Connected Four: How EMEA Enterprises Excel With Connectivity

Franck Chelly

The objective of the game Connect Four is simple: The first player who forms a line of four of the same-colored discs wins.

For businesses, achieving connectivity in today’s world of Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and intelligent devices isn’t quite as easy, but the stakes remain the same: connectivity equals victory.

These four organizations based in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) – the Connected Four, as I like to call them – are demonstrating how connected products, assets, fleets, infrastructure, markets, and people can result in a decisive competitive advantage.

1. Hamburg Port Authority: Increasing efficiency and capacity with smartPORT logistics

The Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) manages the safe maritime transport of goods for businesses across Germany and throughout the world. With shipping demand constantly growing, HPA sought a solution to increase port efficiency and capacity.

Through the development of the smartPORT logistics platform, HPA was able to ensure its freight forwarders, container terminal operators, and customers are always connected. By enabling real-time data exchange, HPA, its partners, and customers have a clearer picture of existing port traffic and operations. This will lead to more efficient cargo-handling processes across the supply chain.

2. Alliander: Providing improved energy service, saving time, and cutting project costs

Alliander, a Dutch energy distribution company, serves more than 3 million customers per year.

The organization is currently collecting data from sensors and other intelligent devices to ensure its employees, assets, and infrastructure are all better connected.

By making this information available to its staff in a single point of data access, Alliander can achieve a wide range of goals, including:

  • Pinpointing old gas pipes that need to be replaced, a previously hours-long process that now takes just seconds
  • Predicting peak loads in certain areas of its energy network, enabling the company to better understand where it needs to increase capacity

3. Piaggio: Giving people their kicks with peace of mind

Since the 1946 launch of its Vespa scooter, Italy-based Piaggio has been treating thrill-seeking riders to the time of their lives. And while enabling customers to hit the road for an exciting journey is top of mind for Piaggio, the company is fully committed to ensuring vehicle safety.

Piaggio is largely achieving this with bleeding-edge IoT technology. IoT-connected Piaggio vehicles can alert users that their scooters or motorcycles require service, as well as communicate potential issues directly to the manufacturer or a mechanic. Addressing these issues as soon as they’re detected would allow riders to quickly continue on their adventures, safe from harm’s way.

4. Roche: Stopping diabetes in its tracks with connected care

Connected care is creating stronger relationships between doctors and patients. It’s encouraging people to take better care of themselves. And it’s equipping doctors with greater insight into patient data.

Roche Diagnostics, a Swiss life sciences company, developed a mobile app that enables doctors to track the health of patients in real-time. Combined with a blood glucose monitor and wearable fitness device, the app helps doctors to prevent the spread of diseases such as diabetes. If unhealthy behaviors are detected, the doctor can immediately schedule an appointment with the patient to address the issues and develop a proper healthcare plan.

Turn connectivity into a competitive advantage

The connected four – HPA, Alliander, Piaggio, and Roche – are at the cutting edge of today’s digital economy.

Each enterprise has figured out a way to harness the power of connectivity and transform it into measurable business results, from more efficient processes and faster project turnaround times to lower project costs and new revenue streams.

Business leaders are always on the lookout for new ways to satisfy customers. To achieve this in today’s world of Big Data and constant connectivity, organizations need to embrace the latest technologies.

Download this free brochure to explore how your enterprise can begin implementing innovative solutions and turning connectivity into a competitive advantage and follow @SAPLeonardo on Twitter.

Connect with industry experts, partners, influencers, and business leaders at SAP Leonardo Live, our premier Internet of Things (IoT) conference for breakthrough innovation and technology. Register here and join us from July 11–12, 2017, in Frankfurt, Germany, to experience how your company can run a digitized business.

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Franck Chelly

About Franck Chelly

Franck Chelly is Vice President of Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain at SAP EMEA. Over the last 29 years, he has presented to business and IT audiences in many different countries around the world on themes such as digital transformation, the Internet of Things, the new customer engagement, the future of digital marketing, the cloud revolution, and the challenges of adoption culture in organizations.

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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Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

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

About Stephanie Overby

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Human Is The Next Big Thing

Traci Maddox

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

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

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

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

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

How will jobs change?

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

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

What is digital fluency and how can organizations embrace it?

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

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

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

So, what skills are needed?

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

Today's workplace reality

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

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

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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Traci Maddox

About Traci Maddox

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