How To Secure Tax Compliance As Authorities Heighten Scrutiny

Jerome Pugnet

Today, with many governments needing to reduce their budget deficits and deal with rising national debts, collecting all tax revenue due is becoming more critical than ever. Authorities in many countries are becoming increasingly strict on the accuracy and timeliness of tax payments, and enforcement of tax compliance is on the rise.

How serious is the problem for governments?

There are good reasons for increased scrutiny from authorities. For example, in a recent study for the whole of the European Union, the European Commission estimated the loss of revenue from nonpayment of value-added tax to reach a staggering €160 billion. The increased scrutiny has been visible primarily in Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, but other countries, like Spain, the UK, Poland, and Croatia, are fast following Germany’s example.

In the U.S., even though the new administration promises to reduce regulatory burdens, tax authorities are well known for their rigor and severity against businesses that fail to comply. And current debt levels keep high pressure on all governments – federal, state, and local – to enforce compliance and collect all the tax revenue they can claim.

What are the implications for businesses?

Increased scrutiny from authorities means companies must pay more attention to their tax processes and implement tighter controls and surveillance to ensure that they pay the right amounts at the right time. Being found non-compliant can lead to hefty fines now and increased scrutiny going forward.

The problem isn’t a small one; based on an examination of companies’ sales revenue, tax spending is second only to the direct cost of sales. Almost two-thirds of Western companies declare that tax expense is a significant burden on their business and express concern that it will continue to increase.

It’s not a simple problem, either. Tax regulations are not simple, and as masses of transactions are recorded, errors in applying the correct tax rules, rates, deductions, and postings are not insignificant and can generate compliance issues.

How can technology help? ERP? GRC?

Setting up rules rigorously in business systems where transactions are processed (typically enterprise resource planning or specific billing or payment processing software) limits the risks of tax non-compliance. But this does not fully guarantee protection against human errors, be they in setting up tax rules or entering transactions, or against unforeseen technical problems.

Avoiding such problems can require an amount of effort from personnel in charge of controlling tax transaction compliance. Common ways to ensure compliance include reviewing voluminous reports and calling for manual processes to gather all related information and make the necessary corrections to tax rules and transactions. In addition, they need to ensure that their actions are documented for further audits and justifications to tax authorities.

Increasingly, companies are looking to use more automated, dedicated applications that screen high volumes of transactions and identify potential compliance issues based on tax-checking rules. If a compliance issue is discovered, these applications automatically alert the controlling tax and supervisory personnel in finance and compliance departments.

These are Big Data solutions, which must not only be capable of processing high volumes of data, but also delivering flexibility and extendability to support companies that are subject to a variety of tax regulations. (VAT and other sales taxes are the most obvious.) And as the business grows internationally, becomes digital, and accelerates under increasing regulatory pressure, it needs the ability to set up all tax-checking scenarios to meet expanding and fast-evolving needs.

Key characteristics of a tax compliance solution

Finally, it’s important to check a number of key characteristics as you look into a tax compliance solution to ensure that:

  • It can easily integrate into business systems to seamlessly screen transactions subject to tax
  • It can be optimized to avoid raising excessive numbers of false alerts
  • It is easy to use so that the personnel in charge can investigate potential tax compliance issues and implement corrections with the required traceability
  • It adapts to individual technical choices and road maps, and can be used either on premises or, more and more, in the cloud

In summary

Tax compliance can be challenging as companies expand their business and international footprint, especially as authorities increase their scrutiny, tax regulations become more complex, and fines are significant.

When choosing technology to help mitigate this risk, companies should ensure that they’ll be able to process high volumes of data with accuracy and velocity so that corrections can be implemented in a timely manner and tax compliance fines avoided.

With the right solution, they should also be able to streamline their tax compliance process using automation and a flexible tax control framework to adapt to various tax requirements, to have real-time insight into their tax compliance status and any corrections, and protect their business and personal liability.

Learn more

Click here to find out more about solutions for governance, risk, and compliance (GRC).

Tell me what you think, here and on Twitter at @JPugnet.

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter)  | LinkedIn | FacebookYouTube

Comments

Four Ways To Improve Cash Application With Machine Learning

Gina McNamara

As CFOs operating in the digital age, we must apply new technology to improve old processes. Here in the financial offices of SAP, our shared services team in Singapore has been improving our processes through machine learning. This technology teaches accounting programs how to perform tasks without being programmed, using sophisticated algorithms to learn by analyzing enormous amounts of data.

One process we’ve improved with machine learning is cash application. Traditionally, accountants receivable teams would spend hours analyzing data to resolve discrepancies in digital payments. Our shared services team overcame this problem by applying machine learning to the task. Specifically, we developed and implemented cash application across our accounts receivable department.

In doing so, we discovered four key ways machine learning can improve the cash application process.

Reduce sales outstanding with accountant behavior analysis

Machine learning software can study the behavior of accountants and apply it to future payments. At the same time, it can improve arduous processes by analyzing areas of improvement. This can reduce your day’s sales outstanding, saving CFOs the pressure of a prolonged DSO.

In addition, AI’s ability to improve itself saves the time it would otherwise take to optimize processes.

Use automation to save human skills for more important aspects of the process

A question that I am asked over and over is: What will accountants do when they are replaced by machines? Accountants are highly skilled in many aspects of a business and often get buried by manual processes. Automation gives our teams the chance to become more integrated into our business, acting as a transformation agent to drive better business outcomes by enabling more time to partner and utilize the information that is analyzed.

I’ve referenced millennials in previous blogs. They have grown up with technology and are eager to bring their ideas to the table. Millennials are very hard to retain when you bring them into old/traditional environments.

Eliminate reprogramming for changes to the process

As the way we pay for goods and services evolves, so too should our cash application process. Machine learning is the most effective way to manage this evolution. To explore this, let’s use the evolution of digital payments as an example.

New forms of digital payment are being established at a dizzying rate. To retain customers, your company must keep up with each of them. Ordinarily, this would require extensive reprogramming of your accounts receivable system. Thankfully, machine learning programs can recognize new forms of payment and adjust their clearing accordingly.

Enhance decision-making with AI-driven insights

While it’s important to embrace risk as a CFO, it’s our responsibility to reduce it. To that end, imagine if you could simulate new clearing models without costly trials. Imagine if you could know for certain if suspicious invoicing was a sign of fraud.

Machine-learning programs can give your team access to advantageous insights by analyzing patterns and running predictive simulations. Instead of worrying about “what-ifs,” your team can work with confidence in their AI-driven insights.

Machine learning is one of the most effective ways to manage your cash application process. Explore SAP Cash Application today to accelerate this arduous accounts receivable process.

Join us at SAPPHIRE NOW

To learn more about this and many other finance topics, please join us at SAPPHIRE NOW June 5-7 in Orlando, Florida. These two sessions are especially relevant:

Explore How Machine Learning Is Changing the Life of a CFO

Turbocharge Lockbox Processing with Machine Learning-Based Cash Application

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter) | LinkedIn | Facebook | YouTube

Comments

Gina McNamara

About Gina McNamara

Gina McNamara is the CFO for SAP Australia and New Zealand, leading a team of approximately 40 staff across core finance, legal and contracts, facilities, purchasing, and information technology. She has been with SAP since May 2007. Before taking on the CFO position, Gina worked in Commercial Finance Business Support for SAP Australia and New Zealand, where she supported sales and consulting teams with revenue recognition and deal support. Gina is a strong advocate for demonstrating how SAP runs SAP and technology to improve operations for the office of the CFO, particularly around moving from an on-premise environment to the cloud.

Emerging Trends In Financial Analytics

Rob Jenkins

Stephen Hawking once said, “We should seek the greatest value of our action.” Following that sage counsel, finance teams should seek to spend more of their time on actions that create shareholder value, such as strategic and economic analysis, and less time on mundane tasks, such as data transformation, reconciliation, and report preparation.

Emerging trends in technology enable the finance team to focus on the highest-value activities and drive digital business transformation, including a new functional operating model. The finance function of the future leverages social platforms, enterprise mobility, and data science to address the insatiable desire for real-time analysis and partner with executive management to create competitive advantage.

Social finance

“Social finance” is not an oxymoron. Many millennials are accustomed to collaborative communities with a sense of common purpose and a supportive structure. Workplace culture is rapidly adapting to these norms, as evidenced by various best-places-to-work surveys. Finance teams can be social, and in fact, the best analytics results typically come from close collaboration among visionary strategists, data stewards, and results-oriented team members looking to be catalysts for change.

At first glance, not many finance team members would say budgeting is a social activity. But when seen as an objective-setting and control exercise coupled with accurate forecasting, the financial planning process can involve many stakeholders who have expertise and discretion over business operations – including daily decisions that impact revenue, expenses, and capital investments. This “crowdsourcing” mindset and its network effects are profound. As more team members analyze data, communicate, and engage in building a budget and improving forecast accuracy, they have more “skin in the game” as it relates to financial performance.

The financial analytics technology that enables this teamwork includes a shared corporate calendar focused on processes, deliverables, and due dates; a chat feature for frequent and informal “hallway conversations”; and tools for advanced business modeling (with private versioning). All of this is packaged in one easy-to-use interface: the new killer app for finance teams.

Consumer-grade software is the standard for this new generation of finance professionals. It’s “table stakes” for them because they expect intuitive, visual capabilities and predictive calculation functionality in one space, without the complex menu maze of spreadsheets or toggling among desktop applications.

AI-enabled finance

Finance has come a long way in its forecasting ability. Not long ago, manually running correlations in spreadsheets was considered advanced analytics. Now machine learning enables code to learn from data and make predictions. Tools to improve accuracy are now easy to use and enable the curious mind to pursue endless scenarios to hone the precision of the forecast.

In the current “consumerization of IT” zeitgeist, even financial analysts who aren’t statistically savvy can simulate actions, impact, and complex relationships with ease. These citizen developers are the players in the self-service movement where IT deploys the technology and finance develops and fulfills its own requirements. Whether it’s understanding demand curves, non-linearities, or social sentiment, artificial intelligence can produce a predictive scenario that does what human systems sometimes find challenging: moving beyond bias in predictions.

Although robotic process automation in finance will replace many accounts payable personnel who today manually match invoices to purchase orders, humans will still be needed to design, strategize, communicate, and express empathy when processes break.

With the advent of natural language processing, conversational interfaces will be as popular in the workplace as they are in the home. These chatbots will increasingly become the preferred mode of interaction in many financial analysis use cases.

Gone are the days of building triple exponential smoothing spreadsheet models. Welcome to the world of automated algorithms with prescriptive analytics.

Instant finance

With the evolution of technology, finance is reexamining the mindset of “batch mode.” Proactive finance organizations will produce on-demand results for the business. Continuous accounting that integrates journal entries, soft closes, and pro forma consolidation creates instant insight, simplifies reconciliation, and accelerates reporting.

New advances in hardware and software enable immediate, visual, and suggestive analytics that not only shorten the data-to-decision cycle, but also drive cultural changes. Managers will expect decision-support timelines to be drastically compressed.

Executive management sessions, including those in the boardroom, will move away from hard-copy handouts to visual presentations with live data that allow scenario-modeling capabilities, dramatically accelerating strategic decision making.

Visual finance

People love and need stories. And every good story needs a picture. New technology brings automated visualizations of financial data that go far beyond bars and pie chart representations created manually from rows and columns of data. Now one click away are sophisticated geospatial and multidimensional illustrations that intuitively explain what would take many more words and much more time to read and comprehend.

Social anthropologists can debate whether our attention spans are getting shorter – although there is no doubt that visualizations enhance communication and help audiences explore, discover, and develop insights otherwise difficult to glean from complex data relationships.

People can just filter and drill into data to get quick answers to business questions. It is now easy to build insightful data visualizations, business intelligence dashboards, and storyboards using best practices and proven design standards to help engage and inspire an audience. And with a mobile-first design approach, business stakeholders anywhere in the world on any device can interpret and act on compelling views that couldn’t have been imagined just a few years ago.

By leveraging emerging technology trends, finance can accelerate the journey to becoming a true business partner and focus more energy on the actions that count.

Find out more about how technology can enable better decision making in How AI Can End Bias.

Follow SAP Finance online: @SAPFinance (Twitter) | LinkedIn | Facebook | YouTube

Comments

Rob Jenkins

About Rob Jenkins

Rob Jenkins is a finance executive with over 20 years of experience in leading high-technology and professional services companies. He consults with CFOs on technology, analytics, and performance management. Rob has served as vice president, Corporate Finance and led finance transformation. His leadership experience also includes corporate development, M&A, strategic planning, and consulting. He has designed and implemented customer profitability, business planning, process improvement, and performance measurement systems in multiple organizations. Rob began his career as an auditor with a Big 4 CPA firm. He holds an M.S. in Accounting and is a CPA, CMA, and CFM.

The Blockchain Solution

By Gil Perez, Tom Raftery, Hans Thalbauer, Dan Wellers, and Fawn Fitter

In 2013, several UK supermarket chains discovered that products they were selling as beef were actually made at least partly—and in some cases, entirely—from horsemeat. The resulting uproar led to a series of product recalls, prompted stricter food testing, and spurred the European food industry to take a closer look at how unlabeled or mislabeled ingredients were finding their way into the food chain.

By 2020, a scandal like this will be eminently preventable.

The separation between bovine and equine will become immutable with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which will track the provenance and identity of every animal from stall to store, adding the data to a blockchain that anyone can check but no one can alter.

Food processing companies will be able to use that blockchain to confirm and label the contents of their products accordingly—down to the specific farms and animals represented in every individual package. That level of detail may be too much information for shoppers, but they will at least be able to trust that their meatballs come from the appropriate species.

The Spine of Digitalization

Keeping food safer and more traceable is just the beginning, however. Improvements in the supply chain, which have been incremental for decades despite billions of dollars of technology investments, are about to go exponential. Emerging technologies are converging to transform the supply chain from tactical to strategic, from an easily replicable commodity to a new source of competitive differentiation.

You may already be thinking about how to take advantage of blockchain technology, which makes data and transactions immutable, transparent, and verifiable (see “What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?”). That will be a powerful tool to boost supply chain speed and efficiency—always a worthy goal, but hardly a disruptive one.

However, if you think of blockchain as the spine of digitalization and technologies such as AI, the IoT, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, and drones as the limbs, you have a powerful supply chain body that can leapfrog ahead of its competition.

What Is Blockchain and How Does It Work?

Here’s why blockchain technology is critical to transforming the supply chain.

Blockchain is essentially a sequential, distributed ledger of transactions that is constantly updated on a global network of computers. The ownership and history of a transaction is embedded in the blockchain at the transaction’s earliest stages and verified at every subsequent stage.

A blockchain network uses vast amounts of computing power to encrypt the ledger as it’s being written. This makes it possible for every computer in the network to verify the transactions safely and transparently. The more organizations that participate in the ledger, the more complex and secure the encryption becomes, making it increasingly tamperproof.

Why does blockchain matter for the supply chain?

  • It enables the safe exchange of value without a central verifying partner, which makes transactions faster and less expensive.
  • It dramatically simplifies recordkeeping by establishing a single, authoritative view of the truth across all parties.
  • It builds a secure, immutable history and chain of custody as different parties handle the items being shipped, and it updates the relevant documentation.
  • By doing these things, blockchain allows companies to create smart contracts based on programmable business logic, which can execute themselves autonomously and thereby save time and money by reducing friction and intermediaries.

Hints of the Future

In the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, we had no idea that the internet would become so large and pervasive, nor that we’d find a way to carry it all in our pockets on small slabs of glass.

But we could tell that it had vast potential.

Today, with the combination of emerging technologies that promise to turbocharge digital transformation, we’re just beginning to see how we might turn the supply chain into a source of competitive advantage (see “What’s the Magic Combination?”).

What’s the Magic Combination?

Those who focus on blockchain in isolation will miss out on a much bigger supply chain opportunity.

Many experts believe emerging technologies will work with blockchain to digitalize the supply chain and create new business models:

  • Blockchain will provide the foundation of automated trust for all parties in the supply chain.
  • The IoT will link objects—from tiny devices to large machines—and generate data about status, locations, and transactions that will be recorded on the blockchain.
  • 3D printing will extend the supply chain to the customer’s doorstep with hyperlocal manufacturing of parts and products with IoT sensors built into the items and/or their packaging. Every manufactured object will be smart, connected, and able to communicate so that it can be tracked and traced as needed.
  • Big Data management tools will process all the information streaming in around the clock from IoT sensors.
  • AI and machine learning will analyze this enormous amount of data to reveal patterns and enable true predictability in every area of the supply chain.

Combining these technologies with powerful analytics tools to predict trends will make lack of visibility into the supply chain a thing of the past. Organizations will be able to examine a single machine across its entire lifecycle and identify areas where they can improve performance and increase return on investment. They’ll be able to follow and monitor every component of a product, from design through delivery and service. They’ll be able to trigger and track automated actions between and among partners and customers to provide customized transactions in real time based on real data.

After decades of talk about markets of one, companies will finally have the power to create them—at scale and profitably.

Amazon, for example, is becoming as much a logistics company as a retailer. Its ordering and delivery systems are so streamlined that its customers can launch and complete a same-day transaction with a push of a single IP-enabled button or a word to its ever-attentive AI device, Alexa. And this level of experimentation and innovation is bubbling up across industries.

Consider manufacturing, where the IoT is transforming automation inside already highly automated factories. Machine-to-machine communication is enabling robots to set up, provision, and unload equipment quickly and accurately with minimal human intervention. Meanwhile, sensors across the factory floor are already capable of gathering such information as how often each machine needs maintenance or how much raw material to order given current production trends.

Once they harvest enough data, businesses will be able to feed it through machine learning algorithms to identify trends that forecast future outcomes. At that point, the supply chain will start to become both automated and predictive. We’ll begin to see business models that include proactively scheduling maintenance, replacing parts just before they’re likely to break, and automatically ordering materials and initiating customer shipments.

Italian train operator Trenitalia, for example, has put IoT sensors on its locomotives and passenger cars and is using analytics and in-memory computing to gauge the health of its trains in real time, according to an article in Computer Weekly. “It is now possible to affordably collect huge amounts of data from hundreds of sensors in a single train, analyse that data in real time and detect problems before they actually happen,” Trenitalia’s CIO Danilo Gismondi told Computer Weekly.

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials.

The project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, will change Trenitalia’s business model, allowing it to schedule more trips and make each one more profitable. The railway company will be able to better plan parts inventories and determine which lines are consistently performing poorly and need upgrades. The new system will save €100 million a year, according to ARC Advisory Group.

New business models continue to evolve as 3D printers become more sophisticated and affordable, making it possible to move the end of the supply chain closer to the customer. Companies can design parts and products in materials ranging from carbon fiber to chocolate and then print those items in their warehouse, at a conveniently located third-party vendor, or even on the client’s premises.

In addition to minimizing their shipping expenses and reducing fulfillment time, companies will be able to offer more personalized or customized items affordably in small quantities. For example, clothing retailer Ministry of Supply recently installed a 3D printer at its Boston store that enables it to make an article of clothing to a customer’s specifications in under 90 minutes, according to an article in Forbes.

This kind of highly distributed manufacturing has potential across many industries. It could even create a market for secure manufacturing for highly regulated sectors, allowing a manufacturer to transmit encrypted templates to printers in tightly protected locations, for example.

Meanwhile, organizations are investigating ways of using blockchain technology to authenticate, track and trace, automate, and otherwise manage transactions and interactions, both internally and within their vendor and customer networks. The ability to collect data, record it on the blockchain for immediate verification, and make that trustworthy data available for any application delivers indisputable value in any business context. The supply chain will be no exception.

Blockchain Is the Change Driver

The supply chain is configured as we know it today because it’s impossible to create a contract that accounts for every possible contingency. Consider cross-border financial transfers, which are so complex and must meet so many regulations that they require a tremendous number of intermediaries to plug the gaps: lawyers, accountants, customer service reps, warehouse operators, bankers, and more. By reducing that complexity, blockchain technology makes intermediaries less necessary—a transformation that is revolutionary even when measured only in cost savings.

“If you’re selling 100 items a minute, 24 hours a day, reducing the cost of the supply chain by just $1 per item saves you more than $52.5 million a year,” notes Dirk Lonser, SAP go-to-market leader at DXC Technology, an IT services company. “By replacing manual processes and multiple peer-to-peer connections through fax or e-mail with a single medium where everyone can exchange verified information instantaneously, blockchain will boost profit margins exponentially without raising prices or even increasing individual productivity.”

But the potential for blockchain extends far beyond cost cutting and streamlining, says Irfan Khan, CEO of supply chain management consulting and systems integration firm Bristlecone, a Mahindra Group company. It will give companies ways to differentiate.

“Blockchain will let enterprises more accurately trace faulty parts or products from end users back to factories for recalls,” Khan says. “It will streamline supplier onboarding, contracting, and management by creating an integrated platform that the company’s entire network can access in real time. It will give vendors secure, transparent visibility into inventory 24×7. And at a time when counterfeiting is a real concern in multiple industries, it will make it easy for both retailers and customers to check product authenticity.”

Blockchain allows all the critical steps of the supply chain to go electronic and become irrefutably verifiable by all the critical parties within minutes: the seller and buyer, banks, logistics carriers, and import and export officials. Although the key parts of the process remain the same as in today’s analog supply chain, performing them electronically with blockchain technology shortens each stage from hours or days to seconds while eliminating reams of wasteful paperwork. With goods moving that quickly, companies have ample room for designing new business models around manufacturing, service, and delivery.

Challenges on the Path to Adoption

For all this to work, however, the data on the blockchain must be correct from the beginning. The pills, produce, or parts on the delivery truck need to be the same as the items listed on the manifest at the loading dock. Every use case assumes that the data is accurate—and that will only happen when everything that’s manufactured is smart, connected, and able to self-verify automatically with the help of machine learning tuned to detect errors and potential fraud.

Companies are already seeing the possibilities of applying this bundle of emerging technologies to the supply chain. IDC projects that by 2021, at least 25% of Forbes Global 2000 (G2000) companies will use blockchain services as a foundation for digital trust at scale; 30% of top global manufacturers and retailers will do so by 2020. IDC also predicts that by 2020, up to 10% of pilot and production blockchain-distributed ledgers will incorporate data from IoT sensors.

Despite IDC’s optimism, though, the biggest barrier to adoption is the early stage level of enterprise use cases, particularly around blockchain. Currently, the sole significant enterprise blockchain production system is the virtual currency Bitcoin, which has unfortunately been tainted by its associations with speculation, dubious financial transactions, and the so-called dark web.

The technology is still in a sufficiently early stage that there’s significant uncertainty about its ability to handle the massive amounts of data a global enterprise supply chain generates daily. Never mind that it’s completely unregulated, with no global standard. There’s also a critical global shortage of experts who can explain emerging technologies like blockchain, the IoT, and machine learning to nontechnology industries and educate organizations in how the technologies can improve their supply chain processes. Finally, there is concern about how blockchain’s complex algorithms gobble computing power—and electricity (see “Blockchain Blackouts”).

Blockchain Blackouts

Blockchain is a power glutton. Can technology mediate the issue?

A major concern today is the enormous carbon footprint of the networks creating and solving the algorithmic problems that keep blockchains secure. Although virtual currency enthusiasts claim the problem is overstated, Michael Reed, head of blockchain technology for Intel, has been widely quoted as saying that the energy demands of blockchains are a significant drain on the world’s electricity resources.

Indeed, Wired magazine has estimated that by July 2019, the Bitcoin network alone will require more energy than the entire United States currently uses and that by February 2020 it will use as much electricity as the entire world does today.

Still, computing power is becoming more energy efficient by the day and sticking with paperwork will become too slow, so experts—Intel’s Reed among them—consider this a solvable problem.

“We don’t know yet what the market will adopt. In a decade, it might be status quo or best practice, or it could be the next Betamax, a great technology for which there was no demand,” Lonser says. “Even highly regulated industries that need greater transparency in the entire supply chain are moving fairly slowly.”

Blockchain will require acceptance by a critical mass of companies, governments, and other organizations before it displaces paper documentation. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue: multiple companies need to adopt these technologies at the same time so they can build a blockchain to exchange information, yet getting multiple companies to do anything simultaneously is a challenge. Some early initiatives are already underway, though:

  • A London-based startup called Everledger is using blockchain and IoT technology to track the provenance, ownership, and lifecycles of valuable assets. The company began by tracking diamonds from mine to jewelry using roughly 200 different characteristics, with a goal of stopping both the demand for and the supply of “conflict diamonds”—diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance insurgencies. It has since expanded to cover wine, artwork, and other high-value items to prevent fraud and verify authenticity.
  • In September 2017, SAP announced the creation of its SAP Leonardo Blockchain Co-Innovation program, a group of 27 enterprise customers interested in co-innovating around blockchain and creating business buy-in. The diverse group of participants includes management and technology services companies Capgemini and Deloitte, cosmetics company Natura Cosméticos S.A., and Moog Inc., a manufacturer of precision motion control systems.
  • Two of Europe’s largest shipping ports—Rotterdam and Antwerp—are working on blockchain projects to streamline interaction with port customers. The Antwerp terminal authority says eliminating paperwork could cut the costs of container transport by as much as 50%.
  • The Chinese online shopping behemoth Alibaba is experimenting with blockchain to verify the authenticity of food products and catch counterfeits before they endanger people’s health and lives.
  • Technology and transportation executives have teamed up to create the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a forum for developing blockchain standards and education for the freight industry.

It’s likely that the first blockchain-based enterprise supply chain use case will emerge in the next year among companies that see it as an opportunity to bolster their legal compliance and improve business processes. Once that happens, expect others to follow.

Customers Will Expect Change

It’s only a matter of time before the supply chain becomes a competitive driver. The question for today’s enterprises is how to prepare for the shift. Customers are going to expect constant, granular visibility into their transactions and faster, more customized service every step of the way. Organizations will need to be ready to meet those expectations.

If organizations have manual business processes that could never be automated before, now is the time to see if it’s possible. Organizations that have made initial investments in emerging technologies are looking at how their pilot projects are paying off and where they might extend to the supply chain. They are starting to think creatively about how to combine technologies to offer a product, service, or business model not possible before.

A manufacturer will load a self-driving truck with a 3D printer capable of creating a customer’s ordered item en route to delivering it. A vendor will capture the market for a socially responsible product by allowing its customers to track the product’s production and verify that none of its subcontractors use slave labor. And a supermarket chain will win over customers by persuading them that their choice of supermarket is also a choice between being certain of what’s in their food and simply hoping that what’s on the label matches what’s inside.

At that point, a smart supply chain won’t just be a competitive edge. It will become a competitive necessity. D!


About the Authors

Gil Perez is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

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

Hans Thalbauer is Senior Vice President, Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP.

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

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology.

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

Comments

Tags:

CEO Priorities And Challenges In The Digital World

Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

Digital transformation is here, and it is moving fast. Companies are starting to realize the enormous power of digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) and blockchain. These technologies will drive massive opportunities—and threats—for every company, and they will impact all aspects of business, including the business model. In fact, business velocity has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.

To move quickly, companies need to be clear on what they want to achieve through digital transformation and understand the possible roadblocks. Based on my meetings with customer executives across regions and industries, I have learned that CEOs often have the same three priorities and face the same three challenges:

1. Customer experience – No longer defined by omnichannel and personalized marketing.

Not surprisingly, 92 percent of digital leaders focus on customer experience. However, this is no longer just about omnichannel and personalized marketing – it is about the total customer experience. Businesses are realizing that they need to reimagine their value proposition and orchestrate changes across the value chain – from the first point of interaction to manufacturing, to shipment, to service – and be able to deliver the total customer experience. In some cases, it will even be necessary to change the core product or service itself.

2. Step change in productivity – Transform productivity and cost structure through digital technologies.

Businesses have been using technology to achieve growth for decades, but by combining emerging technologies, they can now achieve a significant productivity boost and reduce costs. For this to happen, companies must first identify the scenarios that will drive significant change in productivity, prioritize them based on value, and then determine the right technologies and solutions. Both Mckinsey and Boston Consulting Group expect a 15 to 30 percent improvement in productivity through digital advancements – blowing the doors off business-as-usual and its incremental productivity growth of 1 to 2 percent.

3. Employee engagement – Fostering a culture of innovation should be at the core of any business.

Companies are looking to create an environment that encourages creativity and innovation. Leaders are attracting the needed talent and building the right skill sets. Additionally, they aim for ways to attract a diverse workforce, improve collaborations, and empower employees – because engaged employees are crucial in order to achieve the best results. This Gallup study reveals that approximately 85 percent of employees worldwide are performing below their potential due to engagement issues.

As CEOs work towards achieving these three desired outcomes, they face some critical challenges that they must address. I define the top three challenges as follows: run vs. innovate, corporate cholesterol, and digital transformation roadmap.

1. Run vs. innovate – To be successful you must prioritize the future.

The foremost challenge that CEOs are facing is how they can keep running current profitable businesses while investing in future innovations. Quite often these two conflict as most executives mistakenly prioritize the first and spend much less time on the latter. This must change. CEOs and their management teams need to spend more time thinking about what digital is for them, discuss new ideas, and reimagine the future. According to Gartner, approximately 50 percent of boards are pushing their CEOs to make progress on digital. Although this is a promising sign, digital must become a priority on every CEOs agenda.

2. Corporate cholesterol – Do not let company culture get in the way of change.

The older the company is, the more stuck it likely is with policies, procedures, layers of management, and risk averseness. When a company’s own processes get in the way of change, that is what I call “corporate cholesterol.” CEOs need to change the culture, encourage cross-team collaborations, and bring in more diverse thinking to reduce the cholesterol levels. In fact, both Mckinsey and Capgemini conclude that culture is the number-one obstacle to digital effectiveness.

3. Digital transformation roadmap – Digital transformation is a journey without a destination.

Many CEOs struggle with their digital roadmap. Questions like: Where do I start? Can a CDO or another executive run this innovation for me? What is my three- to five-year roadmap? often come up during the conversations. Most companies think that there is a set roadmap, or a silver bullet, for digital transformation, but that is not the case. Digital transformation is a journey without a destination, and each company must start small, acquire the necessary skills and knowledge, and continue to innovate.

It is time to face the digital reality and make it a priority. According to KPMG, 70 percent to 80 percent of CEOs believe that the next three years are more critical for their company than the last fifty. And there is good reason to worry, as 75 percent of S&P 500 companies from 2012 will be replaced by 2027 at the current disruption rate.

Download this short executive document. 

Comments

Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

About Dr. Chakib Bouhdary

Dr. Chakib Bouhdary is the Digital Transformation Officer at SAP. Chakib spearheads thought leadership for the SAP digital strategy and advises on the SAP business model, having led its transformation in 2010. He also engages with strategic customers and prospects on digital strategy and chairs Executive Digital Exchange (EDX), which is a global community of digital innovation leaders. Follow Chakib on LinkedIn and Twitter