International Social Sabbaticals Programs Benefit Startups In Emerging Economies

Derek Klobucher

Weather was partly cloudy for solar power startups last week. Investors in Santa Clara, Calif.-based photovoltaic panel maker MiaSolé saw no sun, as the acquisition price yielded pennies for the millions of dollars capitalists ventured last year, according to The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

Social Sabbaticals 01-08-2013-AOn the bright side, Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary MidAmerican Energy Holdings agreed last week to pay as much as $2.5 billion toward solar energy projects in California. This is the third significant solar power investment in a little more than a year for the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, The Telegraph noted on Wednesday.

But all startups, from a solar power panel maker to a girl-powered ballet school, rely on more than venture capital and decades of profoundly sage experience from an iconic investor. Small business owners in developing markets and SAP employees are learning this firsthand through SAP social sabbaticals.

People from around the company and across the globe take time away from their SAP jobs to work abroad on not-for-profit projects in emerging market economies, helping startups while gaining new experiences and insights. The first group went to Belo Horizonte, Brazil last summer.

Social Sabbatical 01-08-2013-BSAP’s Michaela Degbeon and Christoph Zeidler (pictured, left and center) recently spent a month in India helping entrepreneurs in Bangalore. The two told German daily newspaper Die Welt and public television channel Deutsche Welle how they bridged technological, economic and cultural gaps.

“Many conversations [in Bangalore] begin with questions about your family and about personal things,” Degbeon said in an English-language version of the video, which aired last week. “Generally, it’s about building up trust via interpersonal relationships, and then achieving results.”

Degbeon and Zeidler worked at the National Entrepreneurship Network, where shelves full of car batteries help prevent computers from crashing during the city’s frequent power outages. That helpful and friendly nature of the people impressed Zeidler the most.

Social Sabbatical 01-08-2013-C“It’s possible to be successful using approaches different than the way we do things in Germany,” Zeidler said. “Things always seem to end well despite the alleged chaos.”

And that’s a sunny forecast for startups around the world.

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About Derek Klobucher

Derek Klobucher is a Brand Journalist, Content Marketer and Master Digital Storyteller at SAP. His responsibilities include conceiving, developing and conducting global, company-wide employee brand journalism training; managing content, promotion and strategy for social networks and online media; and mentoring SAP employees, contractors and interns to optimize blogging and social media efforts.

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awareness

The Pursuit Of Purpose: Five Ways To Incorporate For Good Business

Hernan Marino

When people start companies, one of the first things they are told to do is to create a mission statement. In a wayward world, it is a point of focus, something to which a founder can always return.

But these days, a mission statement is not enough. Companies need to be more than a profit apparatus. Companies need to have a purpose. In order to achieve that purpose, leaders must shape a company’s culture. And then that culture will define a company’s brand.

At the same time, buyers want to associate themselves with brands that stand for good. Fifty-five percent of global online consumers across 60 countries say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, according to a 2014 study by Nielsen.

Maybe that is a reason why so many companies see the benefits of this approach in their bottom lines. Fifty-eight percent of companies with a clearly articulated purpose said they experienced growth of 10% or more over the past three years, according to a study by Harvard Business Review and the EY Beacon Institute. And 75% of executives at organizations that adopt purpose-led practices said that integration of purpose creates value in the short term and over time.

I’ve always believed that leading with purpose is not only a motivator in the buyer’s journey, but also a great motivator for teams. People want to know their efforts are part of a bigger, more meaningful picture.

Even if you’re not a major multinational company like SAP, you have the power to inspire and build purpose into your company’s framework and reap the social and business benefits. Here are five points to keep in mind as you think about creating or enriching your company’s purpose:

  1. Be the kind of company employees believe in. A purpose-led company takes care of home first. I’m extremely proud of the fact that SAP this year made the Fortune 100 List of “Best Places to Work.” This list is near and dear to my heart. It’s not about revenue and stock price. It’s about people. I think it’s no coincidence that last year we were named #20 on the top 100 Most Purposeful Brands in the World list. The two go hand-in-hand. You don’t want to be known for your great value or products while having a negative reputation as an employer. Believe it or not, this can impact your bottom line. Even as an SMB, there’s no limit to the incentives you can offer that provide meaningful benefits to employees. Consider flexible work arrangements or education reimbursement, for example.
  1. Commit to consistency. Becoming a purpose-led company is not a campaign. It’s not one of your quarterly initiatives. It’s about rethinking how and – more importantly – why you do business. Make sure you’re ready for this commitment before you head down this road; you will need to embrace this as a business practice. Discuss the new direction with your team to garner engagement and support. Listen to their ideas.
  1. Put your dollars to work through sponsorship. Whether it’s the environment, education, local organizations, or even disease research, there are a number of causes you can get involved with in your community that will fit any-sized budget. Sponsor a softball team. Sign your company up for an annual cancer awareness walk. Rally around a cause that has personally impacted someone in your firm. Connect with a local organization working with high school students and offer mentorship or a scholarship. The possibilities are endless to do the right thing and make a difference and an impact.
  1. Find the human element in your customer stories. What’s your line of business? Food supplier? Maker of organic clothing? Government services provider? No matter what you do, you are creating a positive impact in the world. So share your stories. For example, if you are an SAP partner, you’re helping companies run better and smarter every day. You’re facilitating your customers’ ability to create a positive impact in the world. You too, can share those stories. This is actually how a new innovation awareness initiative, SAP Innovations4Good, was born. Partner Marketing director Ashley Tully had the opportunity to witness technology we’ve been working on that will help shape and improve the world. Her visit to our labs was so inspirational that she decided to create a platform to share stories of SAP and partners’ innovations with others.
  1. Create a corporate culture of service. Along with your own company-led efforts, you can put initiatives in place to support your employees as they serve. Many companies, like Deloitte, for example, offer paid time off for employees to participate in projects of their own choosing. You can also start a matching gift program, where you match your employees’ individual charitable donations. Think about integrating service activities into company events and celebrations.

Becoming a purpose-led company takes some “soul searching.” But it’s essential to the process. Your customers will be able to tell if you’re just jumping on the bandwagon. And before your purposeful initiatives get rolling, don’t forget to create a solid communications plan. Spread the word on social media. Document your volunteerism. Gather employee testimonials. Create a new tab on your website. After all, the world needs to know about all the good you’re doing.

Not enough humanitarian aid gets to where it’s needed. It’s time to reinvent aid delivery for the digital economy by Rewiring Hope.

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Hernan Marino

About Hernan Marino

Hernan Marino is Chief Operations Officer of marketing and Global Head of SME/Partner Marketing at SAP, the market leader in enterprise application software. SAP (NYSE: SAP) helps companies of all sizes and industries run better. Hernan leads SAP Marketing’s digital transformation, marketing automation strategy and SAP’s growth plans in the SME marketplace.

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purpose , vision

How Future Batteries Could Save Civilization

Dan Wellers and Michael Rander

The future of humanity may well depend on our ability to move away from our dirty and dwindling supply of fossil fuels as fast as possible. To steer ourselves and our planet in the right direction, we have to find another way to feed our civilization’s need for a reliable supply of energy.

Nuclear power may well be part of the solution for the near term, but the need to manage depleted radioactive fuel for centuries makes nuclear energy as environmentally problematic as the fossil fuels it replaces. At best, we should only consider it a bridge to more sustainable forms of power.

Fortunately for the human race, renewable energy is finally becoming competitive. To make it truly transformative, though, we also need to reinvent a technology most of us take for granted: the battery.

Saving power for later

Utility companies are responsible for delivering power at all hours, under all conditions. That’s the central challenge in building a grid powered by renewable energy: you can’t generate wind power on a still day or solar power on a cloudy one, and you can’t tweak the weather to boost power production during times of peak demand. To ensure we continue to have abundant, consistent electricity in a post-fossil fuel age, we need grid-scale ways to store hydroelectric, solar, and wind power for later use and move it to where it’s needed.

The most common rechargeable batteries in use today are lithium ion (Li-ion). Li-ion batteries can pack a lot of energy into a small, lightweight package that charges quickly, retains a charge for a long time, and can be recharged many times before wearing out. However, they aren’t currently able to scale to the size a power grid demands. That’s one reason why battery research and development attracted $480 million in venture capital in the first six months of 2017 alone.

The next generation of energy storage seems to be on the verge of breaking out. Keep an eye on these technologies currently in development:

  • Batteries made of graphene – a one-atom-thick layer of graphite that conducts energy faster and more efficiently than any other material on earth – charge and discharge dozens of times faster than standard lithium-ion batteries, can be charged to full in less time, and store an enormous amount of power for their size. One company is already producing graphene batteries for use in electric cars.
  • A battery made from cheap, plentiful sodium needs to be much bigger than a lithium-ion battery to hold the same charge. That makes sodium batteries impractical for portable devices – but ideal for homes, office buildings, or the grid itself. In fact, you’ll probably be able to buy cost-effective sodium batteries for household energy storage within the next few years.
  • A lithium-sulphur (Li-S) battery could store two to three times as much power in the same space as a lithium-ion battery, or the same amount of power in half to one-third the size. So far, though, Li-S batteries don’t last long, so researchers don’t expect a commercial version for five to 10 years.
  • Lithium combined with air could store twice as much power as a lithium-ion battery of the same size (or the same amount of power in a battery half the size). Like Li-S batteries, though, Li-air batteries have a longevity problem researchers say it will likely take 10 years to solve.
  • Solid-state batteries developed by Toyota scientists can completely charge or discharge in just eight minutes and, because they do not contain liquid as other batteries do, should continue working in temperatures from boiling to well below freezing. However, these batteries are still under development, with no clear timeline for commercial availability and applications.

Other possibilities at early stages of development include batteries made with a fire-retardant solid polymer, batteries that are 3D printed from copper foam, lightweight, long-lasting miniaturized solid-oxide fuel cells, gold nanowires that can be recharged 200,000 times with no loss of capacity, and a wearable nanofilm that captures and stores energy from friction and body motion.

Researchers in the UK have even used nanogenerators to build a phone that charges its own batteries using ambient sound – including the voice of the person talking into the phone. And in a development that could redefine how we think about energy storage, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working with Italian sports car manufacturer Lamborghini to build an electric “supercar” that doesn’t even have a battery in the conventional sense – because it can store energy in its body panels made of lightweight carbon nanotubes.

Getting charged up about batteries’ potential

Businesses and governments alike are finally recognizing the potential of being able to store power at grid scale and investing accordingly. Automotive manufacturers are setting up divisions to leverage their existing investments in electric cars into energy-storage solutions for the residential and commercial market. Airplane manufacturers are experimenting with lightweight battery-driven propulsion systems. Governments worldwide are rolling out subsidies to encourage cost-saving, industry-disrupting battery innovations. In fact, in a test the entire world should be watching, Elon Musk’s Tesla worked with French renewable energy company Neoen to build the world’s biggest Li-ion battery installation in South Australia in autumn 2017. Construction ended November 23, and the battery is now undergoing charging and testing before it’s put to work supplementing the local utility’s power grid by storing enough wind energy to power 30,000 homes.

The battery revolution isn’t merely about charging your phone just once a week or driving your electric car 1,000 miles without plugging in. It’s about enabling a society-wide transformation with massive ramifications. Developing better ways to store energy will create new job opportunities, not just at battery manufacturers, but across the economy as we retool and build out an infrastructure that relies on renewable energy sources. Less expensive, more environmentally friendly sources of power will play a vital role in the growth of circular business models that recapture and reuse resources. The power grid will have the decentralized reserves of power it needs to remain resilient even as it increases its reliance on renewable sources.

Scientists say we have just a few more years to mitigate man-made climate change before it reaches a tipping point that tumbles us into an extremely unpleasant future – so we need to make the transition to a sustainable post-fossil-fuel world as quickly as possible. By allowing us to use power more efficiently and store it more effectively, the next generation of batteries will do more than just help smooth the inevitable turbulence of that societal shift. The energy storage systems we develop today may actually contain the future of civilization.

Read the executive brief Next-Gen Batteries Will Define Our Future.


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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.

About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur. Share your thoughts with Michael on Twitter @michaelrander.

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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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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Retail Tomorrow: How Today’s Technology Is Shaping Retail’s Future

Stephen Sparrow

Do you ever think about tomorrow? Many retailers don’t. They’re too concerned with what’s happening in the moment. They’re too wrapped up in managing their daily business operations or maintaining profit margins.

Don’t get me wrong – those things are important. But tomorrow matters more than they know.

With game-changing technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality, and machine learning reshaping the retail landscape, tomorrow can no longer be ignored. If your company wants to stay ahead of the competition – both now and in the future – you need to begin experimenting with these innovations today.

Beer, there, and everywhere: Create an immersive customer experience

Imagine you’re a Brooklyn-based brewery. You craft the most delicious beer anyone’s ever tasted, and Brooklynites are absolutely gaga over your product. But how do you spread the word? How can you make people in Seattle or San Francisco thirst for your beverage?

Virtual reality and IoT tools can help you create a more immersive customer experience – one that gives people an in-depth view into your brewery – so folks across the country can get excited about sampling your suds.

By setting up a 360-degree video camera and implementing virtual reality capabilities, you can invite people all over the world to tour your facility. They can visit the tasting room, check out the outdoor patio, and watch the kettles work their magic in the production area.

IoT sensors, meanwhile, can provide prospective customers with insight around your brewing processes. Attached to the brew kettles, these sensors enable you to share real-time data about each batch of beer, from when the hops reach a boil to when fermentation is complete.

If viewers like what they see, they can order a case of your beer online.

Creating an immersive customer experience, where people get a glance behind the curtain to see how your company operates and how your product is made, is a surefire recipe for retail success.

A passion for fashion: Predict trends so your customers are always dressed to kill

Instagram, the popular image-sharing app, has a global community of more than 800 million users. These users share upwards of 95 million photos and videos per day.

If a woman from the United States is traveling to Tokyo for an upcoming vacation and wants to make sure she looks fashionable while visiting Japan’s capital city, where can she turn?

Instagram, of course.

With a simple keyword search for “fashion” and “Tokyo,” this woman could be knee-deep in results highlighting the top trends from this chic metropolitan hotspot. Now, with a better idea of what the locals are wearing, she can pick up a few new outfits before her trip, and she won’t feel so out of place in her American attire when she visits.

Retailers, particularly fashion brands, can benefit from how consumers are using apps like Instagram. By analyzing what people are wearing in photos taken in fashion meccas like London, Paris, Tokyo, Milan, or New York, your business can have its finger firmly on the pulse.

Pairing your analysis with machine learning capabilities can enable your retailer to detect and predict the hottest fashion trends. This will help your designers tailor the clothing they create to what’s happening – or what will be happening – in the market.

If more people are wearing floral-print miniskirts, you can design matching leggings. If more people are dressing in denim, you can ramp up production on jean jackets.

Staying up to date on the latest fashion trends can keep your retailer at the top of its game. Predicting the next big thing in fashion using machine learning? That will have your business declaring “game over” to all your competitors.

Not your grandma’s kitchen: Increase customer convenience through greater connectivity

Connected products are invading our homes. We have smart TVs in our living rooms. We have showerheads equipped with Bluetooth speakers in our bathrooms. We have lights that brighten or dim based on our sleeping schedules in our bedrooms.

In the kitchen, though, things are getting really intelligent. From precision cookers that alert you when dinner’s ready to coffee makers you can operate with your smartphone, kitchen appliances are creating a whole new level of convenience for customers.

With a smart refrigerator, customers can create shopping lists using a touch screen on the door. IoT capabilities enable people to add or remove items from their lists using a mobile device. Customers can even submit their grocery orders to a nearby store through their smart fridge, a convenient click-and-collect shopping scenario.

Augmented reality, meanwhile, allows people to peek inside their refrigerators without even opening them. If a woman at work wants to see if she has enough milk for a bowl of cereal tomorrow, she can check using a tablet or smartphone.

Retailers and consumer products companies can leverage this technology to deliver a more engaging product experience. The packaging of a stick of butter, for instance, might have a code on it. When a man peers into his refrigerator using his smartphone, he could click on the code and find out the product’s expiration date. Or perhaps he can learn a few new recipes he could bake using the butter.

By creating a hassle-free shopping experience and enhancing how your buyers engage with your products, you can increase sales and earn your customers’ loyalty.

Home sweet home: Modernize retail like real-estate agents have revolutionized homebuying

Think of how the realty business has changed over the past 25 years. In the early ‘90s, prospective homebuyers had to schedule an appointment with a Realtor or attend an open house to see a home they liked.

In the mid-2000s, house hunting went online, with sites like Trulia and Zillow springing up. Today, homebuyers can snap a photo of an on-the-market house they like using a mobile app and see pictures of the home’s interior, learn the price, find out the square footage, and discover how many bathrooms it has.

Retailers should strive to modernize their industry like the realty business has revolutionized homebuying. Barcode scanning and sensor tracking are just a couple technologies that could help.

If a customer is walking through the aisles of your store, you could offer them the opportunity to scan a tag on a shirt with their mobile device and instantly give them access to outfit ideas or show them accessories that match the top.

Sensors, meanwhile, could track where a shopper is in a store, allowing your retailer to send timely and relevant offers based on their location.

Adding value to your customer experience is the name of the game in retail. And there’s no better way to create a more valuable in-store customer experience than with the latest technology.

Innovation experimentation: Forge your path to a brighter future with revolutionary tech tools

Innovations like IoT, virtual reality, and machine learning are shaping what retail’s future will look like.

Your company’s success – both today and tomorrow – will depend on your willingness to embrace these technologies and experiment with new ways to engage and satisfy your customers.

Join us at the National Retail Forum’s 2018 conference and EXPO at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on January 14–16 to learn how the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system can help your organization bring these exciting technologies to life.

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Stephen Sparrow

About Stephen Sparrow

Stephen Sparrow is the Director of Retail Marketing at SAP. He defines, champions and executes marketing strategies to increase penetration and capture of revenue opportunities across SAP's retail enterprise accounts. He also develops industry advancing and perception enhancing programs to drive brand preference for SAP in the retail community.