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Secret Weapons Of The Retail Survivors

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$ 70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image2 Secret Weapons Of The Retail SurvivorsOther comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image3 1024x572 Secret Weapons Of The Retail Survivors

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image4 Secret Weapons Of The Retail SurvivorsThe process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image5 Secret Weapons Of The Retail SurvivorsOrganizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image6 Secret Weapons Of The Retail SurvivorsLowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image7 1024x572 Secret Weapons Of The Retail Survivors

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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How to Switch a Failover Cluster to a New Domain

In this blog I will describe some new capabilities in Windows Server, version 1709 that enables changing a deployed Failover Cluster from one domain to another.

For the last two decades, changing the domain membership of a Failover Cluster has always required that the cluster be destroyed and re-created. This is a time-consuming process, and we have worked to improve this.

This is going to enable scenarios such as building a Failover Cluster in one location and then ship it to its final location or in the event that companies have merged and need to move them to their domain structure.

Moving a Cluster from one domain is a straight-forward process. To accomplish this, we introduced two new PowerShell commandlets.

  • New-ClusterNameAccount – creates a Cluster Name Account in Active Directory
  • Remove-ClusterNameAccount– removes the Cluster Name Accounts from Active Directory

In the following example, this is my setup and goal:

  • 2-node Windows Server, version 1709 Failover Cluster
  • In the Cluster, the Cluster Name is CLUSCLUS and I have a File Server called FS-CLUSCLUS
  • Both nodes are member of the same domain
  • Both nodes and Cluster need to move to a new domain

The process to accomplish to accomplish this is to change the cluster from one domain to a workgroup and back to the new domain. For example:

Create a local Administrator account with the same name and password on all nodes.

Log on to the first node with a domain user account that has Active Directory permissions to the Cluster Name Object (CNO) and Virtual Computer Objects (VCO) and open PowerShell.

Ensure all cluster Network Name resources are in an Offline state and run the below command to change the type of the Cluster to a workgroup.

Remove-ClusterNameAccount -Cluster CLUSCLUS -DeleteComputerAccounts

Use Active Directory Users and Computers to ensure the CNO and VCO computer objects associated with all cluster names have been removed.

If so, it is a good idea to go ahead and stop the Cluster Service on both nodes and set the service to MANUAL so that it does not start during this process.

Stop-Service -Name ClusSvc

Set-Service -Name ClusSvc -StartupType Manual

Change the nodes domain membership to a workgroup, reboot, then join to the new domain, and reboot again.

Once the nodes are in the new domain, log on to a node with local Administrator account, start the Cluster Service, and set it back to Automatic.

Start-Service -Name ClusSvc

Set-Service -Name ClusSvc -StartupType Automatic

Bring the Cluster Name and all other cluster Network Name resources to an Online state.

Start-ClusterGroup -Name "Cluster Group"

Start-ClusterResource -Name FS-CLUSCLUS

We now need to change Cluster to be a part of the new domain with associated active directory objects. To do this, the command is below. The network name resources must be in an online state.

New-ClusterNameAccount -Name CLUSTERNAME -Domain NEWDOMAINNAME.com -UpgradeVCOs

Please note that if you do not have any additional groups with names (i.e. a Hyper-V Cluster with only virtual machines), the -UpgradeVCOs parameter switch is not needed.

Use Active Directory Users and Computers to check the new domain and ensure the associated computer objects were created. If they have, then bring the remaining resources in the file server group online.

Start-ClusterGroup -Name FS-CLUSCLUS

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Clustering and High-Availability

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

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$ 70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image2 2018 Predictions, Pt. 3: Digital Business Accelerates With Robotic Process Automation, Voice User Interface, And Agile Micro FactoriesOther comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image3 1024x572 2018 Predictions, Pt. 3: Digital Business Accelerates With Robotic Process Automation, Voice User Interface, And Agile Micro Factories

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image4 2018 Predictions, Pt. 3: Digital Business Accelerates With Robotic Process Automation, Voice User Interface, And Agile Micro FactoriesThe process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image5 2018 Predictions, Pt. 3: Digital Business Accelerates With Robotic Process Automation, Voice User Interface, And Agile Micro FactoriesOrganizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image6 2018 Predictions, Pt. 3: Digital Business Accelerates With Robotic Process Automation, Voice User Interface, And Agile Micro FactoriesLowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image7 1024x572 2018 Predictions, Pt. 3: Digital Business Accelerates With Robotic Process Automation, Voice User Interface, And Agile Micro Factories

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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Transform expression involving Erfc back and forth with Laplace transform and its inversion

 Transform expression involving Erfc back and forth with Laplace transform and its inversion

It’s a problem I encountered when answering this question and I think it’s worth starting a new question for it. Consider the following expressions:

expr = Erfc[x/(2 Sqrt[t])] - E^(t + x) Erfc[Sqrt[t] + x/(2 Sqrt[t])];
texpr = E^(-Sqrt[s] x)/(s + s^(3/2));

texpr is the Laplace transform of expr when x > 0. This can be verified numerically:

With[{pre = 32}, 
 Block[{x = RandomReal[{0, 100}, WorkingPrecision -> pre], 
        s = RandomReal[{0, 100}, WorkingPrecision -> pre]}, 
  N[{texpr, NIntegrate[expr Exp[-s t], {t, 0, Infinity}, WorkingPrecision -> pre]}, 
    pre/2 // Floor]]]

But LaplaceTransform and InverseLaplaceTransform can’t handle them well:

LaplaceTransform[expr, t, s]
(* Partly unevaluated *)
InverseLaplaceTransform[texpr, s, t]
(* Unevaluated *)

My question is, can we transform expr to texpr, and texpr to expr with some extra coding?

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Recent Questions – Mathematica Stack Exchange

Oracle Big Data Lite 4.11 is Available

The latest release of Oracle Big Data Lite is now available for download on OTN.  Version 4.11 has the following products installed and configured:

  • Oracle Enterprise Linux 6.9
  • Oracle Database 12c Release 1 Enterprise Edition (12.1.0.2) – including Oracle Big Data SQL-enabled external tables, Oracle Multitenant, Oracle Advanced Analytics, Oracle OLAP, Oracle Partitioning, Oracle Spatial and Graph, and more.
  • Cloudera Distribution including Apache Hadoop (CDH5.13.1)
  • Cloudera Manager (5.13.1)
  • Oracle Big Data Spatial and Graph 2.4
  • Oracle Big Data Connectors 4.11
    • Oracle SQL Connector for HDFS 3.8.1
    • Oracle Loader for Hadoop 3.9.1
    • Oracle Data Integrator 12c (12.2.1.3.0)
    • Oracle R Advanced Analytics for Hadoop 2.7.1
    • Oracle XQuery for Hadoop 4.9.1
    • Oracle Data Source for Apache Hadoop 1.2.1
    • Oracle Shell for Hadoop Loaders 1.3.1
  • Oracle NoSQL Database Enterprise Edition 12cR1 (4.5.12)
  • Oracle JDeveloper 12c (12.2.1.2.0)
  • Oracle SQL Developer and Data Modeler 17.3.1 with Oracle REST Data Services 3.0.7
  • Oracle Data Integrator 12cR1 (12.2.1.3.0)
  • Oracle GoldenGate 12c (12.3.0.1.2)
  • Oracle R Distribution 3.3.0
  • Oracle Perfect Balance 2.10.0

Check out the download page for the latest samples and useful links to help you get started with Oracle’s Big Data platform.

Enjoy!

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Oracle Blogs | Oracle The Data Warehouse Insider Blog

Top Ten Digitalist Magazine Posts Of The Week [January 15, 2018]

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$ 70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image2 Top Ten Digitalist Magazine Posts Of The Week [January 15, 2018]Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image3 1024x572 Top Ten Digitalist Magazine Posts Of The Week [January 15, 2018]

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image4 Top Ten Digitalist Magazine Posts Of The Week [January 15, 2018]The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image5 Top Ten Digitalist Magazine Posts Of The Week [January 15, 2018]Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image6 Top Ten Digitalist Magazine Posts Of The Week [January 15, 2018]Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image7 1024x572 Top Ten Digitalist Magazine Posts Of The Week [January 15, 2018]

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

When you think about reporting, two tools come to mind: SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and Power BI. SSRS is an excellent choice for detailed, line item style reporting or reports with some basic graphs. You may have heard of this style as paginated reports in SQL Server 2016. At the other end of the spectrum is Power BI, an outstanding tool for creating self service analytic dashboards.

But what about the middle ground? What about the user who wants a higher-level view of their data than normally found on an SSRS report, but has no desire or time to generate their own dashboards with Power BI? This is where Mobile Report Publisher comes to the rescue!

Don’t be misled by the name. Mobile Report Publisher isn’t just for creating reports on mobile devices such as phones and tablets, although it does that well. It can be used to create beautiful, functional, and useful dashboards for the web. Because Mobile Report Publisher renders all its reports in HTML5, the reports look the same whether you are using Edge on a Windows computer, Firefox on Linux, or Safari on a Mac or even an iPad!

Mobile Report Publisher operates within the framework of SQL Server Reporting Services, so you’ll need an SSRS 2016 (or later) server to be able to use it. Sorry those of you on older versions of SQL Server, but this will at least give you another reason to get your boss to upgrade!

Of course, we’ll need some data to report from as well, so for this article we’ll be using the WideWorldImportersDW sample database. This is the data warehouse version of the new Wide World Imports sample introduced with SQL Server 2016. You can download the database backup, or download the source code and build the database yourself.

One way that Mobile Reports can get the data is through Excel spreadsheets. Mostly likely, you’ll want to see data from a database. To access that data, data sources and datasets must be set up in SSRS. Before we begin creating reports, let’s set up the data source and datasets in the SSRS report portal.

Data Sources

The first step is to create a data source. Most folks have folders setup within their Reporting Services portal for things like data sources and datasets as you can see in this next screen shot from my system.

word image 106 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

If you’ve worked with SSRS before, you’ve likely used data sources and datasets already, but briefly you’ll first need to create a data source to connect to the WideWorldImportersDW database.

  1. Navigate to the Data Sources folder (or create one if it doesn’t exist).
  2. Click the New button in the toolbar (shown above in about the middle of the image).
  3. From its menu, pick Data Source.
  4. For the name, enter WideWorldImportersDW.
  5. For the Connection Type, pick Microsoft SQL Server.
  6. You’ll next enter the connection string. If you need help, there is a handy Learn more link beside the Connection String title that has a lot of great information. For this article we’re accessing SSRS from the same computer it is running on, so we can use localhost. Therefore the connection string reads:
    Data Source=localhost;Initial Catalog=WideWorldImportersDW
  7. For credentials you have two basic choices. As the user viewing the report is a great option if you have authentication (Active Directory, Kerberos) setup correctly, or you are running your reports on the same computer as SSRS (i.e. localhost). If you are going to be running the report unattended, or you are on a system such as a development box you can also pick Using the following credentials and enter your (or an appropriate) user id and password.
  8. Always be sure to click the Test connection button to ensure everything works.
  9. Click Create to apply the new Data Source to the server.

Datasets

With your data source setup, you can now create your datasets. You can think of a dataset as a query that is saved for others to easily use. In this case it will be a SQL query, but had a different data source been used, such as SSAS (SQL Server Analysis Services), it might be an MDX or DAX query. There are two utilities that can be used to create a dataset, Visual Studio and Report Builder. As Report Builder is a bit simpler, we’ll use it for this article.

Inside the report portal, click New, then in the drop-down menu select Dataset.

c users arcan appdata local temp snaghtml4b33a5 p 2 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

When you do, you’ll get a dialog that SSRS is attempting to open the Report Builder app. If you don’t have Report Builder, there is a big Get Report Builder button you can use to download it. If you already have it installed, and are in Microsoft Edge, you’ll get a second dialog asking Did you mean to switch apps? This is a safety feature of Edge, in this case we can just say Yes.

When Report Builder opens, it comes to the first step in creating a dataset. On this window you’ll have to select the shared data source for your dataset.

word image 107 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

If you have used Report Builder before, it will remember the previously selected data sources and list them, as you can see above. If the data source you want isn’t listed, but is already on your SSRS server, you can click on the Browse other data sources link to find and add it to the list. Once it is in the list, click on it, then click the Create button in the lower right.

Once the data source is selected, Report Builder opens to a dataset designer which will allow users to navigate a tree, select fields, create filters, and the like. This is meant for business users who are not familiar with the syntax of SQL. If you are though, you can take a short cut and enter SQL directly into the dataset designer. Simply click the Edit as Text button in the toolbar.

c users arcan appdata local temp snaghtml57170b p 2 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

It’s likely that, as part of your routine, you’ll have developed the query you wish to use in a tool such as SSMS (SQL Server Management Studio) or the new SQL Server Operations Studio (see the article A Walk Around SQL Operations Studio for more info on this tool). That’s what was done here, so just paste the already tested query below into the Query Designer in Report Builder.

It’s a good idea to test within Report Builder to ensure the query still functions as expected, so click the red exclamation mark at the top. The grid at the bottom should then populate with data.

word image 108 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Yea! It worked! Now it can be saved; just use File, Save or click the floppy disk icon in the upper left. You’ll need to save it to the server, so if the Look in: area at the top doesn’t already read the name of your server, use the Recent Sites and Servers button to navigate to the server. Then on the server navigate to the Datasets folder, or a similar folder where you wish to store it.

Name this dataset Yearly Totals.rsd and click OK to save it.

For the report we will be generating, a second dataset will be needed. If you closed report builder just refollow the steps above. On the other hand, if Report Builder is still open simply click File, New. In the New Report or Dataset window, click New Dataset. From here, just follow the same steps you’ve already done.

In either case, use the code below for the new datasets query.

Save the dataset as Yearly Totals by State.rsd. You can now close Report Builder.

Installing the Mobile Report Publisher

Now that the groundwork has been laid, it’s finally time to start generating a mobile report. To do so, we’ll need to get the Mobile Report Publisher tool installed. In the SQL Server Reporting Services Report Portal, go to the New menu, then click on Mobile Report.

c users arcan appdata local temp snaghtml8d3191 p 2 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

When you do, you are prompted that SSRS is opening Mobile Report Publisher. If you don’t have Mobile Report Publisher already installed, there is a button you can click, Get Mobile Report Publisher, that will take you to a webpage where you can download and install.

word image 109 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

If you’ve not installed Mobile Report Publisher, go ahead and do so now. It’s a free download from Microsoft. Once it is installed, and you only have to install it once, then you can simply close this window once it is open.

If you are using Microsoft Edge to view your SSRS portal, you will get an additional security prompt.

word image 110 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Simply click Yes to launch Mobile Report Publisher.

Alternatively, you could first install the tool without going through the New step. In the top of the report portal, on the right side is a down arrow. This is the download menu, clicking it will bring you to the various sites to install SQL Server Reporting Services tools. Also, once Mobile Report Publisher is installed it isn’t necessary to go through the SSRS portal to open it; you can simply use the Windows menus to launch it.

Designing the report

When Mobile Report Publisher opens, it first needs a connection to a SSRS server. In the dialog that appears, simply fill out the required information and click Connect.

word image 111 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

The computer used in writing this article is a virtual machine with both SSRS and Mobile Report Publisher installed, so for the server name we can use localhost. Alternatively, we could use the real computer name hosting SSRS.

As this is just a virtual machine setup for this article, similar to using your home computer, no authentication was created, so Use secure connection is unchecked. If you are in your enterprise where you are using Active Directory, it is likely you will need to check this on.

If you wish the users of the report to connect using their credentials, leave the Use current Windows account checked on, otherwise enter the credentials you wish to use to run the report. When done, just click Connect.

The Designer

Let’s take a look now at the designer. To make discussion easier, sections of the designer have been outlined in various colors.

word image 112 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

On the top left, highlighted in red, are four buttons that control the designer. In the image above, the Layout is being displayed. In Layout mode, under the buttons are various report elements that can be dragged and dropped into the design area, highlighted in green to the right. In addition to Navigators and Gauges, scrolling down will reveal Charts, Maps, and Data grids.

Above the green design area is the report name, which defaults to New Mobile Report. Simply click in there to change the report title. Next to it are sliders which control how many grid rows and columns appear. For this report just use the defaults.

To the right of the row / column sliders are two drop downs. These control the layout configuration (Web, Tablet, or Mobile) and color scheme. Those will be explored in a bit. Under the grid of rows and columns is a big blank gray box. This will hold the properties for the various components that will be placed on the report, you’ll see those appear as we begin creating the report.

Before we begin, though, there’s one more area to point out, highlighted in gold in the upper left. These are simply the file handling icons, from left to right New, Open, Save, Save as, and Server Connections. The first four are obvious, the last one simply allows you to alter the connection information to the server that you entered when you first opened Mobile Report Publisher. This is useful for developing on a local machine, then later changing to a production server.

Creating A Report

Now that you are familiar with the Layout mode of the designer, let’s begin creating a report. In the report elements area (highlighted in blue) scroll down to the Charts area. Find the Category chart, drag and drop it into the layout area in the very upper left square.

word image 113 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

After doing so, you’ll note a sizing handle. Clicking on it, drag until the chart takes up an area five boxes wide by two boxes high.

word image 114 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

In the area under the layout configuration is the properties for this chart. Click in the title area, and change the title from the default of Category chart 1, to Yearly Sales.

word image 115 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Note that once you tab out of the Title property box, the title over the left side of the chart will update as well.

Next add a map. Scroll down to the Maps area in the report elements area, click on the Gradient heat map, and drag and drop it into the square on the very left just under the chart. Expand it to be three rows high by five wide. In the properties area at the bottom, change the Title to Yearly Total by State.

While in the properties, scroll to the right. The default map is USA, but clicking the Map dropdown will allow you to pick from other maps, or use a custom map. The Value direction area lets you set whether larger numbers are better, or smaller numbers. Leave these at the defaults, but just know they are there when you begin to create you own reports.

Finally, let’s add one last report element. In the Data grids area, move a Simple data grid onto the configuration area. Place it in the blank square in the upper left, and expand to take up the remaining space. In the properties area, change the Title to Sales Details. Your designer should now resemble the following image:

word image 116 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

In the button area, click Preview to see your report.

word image 117 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

The preview shows not just the layout, but populates the various components with data. The Sales Details area can be scrolled up and down to look at values. But where did it get the data from?

Data? What data?

Click the arrow to the left of the report title (New Mobile Report in the previous image) to return to the designer. The next step is to add real data to the report. Click on the Data button in the button bar.

word image 118 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

The main area shows the data for each dataset. Datasets can be selected by using the lower tabs (highlighted in red in the above image). The properties pane on the bottom is used to tie each report element, on the left, to a dataset. To change the dataset for a report element, simply click on an element in the elements pane on the left. Then in the properties area the various data properties can be set.

Right now, the data area is showing sample data. Each report element contains a sample dataset of its own. This allows you to get a realistic feeling of how the report will look like. It’s time now to add some real data.

Click on the Add data button on the top right. You will then be prompted for the source, Excel or a Report server. We went to a lot of effort earlier in this article to setup datasets on our report server, so that’s the option to select here. Next, you will be show a list of servers the report knows about. It got these from the options you selected when initially creating the report. If you don’t see a server you need, simply cancel, then use the Server Connections button to add another server. Then return to add data. Assuming your server is listed, just click on it.

The next screen shows you a list of datasets in the last folder you accessed on the report server.

word image 119 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

In this example, Mobile Report Publisher defaults to the last folder that was accessed, in this case Demo, but it has no datasets in it. Just use the up arrow to return to the folder above it until you get to the root folder.

On this server, all the datasets are stored in a folder name Datasets, so once it was clicked on we see a list of all our datasets. All that is needed is to scroll down the list of datasets and pick Yearly Totals.

word image 120 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

The new data now appears as a tab in our report data area.

word image 121 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

You can view the data, but cannot change it. Also notice the icons to the left of the tab names. Simulated datasets have red icons, whereas imported datasets have black ones, providing visual cues as to the source of the data.

Next, repeat the steps above to add the Yearly Totals by State dataset from the report server.

Datasets and Report Elements – Better Together!

The next step is to tie the existing report elements to the new datasets. Start by clicking the Yearly Sales report element on the left. Then in the properties area at the bottom, use the dropdown to change the Series name field to YearlyTotals. The drop down to the right indicates the series to use, in this graph what should each bar in the chart represent. For this example, ensure it is set to Calendar_Year_Label. It should be noted, Mobile Report Publisher doesn’t handle spaces well. In dataset names, it simply strips out any spaces it finds, for field names it replaces spaces with an underscore.

The Main series area are the values that will be plotted. Simply validate it is set to Yearly_Total_Including_Tax.

word image 122 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Next, click on the Sales Details report element on the left. In the data properties area, change the Data for the grid view to YearlyTotalsbyState. To the right is the Data grid columns pane. In here, you can clean up the titles of the columns; these are the labels that will be presented to the user. You may also uncheck a column to prevent it from appearing. Finally, you may also use the ‘hamburger’ icons (the stack of horizontal bars to the left of the check boxes) to rearrange the columns. Simply click and hold on the icon then drag it up and down to rearrange the order.

Take a moment to clean up the titles that will be shown to the end user. For this sample, change it to Year, State, and Total Including Tax, as shown below.

word image 123 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

As the last item for the data grid, click on the options button beside the bottom total column. In the pop up window that appears, change the String format property to Currency.

Finally, we’ll set the map properties. Click on the Yearly Total by State map in the report elements area. Change the Keys to YearlyTotalsbyState so it knows which dataset to use. To the right is a drop down that indicates the key to use for geography. This needs to be the name or abbreviation of a state, country, or some other similar geographic key. As this dataset has the State_Province column, select it in the drop down. The values can be left at the Yearly_State_Total_Including_Tax.

word image 124 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

As a last step before we preview, click in the New Mobile Report title at the top. Change the value to State Sales Totals. Now you can click the Preview button.

word image 125 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

We now have an attractive report but there’s still more to do. Before proceeding though, there’s one thing that should be pointed out regarding the simulated datasets.

Use the arrow to return to the designer. Next click on the Layout button, then click on the Data button to go back. You should see the simulated datasets have vanished. Whenever you return to the data, Mobile Report Publisher checks to see if there are any simulated datasets that are no longer in use, and removes them.

Putting the Mobile in Mobile Report Publisher

We’re finally ready to bring the Mobile to Mobile Report Publisher. Return to the Layout, then click on the white drop down in the upper right.

c users arcan appdata local temp snaghtml10427ab 1 2 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Thus far all the work has been done in the Master layout. This is the layout that will appear when any web browser is used to access this report on the report portal. And Microsoft does mean any. Mobile Report Publisher is HTML5 compliant; your report should render the same whether viewed on Edge in Windows, Firefox on Linux, or Safari on a Mac or iPad.

But what about when you wish to render a special layout when using a mobile device, such as a phone or tablet? For those situations Microsoft has provided the Power BI app. Yes, the same app you can use to view Power BI reports may also be used to view Mobile Report Publisher reports. First though, the layouts for those platforms need to be created. Click on the Tablet option in the menu above.

The layout now updates to (by default) a grid of eight rows by six columns. Begin by placing the Yearly Sales in the upper left, and make it three by three in size. Then place the Yearly Total by State map directly next to it, also three by three. Finally place the Sales Details under them, taking up the remaining space.

word image 126 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Return to the layout menu now, and pick Phone. The layout updates to six rows by four columns. Place the Yearly Sales chart in the upper left, and expand to two rows high by four wide. Next, place the Sales Details underneath, and expand to take up the remaining space.

word image 127 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

At this point some of you may be going “But Robert! What about the map?” It’s not required you use every report element when creating a layout. For this report, on a layout as small as a phone, the map wouldn’t render large enough to provide useful information, so it was omitted from this report. This is a decision though that should always be made in conjunction with your end user, and based on the data being rendered in the report!

Making It Colorful

Using the layout menu return to the Master layout. Then click the colorful rainbow icon to the right, and you will see a variety of themes appear, from which you can colorize your report.

word image 128 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Currently it is not possible to select individual colors for each element, only an overall theme. As this is written the US is in the middle of a wintery cold freeze, so for this example let’s select the Snow theme. Be sure though to look at your selection in all three layouts, Master, Tablet, and Phone, to ensure your data renders visibly with the theme you selected.

Save, Save, Save

Typically, you will want to save your work as you go, but for this article we’ll save our work now. Just click Save, then select the spot to save it to. During development you may wish to save to the file system, then at the end use Save As to save to the server. For our purposes, pick Save to server.

You’ll then be prompted for the report name, this is the name that will be shown on the SSRS report portal. By default, it uses the report title, but you may change it if you wish. It then asks for the server, and finally the location. It is likely you will want to change the location, so use the Browse button to do so. For this example, it will be saved to the root folder of the report portal, to make it easier to find.

word image 129 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

And here it is! On our report portal, you will now see the new State Sales Totals report.

word image 130 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Mobile Report Publisher Everywhere

Below is our report, as displayed in Microsoft Edge, running on the SSRS server.

word image 131 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

But then you’d expect it to render well on Edge. But what about on another platform all together? Perhaps from a MacBook running on your network?

Well that may require one additional step, depending on where you are running SSRS. If you are running this in an enterprise, your network administrator has worked out the connectivity issues ahead of time, and you likely won’t need this section. But what if you are a developer or student, using the developer edition of SQL Server on your Windows 10 PC at home in order to learn?

Well for those folks, there is one additional step. You will have to open Port 80 on your Windows 10 (or 8 or 7) computer which is running SSRS in order for another computer on your home network to be able to access it. It’s not difficult, but there’s quite a few steps involved, so I’ve put complete instructions on my blog at https://arcanecode.com/2018/01/02/opening-port-80-in-windows-firewall-to-support-calling-ssrs-from-another-computer/ .

So, assuming you have your network configured correctly, either by yourself for your network administrator, how about that example of viewing the report from Safari, running on MacBook Pro? Well take a look:

word image 132 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

You’ll note I used the IP address of the computer running SSRS, adding the /reports to the end (i.e. http://192.168.0.113/reports for this example). That’s because this network doesn’t have any type of domain setup, so just using the IP address is the simplest method. (To see the IP address, just open a CMD window on your SSRS computer and type in IPCONFIG and press enter, it will show you the IP address.)

But let’s really push the edge, beyond just a PC. Here’s Safari running on an iPad Pro:

word image 133 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

As you can see, when viewed as a webpage Mobile Reports really show up nicely, and consistently, across a variety of browsers and platforms. But what about mobile?

First, you’ll need to get the Power BI app from the AppStore of your preferred device. When you launch it for the first time, you’ll be asked whether you wish to connect to a Power BI server, or a Report server. For this article we’ll pick Report server.

word image 134 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Next, it prompts you for the name of the server to connect to. In the lab used to create this article there’s no domain controller, so the IP address of the computer running SSRS was used. Don’t forget the /reports on the end! For the Advanced options a friendly name for the server was given.

word image 135 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Finally, you will be asked for your login credentials. Provide them and press sign in.

word image 136 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

If you have connected to a different Power BI or SSRS server previously, all you need to do is press the menu icon in the upper left, click on the gear in the pop out menu, then click connect to server, and it will walk you through the above steps.

Once in you will be shown the report portal. Simply scroll down to find the mobile report that you just created and tap on it. Here is our report as displayed on an iPad:

word image 137 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Setting up on a phone follows the same steps as above, only the report will be formatted for the phone:

word image 138 Mobile Report Publisher – Dashboards Everywhere

Summary

Mobile Report Publisher is a great tool for creating dashboards. It nicely fits the niche between the line item reports native SSRS is great at producing, and the self-service dashboards Power BI is used for. With a pool of datasets ready to go, dashboards can be assembled quickly and easily, to fit a variety of needs.

This article just tapped the most basic of Mobile Report Publisher’s capabilities. Report elements can be linked together so one report element can act as a filter for another. Drill through is supported, so you can open another Mobile Report, a website, or a SSRS paginated report from a Mobile Report. As you saw, there are also many other report elements available to explore.

Even if you don’t plan on running reports on mobile devices such as tablets and phones, Mobile Report Publisher is still an excellent tool for creating dashboards for use across your enterprise.

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Four Reasons Software Suites Enable Device Flexibility And Mobility

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$ 70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image2 Four Reasons Software Suites Enable Device Flexibility And MobilityOther comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image3 1024x572 Four Reasons Software Suites Enable Device Flexibility And Mobility

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image4 Four Reasons Software Suites Enable Device Flexibility And MobilityThe process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image5 Four Reasons Software Suites Enable Device Flexibility And MobilityOrganizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image6 Four Reasons Software Suites Enable Device Flexibility And MobilityLowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

SAP Q417 DigitalDoubles Feature3 Image7 1024x572 Four Reasons Software Suites Enable Device Flexibility And Mobility

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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Free new tutorial: Quickly uploading files with Big Data Manager in Big Data Cloud Service

Sometimes the simplest tasks make life (too) hard. Consider simple things like uploading some new data sets into your Hadoop cluster in the cloud and then getting to work on the thing you really need to do: analyzing that data.

This new free tutorial shows you how to easily and quickly do the grunt work with Big Data Manager in Big Data Cloud Service (learn more here) enabling you to worry about analytics, not moving files.

bdmgr tutorial 2018 Free new tutorial: Quickly uploading files with Big Data Manager in Big Data Cloud Service

The approach taken here is to take a file that resides on your desktop, and drag and drop that into HDFS on Oracle Big Data Cloud Service… as easy as that, and you are now off doing analytics by right clicking and adding the data into a Zeppelin Notebook. Within the notebook, you get to see how Big Data Manager enables you to quickly generate a Hive schema definition from the data set and then start to do some analytics. Mechanics made easy!

You can, and always should look at leveraging Object Storage as you entry point for data, as discussed in this other Big Data Manager How To article: See How Easily You Can Copy Data Between Object Store and HDFS.

For more advanced analytics, have a look at Oracle wide ranging set of cloud services or open source tools like R, and the high performance version of R: Oracle R Advanced Analytics for Hadoop.

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