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Analysis

When real-time is no longer good enough, the predictive business emerges
Dana Gardner By: Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst, Interarbor Solutions
Published: 19th September 2013
Copyright Interarbor Solutions © 2013
Logo for Interarbor Solutions

The next BriefingsDirect thought leadership discussion defines a momentous shift in business strategy. Join an SAP Cloud executive as we explore the impact that big data, cloud computing, and mobility are having in tandem on how businesses must act—and react—across their markets.

Explore how the agility goal of real-time responses is no longer good enough. What’s apparent across more business ecosystems is that businesses must do even better, to become so data-driven that they extend their knowledge and ability to react well into the future. In other words, we're now all entering the era of the predictive business.

To learn more about how heightened competition amid a data revolution requires businesses and IT leaders to adjust their thinking to anticipate the next, and the next, and the next moves on their respective chess boards, join Tim Minahan, the Chief Marketing Officer for SAP Cloud, and moderator Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: SAP Cloud is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: It’s hard to believe that the pace of business agility continues to accelerate. Tim, what’s driving this time-crunch? What are some of the changes afoot that require this need for—and also enabling the capabilities to deliver on—this notion of predictive business? We're in some sort of a rapid cycle of cause and effect, and it’s rather complicated.

Minahan: This is certainly not your father’s business environment. Big is no longer a guarantee to success. If you just look at the past 10 years, 40 percent of the Fortune 500 was replaced. So the business techniques and principles that worked 10, 5 or even three years ago are no longer relevant. In fact, they maybe a detriment to your business.

Just ask companies like Tower Records, Borders Bookstore, or any of the dozens more goliaths that were unable or unwilling to adapt to this new empowered customer or to adapt new business models that threatened long-held market structures and beliefs.

The world, as you just said, is changing so unbelievably fast that the only constant is change. And to survive, businesses must constantly innovate and adapt. Just think about it. The customer today is now more connected and more empowered and more demanding.

You have one billion people in social networks that are talking about your brand. In fact, I was just reading a recent study that showed Fortune 100 companies were mentioned on social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn a total of 10.5 million times in one month. These comments are really shaping your brand image. They're influencing your customer’s views and buying decisions, and really empowering that next competitor.

But the consumer, as you know, is also mobile. There are more than 15 billion mobile devices, which is scary. There are twice as many smart phones and tablets in use than there are people on the planet. It’s changing how we share information, how we shop, and the levels of service that customers expect today.

It’s also created, as you stated, a heck of a lot of data. More data was created in the last 18 months than had been created since the dawn of mankind. That’s a frightening fact, and the amount of data on your company, on your consumer preferences, on buying trends, and on you will double again in the next 18 months.

The consumer is also changing. We're seeing an emerging middle class of five billion consumers sprouting up in emerging markets around the world. Guess what? They're all unwired and connected in a mobile environment.

What's challenging for your business is that you have a whole new class of millennials entering the workforce. In fact, by next year, nearly half of the workforce will have been born after 1980—making me feel old. These workers just grew up with the web. They are constantly mobile.

These are workers that shun traditional business structures of command-and-control. They feel that information should be free. They want to collaborate with each other, with their peers and partners, and even competitors. And this is uncomfortable for many businesses.

For this always on, always changing world, as you said, real time just isn’t enough anymore. Knowing in real time that your manufacturing plant went down and you won’t be able to make the holiday shipping season—it’s just knowing that far too late. Or knowing that your top customer just defected to your chief competitor in real time is knowing that far too late. Even learning that your new SVP of sales, who looks so great on paper, is an awful fit with your corporate culture or your go-to-market strategy is just knowing that far too late.

But to your point, what disrupts can also be the new advantage. So technology, cloud, social, big data, and mobile are all changing the face of business. The need is to exploit them and not to be disrupted by them.

Gardner: How does a predictive business create a whole greater than the sum of the parts when we think about this total shift going on?

Minahan: I want to be clear here that the predictive business isn't just about advanced analytics. It’s not just about big data. That’s certainly a part of it, but just knowing something is going to happen, just knowing about a market opportunity or a pending risk just isn’t enough.

You have to have that capacity and insight to assess a myriad of scenarios to detect the right course of action, and then have the agility in your business processes, your organizational structures, and your systems to be able to adapt to capitalize on these changes.

Too often, we get enamored with the technology side of the story, but the biggest change that’s going to occur in business is going to be the culture change. There's  the need to adapt to this new millennial workforce and this new empowered customer and the need to reach this new emerging middle-class around the world.

In today’s fast-paced business world, companies really need to be able to predict the future with confidence, assess the right response, and then have the agility organizationally and systems-wise to quickly adapt their business processes to capitalize on these market dynamics and stay ahead of the competition.

They need to be able to harness the insights of disruptive technologies of our day, technologies like social, business networks, mobility, and cloud to become this predictive business.

Gardner: Tim, you and I have been talking for several years now about the impact of cloud. We were also trying to be predictive ourselves and to extrapolate and figure out where this is going. I think it turns out that it’s been even more impactful than we thought.

Minahan: The original discussion was all about total cost of ownership (TCO). It was all about the cost benefits of the cloud. While the cloud certainly offers a cost advantage, the real benefit the cloud brings to business is in two flavors—innovation and agility.

You're seeing rapid innovation cycles, albeit incremental innovation updates, several times per year that are much more digestible for a company. They can see something coming, be able to request an innovation update, and have their technology partner several times a year adapt and deliver new functionality that’s immediately available to everyone.

Then there's now the agility at the business level to configure new business processes without costly IT or consulting engagements. With some of the more advanced cloud platforms, they can even create their own process extensions to meet the unique needs of their industry and their business.

You're already seeing examples of the predictive business in action across industries today. Leading companies are turning that combination of insight, the big data analytics, and these agile computing models and organizational structures into entirely new business models and competitive advantage.

Let’s just look at some of these examples. Take Cisco, where their strategic marketing organization not only mines historical data around what prompted people to buy, or what they have bought, and what were their profiles. They married that with real-time social media mentions to look for customers, ferret out customers, who reveal a propensity to buy and a high readiness to buy.

They then arm their sales team, push these signals out to their sales force, and recommend the right offer that would likely convert that customer to buy. That had a massive impact. They saw a sales uplift of more than $4 billion by bringing all of those activities together.

It’s not just in the high-tech sector. I know we talk about that a lot, but we see it in other industries like healthcare. Mount Sinai Hospital in New York examined the historical treatment approaches, survival rates, and the stay duration of the hospitals to determine the right treatments to optimize care and throughput a patient.

It constantly runs and adapts simulations to optimize its patients first 8-12 hours in the hospital. With improved utilization based on those insights and the ability to adapt how they're handling their patients, the hospital not only improved patient health and survival rates, but also achieved the financial effect of adding hundreds of new beds without physically adding one.

In fact, if you look at it, the whole medical industry is built on predictive business models using the symptoms of millions of patients to diagnose new patients and to determine the right courses of action.

Closer to home for you Dana, there is also an example of the predictive business, I don’t know if you've read Nate Silver's phenomenal book, "The Signal and the Noise," but he talks about going beyond Moneyball, and how the Boston Red Sox were using predictive systems that really have changed how baseball drafts rookie players.

The difference between Moneyball and rookies is that rookies don’t have a record in the pros. There's no basis from which to determine what their on-base percentage will be or how they will perform. But this predictive model goes beyond standard statistics here and looks at similar attributes of other professional players to determine who are the right candidates that they should be recruiting and projecting what their performance might be based on a composite of other players that have like-attributes.

Their first example of this on the Red Sox was with Dustin Pedroia, who no one wanted to recruit. They said he was too short, too slow, and not the right candidate to play second base. But using this new model, the Red Sox modeled him against previous players and found out some of the best second basemen in the world actually have similar attributes.

So they wanted to take him early in the draft. The first year, he took the rookie of the year title in 2007 and helped the Red Sox win the world series for only the second time, since 1918. He's gone on to win the MVP the following year, and he’s been a top all star performer ever since.

So all around us, businesses are beginning to adapt and take advantage of these predictive business models.

Gardner: It's curious that when you do take a data-driven approach, you have to give up some of the older approaches around intuition, gut instinct, or some of the metrics that used to be important. That really requires you to change your thinking and, rather than go to the highest paid person’s opinion when you need to make a decision, it's really now becoming more of a science.

So what do you get Tim when you do this correctly? What do businesses get when they become more data-driven, when they adjust their culture, take advantage of some of the new tools, and recognize the shift, the consumer behavior? How impactful can this be?

Minahan: It can be tremendously impactful. We truly believe that you get a whole new world of business. You get a business model and organizational and systems infrastructure that has the ability to adapt to all the massive transformation and the rapid changes that we discussed earlier. We believe the predictive business will transform every function within the enterprise and across the value chain.

Just think of sales and marketing. Sales and marketing professionals will now be empowered to engage customers like never before by tapping into social activity, buying activity on business networks, and geo-location insights to identify prospects and develop optimal offers and engage and influence perspective customers right at the point of purchase.

I think of pushing offers, coupons, to mobile devices of prospective buyers based on their social finger print and their actual physical location or service organizations. We talk about this Internet of things. We haven’t even scratched a surface on this, but they can massively drive customer satisfaction and loyalty to new levels by predicting and proactively resolving potential product or service disruption even before they happen.

Think about your device being able to send a signal and demonstrate a propensity to break down in the future. It may be possible to send a firmware update to fix it without your even knowing.

That’s the power that we’ve already seen with this type of thing in the supply chain. Procurement, logistics and supply chain teams are now being alerted to potential future risks in their sub-tier supply chains and being guided to alternative suppliers based on optimal resolutions and community-generated ratings and buying patterns of like buyers on a business network. We've talked about that in the past.

We really believe that the future of business is the predictive business. The predictive business is not going to be an option going forward. It's not a luxury. It will be what's required not only to win, but eventually, to survive. Your customers are demanding it, your employees are requiring it, and your livelihood is going to depend on it.

Gardner: Given there is so much complexity, so many moving parts, to take into account, how can larger organizations start to evolve to be predictive?

Minahan: Number one is that you can't have the fear of change. You need to set that aside. At the outset of this discussion, we talked about changes all around us, whether it's externally, with the new empowered consumer who is more informed and connected than ever before, or internally with a new millennial workforce that’s eager to look at new organizational structures and processes and collaborate more, not just with other employees but their peers, and even competitors, in new ways.

That's number one, and probably the hardest thing. On top of that, this isn't just a single technology role. You need to be able to embrace a lot of the new technologies out there. When we look at one of the attributes of an enabling platform for the predictive business, it really comes down to a few key areas.

You need the convenience and the agility of the cloud, improved IT resources and use basically everything as a service—apps, infrastructure, and platform. You can dial up the capabilities, processing power, or the resource that you need, quickly configure and adapt your business processes at the business level, without massive IT or consulting engagements. Then, you have to have the agility to use some of these new-age cloud platforms to create your own and differentiated business processes and applications.

The second thing is that it's critically important to gather those new insights and productivity, not just from social networks but from business networks, with new rich data sources, from real time market and customer sentiments, through social listening and analytics, the countless bits and histories of transactional and relationship data available on robust business networks.

Then, you have to manage all of this. You also need to advance your analytical capabilities. You need the power and speed of big data, in-memory analytics platforms, and exploiting new architectures like Hadoop and others to enable companies to aggregate, correlate and assess just countless bits of information that are available today and doubling every 18 months.

You have to assess multiple scenarios and determine the best course of action faster than ever before. Then, ultimately, one of the major transformational shifts, which is also a big opportunity, is that you need to be able to assess and deliver with ease all of this information to mobile devices.

This is true whether it's your employees who can engage in a process and get insights where they are in the field or whether it's your customer you need to reach, either across the street or halfway around the globe. So the whole here is greater than the sum of the parts. Big data alone is not enough. Cloud alone is not enough. You need all of these enabling technologies working together and leveraging each other. The next-generation business architecture must marry all of these capabilities to really drive this predictive business.

Gardner: So clearly at SAP Cloud, you will be giving us a lot of thought. I think you appreciate the large dimension of this, but also the daunting complexity that’s faced in many companies. I hope in our next discussion, Tim, we can talk a little bit about some of the ideas you have about what the next generation of business services platform and agility capability that gets you into that predictive mode would be. Maybe you could just give us a sense very quickly now about the direction and role that an organization like SAP Cloud would play?

Minahan: SAP, as you know, has had a history of helping business continually innovate and drive this next wave of productivity and unlock new value and advantage for the business. The company is certainly building to be this enabling platform and partner for this next wave of business. It's making the right moves both organically and otherwise to enable the predictive business.

If you think about the foundation we just went through and then marry it up against where SAP is invested and innovated, it's now the leading cloud provider for businesses. More business professionals are using cloud solutions from SAP than from any other vendor.

It's leapt far ahead in the world of analytics and performance with the next generation in-memory platform in HANA. It's the leader in mobile business solutions and social business collaboration with Jam, and as we discussed right here on your show, it now owns the world’s largest and most global business network with the acquisition of Ariba.

That’s more than 1.2 million connected companies transacting over half a trillion dollars worth of commerce, and a new company joining every two minutes to engage, connect, and get more informed to better collaborate. We're very, very excited about the promise of the predictive business and SAP's ability to deliver and innovate on the platform to enable it.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

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