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Get More Value From Operational Assets With Predictive Analytics

Pierre Leroux

Sharpening operational focus and squeezing more efficiencies out of production assets – these are just two objectives that have COOs and operations managers turning to new technologies. One of the best of these technologies is predictive analytics. Predictive analytics isn’t new, but a growing number of companies are using it in predictive maintenance, quality control, demand forecasting, and other manufacturing functions to deliver efficiencies and make improvements in real time. So what is it?

Predictive analytics is a blend of mathematics and technology learning from experience (the data companies are already collecting) to predict a future behavior or outcome within an acceptable level of reliability.

Predictive analytics can play a substantial role in redefining your operations. Today, let’s explore three additional cases of predictive analytics in action:

  • Predictive maintenance
  • Smart grids
  • Manufacturing

Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance assesses equipment condition on a continuous basis and determines if and when maintenance should be performed. Instead of relying on routine or time-based scheduling, like having your oil changed every 3,000 miles, it promises to save money by calling for maintenance only when needed or to avoid imminent equipment failure.

While equipment is in use, sensors measure vibrations, temperature, high-frequency sound, air pressure, and more. In the case of predictive maintenance, predictive models allow you to make sense of the streaming data and score it on the likelihood of failure occurring. Coupled with in-memory technologies, it can detect a machine failure hours in advance of it occurring and avoid unplanned downtime by scheduling maintenance sooner than planned.

This all means less downtime, decreased time to resolution, and optimal longevity and performance for equipment operators. For manufacturers, predictive maintenance can streamline inventory of spare parts, and the ongoing monitoring services can become a source of new revenue. And as predictive maintenance becomes part of the equipment, it also has the potential to become a competitive advantage.

Smart grids

Sensors and predictive analytics are also changing the way utilities manage highly distributed assets like electrical grids. From reliance on unconventional energy sources like solar and wind to the introduction of electric cars, the energy landscape is evolving. One of the biggest challenges facing energy companies today is keeping up with these rapid changes.

Smart grids emerge when sensor data is combined with other data sources such as temperature, humidity, and consumption forecasts at the meter level to predict demand and load. For example, combined with powerful in-memory technologies, predictive analytics can be used by electricity providers to improve load forecasting. That leads to frequent, less expensive adjustments that optimize the grid and maintain delivery of consistent and dependable power.

As more houses are equipped with smart meters, data scientists using predictive analytics can build advanced models and apply forecasting to groups of customers with similar load profiles. They can also present those customers with some ideas to reduce their energy bill.

Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry continues its relentless drive for customization and “lot sizes of 1” with innovations such as the connected factory, the Internet of Things, next shoring, and 3D printing. It’s also hard at work making sure it extracts the maximum productivity from existing facilities, which traditionally has been accomplished by using automation and IT resources. According to Aberdeen, the need to reduce the cost of manufacturing operations is now the top reason companies seek more insight from data.

Quality control has always been an area where statistical methods have played a key role in whether to accept or reject a lot. Now manufacturers are expanding predictive analytics to the testing phase as well. For example, tests on components like high-end car engines can be stopped long before the end of the actual procedure thanks to predictive analytics. By analyzing test data from the component’s ongoing testing against the data from other engines, engineers can identify potential issues faster. That, in turn, maximizes the capacity available for testing and reduces unproductive time. That is only one of the many applications manufacturers find for predictive analytics.

Innovations on the shop floor

Predictive analytics provides an excellent opportunity for COOs and operations managers to extract additional value from production assets. It can also be an opportunity to create critical differentiators in the way products are created and delivered to customers – by providing it as a paid service (predictive maintenance) or as insight (predicting future electricity consumption).

However a company chooses to use it, predictive analytics can be the key to beating the competition.

Gather more insights from MIT experts on how to differentiate your organization in The Digital Economy: Disruption, Transformation, Opportunity.

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Pierre Leroux

About Pierre Leroux

Pierre Leroux is the Director of Predictive Analytics Product Marketing at SAP. His areas of specialty include Data Discovery, Business Intelligence, Cloud applications, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and ERP.

Bridging The Renaissance Period And Digital Era With Leonardo da Vinci

Jonathan Becher

Leonardo da Vinci might have been one of the earliest adopters of exponential thinking.

da Vinci was born more than 500 years ago in semi-rural Tuscany to parents of modest means. Despite little access to formal education, he was able to extrapolate forward-thinking ideas about subjects as diverse as architecture, engineering, mathematics, urban planning, science and astronomy. His ideas were inconceivable to residents of those small Italian towns—and perhaps to everyone at the time.

How did Leonardo do it? The answer, in part, is exponential thinking.

Incremental thinking focuses on improving what exists, while exponential thinking tries to make something new or different. Exponential thinking is, in a way, creating solutions for things that don’t exist yet or solving problems using technology that doesn’t exist yet.

If exponential thinking was so easy, everybody would be able to do it. But few can.

Da Vinci’s ideas were often rejected because of limitations in current thinking and technology. For example, da Vinci:

  • Proclaimed the sun was the center of the universe 40 years before Copernicus.
  • Introduced the theory of gravity 200 years before Isaac Newton.
  • Argued for evolution 400 years before Charles Darwin.

Even when history’s greatest minds weren’t validating his ideas, he still was ahead of the curve. For example, in 1502, da Vinci envisioned an intricate bridge design as part of a civil engineering project in Turkey. However, the project wasn’t pursued because it was believed such construction was impossible. 500 years later, the Turkish government approved da Vinci’s original design. Talk about being ahead of your time!

In addition to exhibiting exponential thinking, da Vinci also showed a digital mindset:

  • Build bridges, not silos. Leonardo did not see a divide between science and art and viewed the two as intertwined disciplines rather than separate ones. Science made him a better artist and art made him a better scientist. Instead of putting the two fields into silos and treating them as two separate units, he merged the two. There’s a lot of talk about the digital vortex, and how the digital revolution is cross-industry. Nobody better exemplified this than da Vinci.
  • Stay curious. Leonardo was insatiably curious by nature, and this curiosity fueled many of his innovations and discoveries. For example, credited inventions include the self-propelled cart and helicopter. Fast-forward to the 21st century and we’re now reading about autonomous vehicles just about everywhere. Earlier this year, the first self-driving bus started regular routes in Vegas, and this summer, autonomous flying taxis should be seen in the skies above Dubai and Paris. If da Vinci could visit us today, would he be astonished to see such things, or perhaps perplexed that it took so long for them to happen?
  • Be hands-on. Leonardo loved tinkering with things and loved the mechanical aspect of design and thinking. But he always tried to go beyond just thinking about an idea, he’d try to bring that idea to life. He’s quoted as saying, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

With his exponential thinking and digital mindset, da Vinci would have felt at home in a startup environment. In 1994, Bill Gates paid $30M for the Codex Leicester, a 72-page notebook with sketches, ideas, and entrepreneurial ideas. This manuscript and sketchbook from da Vinci was a loose collection of ideas he tried to piece together. Like many startups, da Vinci adopted a mentality where there is no blueprint for success and tinkered with his ideas before sketching and fleshing them out. Much like those thinking exponentially today, he experimented often, learned by doing, readjusted and experimented more.

Leonardo Da Vinci was truly a man ahead of his time – the ultimate Renaissance Man and the original exponential thinker.

For more lessons from innovative thinkers, see Postcards From The Digital Edge: Innovation Lessons From The Best.

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Jonathan Becher

About Jonathan Becher

Jonathan Becher is the Chief Digital Officer at SAP. He heads a newly-created integrated business unit which will market and sell traditional e-commerce and digitally native software, content, education and services direct to the consumer via SAP’s digital store.

The Next Three Years: A Critical Inflection Point For Digital Transformation [VIDEO]

Shelly Dutton

The next three years will more critical to business survival than the last 50. Why? According to the 2016 Global CEO Outlook from Forbes Insights, “the force and speed with which technological innovation are moving through the economy is creating an inflection point for the business sector.” And with only 5% of organizations mastering their digital strategies to the point of differentiation from their competitors, there is much work to be done.

At the heart of this shift resides embedded technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, Big Data analytics, the Internet of Things, and blockchain. In their MIT Sloan Management Review article, “Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem,” Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner shared that businesses with 50% or more of their revenues from digital ecosystems achieve 32% higher revenue growth and 27% higher profit margins.

For example, Trenitalia announced last year that they improved their customer experience by proactively and detecting machine failures with predictive maintenance. By using real-time insights from sensors and advanced analytics, Italy’s primary rail transportation company completely transformed their asset management, extended efficiencies and equipment lifecycles, and reduced maintenance costs by as much as 10%.

Organizations that embrace digital transformation and system-enabled intelligence are setting the foundation for unprecedented data-driven value. They are unlocking completely new business models and completely transforming their business processes across their supply chain, customer channels, and workforce experience.

Are you ready to reap the same advantages? Watch this replay of the SAPPHIRE NOW session, “Advance Your Digital Transformation Journey with SAP Leonardo” to get started.

Explore how SAP Leonardo can help you integrate breakthrough technologies and run them seamlessly in the cloud.

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Heroes in the Race to Save Antibiotics

Dr. David Delaney, Joseph Miles, Walt Ellenberger, Saravana Chandran, and Stephanie Overby

Last August, a woman arrived at a Reno, Nevada, hospital and told the attending doctors that she had recently returned from an extended trip to India, where she had broken her right thighbone two years ago. The woman, who was in her 70s, had subsequently developed an infection in her thigh and hip for which she was hospitalized in India several times. The Reno doctors recognized that the infection was serious—and the visit to India, where antibiotic-resistant bacteria runs rampant, raised red flags.

When none of the 14 antibiotics the physicians used to treat the woman worked, they sent a sample of the bacterium to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for testing. The CDC confirmed the doctors’ worst fears: the woman had a class of microbe called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Carbapenems are a powerful class of antibiotics used as last-resort treatment for multidrug-resistant infections. The CDC further found that, in this patient’s case, the pathogen was impervious to all 26 antibiotics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In other words, there was no cure.

This is just the latest alarming development signaling the end of the road for antibiotics as we know them. In September, the woman died from septic shock, in which an infection takes over and shuts down the body’s systems, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Other antibiotic options, had they been available, might have saved the Nevada woman. But the solution to the larger problem won’t be a new drug. It will have to be an entirely new approach to the diagnosis of infectious disease, to the use of antibiotics, and to the monitoring of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)—all enabled by new technology.

But that new technology is not being implemented fast enough to prevent what former CDC director Tom Frieden has nicknamed nightmare bacteria. And the nightmare is becoming scarier by the year. A 2014 British study calculated that 700,000 people die globally each year because of AMR. By 2050, the global cost of antibiotic resistance could grow to 10 million deaths and US$100 trillion a year, according to a 2014 estimate. And the rate of AMR is growing exponentially, thanks to the speed with which humans serving as hosts for these nasty bugs can move among healthcare facilities—or countries. In the United States, for example, CRE had been seen only in North Carolina in 2000; today it’s nationwide.

Abuse and overuse of antibiotics in healthcare and livestock production have enabled bacteria to both mutate and acquire resistant genes from other organisms, resulting in truly pan-drug resistant organisms. As ever-more powerful superbugs continue to proliferate, we are potentially facing the deadliest and most costly human-made catastrophe in modern times.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Even if new antibiotics could solve the problem, there are obstacles to their development. For one thing, antibiotics have complex molecular structures, which slows the discovery process. Further, they aren’t terribly lucrative for pharmaceutical manufacturers: public health concerns call for new antimicrobials to be financially accessible to patients and used conservatively precisely because of the AMR issue, which reduces the financial incentives to create new compounds. The last entirely new class of antibiotic was introduced 30 year ago. Finally, bacteria will develop resistance to new antibiotics as well if we don’t adopt new approaches to using them.

Technology can play the lead role in heading off this disaster. Vast amounts of data from multiple sources are required for better decision making at all points in the process, from tracking or predicting antibiotic-resistant disease outbreaks to speeding the potential discovery of new antibiotic compounds. However, microbes will quickly adapt and resist new medications, too, if we don’t also employ systems that help doctors diagnose and treat infection in a more targeted and judicious way.

Indeed, digital tools can help in all four actions that the CDC recommends for combating AMR: preventing infections and their spread, tracking resistance patterns, improving antibiotic use, and developing new diagnostics and treatment.

Meanwhile, individuals who understand both the complexities of AMR and the value of technologies like machine learning, human-computer interaction (HCI), and mobile applications are working to develop and advocate for solutions that could save millions of lives.

Keeping an Eye Out for Outbreaks

Like others who are leading the fight against AMR, Dr. Steven Solomon has no illusions about the difficulty of the challenge. “It is the single most complex problem in all of medicine and public health—far outpacing the complexity and the difficulty of any other problem that we face,” says Solomon, who is a global health consultant and former director of the CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance.

Solomon wants to take the battle against AMR beyond the laboratory. In his view, surveillance—tracking and analyzing various data on AMR—is critical, particularly given how quickly and widely it spreads. But surveillance efforts are currently fraught with shortcomings. The available data is fragmented and often not comparable. Hospitals fail to collect the representative samples necessary for surveillance analytics, collecting data only on those patients who experience resistance and not on those who get better. Laboratories use a wide variety of testing methods, and reporting is not always consistent or complete.

Surveillance can serve as an early warning system. But weaknesses in these systems have caused public health officials to consistently underestimate the impact of AMR in loss of lives and financial costs. That’s why improving surveillance must be a top priority, says Solomon, who previously served as chair of the U.S. Federal Interagency Task Force on AMR and has been tracking the advance of AMR since he joined the U.S. Public Health Service in 1981.

A Collaborative Diagnosis

Ineffective surveillance has also contributed to huge growth in the use of antibiotics when they aren’t warranted. Strong patient demand and financial incentives for prescribing physicians are blamed for antibiotics abuse in China. India has become the largest consumer of antibiotics on the planet, in part because they are prescribed or sold for diarrheal diseases and upper respiratory infections for which they have limited value. And many countries allow individuals to purchase antibiotics over the counter, exacerbating misuse and overuse.

In the United States, antibiotics are improperly prescribed 50% of the time, according to CDC estimates. One study of adult patients visiting U.S. doctors to treat respiratory problems found that more than two-thirds of antibiotics were prescribed for conditions that were not infections at all or for infections caused by viruses—for which an antibiotic would do nothing. That’s 27 million courses of antibiotics wasted a year—just for respiratory problems—in the United States alone.

And even in countries where there are national guidelines for prescribing antibiotics, those guidelines aren’t always followed. A study published in medical journal Family Practice showed that Swedish doctors, both those trained in Sweden and those trained abroad, inconsistently followed rules for prescribing antibiotics.

Solomon strongly believes that, worldwide, doctors need to expand their use of technology in their offices or at the bedside to guide them through a more rational approach to antibiotic use. Doctors have traditionally been reluctant to adopt digital technologies, but Solomon thinks that the AMR crisis could change that. New digital tools could help doctors and hospitals integrate guidelines for optimal antibiotic prescribing into their everyday treatment routines.

“Human-computer interactions are critical, as the amount of information available on antibiotic resistance far exceeds the ability of humans to process it,” says Solomon. “It offers the possibility of greatly enhancing the utility of computer-assisted physician order entry (CPOE), combined with clinical decision support.” Healthcare facilities could embed relevant information and protocols at the point of care, guiding the physician through diagnosis and prescription and, as a byproduct, facilitating the collection and reporting of antibiotic use.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s antibiotic stewardship division has deployed a software program that gathers information from electronic medical records, order entries, computerized laboratory and pathology reports, and more. The system measures baseline antimicrobial use, dosing, duration, costs, and use patterns. It also analyzes bacteria and trends in their susceptibilities and helps with clinical decision making and prescription choices. The goal, says Dr. David Haslam, who heads the program, is to decrease the use of “big gun” super antibiotics in favor of more targeted treatment.

While this approach is not yet widespread, there is consensus that incorporating such clinical-decision support into electronic health records will help improve quality of care, contain costs, and reduce overtreatment in healthcare overall—not just in AMR. A 2013 randomized clinical trial finds that doctors who used decision-support tools were significantly less likely to order antibiotics than those in the control group and prescribed 50% fewer broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Putting mobile devices into doctors’ hands could also help them accept decision support, believes Solomon. Last summer, Scotland’s National Health Service developed an antimicrobial companion app to give practitioners nationwide mobile access to clinical guidance, as well as an audit tool to support boards in gathering data for local and national use.

“The immediacy and the consistency of the input to physicians at the time of ordering antibiotics may significantly help address the problem of overprescribing in ways that less-immediate interventions have failed to do,” Solomon says. In addition, handheld devices with so-called lab-on-a-chip  technology could be used to test clinical specimens at the bedside and transmit the data across cellular or satellite networks in areas where infrastructure is more limited.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can also become invaluable technology collaborators to help doctors more precisely diagnose and treat infection. In such a system, “the physician and the AI program are really ‘co-prescribing,’” says Solomon. “The AI can handle so much more information than the physician and make recommendations that can incorporate more input on the type of infection, the patient’s physiologic status and history, and resistance patterns of recent isolates in that ward, in that hospital, and in the community.”

Speed Is Everything

Growing bacteria in a dish has never appealed to Dr. James Davis, a computational biologist with joint appointments at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago Computation Institute. The first of a growing breed of computational biologists, Davis chose a PhD advisor in 2004 who was steeped in bioinformatics technology “because you could see that things were starting to change,” he says. He was one of the first in his microbiology department to submit a completely “dry” dissertation—that is, one that was all digital with nothing grown in a lab.

Upon graduation, Davis wanted to see if it was possible to predict whether an organism would be susceptible or resistant to a given antibiotic, leading him to explore the potential of machine learning to predict AMR.

As the availability of cheap computing power has gone up and the cost of genome sequencing has gone down, it has become possible to sequence a pathogen sample in order to detect its AMR resistance mechanisms. This could allow doctors to identify the nature of an infection in minutes instead of hours or days, says Davis.

Davis is part of a team creating a giant database of bacterial genomes with AMR metadata for the Pathosystems Resource Integration Center (PATRIC), funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to collect data on priority pathogens, such as tuberculosis and gonorrhea.

Because the current inability to identify microbes quickly is one of the biggest roadblocks to making an accurate diagnosis, the team’s work is critically important. The standard method for identifying drug resistance is to take a sample from a wound, blood, or urine and expose the resident bacteria to various antibiotics. If the bacterial colony continues to divide and thrive despite the presence of a normally effective drug, it indicates resistance. The process typically takes between 16 and 20 hours, itself an inordinate amount of time in matters of life and death. For certain strains of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, though, such testing can take a week. While physicians are waiting for test results, they often prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics or make a best guess about what drug will work based on their knowledge of what’s happening in their hospital, “and in the meantime, you either get better,” says Davis, “or you don’t.”

At PATRIC, researchers are using machine-learning classifiers to identify regions of the genome involved in antibiotic resistance that could form the foundation for a “laboratory free” process for predicting resistance. Being able to identify the genetic mechanisms of AMR and predict the behavior of bacterial pathogens without petri dishes could inform clinical decision making and improve reaction time. Thus far, the researchers have developed machine-learning classifiers for identifying antibiotic resistance in Acinetobacter baumannii (a big player in hospital-acquired infection), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (a.k.a. MRSA, a worldwide problem), and Streptococcus pneumoniae (a leading cause of bacterial meningitis), with accuracies ranging from 88% to 99%.

Houston Methodist Hospital, which uses the PATRIC database, is researching multidrug-resistant bacteria, specifically MRSA. Not only does resistance increase the cost of care, but people with MRSA are 64% more likely to die than people with a nonresistant form of the infection, according to WHO. Houston Methodist is investigating the molecular genetic causes of drug resistance in MRSA in order to identify new treatment approaches and help develop novel antimicrobial agents.

The Hunt for a New Class of Antibiotics

There are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and then there’s Clostridium difficile—a.k.a. C. difficile—a bacterium that attacks the intestines even in young and healthy patients in hospitals after the use of antibiotics.

It is because of C. difficile that Dr. L. Clifford McDonald jumped into the AMR fight. The epidemiologist was finishing his work analyzing the spread of SARS in Toronto hospitals in 2004 when he turned his attention to C. difficile, convinced that the bacteria would become more common and more deadly. He was right, and today he’s at the forefront of treating the infection and preventing the spread of AMR as senior advisor for science and integrity in the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “[AMR] is an area that we’re funding heavily…insofar as the CDC budget can fund anything heavily,” says McDonald, whose group has awarded $14 million in contracts for innovative anti-AMR approaches.

Developing new antibiotics is a major part of the AMR battle. The majority of new antibiotics developed in recent years have been variations of existing drug classes. It’s been three decades since the last new class of antibiotics was introduced. Less than 5% of venture capital in pharmaceutical R&D is focused on antimicrobial development. A 2008 study found that less than 10% of the 167 antibiotics in development at the time had a new “mechanism of action” to deal with multidrug resistance. “The low-hanging fruit [of antibiotic development] has been picked,” noted a WHO report.

Researchers will have to dig much deeper to develop novel medicines. Machine learning could help drug developers sort through much larger data sets and go about the capital-intensive drug development process in a more prescriptive fashion, synthesizing those molecules most likely to have an impact.

McDonald believes that it will become easier to find new antibiotics if we gain a better understanding of the communities of bacteria living in each of us—as many as 1,000 different types of microbes live in our intestines, for example. Disruption to those microbial communities—our “microbiome”—can herald AMR. McDonald says that Big Data and machine learning will be needed to unlock our microbiomes, and that’s where much of the medical community’s investment is going.

He predicts that within five years, hospitals will take fecal samples or skin swabs and sequence the microorganisms in them as a kind of pulse check on antibiotic resistance. “Just doing the bioinformatics to sort out what’s there and the types of antibiotic resistance that might be in that microbiome is a Big Data challenge,” McDonald says. “The only way to make sense of it, going forward, will be advanced analytic techniques, which will no doubt include machine learning.”

Reducing Resistance on the Farm

Bringing information closer to where it’s needed could also help reduce agriculture’s contribution to the antibiotic resistance problem. Antibiotics are widely given to livestock to promote growth or prevent disease. In the United States, more kilograms of antibiotics are administered to animals than to people, according to data from the FDA.

One company has developed a rapid, on-farm diagnostics tool to provide livestock producers with more accurate disease detection to make more informed management and treatment decisions, which it says has demonstrated a 47% to 59% reduction in antibiotic usage. Such systems, combined with pressure or regulations to reduce antibiotic use in meat production, could also help turn the AMR tide.

Breaking Down Data Silos Is the First Step

Adding to the complexity of the fight against AMR is the structure and culture of the global healthcare system itself. Historically, healthcare has been a siloed industry, notorious for its scattered approach focused on transactions rather than healthy outcomes or the true value of treatment. There’s no definitive data on the impact of AMR worldwide; the best we can do is infer estimates from the information that does exist.

The biggest issue is the availability of good data to share through mobile solutions, to drive HCI clinical-decision support tools, and to feed supercomputers and machine-learning platforms. “We have a fragmented healthcare delivery system and therefore we have fragmented information. Getting these sources of data all into one place and then enabling them all to talk to each other has been problematic,” McDonald says.

Collecting, integrating, and sharing AMR-related data on a national and ultimately global scale will be necessary to better understand the issue. HCI and mobile tools can help doctors, hospitals, and public health authorities collect more information while advanced analytics, machine learning, and in-memory computing can enable them to analyze that data in close to real time. As a result, we’ll better understand patterns of resistance from the bedside to the community and up to national and international levels, says Solomon. The good news is that new technology capabilities like AI and new potential streams of data are coming online as an era of data sharing in healthcare is beginning to dawn, adds McDonald.

The ideal goal is a digitally enabled virtuous cycle of information and treatment that could save millions of dollars, lives, and perhaps even civilization if we can get there. D!

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


About the Authors:

Dr. David Delaney is Chief Medical Officer for SAP.

Joseph Miles is Global Vice President, Life Sciences, for SAP.

Walt Ellenberger is Senior Director Business Development, Healthcare Transformation and Innovation, for SAP.

Saravana Chandran is Senior Director, Advanced Analytics, for SAP.

Stephanie Overby is an independent writer and editor focused on the intersection of business and technology.

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Small And Midsize Businesses Have The Capacity To Drive Europe’s Future As A Digital Superpower

Katja Mehl

Part 10 of the “Road to Digital Transformation” series

Representing 99.8% of all companies throughout Europe, small and midsize businesses have tremendous power when it comes to impacting the region’s economy. One innovation at a time, they’re transforming entire industries, propelling emerging industries forward with adjacent offerings, and even supersizing a favorite childhood toy to make living conditions better for the poor and homeless. But perhaps the greatest evolution is found in the growing adoption of technology among firms.

According to the IDC InfoBrief “The Next Steps in Digital Transformation: How Small and Midsize Companies Are Applying Technology to Meet Key Business Goals with Insights for Europe,” sponsored by SAP, 35.4% of all European firms feel that their adoption of digital technology is either advanced or well underway. Germany and France are great examples of countries that are embracing advanced business networks and automation technology – such as the Internet of Things – to boost productivity and computerize or consolidate roles left empty due to long-term labor shortages.

Despite the progress made in some countries, I am also aware of others that are still resistant to digitizing their economy and automating operations. What’s the difference between firms that are digital leaders and those that are slow to mature? From my perspective in working with a variety of businesses throughout Europe, it’s a combination of diversity and technology availability.

digital transformation self-assessment

Source: “The Next Steps in Digital Transformation: How Small and Midsize Companies Are Applying Technology to Meet Key Business Goals with Insights for Europe,” IDC InfoBrief, sponsored by SAP, 2017. 

Opportunities abound with digital transformation

European companies are hardly homogenous. Comprising 47 countries across the continent, they serve communities that speak any of 225 spoken languages. Each one is experiencing various stages of digital development, economic stability, and workforce needs.

Nevertheless, as a whole, European firms do prioritize customer acquisition as well as improving efficiency and reducing costs. Over one-third of small and midsize companies are investing in collaboration software, customer relationship management solutions, e-commerce platforms, analytics, and talent management applications. Steadily, business leaders are finding better ways to go beyond data collection by applying predictive analytics to gain real-time insight from predictive analytics and machine learning to automate processes where possible.

Small and midsize businesses have a distinct advantage in this area over their larger rivals because they can, by nature, adopt new technology and practices quickly and act on decisions with greater agility. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of European firms are embracing the early stages of digitalization and planning to mature over time. Yet, the level of adoption depends solely on the leadership team’s commitment.

For many small and midsize companies across this region, the path to digital maturity resides in the cloud, more so than on-premise software deployment. For example, the flexibility associated with cloud deployment is viewed as a top attribute, especially among U.K. firms. This brings us back to the diversity of our region. Some countries prioritize personal data security while others may be more concerned with the ability to access the information they need in even the most remote of areas.

Technology alone does not deliver digital transformation

Digital transformation is certainly worth the effort for European firms. Between 60%–90% of small and midsize European businesses say their technology investments have met or exceeded their expectations – indicative of the steady, powerhouse transitions enabled by cloud computing. Companies are now getting the same access to the latest technology, data storage, and IT resources.

However, it is also important to note that a cloud platform is only as effective as the long-term digital strategy that it enables. To invigorate transformative changes, leadership needs to go beyond technology and adopt a mindset that embraces new ideas, tests the fitness of business models and processes continuously, and allows the flexibility to evolve the company as quickly as market dynamics change. By taking a step back and integrating digital objectives throughout the business strategy, leadership can pull together the elements needed to turn technology investments into differentiating, sustainable change. For example, the best talent with the right skills is hired. Plus, partners and suppliers with a complementary or shared digital vision and capability are onboarded.

The IDC Infobrief confirms what I have known all along: Small and midsize businesses are beginning to digitally mature and maintain a strategy that is relevant to their end-to-end processes. And furthering their digital transformation go hand in hand with the firms’ ability to ignite a transformational force that will likely progress Europe’s culture, social structure, and economy. 

To learn how small and midsize businesses across Europe are digitally transforming themselves to advance their future success, check out the IDC InfoBrief “The Next Steps in Digital Transformation: How Small and Midsize Companies Are Applying Technology to Meet Key Business Goals with Insights for Europe,” sponsored by SAP. For more region-specific perspectives on digital transformation, be sure to check every Tuesday for new installments to our blog series “The Road to Digital Transformation.”

 

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Katja Mehl

About Katja Mehl

Katja Mehl is Head of Marketing for Europe, Middle East, and Africa at SAP.