It’s time for annual predictions. Rather than trying to consult a crystal ball, I will instead offer up five things I see today that make me optimistic for the year ahead:
1. New, network-based solutions are emerging for old problems
Digitization and the convergence of technologies like mobile, cloud and big data have created network-based business models – think Uber and Airbnb – that are unleashing new solutions to old problems. Take slavery. You might think it was abolished. But it is alive and well in supply chains around the world. A few years ago, finding and putting an end to forced labor was impossible. But today, it can be done. Leveraging historical and real-time intelligence from hundreds of global government, business, and other data sources that live on business networks like Ariba, for instance, and combining it with non-profit Made in a Free World’s FRDM database – which maps the bill of materials of countless number of products and services right down to their raw materials and labor inputs, companies can shine a light on the materials, regions, and suppliers that are most likely to have forced labor. More important, they can identify alternatives and actually do something about it.
2. Every individual can make a difference
The fantastic thing about the digital and connected world we live in is that anyone can make a difference. Entrepreneurs all over the world can literally start a global business out of the attic. Every employee – be it in a large or small business – can drive unprecedented change too. Take my friend Brian Duffy, Chief of Staff to the head of sales for SAP. He wanted to do “something different” to help the nearly 1 million refugees headed for Germany. And he came up with the idea of commissioning a song that could be downloaded from iTunes with the proceeds going to the UN Refugee Agency. What seemed like a moonshot quickly became a reality thanks to both digital and personal networks. In just three weeks, the One4Project was born. The effort has gone viral with people around the world downloading the song from Imagine Dragons and lighting up Twitter. I hope to see more individuals take initiative like this that can make the world a better place.
3. Technology is getting both simple and smart
For the past couple of years, user experience has become increasingly important in enterprise software, as consumer technology has forever changed buyer expectations. I am amazed at the progress that has been made in technology on creating amazing experiences and the implications it will have on how work will be done. Take Google Photos for instance. The ability for software to make intelligent suggestions on what images to combine into a photo book is staggering. We will see this capability to mine data for the benefit of an end user experience emerge in the enterprise as well. Software will know things about us and anticipate our needs within the context of our actions and execute them in line with our personal preferences and company policies. And it will help us not only do things faster, but better. Why should a buyer in procurement search through catalogs of information if many others have before? How can an experience guide you naturally to the right outcomes? The combination of data and user experience will create more “elegant” solutions that are simple and smart. Work will start to look a lot more like a consumer shopping experience.
4. Compliance and choice are beginning to co-exist
Company structures are evolving rapidly today. Take Zappos retiring the manager title this year. While previously built hierarchies are failing to create more agile companies, there is still the fundamental need for control and compliance. I call this phenomenon consumer simple, business strong. In 2016, we will see new models emerge in companies to delight employees yet ensure compliance. Take spot buys – those ad-hoc purchases of low-dollar items from non-contracted suppliers that all companies need to make. They account for about 40 percent of all spending within a company, and procurement departments have a tough time controlling them. New policies are not the answer. Intuitive and mobile solutions like Ariba Spot Buy that give employees the freedom to find and immediately buy non-contracted items in accordance with their procurement policies and procedures are.
5. Resolve to rise over challenges is stronger than ever
From Parisians eating at their corner cafes following terrorist attacks on a scale the country has never seen and residents of Chennai rebuilding after devastating floods to Syrian refugees risking their lives to create new lives, the determination to rise above was on display around the world. And this is something that always makes me hopeful for the future. As former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Nothing can withstand the power of the human will if it is willing to stake its very existence to the extent of its purpose.” I personally witnessed this when my boss and mentor Bill McDermott lost his eye following a tragic accident this summer. Bill is a fighter. Despite a lengthy recovery, he never missed a step. He faced his challenge head on and overcame it. Then he leveraged his experience to help others do the same, speaking out on the need to leverage technology and data that is so readily available in today’s digitized world to improve medicine and patient care.
Alex Atzberger is president of Ariba, an SAP Company