2018 Predictions, Pt. 3: Digital Business Accelerates with Robotic Process Automation, Voice User Interface, Agile Micro-Factories


Savvy business leaders are predicting that 2018 will be the year that digital business breaks the sound barrier. Why?

They see a host of emerging technologies poised to go mainstream in the 2018 enterprise: new voice-enabled digital assistants becoming standard corporate issue; blockchain-based smart contracts bringing security to commerce transactions; predictive analytics making data-driven decision making de rigeur in the financial planning and forecasting cycle; ubiquitous infrastructures expanding the reach (and data) of the Internet of Things (IoT); machine learning being applied to business applications; and robotic process automation simplifying back-office operations to allow people to focus on mission-critical decision making.

2018 predictions: robotic process automation combines with cognitive computing, voice user interface plus machine learning enters business applications, creative partnering uncovers new markets

These are some of the predictions heard on Game-Changers Radio 2018 Predictions, Part 3, Presented by SAP, the third installment of a five-part series, that aired live January 3, 2018. Host Bonnie D. Graham asked 15 leading experts, academics, and business influencers to share their predictions for what the coming year holds for industry, business, the world, and technology.

What These Thought Leaders Foresee in 2018

1. The lines between Marketing and Sales are going to become blurred. Social selling is forcing a breakdown of silos. Producers are going to become more responsible for helping create the relevant content (beyond features and benefits, how-to’s, and tactical content) that helps deals move through the sales cycle. New content will be twofold: 1.) content that gets prospects thinking differently, and 2.) interactive content that brings prospects into the conversation, like interactive interview blogs, podcasts, and webinars.

– Brynne Tillman, Chief Learning Officer, Vengreso

2. At the intersection of the pharmaceutical and technology industries, 2018 is going to be a year of data liberation, meaning that users will be able to move data in and out of their system. Two trends will drive this: 1.) the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) will make public its information technology strategy, which will have a huge impact on how the pharmaceutical industry uses technology to focus on patient safety; and 2.) the battle between tech giants and pharma will intensify, as the digital revolution of the pharmaceutical industry challenges the whole value chain, whilst the Big 5 tech companies move into the life sciences space.

– Rasmus Nelund, Vice President, Life Sciences & General Manager, International Operations, NNIT A/S

3. In 2018, two technologies will combine: robotic process automation (RPA) – involving small, repeatable software programs or bots – and cognitive computing. This will make a huge difference when it comes to data by enabling manpower to focus on truly mission-critical activities. When RPA is combined with cognitive analysis, it gives the programs the ability to act like humans by making business decisions on the fly. When you combine transactional processing of purely repeatable tasks with business processes and also root-based decision supporting systems, that’s truly a game-changer.

– Thiagu Bala, Senior Manager, Deloitte Consulting

4. By the end of 2018, we will no longer have to explain that blockchain technology is not the same as Bitcoin! Business use of blockchain will be multiplying at an accelerated pace this year. Major software vendors now have blockchain strategies. There are almost an infinite number of ways of putting blockchain technology to practical use, not just for cryptocurrencies but also in a lot of humdrum business stuff that is a whole lot easier using blockchain – for example, in smart contracts, where the terms between the buyer and seller are stored in a decentralized blockchain network, which both simplifies things and makes them secure.

– Robert Kugel, CFO, Ventana Research

5. The Internet of Things will become the Internet of Something. People will have the expectation that most devices, not only smart devices, are connected and offer value-adding services. Secondly, I predict Bitcoin will crash, but blockchain will rise. We will see more tangible use cases for blockchain with a sustainable business model behind them – for example, smart contracts increasing the ease with which we can do commerce between organizations electronically and also for maintenance records of safety-critical systems. Lastly, we will see machine learning applied to business applications.

– Owen Pettiford, Lead for Digital Transformation Practice, BackOffice Associates

6. 2017 was about creative partnering to create new products and services. This will explode in 2018, because it’s getting harder and harder to sell basic services. It’s tough to get through unless you have something unique to sell – and from a pragmatic standpoint, creative partnering doubles the number of people you can call on. If you can ideate, teach, and sell new technologies and services together, you will find that your business will expand. If you’re part of a networking group, forget about referrals. Go in and work together to create something new. It will be more fun and interesting, and you’ll continue the learning process.

– Bryan W. Mattimore, Co-founder and Chief Idea Guy, The Growth Engine Company

7. Identity management using blockchain technology will become a super-hot topic, whether it’s to prevent fraud or to identify humans, corporations, and legal entities. Secondly, voice-enabled digital assistants will enter corporate offices. In addition to the laptop and phone, this type of device will become standard equipment. Thirdly, this is a year of simplification. The kinds of things that can be simplified range from pricing models that include subscription pricing – which will become a much bigger thing in the B2B space – to robotic process automation that simplifies the back office.

– Seth Marlowe, Senior Vice President, Treasury Solutions Consultant and Treasury Insights Leader, Wells Fargo

8. Cities and states are going to continue to lead the way on climate change and energy conservation. Hundreds of mayors have signed up for the “We Are Still In” initiative; 13 states have signed up for the U.S. Climate Alliance. We will see effective change being driven from a local level, but it will have national and global impact. Also, city leaders will see how ubiquitous infrastructures like street lighting enable IoT. We’re going to get more usable data about air quality, traffic flows, and microclimates coming in from the field. That will allow us to use our infrastructures more effectively and reveal hidden insights about how people are interacting with their urban environment. It’s going to be the Year of the Citizen in Smart Cities.

– Suzanne Seitinger, Global Manager Public Segment, Professional Systems, Philips Lighting

9. We will see the next iteration of the killer app for blockchain. There will be an interesting aspect for blockchain in terms of fraud prevention. In fighting crime, for example, blockchain may help reduce money laundering. Also, I look forward to doing more with a voice user interface (VUI), like Alexa or Siri. Lastly, concerning what the #MeToo movement has triggered, the tech industry has room for improvement, especially in terms of female-founded companies getting more funding and an equal playing field.

– Annie Miu Hayward, Head of Silicon Valley Executive Briefing Center, SAP

10. For utilities, starting with mobility, I want to make sure my field personnel as well as utilities users have all the information they need at their fingertips so they can make good, informed decisions. Also, as our consumers move from paper to paperless, we can’t make assumptions that they all know how to use smart devices, so I have to think about customer engagement, which includes training to let them know how to use our web site and devices, as well as how to pay and get the information they need. The final thing is predictive analytics. As I get more information in the system, I want to know, for example, when a pump will need maintenance, so I can save my customer money – because at the end of the day that’s what it’s about: saving my customers money.

– Ron Schell, Director of Business Systems EAM, Metropolitan Utilities District

11. In automotive, we’re going to see the acceleration of Connected Autonomous Shared Electric (CASE). 2018 is the year people get serious about electric. The EU, China, and India have made bold statements about what composition of vehicle products they want to have by 2030 and the gap is massive. Everybody is going to be shifting to make those products available and put them in the hands of consumers. Secondly, there will be a continuing blurring of automotive based on two aspects: 1.) the $1.2 trillion of digital services people are going to run out of their cars, and 2.) an emergence of a new aftermarket with digital and electrified products that add information.

– Bill Newman, North America’s Strategic Industry Advisor, SAP

12. At the World Manufacturing Forum recently, three topics kept coming up, which seemed to indicate what we can expect in 2018. 1.) We’re going to see the advancement of micro-factories, small factories that can respond quickly to changes in the supply chain, because they are built on agility, not capacity, and have intelligence and process flexibility. 2.) In academia, there is an emphasis now on educating the right workers for the next generation of manufacturing. 3.) With the advancements in polymeric and metal powders in manufacturing, we’re going to see 3-D printing move from prototyping into MRO and then into production in 2018.

– Mike Lackey, Vice President of Solution Management, LoB Manufacturing, SAP

13. We’ll see the mainstream adoption of predictive analytics into the financial planning and forecasting cycle. The reality is that most firms today are still dependent on manual data entry from humans to support the planning and forecasting processes. I see the tipping point starting in 2018 and maybe fully happening by 2020, by which time most companies will be using data to support more accurate and efficient plans that drive decision-making processes. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1.) the availability of data today is massive because companies have invested millions in big expense items like ERP, operational technology from plant equipment, and POS systems, so that the data now is large enough to be statistically relevant to make accurate predictions on an organization’s financial plan, and 2.) a change of organizational culture thanks to Millennials that are bringing a data-driven Moneyball-style attitude into decision making.

– Patrick Hickey, Partner, Jump Analytics

14. Expect to see continued momentum in the digital space. Millennials entering the digital workforce will create pressure on companies to transform processes to keep up. Companies will face headwinds from evolving regulations. Secondly, concerning artificial intelligence and how increased momentum in cognitive learning from machines will impact the workforce, in 2018 we expect to see enhanced and supplemented decision making on basic computations. Lastly, as companies look at risk in 2018, companies that continue successfully are going to be able to scan the digital horizon in a simple manner to identify, manage, and respond to risk.

– Ben Zimmerman, Partner, Advisory Services, Ernst & Young LLP

15. There will be a huge demand for unhackable data. There is a demand now for data everywhere. The enterprise depends increasingly on data – for example, we just talked about predictive analytics and managing risk. We are going to see blockchain solutions that are going to solve a lot of these problems in terms of tamper proofing data.

– Peter Ebert, Senior Vice President Business Development and Sales, Cryptowerk Corp

You can hear the full show at SAP Game-Changers Radio 2018 Predictions, Part 3

SAP Game-Changers Radio 2018 Predictions Special: Upcoming Shows

For dozens of other insightful predictions that can impact you and your business in 2018 and beyond, listen to all five episodes of SAP’s Game-Changers Radio 2018 Predictions Special. In case you missed previous episodes, you can listen to recordings of part ones and part two of the series.

Part four will air live on Wednesday, January 10, at 11:00 am ET/ 8:00 a.m. PT at http://spr.ly/SAPRadio.

The final show in the series will air on January 17. You can listen to the shows live here.

The experts’ predictions have been edited and condensed for this space.