To have real-world innovations and transformations in markets and industries today, Jack Shaw believes businesses must welcome future technology trends—and embrace the challenges.
Shaw, the ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Midmarket featured speaker, (https://www.asug.com/events/asug-best-practices-sap-for-midmarket) leads Breakthrough Business Technologies and is among the world’s top technology futurists. He plans to deliver both practical perspectives and observations that will inspire a cross-industry audience of business and technology leaders.
ASUG interviewed Shaw recently for a preview of his session. This is an edited version of the full conversation.
Question: Let's take a step back first to talk about you; what is your experience and expertise, and what does all of that bring to this particular audience?
Answer: I had the privilege of getting involved in the software business very, very early—in the late 1970s. I've seen a tremendous amount of change take place, waves of emerging technologies that have had transformational impacts on business and society, starting with the arrival of the personal computer. Before that point, everything was on mainframes or minicomputers. Then as we moved into the ‘90s, with the rise of the Internet, things have progressed over the last 20 years. We see new technologies come along in bunches, rather than one at a time every five to 10 years. Now it's something new every couple of years.
And they’re hitting us all at once—first accelerated by mobile computing and the introduction of smartphones. Next, we saw the rise of cloud computing, then blockchain and Internet of Things. Now we've seen a continuous evolution that is only accelerating regarding artificial intelligence.
So, when you look at the impacts of emerging technologies, and the completely new ways people interact with automated systems and with each other, you see an incredible amount of change taking place. I think we will see more change over the next 10 years than we've seen in the last 50.
Q: You use the word “transformation” a lot. At ASUG, we write a lot about transformation, and SAP talks a lot about business transformation. What's your definition of transformation?
A: My definition of transformation is when you think of creative, new ways to leverage emerging technologies to have a completely new approach to your business models or that allows you to rethink how your business operates. It’s not just about how a particular business process-—like order management, shipping, manufacturing, inventory control, scheduling or whatever—might work. Those can be extremely important. But transformation can happen more broadly when you rethink how an entire industry ecosystem works. Some of the best examples of true transformation happened in the music industry in the last 20 years.
Twenty-five years ago, people were looking at the Internet and the ability to communicate electronically. And they were saying, "When we want new music, and we want to go down to our local record store, and we want to buy a CD of our favorite group, sometimes they're out of stock, and that's disappointing for us and frustrating for the people at the store because they've lost a sale.” So, people thinking about digitalization were saying, "I'll bet we could take the same principles that are being applied in manufacturing. We could figure out how to get the information from the people that make the CDs to the wholesalers that distribute them to the stores that sell them much more quickly and efficiently and have better inventory control and reduce costs.”
But the Napster people and people like Steve jobs had a transformational look at it. They said maybe we could eliminate the CDs altogether and use the Internet to stream the data directly. This is what we do now.
That's what I think of when I think about business transformation: how can you step back, look at the entire business or social ecosystem and rethink current state to provide much more value at much lower cost to all the participants in the ecosystem?
Q: Jack, you may still be evolving what you plan to talk about, but what's your current plan as far as what you will talk about?
A: I am planning to talk about how—in particular for manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and professional services firms—emerging technologies are going to be changing the world they live in and the way they work looking out over the rest of this decade. I’ll talk about what kind of changes they can expect from two to eight years out. And then how they’ll need to evolve their strategic planning processes to take advantage of the tremendous amount of change. Rather than being buffeted by the winds of change, they can ride the wave and use it as an opportunity to achieve strategic objectives.
Q: Thinking about this audience, they're SAP users. They're small, medium-sized businesses. What do you perceive as the top business challenges facing these organizations?
A: One challenge is that expectations of how business systems should work are already set. When employees go to work for a company, they expect to be able to interact with that company's systems as easily as they interact with the mobile devices they use to communicate with friends, order products, or post photos on Facebook. They want it to be easy, intuitive, and real-time. All too often, they end up software implementations that don't look much different from the green screen systems of the 1980s.
I think that one of the challenges is how we can rethink the way we use our systems and implement our systems—use them to make our employees productive and happy, especially new employees coming in if we want to get the best people.
Also, people are used to the idea that if I want to buy a product from Amazon, I can do a few taps on my phone and have that product delivered the next day and billed automatically to my credit card. Everything's taken care of. But if I'm a procurement person in a business-to-business environment, I go through this awkward, formalized structure. I set up a purchase order, enter a purchase order, set up a vendor account, transmit that purchase order, and wait for it to be confirmed back and then wait for information about when it will be shipped. The younger millennials and the GenZ who are entering the workforce today say, "Why am I going back to ancient history?"
A second huge challenge is that companies have to face the fact that the global pandemic was not a once-in-a-lifetime disruption. I'm not saying we won't, over time, get pandemics under control. I am saying, look at the impacts on the global supply chain, not all of the impacts on the global supply chain have to do with the pandemic. Global supply chains were impacted by geopolitical considerations where various national leaders arbitrarily imposed tariffs to accomplish whatever internal political objectives they had rather than whether or not it made business sense from an economic perspective. A few years later, companies suddenly found their supply chains drastically impacted by the war in Ukraine.
When you've got all these disruptions coming in from various directions, and you haven't anticipated them, how do you develop a business strategy? How do I evolve my business over the next five years? Because if you're smart, you don't want to just be reacting. You want to plan ahead. As it turns out, there are techniques initially developed in the military because the military has dealt with this issue for centuries.
One of the things I'm going to be talking about is dynamic digital transformation. It's called dynamic because it's a digital transformation process done in such a way is flexible to impacts by both expected and unexpected disruptions. You still aim toward your long-term strategy but shift flexibly in the short term in such a way that accommodates disruptions.