IoT, Sensors, And All Things Digital: Can We Handle It All?

Kai Goerlich

It seems we are all part of a big experiment. We’re testing our data-driven consciousness and determining how much information we can digest and at what speed. And if we continue at our current pace, we will soon see sensors and ambient computing infuse our personal and professional lives with a myriad of interactive things. Even items such as coffee mugs may be connected.

In such a digital-driven, hyperconnected world, our perceptions will heavily depend on virtual experiences and our biological view. To get a sense of where we are heading, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Yvonne Förster, professor of philosophy of culture at Leuphana University in Germany, to get her perspective.

Q: The speed of digital change is just incredible. It’s hard to imagine that we will always be able to keep up. Will humans find a way to cope with the speed of digital change?

A: Without a doubt, algorithms are faster than our conscious thinking. And although our physical reflexes and our intuition are quite fast, they are still slower than the latest computers available right now. From this perspective, we face many challenges.

For more insight on how the Internet of Things is impacting your business, join us at the SAP Executive Summit- IoT on October 27.

Much of our future experiences in a digitized world will be powered by technological devices that operate on micro-timescales. The Internet of Things is a term that describes technologically permeated lifeworlds comprising billions of sensors and highly interconnected devices, which measure – or more precisely, sense – various activities in their environment. The interesting question is not so much about coping, but the perspectives and possible futures of human life itself. How will we evolve while changing our lifeworld?

Q: If we cannot operate at the speed of computers, will we experience disruptions between more direct, data-induced experiences?

A: Not necessarily. Disruptions are exactly what modern technology tries to avoid. Smooth operation and flow are ideal in technology and design, allowing applications to be invisible and creating self-learning systems.

Understanding how technology influences our perception today is a subject of aesthetic research. Media artists try the impossible: Make the invisible visible or render the nonexperiential rhythm and speed of algorithms experiential. It would be naïve to think that the exponential growth in exposure to technological devices would leave people unchanged.

Evolution goes on in culture. And nowadays, we are not just passively shaped by adaptive behavior; we can also actively alter our bodies and minds. New digitized environments and our own wish to extend human life will be fundamental forces in the game of evolution, which we should carefully reflect on.

Q: Will we still experience our environment without additional interactions? Will nature become a dull world to us?

A: I don’t think so. The world will be a fascinating place in the next few decades when it comes to technological development. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every device will remove us from our environments like the dystopian world portrayed in movies such as The Matrix or Surrogates. But, we also shouldn’t forget that our experiences in nature and everything else are always mediated by cultural concepts, attitudes, and technological devices.

Just think of the perception of time, which has been interceded through watches of all kinds for centuries now. Some would even hold that human culture is essentially rooted in technology from its very beginning. Still, as long as we preserve nature, our world will never be a dull place. There are just new perspectives to discover.

Q: How will wearables and sensors help us achieve new perspectives?

A: The interesting question here is: How will our lifeworld and behavior change when sensors are present everywhere? With the omnipresence of sensors and devices that sense locations and other types of human agency, we find ourselves in an environment that is not only tracked by living beings, but also by highly interconnected technological devices. You could even one day say that walls, streets, or cars have eyes in the most literal sense possible.

Sensing is not a concept only about living organisms anymore. Rather, it’s a ubiquitous property of our lifeworld. This will deeply change how we act and interact with each other – but more important, it will transform how we engage with objects. Our lifeworld is altered by the Internet of Things as objects sense and communicate among themselves. The impact of this technological development has yet to be estimated and described.

Q: Will everyone become digitized?

A: If we define digitization as a significant part of everyday life that is connected to digital technology, then we are already digitized. However, if we mean that technology will invade our bodies and turn us into cyborgs that are physically connected to the Internet, this is already becoming a reality in laboratories. This idea is strongly connected to enhancing the human body and mind. Still, most people remain skeptical when it comes to technology invading the body.

We can think of a third alternative of digitization: The co-evolution of humans and technology. When our world is deeply permeated by technology, it will present different and new opportunities to humans. We can develop new ways of behavior, creativity, and thinking. Also, we will need to engage with technology and actively reflect on its use.

This approach calls for an understanding of technology as a precondition for handling such innovation critically and creatively. We see these kinds of engagement emerging from artistic and scientific practice. Jennifer Gabrys, for example, works with sensor technology used by citizens in different environments, such as fracking areas, to better understand and build awareness around changing environmental conditions by using do-it-yourself technology.

Q: Will we have a choice in what we do – or do not – want to know?

A: Yes, we certainly have a choice. As biological beings, we are adaptive. The presence of technology is evolving – and will continue to change – our perception and behavior. If we don’t reflect on that process, we will remain passive and eventually feel outrun by technology.

Still, technology is our making, even though it is not entirely predictable and manageable. Given that technology functions according to emerging patterns of artificial intelligence, we should be prepared to engage in new processes of understanding and agency in computed environments.

Q: Will digitization change the way I experience my body?

A: The playful element of digitization will change the way we learn as well as the knowledge space of what can be known. It’s not just transformation of the thinking process or the quality of decisions, but an evolution of the body as well. In gaming, for example, we use evolutionary, yet old and hard-wired, behaviors such as flight-or-fight reflexes. This means digital gaming is less about our culturally and highly rated reflection, but more on gut feeling and our intuitive mode of acting. But, it might also bring about completely new patterns of behavior and action or reaction.

Another aspect of bodily experiences in times of digitization is the measurement of movement and live data such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and more. This is accompanied by an objectification of a bodily experience. We tend to perceive ourselves as numbers, such as the number of steps we have walked or the calories we have eaten. This might be problematic because it can distract us from our actual bodily state, which is not tantamount to a number or chart appearing on a screen.

The flipside of this is the issue of Big Data and control. Where does this information go, and who uses it? Will your insurance company be interested what your everyday habits are? This seems very likely and should be observed carefully.

Q: How will we experience the world in the future? Will it be in the form of data streams?

A: The world around us is getting sense-driven; it will have eyes and ears. I am waiting for the day when my refrigerator starts arguing with me when I grab a piece of steak instead of a salad. But more interesting is the question of what happens when information goes beyond being presented as text, video, or speech to include body temperature, heart rate, and the pitch of our voice. What kind of knowledge will be generated out of this data?

In the movie Ex Machina, such information leads to the first self-conscious android named AVA. But, I am sure that we will not perceive data streams. Data by itself has no value as long as it is not interpreted. Also, our brains are not an information-processing organ. It generates information only through sense-making activities.

Life never deals with raw data. Movement and perception are to be understood as relational activities, which bring about meaningful structures such as me as an individual and you as another person. Similarly, we will conceive technology as part of our environment and, therefore, part of a sense-making process that extends beyond human perception.

Q: If data could be experienced directly one day, where is the border that separates us from it?

A: Current technologies, such as augmented reality and Google glasses, will not change very much. Even if the physical and virtual worlds merge, these technologies will not interfere with our sense of self. The sense of self is already a stretchy category since cultural practices can alter it profoundly. Mediation techniques, for example, can broaden our ability to be compassionate and make the self subside in meditation and agency.

Another interesting development is the use of invasive techniques that substitute or change our perceptual and cognitive abilities. An example is Neil Harbisson, who can hear colors, or Enno Park, who is using a hearing aid with a speech processor that transfers sounds into digital signals that are sent directly to the brain.

Merging human bodies and technology can create new forms of sensing and acting. Even the ontological gap between what is human and what is technology might become blurred. But this is old news. The self has – and never had – any fixed limitations. We become what we are by interacting with each other and our environment. And we are always evolving; no self is ever complete. The moment you meet another person, you undergo a change. This is why we should not be afraid of losing ourselves in the future.

Q: Will we co-evolve with machines, rather than creating a world similar to The Terminator?

Certainly the merging of humans and machines is an interesting idea as it promises to overcome human limitations. It’s part of our human nature to adapt, and I have the impression that we are entering an era of a new form of cultural evolution that combines biological, technological, and cultural practices.

The most important lesson we will learn is that technology will develop in unforeseen, not programmable, ways. This might destroy the myth of the human as a rational being who can understand and predict the reasons and consequences of an action. Humanity is a very creative species, but we have a hard time understanding complex and nonlinear processes. These processes have become ubiquitous since the Internet became our second nature and stock markets are partly controlled by algorithms.

Complex processes also lie at the core of life. The best example is our own brain whose inner workings are highly complex and nonlinear. Still, we lack the cognitive abilities to understand them. This is why we should experiment and reflect on the possibilities of a life form that engages with technology as a complex process and cannot be simply controlled and predicted. Issues of data privacy, information ownership, and governance need to be discussed in light of ecological entanglement with technology.

For more on this topic, see Live Business: The Importance of the Internet of Things.

 

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

When Developing Your Internet Of Things Strategy, Prioritize Privacy And Security

Tom Raftery

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers famously predicted that there would be 50 billion connected devices by 2020. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), his forecast may soon become reality.

Things such as appliances, cars, medical devices, street lights, wearable technologies, industrial machinery, military equipment, and logistics systems are beginning to share huge volumes of information. Organizations that collect, store, and analyze this data can increase efficiency, cut costs, and make smarter decisions.

Despite this rapid growth, however, IoT technologies are still in their infancy. Consumer devices have drawn the most attention so far, but it’s likely that IoT will have more widespread applicability in business applications.

That’s why executives who want to gain value from IoT technologies need to make hard decisions about this dynamic, maturing technology. Among the most important concerns are privacy and security. To stay compliant with regulatory mandates and to create trusted relationships with customers, companies must protect and secure data.

Protecting data assets – and your reputation

Thinking about what’s possible with IoT is not enough. You must also consider what’s responsible in your data practices.

For example, who owns the data you collect? Is it the consumer, the device owner, or the device manufacturer? In the United States, Internet service providers are now permitted to sell any and all of their consumers’ information without consumer consent. Is it a breach of consumer privacy if the ISP’s customers buy data that tracks individuals’ entertainment preferences? E-mail communications? Online bill payments?

What about data created by an asset that has multiple owners over its lifetime? If a customer rents or leases an air compressor, the company owns the asset and the data it produces. But if the company later sells the compressor, who does the data belong to – the old owner or the new one? Should the data be stored by a trusted third-party to prevent breaches?

Many cars can track driver behaviour. Some consumers elect to share that data with their insurance carriers. But should the car’s technology alert the police or the insurer after every minor accident? Should law enforcement officials be able to access that vehicle data, or does it belong to the driver?

Developing trust

As you develop your IoT policies and strategies, look for ways to increase consistency across all touch points while correlating your interactions with customers’ changing wants and needs.

For consumers who opt in, you can use the IoT to enable a constant feedback loop that can boost product innovation, enhance service interactions, and engender new customer loyalty. For example, imagine a family whose vacation is interrupted by a rainy day. The beach resort that recognizes this need could save the day – and develop a loyal customer – by sending the parents coupons to enjoy a local movie theatre, museum, or bowling alley.

Balancing privacy and security and the insights enabled by data can be tricky in the age of the IoT. But organisations that adopt sophisticated data and analysis strategies for using IoT data – while still protecting customer privacy and security – stand to gain a practically unbeatable competitive advantage.

To learn what leading executives think about the privacy and security concerns in the IoT, read our e-book.

Follow me on Twitter @TomRaftery.

This article originally appeared on Forbes SAPVoice.

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Tom Raftery

About Tom Raftery

Tom Raftery is Vice President and Global Evangelist for the Internet of Things at SAP. Previously, Tom worked as an independent analyst focusing on the Internet of Things, energy, and clean technology. Tom has a very strong background in social media, is the former co-founder of a software firm, and is co-founder and director of hyper energy-efficient data center Cork Internet eXchange. More recently, Tom worked as an industry analyst for RedMonk, leading the GreenMonk practice for seven years.

Telecommunications Companies: Here's How To Use End-To-End Enterprise Offers To Boost Revenue

Julie Stoughton

Telecommunications companies are not new to the Internet of Things (IoT). Many have long used these tools as a way to gather data and implement change. These organizations, called communication service providers (CSPs), also tend to be willing to adopt technology that enhances operations. Organizations have routinely used IoT to automate processes and ensure networks remain stable. Yet, further investment in this area can also boost revenue. With the IoT market expected to be a $267 billion industry by 2020, according to BCG Perspectives, organizations cannot overlook this opportunity.

End-to-end enterprise adoption could mean new revenue streams

The industry continues to face fierce competition. Finding ways to reduce costs is one thing. Looking for ways to boost revenue streams continues to be critical. However, one of the largest opportunities available to CSPs has yet to be tapped by these organizations.

Within the telecommunications industry, a key area for IoT adoption is in providing platforms for end-to-end enterprise offerings, as well as for connected consumer services. Entry into these markets could provide an incredible new source of revenue. Some experts believe it could represent as much as a quarter of all CSPs’ total revenue within a matter of years.

Another key area for CSPs is in the thriving market of connected homes. Telecommunications organizations will see significant revenue by successfully launching connected home applications for consumers.

Finally, working with commercial entities to create methods for regulatory compliance can also be important. Many entities are struggling in this area due to stringent guidelines. This can be improved with IoT applications through telecommunications companies.

Why telecommunications networks matter

Consider the data from the IoT application. In IoT, there are numerous networks of networks. All are capable of pulling in massive amounts of data that can be used, in a variety of ways, to provide information. However, this type of network requires very specific elements. It must be incredibly reliable, provide ample reach, and have the resilience necessary to manage some of the most challenging circumstances. Other industries, including the semiconductor industry, are finding opportunities to use the tools they have to enhance IoT adoption.

These are the types of services that CSPs can offer beyond what other organizations can. CSPs are now a central point of integration where the digital world connects. Some organizations (generally the largest CSPs in major areas) are already aligning their networks to meet this important, developing need. And, as a result, they are seeing profitable margins.

Where is the endpoint and profit potentials for today’s smaller CSPs? The biggest opportunity lies with enterprise customers. These are end users who are looking for platforms and connectivity that will allow their own transformation into the digital world. CSPs can significantly play a role in this area.

Why CSPs should focus here

The telecommunications industry is still not immune to digital change. In fact, many organizations are struggling financially with the services they offer. High-margin profit centers are being eroded by low-margin network connectivity. Consumers and other end users are finding more affordable ways to get the services they need. New technology, including 5G, is coming as well. That will further increase competition in this sector. As a result, it has become necessary for CSPs to find alternative streams of revenue that can tap into their massive, secure networks to facilitate IoT.

This is also a very significant new opportunity for CSPs. Right now, less than 10% of the overall IoT market comes from connectivity and network managed services, like those CSPs can offer. Implementing these services will enhance profitability. For example, digital applications enabled by IoT, a key service that CSPs can provide, is likely to represent more than 30% of large CSPs’ enterprise-based revenue.

How to take advantage of the opportunities

Putting in place enterprise end-to-end offerings like this can seem overwhelming, but it offers profit potential and fits the framework that CSPs already have. To facilitate this, organizations need to first focus on connectivity. The well-developed networks of CSP management services, as well as their IoT-enabled applications, provide an access point. These organizations already have the ability to scale the number of things connected within any enterprise. They have the tools available to move data across the cloud in a reliable manner. And, they have the means to distribute intelligence to further points.

Creating the digital platform to launch it all

To transform from a typical connectivity service provider into one that meets the newer service demands, a telecom organization needs a versatile IoT platform. The platform must provide the support necessary for large-application development. It must be able to integrate its customers’ backend systems into the new platform. Additionally, it must provide the services that help CSPs manage the cost of their operations as their organization grows.

With 8.4 billion “things” in use and connected in 2017, according to Gartner, it’s time to find a way to tap into this industry. Transforming CSPs’ services through end-to-end offerings can create a new revenue source in one of the fastest growing and in-demand industries today.

 Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation by downloading The Future Services Sector: Connected Services for Continuous Delivery.

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Julie Stoughton

About Julie Stoughton

Julie Stoughton is the Head of Telecommunications Marketing & Communications at SAP. She is a seasoned professional with 16 years of marketing and product marketing experience in software and media technologies. Julie’s specialties include strategic market development, positioning and messaging, customer segmentation, product launches, ROI analysis, and go-to-market execution.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

By Dan Wellers, Kai Goerlich, and Stephanie Overby , Kai Goerlich and Stephanie Overby

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future.

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


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

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Future Of Work 2018: 10 Predictions You Can’t Ignore

Steven Hunt

The start of winter is often referred to as the “holiday season.” But it might also be called the “prediction season.” When it comes to human capital management (HCM), most predictions tend to be variations of the same things.

A colleague and I even created a scale to rate HCM predictions based on whether they are new or just “old wine in new bottles.”  The reason HCM predictions do not change much over time is because the “H” in HCM is about people. People do not evolve as fast as technology. Consequently, the basic challenges of HCM are constant: getting the right people in the right roles and providing them with the right work environments while complying with employment laws.

The following are my “top ten” predictions about how these will change in 2018.

Workforce agility will become the most critical concept in HCM. It is often said that the only constant is change. It is now more accurate to say the only constant is an ever-accelerating rate of change. The only way companies can survive in the modern economy is to excel at adapting to changing markets, technologies, and business landscapes. This requires tapping into people’s innate capacity for learning, growth, and innovation.

Staffing will reach new levels of complexity. For over 100 years, most people interpreted “staffing” to mean hiring employees to work onsite in full-time or part-time roles.  This concept is changing due to shifting skill shortages, global labor pools, and a massive rise in virtual work and contract employment.  Staffing no longer means hiring employees.  It means finding the right mix of skills and matching them to business demands by tapping into an increasingly global, virtual, and contingent labor force. Companies will be forced to redefine workforce planning, recruiting, staffing, and management to work in this much more complex labor market.

The experience of work will greatly improve.  Technology has made a lot of things about our lives much easier and more enjoyable. Finding our way around a city, buying products, staying in touch with our friends, watching movies, and hundreds of other life experiences have been transformed by social and mobile technologies leveraging artificially intelligent interfaces and machine learning algorithms. We will see exponential growth in the use of artificial intelligence, chatbots, intelligent services, machine learning, mobile solutions, and social platforms to make work more enjoyable, simple, and engaging.

Performance management will become a solution, not a problem. People have hated performance management for decades.  This is changing thanks to companies rethinking performance management to focus on ongoing coaching and team based decision making.  We will soon reach a tipping point where the dreaded annual review will be nothing more than a painful memory, having been replaced by mobile technology enabled continuous performance management solutions that employees and managers both appreciate and like.

Re-conceptualizing compensation. Companies spend billions of dollars each year on merit increases, bonuses, and other form of compensation.  Yet few of them can confidently answer this question: “What is the return on investment you get from the money spent on compensation in terms of increased employee engagement, productivity, and retention?” Companies can tell down to the last penny how much is spent on compensation, but they cannot tell if that money is being spent wisely. The future of compensation will involve more continuous processes where employees receive different types of rewards throughout the year from different sources.  And analytics will be used to link investments in compensation to returns in workforce productivity.

Intolerance of inequity. For too long, companies have viewed inequity as a problem, but not a problem worth solving. With the workforce becoming increasingly diverse, particularly the rise of women who now represent 50 percent or more of the employees in many fields, society is reaching a long-awaited tipping point where inequitable treatment based on non-job relevant factors such as gender, ethnicity, and age is being openly acknowledged and addressed. Smart companies will proactively redesign their talent management practices to ensure bias is identified and addressed before it happens.

The rise of well-being tech. People are not meant to live in an “always on” 24-7 world.  The pace of work is literally burning people out.  Companies need employees to be highly engaged, creative, and service oriented.  But this is impossible to do if employees are tired, stressed, and distracted.  In the coming year, companies will continue to make more well-being tools available to their employees. With the explosion of well-being technology at the consumer level, such as smartwatches and fitness technology, many employers will be looking to bring these tools into the workplace.  However, successful organizations will be those who make such technologies accessible, enjoyable, and cultural for their employees.

Org charts will begin to phase out. There is a lot of talk about updating businesses for the digital age, and yet companies continue to manage work forces using a tool that has changed little since the Roman Empire: the hierarchical organization chart (“org chart”). Relying on org charts to guide workforce management decisions is both foolish and dangerous in a digitalized world. And while 2018 will not be “the year the org chart died,” some progressive organizations will begin to phase out traditional org charts for more modern, digital approaches.

Companies will ditch all-or-nothing retirement. 2018 will bring about a major shift in workplace dynamics with regards to older generations. Today, individuals are living longer, and thus working longer – past 60, 70, and even 80.  Forward-thinking organizations realize the need to keep this skilled talent in their organization, particularly as many industries face increasing skills shortages. However, this transition will also force companies to rethink jobs; for example, many positions that used to be full time will become part time.  In the coming year, organizations will begin to move away from the traditional, all-or-nothing view of retirement.

Growth in HR cybersecurity threats. Ransom ware made its main stage debut in 2017 with the WannaCry and NotPetya attacks.  In 2018, ransom ware threats will continue to proliferate.  HR systems have not historically been a major target of cyber criminals.  Unfortunately, this will change.  There will be a growing number of attacks against human resources departments, with cyber-criminals posing as potential applicants in the hopes of infecting the larger organization.

We should feel confident these trends will continue to evolve over the coming years. If there is one thing psychologists have proven over the years about predictions, it is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

For more on technology and HR, see Why (And How) Technology Is Bringing HR And The CFO Together.

This article originally appeared on Forbes SAPVoice.

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Steven Hunt

About Steven Hunt

Steven Hunt is the Senior Vice President of Customer Value at SAP. He is responsible for guiding the strategy and deployment of knowledge, tools and process improvements that increase the value customers receive from SuccessFactors & SAP Cloud software as a service solutions.