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Digital Enterprise: Building Innovative Next-Gen and IoT Technologies

By February 17, 2014Article

When I present at Sand Hill and other industry events, I have been known to ask CIOs, CTOs and other customer technology executives in the audience to stand up and be recognized. I have long believed our industry credits and rewards vendors and VCs much more than corporate technologists. In my own small way, my books tend to compensate and be heavy on case studies about them. 

Karl-Heinz Streibich, CEO of Software AG, approached me about helping with his book, “The Digital Enterprise.” I was initially a bit hesitant, as I thought it would be mostly marketing around his products like Adabas and webMethods. But he asked me to interview his customers about their innovations. Three decades after Tom Peters wrote his classic, Karl-Heinz felt it was time to write a book like “In Search of Excellence,” this time for our increasingly digital world.   

I am so glad he invited me to interview several customers and thought leaders. Here are just a few anecdotes of innovations that car makers, CPG companies, museums, casinos, insurance companies and others from Spain to Singapore told me about. 

Next-gen ERP and SCM 

Dr. Henning Kagermann, a name many readers will recognize as former CEO of SAP, is now president of acatech — the German National Academy of Science and Engineering. He described “Industrie 4.0” or the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a concept that is energizing German manufacturing companies and their supply chains. 

Industrie 4.0 broadly includes concepts such as mass customization. Product packaging with semantic memories guide the shop floor track. They advise shippers of the need to vary temperatures during transit. They advise consumers about product contents and talk to their mobile wellness apps. Other components in Industrie 4.0 include augmented reality training, humanoid robots and sustainability concepts, which are reshaping the factory and 3PLs. 

Next-gen CRM 

Coca-Cola Enterprises described how salespeople with a mobile app take photos of the cooler, shelves and backroom in the stores they service. Proprietary algorithms and crowd-sourced resources provide feedback to the salespeople within minutes on how best to reconfigure the store displays. The photo-recognition technology also estimates how much inventory is stored in the backroom to feed the ERP replenishment process. 

Not only is the salesperson now far more productive, but other CPG companies have approached CCE about adapting the tech for their toothpaste and shampoo salespeople. Echo Entertainment described how their casinos in Australia are exploring digital technologies like RFID and facial recognition to provide better customer service. 

TUI Infotec described scenarios where, instead of penalizing travel customers for changing plans, they are communicating with them and incenting them to extend stays or add a side trip while they are on the road. 

Next-gen PLM 

Digital Ent coverGE, Nissan, Siemens and others described “smarter” wind turbines, electric cars and MRI scanners that leverage software, sensors and satellites. In his foreword to the book, Marc Benioff, CEO of, described smart Toyota cars that tweet and smart Philips toothbrushes and LED bulbs that are connected. You could argue embedding technology in physical products has been done for a while, but technology being developed to improve services is even more exciting. 

Mapfre, the Spanish auto insurer, described how telematics-driven data showed them the nature of the commute more than the age of the driver influenced risk. That led them to launch the YCAR initiative aimed at the Gen Y demographic, which has traditionally been treated warily by the industry. 

The Stadel in Frankfurt described how it is providing a digital experience for patrons and how its audience and funding sources have become global as a result. 

Next-gen MNC 

Even as the world gets smaller and flatter, globalization poses huge risks. Statoil has an elaborate management system the company uses to manage safety and promote operational excellence across its massive exploration assets in the oil and gas industry. Optimized for its North Sea operations, the system is evolving to support the fact that 70 percent of its production is expected in 2020 to come from vastly different sources such as shale fields in North America and CO2-injected gas fields in Algeria.  

Standard Chartered Bank described banking apps for an ultra-mobile clientele that expects consistent experience no matter where they travel around the globe. That means adapting for bandwidth, regulatory and security constraints in emerging economies like India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nigeria where the app has been rolled out. 

Talk to most technology vendors these days and the excitement is about Gartner’s “nexus of forces” — social, mobile, analytics and clouds. The companies I interviewed were additionally talking about machine-to-machine networks, complex event processing, wearable technologies, advanced digital security and much more. In many cases they are custom developing the technologies and certainly integrating technologies from multiple boutique vendors. 

As with vendors, these corporate technologists are planning multiple releases of technologies in their cars and appliances, experimenting with new business models such as as-a-service and freemium and reacting to competitors from left field. In that sense they are just like Silicon Valley companies — except that we generally wait for the Valley to focus on something before we get excited. 

As a Daimler executive pointed out as we were discussing the buzz around the Google Autonomous Car: “You know we have offered assistive cruise control in Mercedes cars since the late 1990s.” 

So as I do in my presentations, I request you to join me in applauding corporate technology. Do so by downloading the book, The Digital Enterprise. It’s only $3.99 in the Amazon Kindle store (EU 3.99 on Amazon European sites), and Karl Heinz is donating the net proceeds to charities. That is a feel-good proposition all the way! 

Vinnie Mirchandani is president of Deal Architect Inc., a technology advisory firm that helps clients take advantage of disruptive trends before they go mainstream. Besides his books on technology-enabled innovation, he is a former Gartner analyst, writes two technology blogs and consults with companies on technology strategy. Email him at


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