Entrepreneur

Harness These Tech Innovations to Drive Your Business Forward in 2021


Stephanie Nashawaty, chief customer innovation officer, SAP North America, and Lisa Dalesandro DiChristofer, head of North America Industry Advisory Practice, SAP

Techies love jargon. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA), the Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud—these terms, regularly employed in the information technology (IT) world—were typically not that well understood outside the IT context. But 2020 changed all that.

The pandemic turned the entire “technopedia” into a catalog of solutions that would keep families and friends connected, students learning, businesses running, economies moving, and health care professionals caring for their patients. In a matter of weeks, technologies that once seemed futuristic became part of our everyday lives.

Historically, delivering such advancements took years. Integrating all that innovation with the business infrastructure is not a small task, and consumer adoption tends to take even longer. But as the race to the Covid-19 vaccine taught us, where there’s urgency, timelines can be collapsed, processes can be rethought, and people can become more accepting of change.

Where will this level of innovation urgency take us? It may become the foundation for a shared vision of continued, accelerated innovation that will likely bring with it a new slew of tech terms.

Let’s take a deeper dive into key industries using 10 technologies that will continue the business evolution and impact all our lives in 2021.

Cleaner, More Reliable Energy

The utilities industry has been leading the charge on a transition to clean energy. But despite a mix of government policy headwinds, Covid-19 solidified the urgency. Now the sector is ready to embrace a diversified portfolio of new technologies to enhance the electric grid and enable vehicles, homes, and businesses to serve as distributed energy resources.

At Duke Energy, immersive technologies that blend physical and virtual experiences, otherwise known as extended reality, help field-service and maintenance workers perform repair activities and operate drones so the workforce can inspect assets, conduct inventory transactions, maintain substations, obtain remote expert help, and enhance equipment uptime.

AI is also becoming an integral part of predictive maintenance and inspection. International energy supplier E.ON improves the reliability of its energy generation and distribution processes by shifting from traditional time- or condition-based monitoring to managing assets and systems according to real-time IoT data.

Automation is also going to another level to deliver RPA to support high-volume, repeatable interactions. This innovation is turning manual tasks typically performed in the call center into a highly efficient decision-making system supported by intelligent algorithms. Such activities include outage notifications, move-in and move-out times, back-office processes, billing complaint resolution, and field-maintenance scheduling.

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What does this all mean for utility consumers? It translates into faster, more personalized service with the heightened efficiency that consumers have grown accustomed to.

Utility customers can now receive real-time updates regarding outage restorations, service calls, and account balances by asking their voice assistant. These new improvements in personalized digital experiences can help customers learn new ways to reduce their consumption, which can translate into reduced utility bills. Additionally, by predictively managing vegetation interfering with power lines and addressing electrical power problems to provide potentially safer utility operations, utility companies can also have a dramatic impact when it comes to reducing wildfires.

Physical and Digital Retail Converge

For businesses ranging from grocers to fashion and luxury brands, the past year’s circumstances have caused the retail landscape to evolve by nearly a decade in terms of e-commerce adoption and introduction of new services. Most retailers are working diligently to provide faster transactions through “buy now” and responsive fulfillment processes that quickly match inventory with demand. Marketers are racing to provide a unified brand experience across digital and physical storefronts.

But such an industry-changing transformation will require a new perspective on the overall customer experience.

One technology that’s helping brands stand out from the competition is headless commerce. Decoupling front-office and back-office processes allows greater customization and e-commerce solutions that can provide an instantaneous 360-degree view of each customer. This insight is particularly useful when determining how to present products and services in the most compelling way and delivering a consistent cross-channel shopping experience.

A headless content management system helps propel content anywhere and everywhere, well beyond a company’s website. To drive customer convenience and engagement, that means delivering products via social media platforms like Instagram, blog posts, or any channel that has emerged and is able to actually fulfill and process transactions directly.

Another option is the use of virtual reality within the online shopping experience. Virtual dressing rooms, magic mirrors, personalized “store” windows—all these experiences and more are now accessible on the 2.5 billion existing and potential customers’ smartphones worldwide.

More importantly, behind the scenes of these e-commerce and in-store experiences is a digital supply chain that provides real-time insight, reduces risk, and optimizes costs. The goal is to track the status and delivery of goods throughout the global sourcing and fulfillment network.

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All these transformational changes to the customer experience bring a significant opportunity to retailers in the form of in-the-moment decision intelligence. The ability to capture, process, analyze, and act on data in real time allows brands to automate demand forecasting and supply-chain planning to optimize everything from inventory assortment to customer engagement and promotions.

What does all this mean for retail consumers? It translates into unique, immersive customer experiences that combine traditional shopping with innovative technologies that seamlessly converge digital and physical touchpoints.

Retailers can now provide their shoppers with personalized customer experiences that exceed their expectations. Simple improvements, such as eliminating the likelihood of putting out-of-stock items in their shopping carts, leading to frustration with shipping delays, will keep customers coming back for more and turn them into brand advocates. This enhancement can greatly reduce costs by creating just-in-time relationships with suppliers while improving customer satisfaction.

Connecting Cars and Drivers

For years, automakers and their suppliers and distributors have been balancing delivering the experiences that customers desire with sharpening core competencies to accelerate the innovation of fully autonomous, electrified, and connected vehicles. As a result, revenue is shifting from vehicle sales to data-enabled mobility services to increase customer choice and convenience.

This growing pressure across the industry is compelling auto companies to join forces with telecommunications providers. Ericsson and Audi have joined forces on a new pilot project in robotic smart factory automation. The first use case will be an automation application connected through 5G with a focus on personal safety. A light-sensitive cell, surrounded by safety sensors, is installed in an airbag in the steering wheel. As soon as a human hand breaks through the cell’s light curtain, the car stops automatically.

Meanwhile, innovation in autonomous and connected vehicles continues to materialize as vehicle-to-everything (V2X) network connectivity turns cars into large, moving mobile gadgets. Several components in this multifaceted ecosystem include vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-to-pedestrian, and vehicle-to-network communication that enables cars to talk to other vehicles, traffic lights, parking spaces, pedestrians, data centers, and more.

Augmented reality is also helping drivers feel more secure by detecting operational inefficiencies such as imperfect maintenance and diagnostic failures. For auto brands, such as Porsche, the goal of this technology is mitigating the cost of breakdowns—from extra components and material to labor and buffers—while minimizing production downtime.

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What does this mean for automotive consumers? Automakers’ response to growing consumer demand for more satisfying car-buying and -servicing experiences is transforming an age-old business model.

These new advances in technology are the cornerstone of the new connected-car revolution. They will have a profound effect on our travel experiences by enabling autonomous driving vehicles, providing automated real-time traffic data, increasing safety, and allowing more personalization. Shifting customer demands, technology advancements, and growing legislation are the key factors accelerating the changes and attracting new startups and innovation to the original equipment manufacturer ecosystem.

A Shared Vision of Purpose-Led Innovation

When it comes to technology innovation, a moment—not even a worldwide health crisis—can never be wasted. The more people change how they work, shop, or engage in their everyday life, the more businesses need to adapt and provide products, services, and experiences to stay relevant, useful, and convenient.

In 2020, early adopters of digital technologies thrived and achieved a faster return on their investments. These investments in technology allowed them to adapt and create new business models. Conversely, companies that didn’t have the vision and the accompanying technology foundation to adapt watched helplessly as they were outpaced by their competitors.

The topics of innovation and digital technology have forever moved from the back office to the board room as organizations find the increasing urgency in 2021 to use advanced technologies like the 10 discussed above. As the pace of change shows no signs of slowing, organizations need to work internally to create a vision that allows them to harness technology innovation to drive their businesses forward to better attract and serve their customers.

As we look toward the future, what sounded like a technology buzzword yesterday may very well be the key to growth tomorrow.

Looking for more on industry innovation? SAP’s industry cloud simplifies access to innovative vertical solutions across industries. Built by SAP and our partners on an open platform, these solutions are interoperable with our intelligent suite, enabling you to drive business transformation profitably and sustainably, seize new opportunities, and manage business disruption and changes within your industry.

 

 

 

 

 



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