluate and adjust workloads.

Squeeze Distance

Farther in the future, VR and AR will create true telepresence, enhancing collaboration and potentially replacing in-person meetings. Users could transmit AR holograms of themselves to someone else’s office, allowing them to be seen as if they were in the room. We could have VR workspaces with high-fidelity avatars that transmit characteristic facial expressions and gestures. Companies could show off a virtual product in a virtual room with virtual coworkers, on demand.

Reduce Carbon Footprint

If nothing else, true telepresence could practically eliminate business travel costs. More critically, though, in an era of rising temperatures and shrinking resources, the ability to create and view virtual people and objects rather than manufacturing and transporting physical artifacts also conserves materials and reduces the use of fossil fuel.

Employees: Under Observation

The strength of digitally enhanced reality—and AR in particular—is its ability to determine a user’s context and deliver relevant information accordingly. This makes it valuable for monitoring and managing employee behavior and performance. Employees could, for example, use the location and time data recorded by AR glasses to prove that they were (or weren’t) in a particular place at a particular time. The same glasses could provide them with heads-up guided navigation, alert employers that they’re due for a legally mandated break, verify that they completed an assigned task, and confirm hours worked without requiring them to fill out a timesheet.

However, even as these capabilities improve data governance and help manage productivity, they also raise critical issues of privacy and autonomy (see The Norms of Virtual Behavior). If you’re an employee using VR or AR technology, and if your company is leveraging it to monitor your performance, who owns that information? Who’s allowed to use it, and for what purposes? These are still open legal questions for these technologies.

Another unsettled—and unsettling—question is how far employers can use these technologies to direct employees’ work. While employers have the right to tell employees how to do their jobs, autonomy is a key component of workplace satisfaction. The extent to which employees are required to let a pair of AR glasses govern their actions could have a direct impact on hiring and retention.

Finally, these technologies could be one more step toward greater automation. A warehouse-picking AR application that guides pickers to the appropriate product faster makes them more productive and saves them from having to memorize hundreds or even thousands of SKUs. But the same technology that can guide a person will also be able to guide a semiautonomous robot.

The Norms of Virtual Behavior

VR and AR could disrupt our social norms and take identity hacking to a new level.

The future of AR and VR isn’t without its hazards. We’ve all witnessed how distracting and even dangerous smartphones can be, but at least people have to pull a phone out of a pocket before getting lost in the screen. What happens when the distraction is sitting on their faces?

This technology is going to affect how we interact, both in the workplace and out of it. The annoyance verging on rage that met the first people wearing Google Glass devices in public proves that we’re going to need to evolve new social norms. We’ll need to signal how engaged we are with what’s right in front of us when we’re wearing AR glasses, what we’re doing with the glasses while we interact, or whether we’re paying attention at all.

More sinister possibilities will present themselves down the line. How do you protect sensitive data from being accessed by unauthorized or “shadow” VR/AR devices? How do you prove you’re the one operating your avatar in a virtual meeting? How do you know that the person across from you is who they say they are and not a competitor or industrial spy who’s stolen a trusted avatar? How do you keep someone from hacking your VR or AR equipment to send you faulty data, flood your field of vision with disturbing images, or even direct you into physical danger?

As the technology gets more sophisticated, VR and AR vendors will have to start addressing these issues.

Technical Challenges

To realize the full business value of VR and AR, companies will need to tackle certain technical challenges. To be precise, they’ll have to wait for the vendors to take them on, because the market is still so new that standards and practices are far from mature.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images6For one thing, successful implementation requires devices (smartphones, tablets, and glasses, for now) that are capable of delivering, augmenting, and overlaying information in a meaningful way. Only in the last year or so has the available hardware progressed beyond problems like overheating with demand, too-small screens, low-resolution cameras, insufficient memory, and underpowered batteries. While hardware is improving, so many vendors have emerged that companies have a hard time choosing among their many options.
The proliferation of devices has also increased software complexity. For enterprise VR and AR to take off, vendors need to create software that can run on the maximum number of devices with minimal modifications. Otherwise, companies are limited to software based on what it’s capable of doing on their hardware of choice, rather than software that meets their company’s needs.

The lack of standards only adds to the confusion. Porting data to VR or AR systems is different from mobilizing front-end or even back-end systems, because it requires users to enter, display, and interact with data in new ways. For devices like AR glasses that don’t use a keyboard or touch screen, vendors must determine how to enter data (voice recognition? eye tracking? image recognition?), how to display it legibly in any given environment, and whether to develop their own user interface tools or work with a third party.

Finally, delivering convincing digital enhancements to reality demands such vast amounts of data that many networks simply can’t accommodate it. Much as videoconferencing didn’t truly take off until high-speed broadband became widely available, VR and AR adoption will lag until a zero-latency infrastructure exists to
support them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images7Coming Soon to a Face Near You

For all that VR and AR solutions have improved dramatically in a short time, they’re still primarily supplemental to existing systems, and not just because the software is still evolving. Wearables still have such limited processing power, memory, and battery life that they can handle only a small amount of information. That said, hardware is catching up quickly (see The Supporting Cast).

The Supporting Cast

VR and AR would still be science fiction if it weren’t for these supporting technologies.

The latest developments in VR and AR technologies wouldn’t be possible without other breakthroughs that bring things once considered science fiction squarely into the realm of science fact:

  • Advanced semiconductor designs pack more processing power into less space.
  • Microdisplays fit more information onto smaller screens.
  • New power storage technologies extend battery life while shrinking battery size.
  • Development tools for low-latency, high-resolution image rendering and improved 3D-graphics displays make digital artifacts more realistic and detailed.
  • Omnidirectional cameras that can record in 360 degrees simultaneously create fully immersive environments.
  • Plummeting prices for accelerometers lower the cost of VR devices.

Companies in the emerging VR/AR industry are encouraging the makers of smartglasses and safety glasses to work together to create ergonomic smartglasses that deliver information in a nondistracting way and that are also comfortable to wear for an eight-hour shift.

The argument in favor of VR and AR for business is so powerful that once vendors solve the obvious hardware problems, experts predict that existing enterprise mobile apps will quickly start to include VR or AR components, while new apps will emerge to satisfy as yet unmet needs.

In other words, it’s time to start thinking about how your company might put these technologies to use—and how to do so in a way that minimizes concerns about data privacy, corporate security, and employee comfort. Because digitally enhanced reality is coming tomorrow, so business needs to start planning for it today. D!

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



Leveraging Digital Twins To Breathe New Life Into Your Products And Services

Thomas Kaiser

Are you familiar with the concept of the twin paradox? In physics, the twin paradox is a thought experiment in which one twin stays on Earth while the other travels in a spaceship at a high speed for a period of time. According to the special theory of relativity, the second twin will return home measurably younger than the first.

In a similar way, the concept of the digital twin can accelerate your business and breathe new life into your products and services.

But the digital twin isn’t just a thought experiment. Gartner lists digital twins as a Top 10 strategic trend for 2017. It’s part of a broader digital transformation on which IDC says companies will invest $2.1 trillion a year by 2019.

Already, smart companies are using digital twins to better understand operations, get closer to customers, and transform their business.

Connecting real and virtual

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-world product or service. That could be anything from a toaster to industrial machinery to complex processes. The virtual representation combines three types of information: business data, contextual data, and sensor data.

Business data covers information such as customer name, location, and service-level agreements. Contextual data includes details such as ambient temperature, humidity, and weather events. Sensor data involves things like machine speed, operating temperature, and vibration.

Sensor data is key because, while companies have been using digital twins for years, it’s only with the Internet of Things (IoT) that they’ve become cost-effective. Gartner predicts that 6.4 billion things will be connected this year, a 30% jump over 2015. By 2020, at least half of all new business processes will incorporate IoT – transforming live data into new value.

Drilling down on digital twins

How does a digital twin work? Let’s say you manufacture industrial drills. A digital twin can help you understand how customers use your drill. The goal is to continuously improve the product to increase customer satisfaction and identify opportunities for new products and services.

For example, you might discover that your drill malfunctions in certain situations. That can enable you to improve product design. Or it can let you help customers modify the way they use the drill to avoid problems.

Or, you might discover that customers use your drill not only to make holes but also to cut materials. That might lead you to develop a new product that’s purpose-built for cutting.

Or, maybe you discover that while customers want holes made, they don’t necessarily want to purchase and operate a drill. So rather than sell drills, you might offer a hole-drilling service. In other words, instead of charging customers for machinery they operate, you charge them for holes drilled by machinery you operate for them. Some SAP customers have been quite successful in making this kind of leap from products to services.

Digital twins across industries

Digital twins aren’t just for manufacturers. Insurers can apply digital twins in offerings like usage-based car insurance. Retailers can track how customers navigate the store and interact with products on the shelves. Cities can model areas for things like smart lighting. Ports can monitor weather, shipping traffic, containers, and trains and trucks entering and leaving.

Digital twins cover the entire lifecycle of an asset or process. In fact, they can form a foundation for an end-to-end, closed-loop value chain for smart, connected products and services, from design to production, from deployment to continuous improvement.

The promise of continuous improvement is why it’s increasingly important to integrate digital technologies into all products. As you leverage your digital twin to identify opportunities for new or better features, you can implement those improvements quickly and cost-effectively through firmware updates.

Implementing digital twins involves four steps:

  1. Integrate smart components such as sensors, software, computing power, or data storage into new or existing products.
  1. Connect the product to a central location where you can capture sensor data and enrich that sensor data with business and contextual data.
  1. Analyze that data on an ongoing basis to identify opportunities for product improvements, new products, or even new business models.
  1. Leverage these digital insights to transform your company — for example, by reducing costs through proactive avoidance of business interruptions, or by creating new business opportunities.

Of course, while those steps are easy to list, they can require significant effort to achieve. But digital twins are becoming a business imperative. Companies that fail to respond will be left behind. Those that embrace digital twins have the opportunity to better understand customer needs, continuously improve their products and services, and even identify new business models that give them competitive advantage.

Consumer demand for virtual reality is changing how businesses manage and operate. Learn how to transition From E-Business to V-Business.