Business Growth And The Return On Relationship

Ted Coine

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Respect all. Admire Some. Idolize none.

That is one of the most important lessons Ted Coine has ever learned. Be assured, Ted learned it through experience. As a youngster, Ted was sometimes guilty of two extremes common to the inexperienced: he did not respect all people as well as he should, and was sometimes guilty of idolizing others who he put on a pedestal.

But where Ted used to idolize strangers, he now admires friends. And one of those friends whom he has long admired is Ted Rubin. The admiration isn’t for breaking sporting records or building a business empire. It’s for how he carries himself, how he lives his life on the open pedestal we all occupy in this world gone social. Ted Rubin is on the very short list of social leaders whose example we (Ted C and Shawn) both admire and try to emulate.

ROR Book CoverSo you can imagine that, when his long-awaited book with co-author Kathyrn Rose finally came out, we were first in line for a copy. Return On Relationship is so much more than a catchy title. It’s a shift in the philosophy of how business will get done in this exciting new century – of how it already is getting done, at least among a small-but-growing cadre of savvy business professionals.

Let’s explore further the important philosophical shift in how business gets done in 21st century. At the risk of oversimplifying what’s at the heart of Rubin and Rose’s book, it’s about cultivating relationships.

Now you might be thinking, “Relationships have always been the cornerstone of business.” True. The shift, however, is found in embracing, understanding, failing then learning, and operationalizing how you build relationships using social technology.

The truth is you cannot control what is said about your company, its products or services. Today’s customers have a social arsenal available to them to tweet, share, like, Yelp, their experiences and beliefs about your company, and ultimately your brand. These communication channels connect customers and potential ones in a way you cannot control. And you need your people prepared to engage.

If you have not grasped this shift, the ground below you must feel very shaky. Social is not going away.  It’s not a fade. Or a phase.

Social is not going away.  It’s not a fade. Or a phase.

For the managers and leaders of any size company, Rubin and Rose’s book offers some actionable, compelling, real-world insights. Though brimming with compelling points and sage advice, here are two compelling points that resonated with us.

Modernize Your Organizational Structure

Listening and interacting with customers through social technology requires management to look at their organizational structure. You need to eliminate gaps and holes in your structure and processes that would lead customers to believe you aren’t prepared to meet their needs. What are the handoffs between marketing and customer service? How do you monitor and listen to what customers are saying? Rubin and Rose give some compelling examples and actionable steps to help you modernize your organizational structure and processes to include social.

You need to eliminate gaps and holes in your structure and processes that would lead customers to believe you aren’t prepared to meet their needs

Respond. Don’t Hide

The 24-hour news cycle has shown us what happens to companies that try to hide from the truth. So when social tools like Twitter or YouTube emerged, top managers let fear govern their decision to avoid and forbid employees to use any social media – an illusion of control.

What Rubin and Rose offer in Return on Relationship are solutions managers can implement to move beyond fear of social when engaging customers. To honor the relationship with customers, don’t businesses need to authentically address criticisms? Rubin and Rose believe it’s important. So do we.

Customers use social media sites to talk about your company. If you’re not there to listen and respond in a way to keep or build a new relationship, do you deserve to keep them as a customer?

If you’re not there to listen and respond in a way to keep or build a new relationship, do you deserve to keep them as a customer?

Ted Rubin and Kathryn Rose show us how to do business in a more human way. How? They show us ways to build relationships with customers using today’s social technology. Going a step further, they show you why your brand depends on it.

Summing it up neatly, show your customers that you value the relationship with them by interacting with them, not ignoring them because of outdated business beliefs.

Pick up a copy of Return on Relationship from Ted Rubin and Kathryn Rose in our Business Heretics Bookstore.

Graphic by Shawn Murphy

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Building Effective Digital Transformation Teams

Robert Werkema

Much has been said about the impact of digital transformation in the marketplace, and there is no question that this transformation is key to ongoing success and longevity for many businesses. This is the third in a series of posts created to address the crucial aspects of performing a successful digital transformation.

You have your mission statement drafted, and the budget planning is getting close. The next step in a successful digital transformation is to build the team that’s going to be on this journey with you. The right team will have as much impact on your success as any of the other elements.

Building effective digital transformation teams

There are three areas to consider when building the teams that are going to get your digital transformation project over the goal line.

Internal resources: Include the right mix of people

Likely one of the biggest mistakes that I see with transformation teams is not having enough of the right internal people in the mix.

If you are launching a transformation project, there should be a core of internal people representing each aspect of the areas of technology and business that will be affected by the transformation. Don’t trust this part to anyone outside of the organization.

Identify the people in your organization that are much too busy and heavily engaged in the business—then make them your core team. Digital transformation is going to change your organization, and you want the very best and brightest in your company to be a part of that!

The core team should be made up of both business and technology members. Too often, I see IT leading the charge with way too little input from the business side. There is a natural tension between business and IT, which means you have to work diligently to build a cross-discipline team.

It’s never good to have limited engagement from the business sector—if people don’t have a vested interest in success, they are more likely to take pot-shots from the sidelines. Consider at least one team-building exercise before you get into the pressure cooker of project delivery. Bringing everybody together before the start of the project will help form the bonds that you will need down the road when things get tougher.

There is little room for fly-in and fly-out “helicopter participants.” Core team members must be committed and attend project status updates and meetings, as well as give timely input during review cycles. The fastest path to demoralizing your team is having someone show up after missing multiple meetings and demanding that previous decisions be overturned. Don’t let that happen!

I like a core team of 6 to 10 people split between IT and business. The number of people on your core team will be dictated by the size and scope of the effort, as well as the practical availability of resources. The core team should meet at least once per week during the active project. In addition to the core team, it is great to have a broader set of participants who get a view to the project on a regular basis—monthly is often a good target. This keeps the rest of the organization informed of the direction the core team is headed.

Once you have the core team, make sure that they have some level of authority to make decisions. It is maddening and can substantially impact project efficiency to have a team member that must constantly check with their management.

Don’t cede control of the project to any outsiders. It is far too tempting to say that your systems integrator (SI) or technology provider has the experience and manpower, so you can just tell them what to do. It never works out the way you hoped.

Partner resources: Review their experience

It is easy to believe that the partner has all of the answers. The systems integrator will never know your business as well as you do, no matter how great they sound. Make sure you have defined the rules of engagement right up front, and all internal and partner resources are on board.

Partners are critical to your success—bridging a gap between technology and its deployment. As you contemplate which partner to leverage, review the resumes of the people, and meet them to make sure they fit well. Document in writing what level of dedication you expect from that team. There have been too many cases where someone gets pulled away for another project to the detriment of the one they were on. Write critical team members names in the contract.

Take your time selecting the SI you are going to leverage. Talk to their references and the SI core team members that will be part of your project. Do a little detective work behind the scenes on your finalist SI list. Every SI will have had projects that did not go well. Ask them to talk about what happened, how they resolved the issue, and what they learned. It is important to know how the partner will respond when there are substantial problems. You hope it does not happen to you—but digital transformation is a messy and difficult process, even when you get it right! You want to know your partner will be in it with you through the whole process.

Partner commitment is a two-way street. Don’t expect a partner to keep valuable resources on the bench waiting as you work through internal issues. Try to eliminate potential stall points before they ever impact your project. That’s where having the dedicated core team becomes critical.

Vendor resources hold valuable information

Engaging your technology partner during deployment can be one of the most important things you do for the success of your project. It does not make sense to do an extensive evaluation of technology and then assume that your selected SI is interchangeable with your technology provider. As a part of any evaluation process, take a look at your technology provider and what resources are available to you during the project. Most vendors will have some kind of project support you can engage as you deploy.

Staying tight to your technology partner can help avoid pitfalls you never saw coming. It is always good when doing a substantial transformation project to bring in another set of experienced eyes. I used to make a wager with my customers that if we did not find issues that made the investment worthwhile, I would foot the bill. I never once wrote a check…

A frequent problem companies encounter is that they don’t plan for this engagement up front. Often these are expensive resources. You need to build that in up front! A good rule of thumb is to plan 10-20 percent of the SI deployment cost to go to the technology partner for architecture review, code, and performance checks.

Getting your partner engaged serves another goal: ensuring that your SI is deploying to best practice standards. This is the first time through digital transformation for most companies—by engaging your technology vendor, you get the value of all of their experience in addition to your SI partner. It is the cheapest insurance policy you will ever buy.

Building effective virtual teams across your internal constituents, your SI, and your technology provider will greatly improve the odds that you will achieve your goals with a minimum of disruption. All three parts play a critical role in the effort.

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There is no single perfect alignment between the three resources areas. Your answer needs to fit the culture and needs of your organization, but all three areas should be represented.

For more insight on building an effective digital strategy, see The First Step Toward Digital Transformation Is Consensus-Building.

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.

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Can Technology Remove Bias From The Workplace?

Tom Loeffert

Diversity in the workplace can help foster original ideas. It can help businesses reach out to a wider range of customers. It can even bring about a boost in profit and revenue. Yet, while many businesses understand the value of diversity, they also have a tendency to recruit and promote the same type of person, time and time again.

Seeing the invisible

The main culprit for this is unconscious bias – making quick mental judgments about people without even realizing it’s happening. In many ways it’s hard-wired into our brains, making it difficult to identify and even harder to tackle.

These unintentional biases can cause people to make decisions that favor certain types of people ahead of others. It’s why candidates with Asian or African sounding names are less likely to be called in for an interview. It’s why plus-sized employees are still treated poorly in the office. Or why women are underrepresented in the FTSE 100.

The diversity reports regularly published by tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft further reiterate the problem: there’s still a lot to be done in terms of boosting the low percentage of female and ethnic minority employees in the industry.

A truly diverse workforce requires more than just box-ticking by HR. It requires businesses to consider a broad range of factors when making everyday work decisions. Gender, race, and age are the obvious ones. But there are less obvious factors – such as an employee’s economic or academic background – that can contribute to a truly diverse work environment.

The million-dollar question is: how can we achieve this?

Technology to the rescue

Innovation in artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data, and automation is adding a dose of objectivity to business decision-making. For example, cloud-based solutions are giving HR managers the insight they need to eliminate bias. AI-powered language detectors can filter out gender-biased wording in job descriptions and performance feedback. This can encourage managers to reassess their language and hiring or promotion decisions. Anonymous recruitment processes can encourage recruiters to focus on skills, rather than a candidate’s first or last name. And tools that compare an employee’s KPIs against tenure can alert managers when someone is consistently assigned fewer or less important tasks because of unconscious bias.

Technology can help HR managers see which areas of their business need fine-tuning in order to encourage diversity, but it’s not infallible. AI can reflect society’s biases; language processing, for example, has been shown to reinforce gender biases (such as associating the word “doctor” with “man” and “nurse” with “woman”). AI is promising, but it can’t always understand context.

Another thing to consider is that technology tends to move faster than government – meaning regulating its effects can be difficult. In the UK, some protections already exist. Government services and businesses must disclose if a decision was made entirely by a machine, and if so, it can be challenged. For businesses, this means being cautious with how some technology is introduced.  AI must be brought in for the right reasons and in the most appropriate way. Transparency with all automated processes will be key. Avoiding creating over-hype and spurring ethical fear among the workforce will be important as well.

There’s still a long way to go before technology can address all the problems associated with bias in talent management. And even with the best technology in the world, human judgment will remain important. Because it’s not about calling out people who are guilty of bias, rather, it’s about teaching them to not be biased. Communication with people and coaching them to grow – without bias, but with some tech help – is the future of HR.

Remember: diversity attracts diversity. This needs to be reflected in an organization’s cultural foundation. From there, it will trickle into talent strategy, leadership development plans, and everyday decisions made with candidates, employees, vendors, and suppliers. Leveraging diversity can lead to better outcomes for everyone involved, and if the vision is right, technology can help us make it a reality.

Technology isn’t infallible; it still needs to be taught how to play fair. Find out “How AI Can End Bias.”

To keep up with the latest tech trends in HR, follow Tom on LinkedIn.

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Tom Loeffert

About Tom Loeffert

Tom Loeffert is the Director of HR (United Kingdom) at SAP.

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.

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The “Purpose” Of Data

Timo Elliott

I’ve always been passionate about the ability of data and analytics to transform the world.

It has always seemed to me to be the closest thing we have to modern-day magic, with its ability to conjure up benefits from thin air. Over the last quarter century, I’ve had the honor of working with thousands of “wizards” in organizations around the world, turning information into value in every aspect of our daily lives.

The projects have been as simple as Disney using real-time analytics to move staff from one store to another to keep lines to a minimum: shorter lines led to bigger profits (you’re more likely to buy that Winnie-the-Pooh bear if there’s only one person ahead of you), but also higher customer satisfaction and happier children.

Or they’ve been as complex as the Port of Hamburg: constrained by its urban location, it couldn’t expand to meet the growing volume of traffic. But better use of information meant it was able to dramatically increase throughput – while improving the life of city residents with reduced pollution (less truck idling) and fewer traffic jams (smart lighting that automatically adapts to bridge closures).

I’ve seen analytics used to figure out why cheese was curdling in Wisconsin; count the number of bubbles in Champagne; keep track of excessive fouls in Swiss soccer, track bear sightings in Canada; avoid flooding in Argentina; detect chewing-gum-blocked metro machines in Brussels; uncover networks of tax fraud in Australia; stop trains from being stranded in the middle of the Tuscan countryside; find air travelers exposed to radioactive substances; help abused pets find new homes; find the best people to respond to hurricanes and other disasters; and much, much more.

The reality is that there’s a lot of inefficiency in the world. Most of the time it’s invisible, or we take it for granted. But analytics can help us shine a light on what’s going on, expose the problems, and show us what we can do better – in almost every area of human endeavor.

Data is a powerful weapon. Analytics isn’t just an opportunity to reduce costs and increase profits – it’s an opportunity to make the world a better place.

So to paraphrase a famous world leader, next time you embark on a new project:

“Ask not what you can do with your data, ask what your data can do for the world.”

What are your favorite “magical” examples, where analytics helped create win/win/win situations?

Download our free eBook for more insight on How the Port of Hamburg Doubled Capacity with Digitization.

This article originally appeared on Digital Business & Business Analytics.

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Timo Elliott

About Timo Elliott

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist for SAP and a passionate advocate of innovation, digital business, analytics, and artificial intelligence. He was the eighth employee of BusinessObjects and for the last 25 years he has worked closely with SAP customers around the world on new technology directions and their impact on real-world organizations. His articles have appeared in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, ZDNet, The Guardian, and Digitalist Magazine. He has worked in the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Silicon Valley, and currently lives in Paris, France. He has a degree in Econometrics and a patent in mobile analytics.