I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Raftery, host of the SAP Industry Insights Podcast (among others!) to discuss some of the highlights and common themes in last year’s episodes. The topics covered a wide variety of different industries, with lots of great, concrete examples of how SAP’s customers and partners are using technology to innovate.
Here’s a link to the episode itself, followed by an abridged and edited version of our discussion — and you can find the full list of episodes, with links, at the end of this post.
Tom Raftery: Hello everyone, work into the industry insights podcast by SAP. My name is Tom Raftery, and with me on the show today, I have my special guest Timo Elliott—would you like to introduce yourself?
Timo Elliott: Hello everyone! I’m an innovation evangelist for SAP. It’s a little bit of a strange title, but it basically means I work with our customers on the leading edge of innovation, try and gather the lessons learned and then share that with as many people as possible so that we can all be more successful.
Tom Raftery: What do you mean it’s a strange title?! I have exactly the same one! We know that you’re a rabidly enthusiastic listener to this podcast, so we’ve invited you to this particular episode because it’s the round-up episode, we’ve had eight or nine episodes published now since September of 2021, you’ve listened to them all… Thank you for that. So we wanted to reach out and chat, and for people who haven’t maybe heard all of the episodes, maybe give them a little summary for people who are interested in their themes that we’ve covered. So over to you to — what did you take from the episodes you’ve listened to?
Timo Elliott: Let me start by turning it around — what were YOUR favorite episodes? When you think back, which episodes jump out, and why?
Tom Raftery: There were so many. I think the one about getting smart about charging electric cars would have to have been my favorite. I mean, I run a number of podcasts, this one, the climate 21 podcast, the digital supply chain podcast, and anyone who listens to those will be aware that electric vehicles are a particular passion of mine.
I’ve been talking about them for a long time. I drove my first fully electric car back in 2010, it was a prototype-ness and leaf, it was one of two different in the world at the time, so this has been something that I’ve been banging on about for ages, and that particular episode was really interesting because it was with a start-up company, so a lot of times if we have companies on their partners or their big customers, but this was a small company, a small German startup based out of Munich, ChargeX. And they have come up with a way for make it easier to roll out electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It’s a bit like a power strip — you initially get an electrician to come along to install your very first charger but then if you want to install more chargers for more vehicles that you extend your electric vehicle fleet, you can do it yourself, you don’t need to get an electrician back because they already have the infrastructure in place. And the software manages the whole thing, so for organizations who are starting out with maybe one or two electric vehicles, but plan on further down the line adding more to their fleet, this is a fantastic solution
Companies who are doing this can then manage charging and billing, and all the other aspects of having electric vehicle fleet.
Another highlight was the company Lizee, who set up a platform for retailers to do rental where they would normally be doing just straight purchasing. They explained everything in the episode Renting is the new buying.
One of the examples they used in that episode was they work with Decathlon in France. If you want to go camping to the countryside, instead of spending lots of money on a tent and sleeping bag and so on — equipment that you might not use again for a long time — Decathlon uses the Lizee platform to let you book a tent for however long you need it, and then give it back. And then it can be used by somebody else a week later, and so it’s about getting far more utility out of the resources that went into the manufacture of that tent. And of course they refurbish it every time, and you can leave recommendations, and ratings.
Overall, it’s really hard for me to pick a favorite, but if you put a gun to my head, it would have to be the electrical vehicle charging one, because that’s such a passion of mine, as you know…
Timo Elliott: I live in this city and I haven’t owned a car in over 20 years. So my favorite electric car is an electric bus! 🙂.
Tom Raftery: I was looking at the Bloomberg New Energy Ventures site recently on electric vehicles, and fully 40% of new bus sales now are fully electric buses globally, so you’re not alone.
Timo Elliott: It’s wonderful. I live in in the heart of Paris, and there’s a lot of loud cars and motorbike and then big bus, packed full of people, just glides pass almost noiselessly.. I really hope the future of transport is a lot more along those lines.
So my favorite was also Renting is the new buying. Most people rent skis rather than buying, because it’s easier and cheaper and more convenient — so why not apply that model to more things? The logic of the argument was very convincing.
I also loved the episode The Race to Zero: Regenerative Business Models for a Sustainable Future.
I learned a lot out of both of those episodes and then my last favorite was about the Future of Work and the The Rise of the Contingent Workforce
with the CTO of SAP Fieldglass. Again, it was because I learned a lot about something I didn’t know about — just how much of the work that goes on in companies around the world is done by people other than your employees, and just how it important it is to take that into account.
Tom Raftery: He said around 40% or something that was contingent?
Timo Elliott: He estimated about 50% of the work that gets done is done by people that don’t work for you directly — so it’s important to know who those people are. This is especially true as we start moving towards the gig economy, when people are changing careers a lot more often and you’re talking about network of networks. As you think of people having the ability to move from job to job and between projects over time, and then being able to keep track of that across an ecosystem, you could see why that makes a huge amount of sense.
Tom Raftery: And it makes us make sense for the employees as well, to have in one place all the records of all the work they have done. I remember a few years ago a speaker at an event mentioning that his father had had one job his entire life, whereas he had had seven jobs at that time in his lifetime, and he said he fully expected his kids to have seven jobs simultaneously in their lifetimes… And that was back in 2006 when nobody had yet heard of the expression “gig economy”. No it’s on everyone’s tongue, and that episode was really, really, really interesting.
Timo Elliott: Well, I’m not really qualified to talk about that because I’ve been the same company now for 30 years! Let me ask you another question: what did you enjoy most about hosting these episodes?
Tom Raftery: You know, I think it’s the variety. I host the climate 21 podcast, as I mentioned earlier, and that’s really interesting because it’s another topic that I’m quite passionate about, but it’s quite narrow, and I also host the Digital Supply Chain Podcast, and again, that’s really interesting because it’s people talking about stuff that’s really important right now. It’s quite broad because we define supply chain as everything from the planning, engineering and manufacturing, the delivery, the operation of devices, etc. so the whole gamut, but still, the industries podcast topics are so broad. You mentioned some of the episodes there. We also did one on rail, for example, another on telecoms, a bunch of them on retailing…
Timo Elliott: One of things I found interesting is some of the common themes that came out that there are some areas where everybody has been struggling with the same thing, fundamentally. Obviously, one is change. I can’t really think of a period that has been subject to more change in the last and a half, because of the pandemic — on top of all of these other trends that were already accelerating.
Tom Raftery: I think we’ve referred to it already, sustainability was a big one, and I think that’s going to be a big trend going forward, because the regulations around sustainability are changing enormously. Here in Europe, we have agreed to a 55% reduction in emissions by 2013, which is incredibly ambitious, and I think a lot of people don’t realize the kind of level of systemic change that will require. And that other 45% after 2030 to get to net zero would be even harder to get, which means even more changes. Up until now, sustainability has been very often a “nice to have”, but going forward, it’s going to be a requirement. For example, we’re see all kinds of legislation requiring companies to measure set targets, measure and report their emissions, for example.
We talked about sustainable travel with rail in one of the episodes, because 2021 is officially the year of rail. There’s a great quote by a guy called Gustavo Petro, former Mayor of Bogotá, where he says that “a developed country is not one where poor people who have cars, it’s one where rich people take public transportation.”
I love that quote because it speaks to the importance of public transportation as a lever for getting conditions down. The amount of people you can get on a bus or on a train is extremely high compared to personal transportation, and if you get the emissions down on those, then straight away, that’s a big win for everyone.
Timo Elliott: There are some other episodes that talk about sustainability… For example, the episode about how businesses can take action after COP26, which featured Michael Groves of Topolytics.
There were some great quotes. “It’s all about analyzing rubbish data” , “Waste is just a resource in the wrong place” — the idea is that one person waste is another person’s input. And your quote about “people talk about throwing things away, there’s no such place as ‘away’ — it ends up underground, or leaks into the environment, unless you move to a more circular economy where you use the outputs of one thing into the inputs of another. Or, as you mentioned, nothing in nature is wasted, it always goes into the next part of the cycle, so how can we mimic that with the world economy? I thought it was fascinating.
And going back to the episode about the Regenerative Business Models, I wanted to put in an extra plug there for SAP Responsible Design and Production. We are trying to help with technologies that help organizations eliminate waste, and create connections, so that you can connect the waste of one industry with the implementer and then drive new business models. It’s fundamentally digital, and it’s fundamentally about networks, so it’s very much something that we’re excited about.
Tom Raftery: Yep, absolutely. Other topics or other themes that I think were mentioned across several of the episodes were the use of data. We had an episode about the business models of streaming content and customer experience, and of course, that is very much around data… I hate the expression “data is the new oil “because I don’t think that’s a good thing given where we are a climate change today. But the importance of data has now become extremely obvious to everyone, I think, and the fact that more and more devices are becoming connected and smart means they’re generating data and transmitting data. If you want to really take advantage of of your investments, you need to capture that data and turn it into actionable insights. And that’s happening across every industry — we’re definitely going to see an increasing importance around data and ways to act on that data.
Timo Elliott: Absolutely. Data was mentioned in almost every episode — for example, you talked about how automation is helping Maple Leaf Foods save time and money. They are applying machine learning to create more intelligent trade claims management.
Tom Raftery: It’s when you get a promotion for some store that you go to — it might be coupons is a newspaper, but more often it’s now something electronic, or you get a discount off something that you might go buying, such as 10% off your next purchase of something.
So you go to the store, writer, physically or online, you make your purchases, you enter your discount code or your hand over your coupon, and then that has to be related, so the store owner who has given us that promotion to all the customers or a subset of the customers then claims that back against the company who manufactured whatever it is. The manufacturer has to get all these claims back and then has to match the claims against the promotion, and it’s a horrific manual menial task.
Timo Elliott: Paul Smith of SAP gave us the industry average — it takes around fifty days to do the reconciliation and it cost around five thousand dollars to do a thousand claims. So it’s expensive, and although Maple Foods is already better than the average, they’re seeing some great results with the pilot use of machine learning technology, and they’re hoping to get that down to a quarter to a fifth of the time and the costs.
Tom Raftery: And what the technology does is it does the automatic matching, so it’ll match up to about 80% of the claims automatically, and then if it’s not sure, it will push the the last 20% for someone to do it manually. That’s 80% of the work done. Automatically, that’s a huge time-saving
Timo Elliott: Another episode about using data was with with Michael Scheibner of GK Software, a partner of SAP that has a platform that helps create truly personalized new channel experiences — basically the kind of experiences that we all expect now.
One of my favorite parts of that episode was actually an example that touched on sustainability. Cameras can look at fresh produce such as strawberries, and then algorithms detect when the quality is going down and determine at what point the retailer should start discounting so that that product gets out of the store before it goes off—improving margins with less wastage.
To do that, you’ve given a discount, but maybe the algorithms could you also help you increase the price of an corresponding annex product. Michael gave the example of lowering the price on strawberries but raising it on whipped cream, which tend to be sold the same time, so that your overall profitability stays the same. I thought that was a lovely win-win opportunity using technology.
He also cited the Costco example of using analytics and machine learning to create algorithms to optimize bread production, again using cameras. They detect when the bread that is left is probably not enough to cover the demand that’s expected for the rest of the day. So they calculate how much more bread to bake, without resulting in waste at the end of the day.
In fact, did you know that the very first business use of computers was in the UK, in 1951, in Lyons Tea Shops? And that the very first successful run of that technology was calculating how many sandwiches to make for the next day to try and minimize waste? The use of that technology in that particular area has been going on for a long time.
Tom Raftery: I had no idea! Live and learn. Great, I loved as well. They were using machine learning to do things like “Hang on— you’re getting spaghetti? Do you want some pasta sauce with that?” Really clever stuff.
Timo Elliott: And then going back to the ChargeX example: there are more cars that can be charged simultaneously, so they try and work out which ones need charging first — for example, if a car is charged to the airport and you know that person’s gone for a week, you can charge it very slowly, because it’s not a priority. But if somebody’s just stopped for five minutes to have a coffee, they need to charge now. They’re working on algorithms to be able to figure out all this automatically, and I thought that was a very interesting use case as well.
Tom Raftery: Yes—and if it’s in an employee car park, employees can say what time they are leaving, or if it’s in a carpark overnight, people can program in what time they’re planning to leave in the morning, so the the system can optimize charging around that as well. So lots of really interesting things you can do there with data and intelligent algorithms
Timo Elliott: And one of the big topics for me: we talk a lot about technology, but the end of the day, it’s all about people, and at least a couple of episodes touched on people. One was Episode 49 on how human experience management can potentially help the trucking industry. The other one was, as we’ve mentioned, Episode 45 about the future of work and the rise of the contingent workforce. Both of them really emphasized how important people are for industries and for all of this innovation that’s going on.
Tom Raftery: And one point on the trucking: there was a comment which I thought was crucial, that the money given to truck drivers hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living, and that’s been a huge factor. Their relative income has fallen drastically over the last 20 to 30 years, so no wonder we have a shortage of truck drivers.
Timo Elliott: And the working conditions are an important part of an ecosystem, not just the pricing. It’s the way they’re paid—they’re not paid for when they’re waiting around or if they’re loading the truck, only while they’re on the road. And the facilities are important—if you are spending your life in a truck, then you’d like to go somewhere clean when you have to go into a service station as so on.
And we’ve been talking a lot about machine learning and the importance of creating efficiencies and doing things in new ways, but one of the things that I’d like to emphasize—because I’ve come across this many times talking to customers—is every time it’s been an opportunity for the existing staff to stop doing work they hate: the drudge work. It can be complex, but it’s not interesting, so these technologies are freeing them up to do more interesting things. Again, look at the Maple Leaf Foods example. Right now, there are huge teams of people that look after this paperwork, but they are now going to be free to work on the more complex cases, which they currently just write off. And they can spend time actually improving the whole system and making it more efficient.
The final thing that I’d like to mention is co-innovation—the whole point of this industry series is to emphasize the opportunities of organizations working together in a particular industry. Technology is important, but there’s also context and know-how and connections and networks and bringing that together is how we get the innovation. And that’s where the SAP Industry Cloud initiatives come in—for example, we’re part of the Catena-x automobile network. It’s basically trying to help all of the players in the car or automotive industry work together to create the future of what the industry looks like, because it’s clearly going to be very different from today. And another example is GK software—the omni-channel approach is an extension to the SAP platform. We know that we can’t cover everything, so we want to work a lot with our partners and customers to create those add-on solutions that work for specific industry and uses.
Tom Raftery: Great, we’re coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there anything that we’ve not talked about that you think it’s important for people to aware of, or any questions I’ve not asked you that you wish I had?
Timo Elliott: We spend a lot of time and our resources for these kinds of shows talking about what people really care about, so one thing that I would encourage people is: please give us feedback! Tell us what you’d like to hear more about, and if you have a great story to tell, please contact us and we’ll try and get you on the show.
Tom Raftery: You can reach out to me at any time on any of my social networks. I’m very visible on Twitter, I’m very visible on Linkedin, or just send me an over-fashioned email to firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
Okay, Timo. That’s been fantastic. Thanks a million for coming in to podcast today.
Timo Elliott: Thanks! I’m looking forward to the next episode!
Tom Raftery: If you want to explore our industry portfolio to find the solutions you need to run your business better, please visit us at SAP.com/industries
Appendix: a list of Industry Insight episodes hosted by Tom Raftery in 2021:
In the first episode of Season 2 of the Industry Insights by SAP podcast, new host Tom Raftery speaks with Wesley Spindler, Global Circular Economy Lead at Accenture and Stephen Jamieson, SAP Global Head of Circular Economy Solutions.
Host Tom Raftery and Sunny Neely, SAP Global Solution Director for Consumer Products, discuss insights from a recent research study which revealed 7 key trends that are driving the Consumer Products industry today.
This week, host Tom Raftery sits down with Achim Schneider, Global Head, SAP Retail Business Unit and Michael Scheibner, Head of Strategy, GK Software to find out how retailers can build back better from the pandemic.
Tobias Wagner (CEO/co-founder, ChargeX) and Hagen Huebach (Head of Automotive industry, SAP) discuss how the shift to electric mobility will impact the grid and how businesses can prepare.
Streaming services saw rapid growth during covid – but which will customers stick around once life returns to normal? Richard Whittington, Global Head of Media at SAP and Erik Vogel, Global Head of High Tech & Telco at SAP Qualtrics, share their thoughts.
Vish Baliga (CTO, SAP Fieldglass) talks about the challenges businesses face, across industries, in maintaining visibility and connection with an increasingly contingent workforce in a volatile and rapidly shifting marketplace.
2021 is the Year of Rail, an EU wide initiative to promote rail as “a sustainable, innovative, and safe mode of transport.” Alicia Gutierrez and Kevin Schock from SAP discuss what this means for SAP, our customers, and their customers.
Domen Rakovec, SAP General Manager for Services Industries, Middle & Eastern Europe, talks about the past, present, & future of the telecommunications industry and the opportunities for telcos to leverage 5G technology to diversify their revenue streams.
In this week’s episode, Tanguy Frécon, Co-Founder & Chairman at Lizee shares how Lizee helps brands and retailers reach both their growth and sustainability goals by expanding their rental business and extending the use of their products.
Attracting and retaining drivers are two top trucking industry issues, especially in context of the current driver shortage. Companies must find an effective way to innovate against these issues. Can HXM technology help with global supply chain issues?
This week on the podcast, our guests Manny Ki (Dir, Information Solutions, Maple Leaf Foods) and Paul Smith (SAP) share with us how consumer products companies can automate trade claims management to save time and money.
Michael Groves (Topolytics) and Natasha Pergl (SAP) to discuss how companies can use data science modelling to track materials across the supply chain for sustainable decision-making.