Big Data Myths...BUSTED

Jen Cohen Crompton

Since Big Data is such a “big” and diverse topic, there are plenty of assumptions, misunderstandings, and confusion surrounding the concept. Through discussions with colleagues, I’ve noticed a few recurring themes, uncertainties and generalizations. I’ve also heard plenty of assumptions and claims…some of which are true and some lack validity. After hearing from industry experts, I’ve compiled three Big Data Myths, which we will bust, to uncover some of the Big Data facts.

Myth One: Big Data is really “BIG.”

When it is stated that big data is really big, that infers that big data translates into a lot of information, more than most companies collect. In that case, this myth is not true at all. At the latest Hadoop conference, big data was defined as any data that cannot fit into Excel, which in reality, is the amount of data most companies collect and store, especially since the rise in social media and the volumes of data collected from those sources.

“Social media releases floods of data that hold massive promises for business – both in terms of branding and opening up new channels to market, in which large populations of consumers are speaking. They’re [consumers] communicating who they are and what they do and do not like. Such a relentless flow of data provides extraordinary levels of feedback and an unrivaled chance for companies to listen to the voices of their customers and target audience(s), garner intelligence, and participate in a collaborative dialogue to boost competitive advantage and new opportunity,” explains Upasna Gautam of [Stay tuned for another post about the link between social media and big data.] Most businesses are using social media outlets for this type of insight and the amount of data collected and needed to be analyzed is considered “big.”

So it isn’t just enterprises who are struggling to manage big data. The general rule – if you have multiple spreadsheets with data, you have big data on your hands. As Margaret Dawson, VP of Marketing for Symform points out, “SMBs also struggle to keep up with skyrocketing data volumes. In fact, a recent data and backup trends survey of SMBs found that respondents average one terabyte to over 500 TBs (1 TB = 1000 GB) of data, with most forecasting data growth of 10-40% over the next year.” Wow.

Myth Two: Big Data makes BETTER analytics.

Is bigger really better? Sometimes, but in the case of big data, it seems that in certain circumstances, bigger is simply bigger and quantity does not always equal quality; the gap occurs in the analysis and translation of the data. It’s [almost] comparable to giving someone a hammer, nails, wood, and all the tools they need to build a house, but without the blueprint, they don’t know what to do and where to start. This means that with our data, we have to be sure we are collecting the valuable data to help solve the most prominent problems – the problems that relate back to our KPIs and bottomlines – and following the right blueprint to get what we need.

Erin Bartolo, Data Science Program Manager at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, agrees and provides a strategy to ensure bigger data turns into something meaningful. “Entertain your inner skeptic by questioning everything from what data are meaningful to how you project your own biases on findings. Without objective, analytical skills, analytics merely backs up our own biases with data,” she advises. She explains that the “whys” and “hows” need to be infused into the data analysis to really find value. She says, “…increasing one’s awareness of data and appreciation of its objectivity reveals insights whether the data is stored in an Excel spreadsheet or in a massive data warehouse.”

So in this case, size doesn’t really matter, unless you need the size of the data to answer the questions that relate back to your ultimate goals.

Myth Three: You need a team of Hadoop engineers and Analytics platforms to be on premise to work with Big Data.

While it is quite a challenge to merge data collected from various sources and analyze the information (and Hadoop professionals could be an advantage), there are other solutions and platforms that can help transform the unstructured data into structured data and merge with business intelligence (BI) tools.

Werner Hopf, CEO, Dolphin believes, “There are compelling [software] solutions to help companies meet those goals, achieve significant savings and performance improvements, and lay the foundation for leveraging SAP HANA – the vehicle for truly maximizing the potential benefits of big data – in the future.” These options can be cost effective and easily navigated by an intelligent, but not expert users.

The other idea of housing analytics platforms on premise is busted by Keith Metcalfe, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at WCI Consulting as he adds, “Integrating and cleansing data to a targeted place for reporting is a core concept behind any enterprise approach to analytics/business intelligence, and there is no technical reason why that target cannot reside in a hosted/SaaS environment. Cloud platforms and analytics tools are great applications for hosted (e.g. Amazon Web Services) or SaaS analytics platforms (e.g. SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand). Having said this, core to the topic of SaaS and hosted environments is that an organization sees value in replacing IT infrastructure, as this is where the financial return justifies the cost of investing in such environments.”

Two last pieces of big data management advice from Hopf, “From a data management perspective, making the most of the big data opportunity requires the adoption of two key strategies: 1) augmenting data archiving capabilities with nearline storage; and 2) re-architecting the business warehouse (BW) data model for lean, flexible, organized “views” of information that serve up agile reporting without increasing administrative
overhead.” Do this, add the human aspect, and solve big business problems using your big data.

If you have questions about these myths, feel free to reach out to a Top Big Data Twitter Influencers.


About Jen Cohen Crompton

Jen Cohen Crompton is a SAP Blogging Correspondent reporting on big data, cloud computing, enterprise mobility, analytics, sports and tech, and anything else innovation-related. When she's not blogging, she can be caught marketing, using social media and/or presenting at conferences around the world. Disclosure: Jen is being compensated by SAP to produce a series of articles on the innovation topics covered on this site. The opinions reflected here are her own.

Law Firms And Mobile Technology: Digital Transformation On The Move

Patrice Cappello

The legal profession has always been intense, with high-dollar, potentially life-changing outcomes on the line. Caseloads keep increasing in volume and complexity for law firms, and accuracy is paramount. Law firms offering legal services both online and off are the latest trend, and digital business is facilitating the ability to manage all this extra work. It’s no wonder the trend is toward high-tech solutions for law offices that keep them connected even while on the go.

Digital transformation of the legal field already underway

The delivery and billing of services are key areas where mobile technology is revolutionizing attorneys’ offices and law firms. Digitized, standardized processes, hyperconnectivity, and analytics are also driving the digital transformation of the legal field. Beyond shifts related to margins, profits per partner, and business models, upgrading the firm’s core infrastructure is crucial to success going forward. Just like all other modern industries, the law profession is reaching a key tipping point where innovation in order to compete is no longer optional. Today’s digital world is characterized by responsive communication, and mobile technology can maximize digital customer engagement as well as connectivity among staff.

The legal world goes high-tech

Most law firms and attorneys’ offices of all sizes are already well on their way toward engagement in the digital economy. Some firms are adopting cloud solutions – and many others are considering them – for key business processes such as talent management and client engagement. Digital customer engagement improves the client experience and increases satisfaction. Remote access allows staff to use a digital gateway for optimal digital customer engagement. Not surprisingly, mobile technology and applications are making their way into conference rooms and courtrooms. This assists with maximizing productivity, facilitating accurate scheduling, and augmenting the presentation process. Mobile app technology is showing up in all areas of the digital economy, and the legal field is no exception.

Mobile technology facilitates tracking key metrics

Law firms benefit greatly from using statistics and benchmarks to evaluate their staff. While revenue and profits have been the bottom line and the most important marker, today a variety of metrics can be employed to help cultivate as well as predict success in partners and staff. The performance of attorneys can be tracked based on growth and key competencies, including client engagement, teamwork abilities, situational effectiveness, and many other parameters. Making the most of metrics and tracking can help to maximize the potential of each and every attorney on staff. Done well, it can transform the practice. Mobile technology facilitates performance tracking in real time based upon your specified metrics, parameters, and benchmarks.

Online legal services making a surge

The traditional law firm has changed and keeps evolving. Technology is taking what’s possible in legal services to brand new places. For example, companies like LegalZoom and Lawyers on Demand offer legal expertise in the digital world, without the cost overhead of a large brick-and-mortar firm. These models are refining their approach through the integration of mobile capacity to facilitate a digital transformation. Ideal use of technology, a more streamlined workflow, and innovative models for staff have increased efficiency while reducing cost. LegalZoom focuses on legal document preparation but also has full-fledged law firms in countries like the UK.

The Linklaters firm, with 30 offices and 2,000 attorneys in 22 countries, has implemented an online subscription extranet that brings key legal services to clients online. These hybrid models of both online and “real-world” legal services is a hallmark of what to expect in the legal profession going forward. Law firms that succeed will be the ones that pivot and make the most of what technology has to offer them.

Digital transformation and mobile services drive success

The Baker & McKenzie firm is a trusted advisor to top companies worldwide, with 77 offices in 47 countries and 11,000 staff members. Key software solutions allow the fluid support of well over 1,300 daily users in 21 languages. A permission-based reporting portal is easily accessible on the go by fee earners as well as relevant support staff.

Norton Rose Fulbright has integrated cloud-based SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions. A savings of over $12.5M per year is expected due to higher efficiency organization-wide, as well as improved internal communication, and more effective, personalized engagement with clients.

K&L Gates is a rapidly growing 2,000-lawyer firm that is implementing digital business planning and consolidation solutions to help with optimal, efficient expansion. The firm is implementing customer relationship management tools to help leverage data and analytics for increased success both internally and with clients. They are also using enterprise resource planning financial modules to support optimal profitability in every phase.

Making the most of today’s tech

Maximizing collaboration through hyperconnectivity is one of the specialties of digital tools for attorneys. From in-house communication to more attentive, personalized engagement with clients, digital business is revolutionizing the legal world. Scalability is also key for supporting firms in the ability to scale upward as they grow and expand. Today’s marketplace is more fast-paced and digitally driven than ever before. Digitization and mobile services in the legal field will support a more connected organization, improved communication, a seamless integration of technology, and better service for clients.

Visit our online resource center to learn more about how digital transformation is impacting the legal services industry. While you’re there, download a complimentary copy of the Legal 3.0: Navigating the Trends Driving Changes in an Increasingly Digital Legal Industry white paper.


Patrice Cappello

About Patrice Cappello

Patrice Cappello is the North America Industry Lead, Professional Services, at SAP. She is responsible for creating annual business plan and execution strategy to achieve revenue targets; develop marketing strategy and tactical plan to drive pipeline growth; participate on sales teams as Industry executive advisor; and create relationships with and enable partners to ensure revenue stream through indirect channel.

Technology: Are You Proactive Or Reactive?

Alexandra Carvalho

It is accurate to say that enterprise software companies once have historically acted in a reactive way, creating products to solve business problems. Customers had a problem, and it made sense to incorporate the solution within the application platform. It was business-driven technology – absolutely right!

Many decades and hundreds of thousands of customers later, it’s fair to say that we are in a very good position to intimately understand our customers’ pain points. We have become trusted advisors to our customers; not only do we understand the intricacies of their business processes, but we also have deep knowledge of their industries, from retail, mining, and media, to oil and gas, telecommunications, and more.

With that in mind, and given that we also understand the latest in technology, I believe we can now act proactively, by building things for our customers before they are even aware of the benefits they can reap from such technology advancements. This is still business driving technology.

Some startups that decided to use the latest and greatest in technology to build amazing products ended up being acquired by big enterprise software companies. That is valid too. However, instead of acquiring new products, why don’t we combine the intrinsic knowledge we have of our customers’ businesses and industries to proactively build something amazing?

We all agree on the downside of acquiring a new platform or product: We need to integrate it with our existing broader enterprise application platform. Not only do we face challenges like technical integration, but we also need to integrate it from a business process design and schema harmonization point of view. Sometimes integration can prove to be a complete failure, and we acquire products that end up having a very low adoption rate. As much as we try to incorporate it within our existing platform, it simply doesn’t blend in; it doesn’t feel right. It becomes too complicated, and that shows in the market adoption of that product.

We live in an era where we have much more than structured data within our ERP platforms, where what we want is much more than the ordinary reporting and data visualization tools. We have unstructured data coming from video streaming, pictures, social media feeds, etc. How can we make sense of all of this data in the speed of light? Not only do we want to amalgamate structured and unstructured data together, but we also want to produce real-time intelligent insights out of this data.

Big enterprise software organisations have their own R&D areas, creating and demo’ing applications on the latest and greatest technologies. How about we take it out of R&D and make it real? How about we proactively create something and present it to our customers? That’s what the small, bold startups do – they believe in addressing a real problem, and they go for it! They present it to customers and they are not afraid of questioning the status quo.

Analytics is a key area. It sits across all areas of the organisation. Imagine using technologies like machine learning, deep learning, or blockchain to give customers real-time insights on their core business.

Blockchain is a good example of that. I believe that blockchain is one of the most revolutionary technologies ever—I’m transfixed by it, and I believe it has tremendous potential in many areas. I will address blockchain in another blog, but for now, I’ll offer an example of how using blockchain will bring an unimaginable competitive advantage.

Blockchain has a wide spectrum of possibilities that goes beyond payments, finance, and banking, from IP and royalties, to insurance, healthcare, auto making, agriculture, and energy. You name the area, and there is a very strong business case for it.

The basis for blockchain is a decentralized ledger, which goes against everything that ERP applications live and breathe for – a centralized ledger. It’s about time that big enterprise software companies jumped in and tried to be ahead of the curve, because not only are these technologies disruptive, but they can also represent a huge threat to the way we understand centralized enterprise software applications today.

Big technology companies like SAP, Microsoft, and IBM have already embarked on the blockchain journey. SAP is working with Ethereum, Microsoft with R3, and IBM with Hyperledger.

The time to make it real has arrived. It’s about time we showcased analytics and new innovative technologies like blockchain to our customers to stay ahead of the curve. Additionally, there is no better area than analytics, because it sits across the entire breadth of technology within the organization and across all industries, and customers want to see way more than old school reporting and data visualization dashboards.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
—Steve Jobs

For more insight on tapping the full potential of digital transformation, see A Winning Digital Formula: Adoption, Investment, And Partnerships.


About Alexandra Carvalho

Alexandra Carvalho is the VP Analytics at BI Group, SAP Mentor, published author, speaker, technology evangelist, innovator, and women advocate.

From E-Business to V-Business

Josh Waddell, Pascal Lessard, Lori Mitchell-Keller, and Fawn Fitter

Some moments are so instantly, indelibly etched into pop culture that they shape the way we think for years to come. For virtual reality (VR), that moment may have been the scene in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix when the Keanu Reeves character Neo learns that his entire life has been a computer-generated simulation so fully realized that he could have lived it out never knowing that he was actually an inert body in an isolation tank. Ever since, that has set the benchmark for VR: as a digital experience that seems completely, convincingly real.

Today, no one is going to be unaware, Matrix-like, that they’re wearing an Oculus Rift or a Google Cardboard headset, but the virtual worlds already available to us are catching up to what we’ve imagined they could be at a startling rate. It’s been hard to miss all the Pokémon Go players bumping into one another on the street as they chased animated characters rendered in augmented reality (AR), which overlays and even blends digital artifacts seamlessly with the actual environment around us.

Believe the Hype

For all the justifiable hype about the exploding consumer market for VR and, to a lesser extent, AR, there’s surprisingly little discussion of their latent business value—and that’s a blind spot that companies and CIOs can’t afford to have. It hasn’t been that long since consumer demand for the iPhone and iPad forced companies, grumbling all the way, into finding business cases for them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images1If digitally enhanced reality generates even half as much consumer enthusiasm as smartphones and tablets, you can expect to see a new wave of consumerization of IT as employees who have embraced VR and AR at home insist on bringing it to the workplace. This wave of consumerization could have an even greater impact than the last one. Rather than risk being blindsided for a second time, organizations would be well advised to take a proactive approach and be ready with potential business uses for VR and AR technologies by the time they invade the enterprise.

They don’t have much time to get started.

The two technologies are already making inroads in fields as diverse as medicine, warehouse operations, and retail. And make no mistake: the possibilities are breathtaking. VR can bring human eyes to locations that are difficult, dangerous, or physically impossible for the human body, while AR can deliver vast amounts of contextual information and guidance at the precise time and place they’re needed.

As consumer adoption and acceptance drives down costs, enterprise use cases for VR and AR will blossom. In fact, these technologies could potentially revolutionize the way companies communicate, manage employees, and digitize and automate operations. Yet revolution is rarely bloodless. The impact will probably alter many aspects of the workplace that we currently take for granted, and we need to think through the implications of those changes.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images2Digital Realities, Defined

VR and AR are related, but they’re not so much siblings as cousins. VR is immersive. It creates a fully realized digital environment that users experience through goggles or screens (and sometimes additional equipment that provides physical feedback) that make them feel like they’re surrounded by and interacting entirely within this created world.

AR, by contrast, is additive. It displays text or images in glasses, on a window or windshield, or inside a mirror, but the user is still aware of and interacting with reality. There is also an emerging hybrid called “mixed reality,” which is essentially AR with VR-quality digital elements, that superimposes holographic images on reality so convincingly that trying to touch them is the only way to be sure they aren’t actually there.

Although VR is a hot topic, especially in the consumer gaming world, AR has far more enterprise use cases, and several enterprise apps are already in production. In fact, industry analyst Digi-Capital forecasts that while VR companies will generate US$30 billion in revenue by 2020, AR companies will generate $120 billion, or four times as much.

Both numbers are enormous, especially given how new the VR/AR market is. As recently as 2014, it barely existed, and almost nothing available was appropriate for enterprise users. What’s more, the market is evolving so quickly that standards and industry leaders have yet to emerge. There’s no guarantee that early market entrants like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and HTC’s Vive will continue to exist, never mind set enduring benchmarks.

Nonetheless, it’s already clear that these technologies will have a major impact on both internal and customer-facing business. They will make customer service more accurate, personalized, and relevant. They will reduce human risk and enhance public safety. They will streamline operations and smash physical boundaries. And that’s just the beginning.

Cleveland Clinic: Healing from the Next Room

Medicine is already testing the limits of learning with VR and AR.

sap_q316_digital_double_feature1_imageseightThe most potentially disruptive operational use of VR and AR could be in education and training. With VR, students can be immersed in any environment, from medieval architecture to molecular biology, in classroom groups or on demand, to better understand what they’re studying. And no industry is pursuing this with more enthusiasm than medicine. Even though Google Glass hasn’t been widely adopted elsewhere, for example, it’s been a big success story in the medical world.

Pamela Davis, MD, senior vice president for medical affairs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of the leading proponents of medical education using VR and AR. She’s the dean of the university’s medical school, which is working with Cleveland Clinic to develop the Microsoft HoloLens “mixed reality” device for medical education and training, turning MRIs and other conventional 2D medical images into 3D images that can be projected at the site of a procedure for training and guidance during surgery. “As you push a catheter into the heart or place a deep brain stimulation electrode, you can see where you want to be and guide your actions by watching the hologram,” Davis explains.

The HoloLens can also be programmed as a “lead” device that transmits those images and live video to other “learner” devices, allowing the person wearing the lead device to provide oversight and input. This will enable a single doctor to demonstrate a delicate procedure up-close to multiple students at once, or do patient examinations remotely in an emergency or epidemic.

Davis herself was convinced of the technology’s broader potential during a demonstration in which she put on a learner HoloLens and rewired a light switch, something decidedly outside her expertise, under the guidance of an engineer wearing a lead HoloLens in the next room. In the near future, she predicts, it will help people perform surgery and other sensitive, detailed tasks not just from the next room, but from the next state or country.

Customer Experience: From E-Commerce to V-Commerce

Consumers are already getting used to sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images3thinking of VR and AR in the context of entertainment. Companies interested in the technologies should be thinking about how they might engage consumers as part of the buying experience.

Because the technologies deliver more information and a better shopping experience with less effort, e-commerce is going to give rise to v-commerce, where people research, interact with, and share products in VR and AR before they order them online or go to a store to make a purchase.

Online eyewear retailers already allow people to “try on” glasses virtually and share the images with friends to get their feedback, but that’s rudimentary compared to what’s emerging.

Mirrors as Personal Shoppers

Clothing stores from high-end boutiques to low-end fashion chains are experimenting with AR mirrors that take the shopper’s measurements and recommend outfits, showing what items look like without requiring the customer to undress.

Instant Designer Shows

Luxury design house Dior uses Oculus Rift VR goggles to let its well-heeled customers experience a runway show without flying to Paris.

Custom Shopping Malls

British designer Allison Crank has created an experimental VR shopping mall. As people walk through it, they encounter virtual people (and the occasional zoo animal) and shop in stores stocked only with items that users are most likely to buy, based on past purchase information and demographic data.

A New Perspective

IKEA’s AR application lets shoppers envisage a piece of furniture in the room they plan to use it in. They can look at products from the point of view of a specific height—useful for especially tall or short customers looking for comfortable furniture or for parents trying to design rooms that are safe for a toddler or a young child.

Painless Do-it-Yourself Instructions

Instead of forcing customers to puzzle over a diagram or watch an online video, companies will be able to offer customers detailed VR or AR demonstrations that show how to assemble and disassemble products for use, cleaning, and storage.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images4Operations and Management: Revealing the Details

The customer-facing benefits of VR and AR are inarguably flashy, but it’s in internal business use that these technologies promise to shine brightest: boosting efficiency and productivity, eliminating previously unavoidable risks, and literally giving employers and managers new ways to look at information and operations. The following examples aren’t blue-sky cases; experts say they’re promising, realistic, and just around the corner.

Real-Time Guidance

A combination of AR glasses and audio essentially creates a user-specific, contextually relevant guidance system that confirms that wearers are in the right place, looking at the right thing, and taking the right action. This technology could benefit almost any employee who is not working at a desk: walking field service reps through repair procedures, guiding miners to the best escape route in an emergency, or optimizing home health aides’ driving routes and giving them up-to-date instructions and health data when they arrive at each patient’s home.

Linking to the Hidden

AR technology will be able to display any type of information the wearer needs to know. Linked to facial identification software, it could help police officers identify suspects or missing persons in real time. Used to visualize thermal gradients, chemical signatures, radioactivity, and other things that are invisible to the naked eye, it could help researchers refine their experiments or let insurance claims assessors spot arson. Similarly, VR will allow users to create and manipulate detailed three-dimensional models of everything from molecules to large machinery so that they can examine, explore, and change them.

Reducing the Human Risk

VR will allow users to perform high-risk jobs while reducing their need to be in harm’s way. The users will be able to operate equipment remotely while seeing exactly what they would if they were there, a use case that is ideal for industries like mining, firefighting, search and rescue, and toxic site cleanup. While VR won’t necessarily eliminate the need for humans to perform these high-risk jobs, it will improve their safety, and it will allow companies to pursue new opportunities in situations that remain too dangerous for humans.

Reducing the Commercial Risk

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images5VR can also reduce an entirely different type of operational risk: that of introducing new products and services. Manufacturers can let designers or even customers “test” a product, gather their feedback, and tweak the design accordingly before the product ever goes into production. Indeed, auto manufacturer Ford has already created a VR Immersion Lab for its engineers, which, among other things, helped them redesign the interior of the 2015 Ford Mustang to make the dashboard and windshield wipers more user-friendly, according to Fortune. In addition to improving customer experience, this application of VR is likely to accelerate product development and shorten time to market.

Similarly, retailers can use VR to create and test branch or franchise location designs on the fly to optimize traffic flow, product display, the accessibility of products, and even decor. Instead of building models or concept stores, a designer will be able to create the store design with VR, do a virtual walkthrough with executives, and adjust it in real time until it achieves the desired effect.

Seeing in Tongues

At some point, we will see an AR app that can translate written language in near-real time, which will dramatically streamline global business communications. Mobile apps already exist to do this in certain languages, so it’s just a matter of time before we can slip on glasses that let us read menus, signs, agendas, and documents in our native tongue.

Decide with the Eye

More dramatically, AR project management software will be able to deliver real-time data at a literal glance. On a construction site, for example, simply scanning the area could trigger data about real-time costs, supply inventories, planned versus actual spending, employee and equipment scheduling, and more. By linking to construction workers’ own AR glasses that provide information about what to know and do at any given location and time, managers could also evaluate and adjust workloads.

Squeeze Distance

Farther in the future, VR and AR will create true telepresence, enhancing collaboration and potentially replacing in-person meetings. Users could transmit AR holograms of themselves to someone else’s office, allowing them to be seen as if they were in the room. We could have VR workspaces with high-fidelity avatars that transmit characteristic facial expressions and gestures. Companies could show off a virtual product in a virtual room with virtual coworkers, on demand.

Reduce Carbon Footprint

If nothing else, true telepresence could practically eliminate business travel costs. More critically, though, in an era of rising temperatures and shrinking resources, the ability to create and view virtual people and objects rather than manufacturing and transporting physical artifacts also conserves materials and reduces the use of fossil fuel.

Employees: Under Observation

The strength of digitally enhanced reality—and AR in particular—is its ability to determine a user’s context and deliver relevant information accordingly. This makes it valuable for monitoring and managing employee behavior and performance. Employees could, for example, use the location and time data recorded by AR glasses to prove that they were (or weren’t) in a particular place at a particular time. The same glasses could provide them with heads-up guided navigation, alert employers that they’re due for a legally mandated break, verify that they completed an assigned task, and confirm hours worked without requiring them to fill out a timesheet.

However, even as these capabilities improve data governance and help manage productivity, they also raise critical issues of privacy and autonomy (see The Norms of Virtual Behavior). If you’re an employee using VR or AR technology, and if your company is leveraging it to monitor your performance, who owns that information? Who’s allowed to use it, and for what purposes? These are still open legal questions for these technologies.

Another unsettled—and unsettling—question is how far employers can use these technologies to direct employees’ work. While employers have the right to tell employees how to do their jobs, autonomy is a key component of workplace satisfaction. The extent to which employees are required to let a pair of AR glasses govern their actions could have a direct impact on hiring and retention.

Finally, these technologies could be one more step toward greater automation. A warehouse-picking AR application that guides pickers to the appropriate product faster makes them more productive and saves them from having to memorize hundreds or even thousands of SKUs. But the same technology that can guide a person will also be able to guide a semiautonomous robot.

The Norms of Virtual Behavior

VR and AR could disrupt our social norms and take identity hacking to a new level.

The future of AR and VR isn’t without its hazards. We’ve all witnessed how distracting and even dangerous smartphones can be, but at least people have to pull a phone out of a pocket before getting lost in the screen. What happens when the distraction is sitting on their faces?

This technology is going to affect how we interact, both in the workplace and out of it. The annoyance verging on rage that met the first people wearing Google Glass devices in public proves that we’re going to need to evolve new social norms. We’ll need to signal how engaged we are with what’s right in front of us when we’re wearing AR glasses, what we’re doing with the glasses while we interact, or whether we’re paying attention at all.

More sinister possibilities will present themselves down the line. How do you protect sensitive data from being accessed by unauthorized or “shadow” VR/AR devices? How do you prove you’re the one operating your avatar in a virtual meeting? How do you know that the person across from you is who they say they are and not a competitor or industrial spy who’s stolen a trusted avatar? How do you keep someone from hacking your VR or AR equipment to send you faulty data, flood your field of vision with disturbing images, or even direct you into physical danger?

As the technology gets more sophisticated, VR and AR vendors will have to start addressing these issues.

Technical Challenges

To realize the full business value of VR and AR, companies will need to tackle certain technical challenges. To be precise, they’ll have to wait for the vendors to take them on, because the market is still so new that standards and practices are far from mature.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images6For one thing, successful implementation requires devices (smartphones, tablets, and glasses, for now) that are capable of delivering, augmenting, and overlaying information in a meaningful way. Only in the last year or so has the available hardware progressed beyond problems like overheating with demand, too-small screens, low-resolution cameras, insufficient memory, and underpowered batteries. While hardware is improving, so many vendors have emerged that companies have a hard time choosing among their many options.
The proliferation of devices has also increased software complexity. For enterprise VR and AR to take off, vendors need to create software that can run on the maximum number of devices with minimal modifications. Otherwise, companies are limited to software based on what it’s capable of doing on their hardware of choice, rather than software that meets their company’s needs.

The lack of standards only adds to the confusion. Porting data to VR or AR systems is different from mobilizing front-end or even back-end systems, because it requires users to enter, display, and interact with data in new ways. For devices like AR glasses that don’t use a keyboard or touch screen, vendors must determine how to enter data (voice recognition? eye tracking? image recognition?), how to display it legibly in any given environment, and whether to develop their own user interface tools or work with a third party.

Finally, delivering convincing digital enhancements to reality demands such vast amounts of data that many networks simply can’t accommodate it. Much as videoconferencing didn’t truly take off until high-speed broadband became widely available, VR and AR adoption will lag until a zero-latency infrastructure exists to
support them.

sap_Q316_digital_double_feature1_images7Coming Soon to a Face Near You

For all that VR and AR solutions have improved dramatically in a short time, they’re still primarily supplemental to existing systems, and not just because the software is still evolving. Wearables still have such limited processing power, memory, and battery life that they can handle only a small amount of information. That said, hardware is catching up quickly (see The Supporting Cast).

The Supporting Cast

VR and AR would still be science fiction if it weren’t for these supporting technologies.

The latest developments in VR and AR technologies wouldn’t be possible without other breakthroughs that bring things once considered science fiction squarely into the realm of science fact:

  • Advanced semiconductor designs pack more processing power into less space.
  • Microdisplays fit more information onto smaller screens.
  • New power storage technologies extend battery life while shrinking battery size.
  • Development tools for low-latency, high-resolution image rendering and improved 3D-graphics displays make digital artifacts more realistic and detailed.
  • Omnidirectional cameras that can record in 360 degrees simultaneously create fully immersive environments.
  • Plummeting prices for accelerometers lower the cost of VR devices.

Companies in the emerging VR/AR industry are encouraging the makers of smartglasses and safety glasses to work together to create ergonomic smartglasses that deliver information in a nondistracting way and that are also comfortable to wear for an eight-hour shift.

The argument in favor of VR and AR for business is so powerful that once vendors solve the obvious hardware problems, experts predict that existing enterprise mobile apps will quickly start to include VR or AR components, while new apps will emerge to satisfy as yet unmet needs.

In other words, it’s time to start thinking about how your company might put these technologies to use—and how to do so in a way that minimizes concerns about data privacy, corporate security, and employee comfort. Because digitally enhanced reality is coming tomorrow, so business needs to start planning for it today. D!

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



Leveraging Digital Twins To Breathe New Life Into Your Products And Services

Thomas Kaiser

Are you familiar with the concept of the twin paradox? In physics, the twin paradox is a thought experiment in which one twin stays on Earth while the other travels in a spaceship at a high speed for a period of time. According to the special theory of relativity, the second twin will return home measurably younger than the first.

In a similar way, the concept of the digital twin can accelerate your business and breathe new life into your products and services.

But the digital twin isn’t just a thought experiment. Gartner lists digital twins as a Top 10 strategic trend for 2017. It’s part of a broader digital transformation on which IDC says companies will invest $2.1 trillion a year by 2019.

Already, smart companies are using digital twins to better understand operations, get closer to customers, and transform their business.

Connecting real and virtual

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-world product or service. That could be anything from a toaster to industrial machinery to complex processes. The virtual representation combines three types of information: business data, contextual data, and sensor data.

Business data covers information such as customer name, location, and service-level agreements. Contextual data includes details such as ambient temperature, humidity, and weather events. Sensor data involves things like machine speed, operating temperature, and vibration.

Sensor data is key because, while companies have been using digital twins for years, it’s only with the Internet of Things (IoT) that they’ve become cost-effective. Gartner predicts that 6.4 billion things will be connected this year, a 30% jump over 2015. By 2020, at least half of all new business processes will incorporate IoT – transforming live data into new value.

Drilling down on digital twins

How does a digital twin work? Let’s say you manufacture industrial drills. A digital twin can help you understand how customers use your drill. The goal is to continuously improve the product to increase customer satisfaction and identify opportunities for new products and services.

For example, you might discover that your drill malfunctions in certain situations. That can enable you to improve product design. Or it can let you help customers modify the way they use the drill to avoid problems.

Or, you might discover that customers use your drill not only to make holes but also to cut materials. That might lead you to develop a new product that’s purpose-built for cutting.

Or, maybe you discover that while customers want holes made, they don’t necessarily want to purchase and operate a drill. So rather than sell drills, you might offer a hole-drilling service. In other words, instead of charging customers for machinery they operate, you charge them for holes drilled by machinery you operate for them. Some SAP customers have been quite successful in making this kind of leap from products to services.

Digital twins across industries

Digital twins aren’t just for manufacturers. Insurers can apply digital twins in offerings like usage-based car insurance. Retailers can track how customers navigate the store and interact with products on the shelves. Cities can model areas for things like smart lighting. Ports can monitor weather, shipping traffic, containers, and trains and trucks entering and leaving.

Digital twins cover the entire lifecycle of an asset or process. In fact, they can form a foundation for an end-to-end, closed-loop value chain for smart, connected products and services, from design to production, from deployment to continuous improvement.

The promise of continuous improvement is why it’s increasingly important to integrate digital technologies into all products. As you leverage your digital twin to identify opportunities for new or better features, you can implement those improvements quickly and cost-effectively through firmware updates.

Implementing digital twins involves four steps:

  1. Integrate smart components such as sensors, software, computing power, or data storage into new or existing products.
  1. Connect the product to a central location where you can capture sensor data and enrich that sensor data with business and contextual data.
  1. Analyze that data on an ongoing basis to identify opportunities for product improvements, new products, or even new business models.
  1. Leverage these digital insights to transform your company — for example, by reducing costs through proactive avoidance of business interruptions, or by creating new business opportunities.

Of course, while those steps are easy to list, they can require significant effort to achieve. But digital twins are becoming a business imperative. Companies that fail to respond will be left behind. Those that embrace digital twins have the opportunity to better understand customer needs, continuously improve their products and services, and even identify new business models that give them competitive advantage.

Consumer demand for virtual reality is changing how businesses manage and operate. Learn how to transition From E-Business to V-Business.