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SAP Hybris paints the future of commerce

Technological advancements and swathes of data have made machine learning and mass personalisation of products possible, but companies are still sailing on the edge

When SAP Hybris’ co-founder and president Carsten Thoma was planning for his new house in Brooklyn about two years ago, he turned to Pinterest for design inspiration rather than hire an interior designer.

“Together with my fiancée and two friends who shared the house with us, we created Pinterest boards for each room. Over the next few days, we got recommendations on what to populate in those rooms,” he said. “It took us two weeks to plan and design the whole house.”

Speaking at the SAP Hybris Global Summit in Barcelona, Thoma said such positive experiences are changing the way consumers and businesses alike interact with brands, and called for organisations to step up efforts to meet the needs of a new generation of customers.

“The most disruptive time has yet to come,” he said, noting that trends such as mass personalisation of products and services, subscription-based consumption and artificial intelligence (AI) that harnesses consumer insights from data, will become so disruptive that companies are literally just sailing on the edge.

“And it will only get amplified as more data is being generated and used,” he said.

Elaborating on the impact of mass personalisation, Thoma said recent services that enable consumers to personalise their shoes, for example, has meant that products and the experiences they offer are inseparable. “The product has become the experience, and the experience is the product,” he said.

This experience also extends to the sharing economy spearheaded by the likes of ride-hailing giant Uber, which has led to steep declines in applications for new driving licenses, even in countries with strong motoring cultures such as Germany. “People are sharing, and that has a dramatic impact on your product and how you offer it,” said Thoma.

Meeting changing customer needs

Much of these changes have been driven by the advent of technologies such as microservices that will enable companies to build and evolve their applications quickly to meet changing customer needs, said Thoma. 

Additionally, AI and machine learning will help companies better predict changes in customer demand, improve customer service and make better product recommendations.

Although there has been much hype in AI and machine learning, Thoma said the technology is still in its early days.

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“AI is going to be brutally important for you, but it doesn’t exist yet. So, we still have some time to prepare, and we can be a partner for you in that journey,” he said, adding that the wide reach of SAP’s software will enable the company to access data necessary to “leverage machine learning better than anyone else”.

Alexander Rinke, CEO of Celonis, a process mining software supplier and SAP partner, also took to the stage to explain how his firm’s software can harness machine learning to make sense of customer service lapses, which he attributed largely to back office issues.

For example, a late delivery by an online merchant may be caused by the tardiness in generating sales orders or out-of-stock situations, affecting a customer’s rebuy rate, or the propensity to buy something from that merchant in future.

The merchant can then take remedial actions by replacing its suppliers or offering targeted promotions to improve rebuy rates, he said.

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