The world has changed, and it’s up to every business to think about how AI and real-time access to data and insights will shape their future and their paths to growth.

Navigating the business environment is an extraordinary challenge. Every day, organisations must respond to trends, threats and an ever-changing economic outlook. But still, many achieve extraordinary success. Here are five of the top lessons future disruptors can use to drive their businesses forward.

Amy Webb is a futurist and the founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute. She recently spoke at the SAP Growth Summit, and told attendees that what’s important is not what’s trending, but what trends are shaping the business. “And there’s a lot for you to be paying attention to this year,” she said.

Webb’s focus is on how different trends interact. “Because when businesses can’t see interconnectedness, it’s like looking at the world through a pinhole. What we’re looking at is how the trends bump into each other and new intersections because those convergences create the future. You are never going to be able to map that without ERP [enterprise resource planning] software and the cloud because you need data from many different places.”

2. Think through how your business can benefit from AI

Artificial intelligence is an umbrella term that encompasses many different technologies. It’s about automation, productivity and providing a window into your operations. It’s an incredibly powerful tool, and it’s vital to become familiar with the current AI landscape.

“Understand what AI is, what it can do and what it doesn’t do, because you need to start formulating a plan for the future,” Webb says. “This involves thinking about how your organisation coexists with and truly benefits from these tools.”

3. Begin your AI journey with a data audit

Start by understanding the data your organisation is generating. Identify who is in charge of it, its nature and any metadata that might exist.

“These may not be sexy questions, but they’re very important,” Webb says. “Because you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t know what data you generate or what you could be generating. You’re never going to know what insights you might be able to glean.

“Figure out what the signals are and look for intersections. This is how we use artificial intelligence and it’s the same process any organisation should follow to figure out its future.”

“These may not be sexy questions, but they’re very important” – Amy Webb


4. Use ERP to manage your transition to the cloud

As cloud architecture evolves, it becomes easier to use. There’s no need to employ highly technical people or staff to reap the cloud’s benefits.

Julia White, chief marketing and solutions officer and a member of the SAP executive board, who also spoke at the SAP Growth Summit, says the wonderful thing about cloud-based solutions is the access they give any size organisation to the most sophisticated business applications.

“Growing companies with only a small IT team can access the same powerful business capabilities as much larger organisations,” White says. “Cloud drives performance and makes you more agile and flexible. It’s a way to think through the future.”

Corporate food franchisee Restaurant Brands is one business that is forging ahead with its digital transformation, adapting to change and freeing up more resources across the organisation to focus on opportunities for growth.

Thuy Le-Kim, group systems accountant and product owner at Restaurant Brands, wanted a system that would be able to grow and evolve with the business. After implementing SAP solutions, the business now has consistent processes, which means it can increase in size without needing to dramatically increase the number of people running the business.

5. Use AI and automation to resolve choke points in the supply chain

SAP works with some of the world’s largest companies, whose supply chains are often the choke points in their operations. This is because many businesses are still managing their supply chains in the same way as before the pandemic and other recent global events. But supply and demand dynamics have fundamentally changed.

Webb says: “It’s not enough to rely on historic data when you’re thinking about your supply chain; you can’t assume what was true before will be true going forward. Over the past few years, there has been a big push to automate the supply chain through AI cloud.”

When you’re running different scenarios and simulations, AI can help you figure out what might be possible in the supply chain, given current or potential conditions.

“People who work in financial planning already do this,” Webb says. “They use no, slow, medium and fast growth scenarios and apply them to the supply chain. Then, use cloud-based, automated tools to figure out how production needs to change through demand forecasting and analytics. Artificial intelligence then becomes a very strong use case throughout the supply chain and logistics industry to unlock business opportunities.”

It also starts to resolve choke points and streamline decision processes. “You want to reduce uncertainty as much as possible. So consider many different scenarios and automate some steps to help you make decisions.”

White says that ultimately it’s about embracing the technology and using it to your advantage: “I know sometimes it can feel overwhelming, but it’s about taking that first step and embracing it because that’s what’s going to underpin growth.”

Secure a virtual front row seat at the SAP Growth Summit to learn more about how leading businesses are using digital technologies to underpin a bright future.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian Labs here