By Milan Shetti, CEO Rocket Software

In today’s digitalized world, customers value transparency and accessibility above all else. As a result, organizations are taking a proactive approach to provide critical content to end users at the click of a button.

For over 130 years, Hastings Mutual Insurance Company has served and protected its clients throughout the Midwest. The regional insurance agency, with nearly 600 offices and 500 employees, has provided security and peace of mind to customers of all shapes and sizes, from small personal family policies to larger insurance packages that have helped to protect farmers and businesses from the unexpected. With over $1 billion in total assets, the company has grown significantly since its humble beginnings in 1885. Still, Hastings continues to pride itself on its relationships and the care it provides its customers. That is why Hastings Mutual decided to look closely at how it managed and distributed its content to its clients.

Since the early 1980s, the company has used an in-house Policy Administration System (PAS) with what is today Rocket Software’s Mobius Content Services Platform to classify, manage, and grant access along its mainframe to more than 4,000 unique document types. Although current operations were running optimally, Hastings understood that its PAS’s lack of integration with modern technologies would eventually create issues. Hastings management decided on a proactive approach, taking on the challenge of modernizing its existing mainframe operations to an open-source environment to remain competitive in future markets. In its push to modernize, the regional insurance provider also believed updating its client viewing system to provide a more intuitive, user-friendly experience would benefit its customers and employees alike.

The challenges of preserving historical data

While migrating information from the mainframe to open source comes with its own obstacles, Hastings Mutual faced even greater challenges. The company had been developing and storing mission-critical documents and information on its old infrastructure for over three decades — including regulatory, accounting, and workflow documents. Not only would Hastings need to find a way to continue generating these documents throughout the migration process, but it was also essential to maintain the integrity of its historical documents and information during its transfer onto open-source systems. Failure to do so could lead to regulatory sanctions and even legal implications.

With limited resources and a lack of experience with mainframe migration, Hastings realized it needed help to clean up its Logical Partition (LPAR), preserve the integrity of its historical documents, and successfully downsize its mainframe operations — all while maintaining fluid operations.

Finding the right support for mainframe migration

Hastings turned to Rocket Software, whose Professional Services team got to work immediately to assist Hastings’ operational team in the clean-up of its existing LPAR environment. Together, the teams went through each historical document within the LPAR to rename and properly segment it for migration to the correct open-source system. 

Once documents were properly classified and stored within the LPAR ecosystem, Hastings turned its attention to mainframe migration. Hastings was able to modernize its mainframe operations while still utilizing its PAS in conjunction with Mobius Content Services to generate critical documents on its mainframe. After generation, the documents were automatically duplicated and safely transferred to the proper open-source environment. And Hastings was able to begin the migration of its historical documents safely and securely from the mainframe to its open-source systems. 

Improving customer experience

Hastings’ pivot to a more innovative web client has also been essential to the migration’s success and the company’s growing customer satisfaction. Now, end users can access Hastings’ digitized documents with the click of a button — reducing document latency and making high-priority documents available within seconds rather than minutes. And having an intuitive open-source viewing system has empowered Hastings’ end users to find critical information faster and without the hassle of asking for assistance.

The benefits of great partnership

As a result of the project, Hastings Mutual continues to successfully move toward a hybrid open-source infrastructure. The company was able to modernize its operations to produce, store, and distribute documents to its clients faster, more securely, and at a lower cost.

Throughout the migration process, Hastings has not missed a beat. As a regional insurance provider, the ability to continue to provide outstanding service to clients when they need it the most has been pivotal.

As Mainframe experts, Rocket Software helps businesses avoid complications and enhance the management and security of their most critical information. To learn more about our suite of Mobius products, click here.

Digital Transformation

By Milan Shetti, CEO Rocket Software

In today’s fast-paced digital business world, organizations have become highly adaptive and agile to keep up with the ever-evolving demands of consumers and the market. This has pushed many organizations to accelerate their digital transformation efforts in order to remain competitive and better serve their constituents — and there is no sign of slowing down. Statista estimates that global investment in digital transformation is expected to increase significantly between 2022 and 2025, from $1.8 trillion to $2.8 trillion. While a recent Rocket survey on the  state of the mainframe showed that the mainframe — due to its reliability and superior security — is here to stay, many organizations are moving to hybrid infrastructure with a “cloud-first approach” to operations. A key component to the appeal of cloud-first business models is cloud technologies’ ability to simplify processes and streamline workflows through integration and automation.

This is especially true for content management operations looking to navigate the complexities of data compliance while getting the most from their data. According to IBM, every day people create an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeros!). IT professionals tasked with managing, storing, and governing the vast amount of incoming information need help. Content management solutions can simplify data governance and provide the tools needed to simplify data migration and facilitate a cloud-first approach to content management.

Let’s take a closer look at the essential features cloud-first businesses should look for in a content management software.

Enhanced content-rich automation

Data analysts looking to streamline content processes need a content-rich automation software that allows them to easily design and deploy workflows, integrated processes and customize applications. The best modern content solutions leverage low-code/no-code process and presentation services to streamline the construction of business applications and provide a secure and collaborative platform for execution. This gives companies the ability to quickly adapt software and processes and implement innovative methodologies — like DevOps and Continuous Integration Continuous Development (CI/CD) testing — to continually improve operations, bring products and services to market faster, and develop better customer outcomes.

Expanded collaboration support

Digital transformation brings about a lot of change — in technology, processes, communication channels, and so on. To minimize business disruptions and avoid misunderstandings or important information being overlooked, it is critical for teams to maintain healthy communication and collaboration throughout transformation. Nothing can hinder digital team collaboration more than a lack of connectivity. As much as content management teams need to stay connected in order to maintain data integrity and compliance, so too does their content software. Teams need a highly integrative content management technology that can connect them across third-party vendors and popular communication (Slack, Microsoft Teams) and management tools (Microsoft Sharepoint® and 365) to centralize internal communications and shared information.  

Extended cloud governance

The move to cloud-first operations brings both positives and negatives for content management teams. Implementing a cloud data management operation provides teams with unparalleled data availability, mobility, and visibility. However, cloud applications are less secure than mainframe environments and increase vulnerabilities to data breaches. To combat these cloud-based challenges, businesses must look for content management solutions that support immutable cloud storage technologies, like AWS Object Lock, which allows users to store data using a write-once-read-many (WORM) model that mitigates tampering by disabling the ability to edit content once it is stored.

Modernized infrastructure deployment

Manual data migration can be a heavy lift for content management teams. Each piece of valuable information must be manually pulled, copied, reformatted, and moved to the new cloud system. While these tasks are not difficult, they are tedious and vulnerable to mistakes that can delay operations or jeopardize valuable information. Also, these tasks pull employees away from more important content governance tasks, which can leave an organization vulnerable to missed opportunities and regulatory infractions. Organizations need content management tools to facilitate migration efforts, streamline processes, and mitigate business disruptions. Teams need software that can automate the tedious manual processes involved in deploying, managing, and scaling containerized applications while maintaining the integrity and security of essential documents throughout cloud migration. By eliminating the potential for human error employees will be free to focus on more business-critical content management tasks.

Organizations looking to optimize their content management operations throughout data migration must leverage content management technology. Tools like Rocket Software’s Mobius Content Services Suite of technologies deliver the agility and adaptability needed to make the most of your content while maintaining compliance. Mobius Content Services provides content-rich automation, modernization deployment and connectivity to streamline processes, facilitate collaboration, and support a business’s transition to a cloud-first approach.

To learn more about Rocket Software’s Mobius Content Services Suite, click here.

Digital Transformation

“The barriers confronting organizations in South Africa that want to achieve carbon neutral status by 2030 are significant. Among them is the simple reality that most of the nation’s power production originates from coal-fired plants located in the northeastern part of the country while the greatest potential impact for sustainable approaches like solar and wind lie in the south. We can’t immediately upend the entire power grid structure, but together with a willing and enthusiastic government and strong partners like VMware, we can make a difference. We now have a framework in place to support Africa’s nascent efforts to achieve zero carbon emissions and support providers intent to achieve and apply the tenets of VMware Zero Carbon Committed program to their operations.” 

Bryce Allan, head of sustainability at Teraco Data Environments

Sumeeth Singh, head of VMware’s Cloud Provider Business in sub-Saharan Africa, was not surprised when the region’s leading cloud solutions and services companies enthusiastically embraced the VMware Cloud Verified initiative. With an established track record of success and extensive experience with the full VMware stack, many were ideally prepared to complete the rigorous process to apply for and receive the distinction.

The VMware Zero Carbon Committed initiative was, however, a different story. Singh knew that among providers the intent and desire to decrease their carbon footprints was strong. But the requirements, difficult in areas with an already mature sustainable energy infrastructure in place, were overwhelming in sub-Saharan Africa.

Specifically, partners would be required to commit that their data centers achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030, an effort that would require the use of 100% renewable energy. For partners in Europe where significant renewable energy sources exist in conjunction with a mature regulatory system of carbon offsets and credits, the process is still difficult.

“Like their counterparts in Europe, South African companies are increasingly mindful of resource constraints and the impact of fossil fuels on climate change,” said Singh. “They are also becoming more and more aware that their data center operations are a very large contributor to their overall carbon footprint. They also know that electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is primarily sourced from coal-fired plants. They want to do the right thing and minimize their emissions, but they are also seeing a dramatic increase in demand for hybrid and multi-cloud solutions and services – a reality that means they need more power, not less.”

Singh notes that for most partners, the resulting reality is that it would simply be unrealistic to pledge to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030 because there are not enough renewable sources of energy in place to make it feasible. When no partners signed up for the VMware Zero Carbon Committed initiative, it was both a disappointment and a validation.

“Partners here didn’t sign up for this initiative not because they didn’t want to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030, but because they didn’t think it was a realistic goal,” he says. More to the point, they didn’t view VMware Zero Carbon Committed as a marketing effort, but rather as a genuine commitment that should only be made if they believed they could achieve what they signed up for.”

Singh had a choice. He could either accept that the requirements for VMware Zero Carbon Committed were too challenging for the region, or he could find an alternative.

“We don’t have the luxury to postpone taking action when it comes to climate change,” he adds. “We have to do something now. In our case, we could either wait to ramp up the Zero Carbon Committed initiative until South Africa’s sustainability efforts are more mature – in other words do nothing now – or we could modify the requirements to find a more manageable solution.”

That solution came in the form of Teraco, South Africa’s largest and most interconnected data center platform. With four ultra high-performance data centers in South Africa – including facilities in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg – the company forms the core of the nation’s internet backbone, and serves as the interconnection for both local and global cloud services. Providing the connectivity for the Africa Cloud Exchange, Teraco’s carrier and cloud neutral platform is also Africa’s largest hub for AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

In addition, it serves as the direct access point for more than 300 network providers, including telecommunications, terrestrial fiber, satellite connectivity, and submarine cable carriers; as well as more than 130 IT service providers, leading enterprises and financial services companies, and innumerable Internet eXchange points. Recently acquired by Digital Reality – the world’s largest provider of cloud and carrier neutral data center, colocation, and interconnection solutions – the company’s role connecting Africa to the world’s IT infrastructure will only increase.

Teraco is also the co-location provider of choice for most VMware Cloud Verified partners. But perhaps most importantly for those organizations that want to embrace VMware Zero Carbon committed, it is also no stranger to efforts to reduce carbon emissions. In fact, it was already in the midst of Africa’s most ambitious effort to produce 100% sustainable power.

Singh saw an opportunity. If VMware Cloud Verified partners could engage Teraco for data center services that use the company’s renewable energy, they could offset their own power usage and realistically commit to significantly decrease their own carbon footprint.

It was an effort Bryce Allan, head of sustainability at Teraco Data Environments, immediately embraced.

“At Teraco we are aggressively pushing to increase our use of renewable energy sources,” he says. One of our two newest and most significant solar projects is already under construction and we’ve set aside nearly $250 million over the next five years for the development of renewable energy sources and facilities. We also entered into a development service agreement with an experienced renewable energy developer and are already working with them to build two 100 megawatt solar facilities in Cape Town.” 

Allan expects the first of those to go online early in 2023 and to produce 500 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Notably, this is in addition to the company’s extensive solar projects at its data centers, with the facility in Johannesburg already including a high-output solar system that is the first of its kind on the continent. Similar systems are being constructed for each of the company’s data centers, with those expected to be operational by the end of this year.

“We’re really excited to start building big solar plants that make a real impact on the region’s use of fossil fuels,” says Allan. “The fact that we can simultaneously provide motivated VMware Cloud Verified partners with the access to the power they need to make zero carbon emissions a realistic goal is another great benefit.”

Notably, Teraco committed to achieving the use of 50% renewable energy sources by 2027 and 100% renewable energy sources by 2035. Given the difficulty of achieving both goals in Africa, the decision was made to allow VMware Cloud Verified Partners who want to achieve the VMware Zero Carbon Committed distinction to pursue it in conjunction with Teraco and those metrics.

“We are years behind our partners in other areas of the world in our efforts to lower emissions,” adds Singh. “But if we can work together to achieve the use of 50% renewable sources of energy in five years, we will have accomplished something truly significant while simultaneously enabling Africa’s cloud solutions and services providers to pursue contracts that reward and encourage additional efforts to decrease emissions. That is a win for all involved.”

Within days of the partnership with Teraco being announced, five companies in South Africa joined the VMware Zero Carbon Committed initiative.

The inaugural partners in Africa’s VMware Zero Carbon Committed initiative

The first five VMware Cloud Verified partners to embrace the tenets of the VMware Zero Carbon Committed initiative – and to make the transition to renewable sources of energy a key focus with the goal of using only renewable sources of energy by 2035 –  include Network Platforms, Routed, Saicom, Silicon Sky, and Strategix. We recently asked senior leaders at each company to share why they believe it’s crucial to radically decrease carbon emissions.

Network Platforms – Servicing businesses since 2003, Network Platforms provides a host of solutions to create effective ICT business environments. Its services are tailored to help businesses grow through increased productivity, profitability, and peace of mind. Its range of world-class, innovative products and services enables businesses to connect, communicate, and collaborate.

“It is imperative for all companies in Africa to look at the big picture and how we can collectively transition to renewable sources of energy. By transitioning to the cloud and software-defined data centers enterprises are taking a positive step for the environment. If we can run the hardware required for those endeavors with renewable sources of energy, we can collectively make a huge difference.”

– Bradley Love, founder and CEO of Network Platforms.

Routed – Routed is an experienced South African specialist VMware Cloud Operator offering scalable – full or hybrid cloud – vendor neutral hosting solutions. As a VMware Principal Partner, Routed proudly boast many “firsts”: first VMware Cloud Verified provider in Africa; first Validated VMware DRaaS provider in Africa; and now also a VMware Zero Carbon Committed partner, backed by the highest levels of sales, service, and support for its partners and customers.

“Routed empowers its partners and its customers to prosper and grow, grounded by solid and secure cloud infrastructure foundations. In much the same way, the baobob tree, our company symbol, provides for people in Africa’s savannah regions – serving as the tree of life and giving them the materials they need for shelter, clothing, food, and water – all while providing the roots that serve as a strong foundation. We like to think of ourselves as the baobob of cloud infrastructure providers. That means we must safeguard our environment here in Africa and that starts with a commitment to decrease emissions.”

– Andrew Cruise, managing director of Routed

Saicom – Saicom is a leading service provider in the local market delivering a host of solutions designed to help organizations move to the cloud, improve their collaboration and deliver an unsurpassed customer experience. Saicom understands that what businesses need most, as they navigate the move to the cloud, is choice, support, and flexible solution architecture.

“The environment in Africa is one of the world’s richest and most beautiful. We must take action to ensure that we can pass it on to future generations. Climate change is a horrific danger, but it’s also a wakeup call that we cannot continue to build our businesses and our lives around sources of energy that are finite and that once used cannot be replaced. As an ICT leader, we have an opportunity to help our customers do more with less impact on the environment by embracing a software-defined approach that simultaneously delivers unprecedented computing power and potential.”

– Kyle Woolf, CEO of Saicom

Silicon Sky – Silicon Sky is a specialist IT infrastructure service provider. Silicon Sky specializes in Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Silicon Sky has a vast IaaS portfolio including compute, network, storage, security, backup, recovery and disaster recovery. Silicon Sky has enterprise grade managed cloud platforms co-located in multiple carrier natural data centers in South Africa and the USA.

“ICT has transformed how companies do business and so many aspects of how we live our lives. As a cloud services and solutions leaders, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to demonstrate in our words and more importantly in our actions, how technology can combat climate change and make a difference. VMware Zero Carbon Committed presents us with an exceptional opportunity to do just that.”

– Brenton Halsted, CEO of Silicon Sky

Strategix – Strategix Cloud Services provides flexible, scalable, secure, simplified costings easy to scale. Strategix is the only certified cloud provider as well as VMware PSO certified (Professional Services Organization), thereby offering assurances to assist customers in their digital evolution including, application modernization and digital workspace in public, private, or hybrid Clouds.

“We strive to always make an impact in a positive manner in our work with customers and our interactions with each other. That same philosophy applies to imperatives like sustainability and efforts to address climate change. Action and positive impact begin with making a commitment. For Strategix, that begins with pursuing the VMware Zero Carbon Committed distinction.”

– Jaco Stoltz, CEO of Strategix

For more information on VMware’s partnership with Teraco, view VMware’s “Feature Friday” video podcast here.                                                                                                                                                               

Green IT, IT Leadership, VMware

The shift to e-learning has changed education for good. Students and educators now expect anytime, anywhere access to their learning environments and are increasingly demanding access to modern, cloud-based technologies that enable them to work flexibly, cut down their workloads, and reach their full academic potential.

This means that institutions need to take a holistic approach to education technology (EdTech), including platforms used for teaching and learning, to not only meet these demands but to address ever-present challenges such as student success, retention, accessibility, and educational integrity.

However, for many embarking on this digital transformation journey and looking to more fully embrace EdTech, it can be daunting. Not only are IT leaders often faced with issues related to cost, infrastructure and security, but some solutions can make it challenging for schools to deliver inclusive, consistent educational experiences to all of their students. 

For example, some solutions may require an upheaval of existing tools and infrastructure, placing a strain on already-busy IT teams. Technology leaders are also looking to ensure the security of their schools’ digital ecosystem and that educators and students receive sufficient training in order to use these tools in the classroom.

Other EdTech solutions offer a one-size-fits-all approach to education, making it difficult for some students to keep up with online learning and for educators to adapt to pupils’ different needs. Similarly, while some solutions enable teachers and students to work and learn remotely, they struggle to adapt to hybrid teaching models.

Anthology’s learning management system (LMS), Blackboard Learn, takes a different approach. Designed to make the lives of educators and learners easier, Blackboard Learn creates experiences that are informed and personalised to support learning, teaching, and leading more effectively.

With students and teachers alike demanding more flexibility, Blackboard Learn can be used to replace or to supplement traditional face-to-face classes, enabling institutions to recognise the full benefits of a hybrid environment while ensuring nobody is left behind. For example, by providing personalised learning experiences, students are empowered to learn on-the-go and in ways that best meet their individual needs, ensuring educators can deliver inclusive, consistent experiences for learners of all abilities.

It also allows students to gain independence and become more autonomous. By providing real-time, data-driven insights, learners can keep track of their own progress, identify next steps, and get the support they need when they need it. These insights also enable educators to identify disengaged or struggling learners sooner to help promote more positive outcomes for students, while Blackboard’s customisable feedback ensures all students are on track for assessment success.

Anthology’s LMS can make life easier for IT leaders, too. The SaaS application code was built with security and privacy in mind and is LMS agnostic, ensuring seamless integration into the learning management system and existing workflows. What’s more, by using Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud, institutions benefit from continuous deliverability of smaller updates – which require zero downtime.

This also means that Anthology has the agility to develop capabilities and features quickly, such as its built-in accessibility and plagiarism tools. Because these features are out-of-the-box, institutions can save money while benefitting from a streamlined, scalable EdTech stack that can continue to evolve as they do.

With Blackboard Learn by Anthology, educators can rest assured they have the foundation of an EdTech ecosystem that equips all students and teachers with the flexibility to create more personalised learning experiences that support student success, while improving efficiency and setting their institution up for what’s to come in higher education.

For more insights into understanding student expectations, click here to read Anthology’s whitepaper.

Artificial Intelligence, Education and Training Software

Like many insights-driven organizations, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) leverages data analytics and technologies such as AI and machine learning (ML) to increase the efficiency and performance of its operations and to improve the quality of systems and processes.

While AI and ML algorithms are critical to the agency’s endeavors, the government agency’s guiding principle is to take a human-first approach in developing and using these technologies to refine and scale its initiatives. AI and ML tools help empower the work of human experts and augment their ingenuity in the work they do, but at this point they can’t match the subtle nuances or reasoning capabilities of the human mind, notes USPTO CIO Jamie Holcombe.

To supplement the technology, the agency relies on input from thousands of experienced workers, captured passively and actively, to train and refine AI-driven models to ensure the technology delivers expected outcomes. The agency has awarded over 11 million patents since its founding and employs more than 12,000 people, including engineers, attorneys, analysts, and computer specialists. A continuous flow of feedback from its patent examiners on the front lines is also used to improve AI/ML models to fuel the development of new products and support activities in two key areas: patent search and classification.

Doing a comprehensive patent search can be challenging given the explosion in the volume of data and possible sources of “prior art,” notes Holcombe. To meet the challenge, technology teams are rolling out an AI component in a new patent search tool to help examiners find the most relevant sources they need as they scrutinize applications. This is important because each one of the more than 600,000 applications received yearly by the USPTO on average contains approximately 20 pages of text and figures, or roughly 10,000 words describing the claimed innovations. The agency’s IT organization also developed and deployed a classification tool that identifies and matches the classification symbols associated with an invention from over 250,000 possible categories.

In both cases, the models were developed and are continually enhanced by input from human experts who provide a human touch to determine whether something is truly new or novel, and then apply law, facts, and expertise to reach a decision.

Exploring human channels in the information stream

Having a constant flow of feedback from examiner experts and others may be an asset, but it is not the only route the USPTO is taking to identify new channels for innovation and global expertise to help solve important challenges and scale AI. Earlier this year, the agency turned to the AI research community and Google Kaggle, a preeminent technical and social platform used by data scientists and others to exchange thoughts and ideas. It launched a worldwide global coding competition in March, offering $25K in prize money and calling upon AI researchers and data scientists to write code for evaluating the semantic similarity of phrases.

The competition attracted more than 42,900 entries before closing on June 30 and involved 1,800-plus global teams working together and leveraging publicly available patent data sources. The goal of the competition was to move the needle on understanding patent language with AI for the agency and for the patent community, explains Holcombe. “The result will not only be better phrase algorithms for patent search, but the winning models will become part of the public domain,” he says.

The USPTO also made use of other public information resources such as Golden, a free ‘Wiki-style’ AI/ML-driven platform launched in 2019 that scours the Web to match topics with relevant and available data, pulling it together into a stream of information. An AI algorithm, working behind the scenes, continues to add related data whenever it becomes available. Anyone can seek information on companies, their patents, and funding sources such as venture capital.

The A, B, C’s of an AI/human alliance

While volumes are written about technology convergence, taking a ‘human-centric’ approach to AI and ML development can be challenging given the diverse and complex distinctions of human nature. To keep efforts on track, the USPTO, under Holcombe’s direction, developed a guide for progressing from pilots to prototypes to production. The alphabetical basics of that guide are the following:

A is for alignment: There must be a strong nexus between the business and IT staff, says the USPTO’s IT chief. “The best cross-functional teams are composed of technical staff working side by side with business representatives, all within an agile environment that promoted planning, doing, checking, and adjusting.” Agile, and/or “DevSecOps” practices rely on swift moves, transparency, and a product mindset. To maximize progress, leaders engage early and often with their teams and stakeholders.

B is for business value: Start with a business case that has obvious value for a core, strategic operation. Such a use case should address a challenge where AI and ML can logically help. “As a 100% fee-funded agency, our teams approach technical challenges though a rigorous business and ROI lens,” Holcombe points out.

C is for customers (and employees): AI/ML solutions are designed to augment examiners and other subject matter experts, rather than to replace them. So, emerging tech teams test and adjust concepts with internal customers before, during, and after any launch. Examiners who use the products help drive AI innovation, with some of them “on detail” and working side-by-side in the Office of the CIO to provide critical input. “Because we weave our customers into the process early, we get powerful feedback which helps drive adoption,” Holcombe notes. “Also, customers keep us honest in deploying AI that is accountable to agency experts and the public we serve.”

Artificial Intelligence, Government IT, Machine Learning

Even the international pandemic couldn’t slow the world’s fascination with electric vehicles (EVs).

In 2020, a Consumer Reports study found that 31% of drivers were considering an EV as their next auto purchase. When it came to millennials, an astounding 78% expressed interest.

Looking into the future, Ernst & Young predicted that, by 2036, more than half of all new cars sold in the United States would be zero-emission battery EVs.

Through it all, the ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corporation was listening and planning. 

With the environmentally conscious consumer in mind, the Vancouver-based designer and manufacturer had been developing a three-wheeled, single-passenger EV called the SOLO since 2015. As interest built, the company went on an aggressive growth trajectory, extending manufacturing operations in China, breaking ground for an American plant, increasing its trade show, test drive and pop-up presence, and launching a service repair network.

But there were going to be complications, and ElectraMeccanica knew it.

The enterprise architecture needed to identify and analyze the elements needed for execution were not yet integrated. Business processes had to be standardized.

There was no sales or delivery system yet. Potential drivers were required to call customer service for a test drive or reservation, rather than scheduling those services online. Make-to-order processes were manual.

But unlike other companies that had been forced to convert operations from the time-worn, inefficient processes of the past, ElectraMeccanica was brand new, and grasped the urgent need for supporting technology to accommodate its rapid growth ambitions.

As a result, ElectraMeccanica opted to be “digital from the start” – before the first EV rolled off the assembly line in 2021.

Cruise control

As its name implies, the company’s flagship vehicle, the SOLO was engineered for a single occupant. The electric sports car was designed specifically for living in the city, where drivers tend to just pick up a few groceries at a time and navigate their vehicles into small spaces.

Still, the guiding force behind the SOLO’s development was sustainability. Although it was safe to drive on the highway, with a top speed of 80 mph and a range of 100 miles, the primary appeal was that the SOLO would emit zero emissions.

The year 2021 would prove to be the most transformative one in the company’s short existence. But first, it had to create a solid, digital foundation for its operations, including finance, sale, distribution, service, and supply chain.

Digital roadmap

With the assistance of PwC Canada, a member of the global professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), ElectraMeccanica was able to develop its digital-first strategy and roadmap.

The technology that would shepherd the company through this crucial period came from a suite of products from SAP, including SAP S/4HANA as ElectraMeccanica’s core enterprise resource planning system.

With this base, the company was positioned to create user-friendly, real-time business-to-consumer processes, along with an effective finance system, reliable supply chain, and integrated vehicle tracking.

The digital framework ensured that repetitive work tasks were eliminated – and the company now had a strong foundation to launch future projects.

Rolling down the highway

Confident that all contingencies were covered, ElectraMeccanica began serial production of the SOLO and the first-ever commercial deliveries. By the fourth quarter of 2021, 61 customers were driving their EVs.

Reservations and test drives were easily scheduled via ElectraMeccanica’s homepage, while order management was automated.

The company not only produced a world-class digital customer experience in record time but exceeded its own expectations.

For its “digital from the start” approach toward shaping the future of transportation, ElectraMeccanica was honored as a finalist at the 2022 SAP Innovation Awards, a yearly event that highlights organizations using SAP products to change both business and society. You can check out ElectraMeccanica’s Innovation Awards pitch deck here.

Before the end of 2022, the company plans to release a fleet of cargo EVs, each with enough room to run an effective delivery operation.

Looking beyond what’s being developed, CEO Kevin Pavlov noted that the comprehensive system it created to handle its launch will enable ElectraMeccanica to “future-proof our business and empower more informed operational decisions” as the history of EVs continues to be written.

View ElectraMeccanica’s Innovation Awards pitch deck here.

Digital Transformation

Companies typically face three big problems in managing their skills base: Normal learning approaches require too much time to scale up relevant knowledge. Hiring for new skills is expensive and also too slow. And skills from new hires are rarely properly shared.

Businesses of all types have fought to solve these problems. Some conduct ever more advanced offsite or onsite seminars and training – but these are costly, take time, and don’t adapt fast enough to incoming needs of the business and teams. Online training is often perceived as a hassle and participants can become disengaged. Other companies try to jump-start knowledge by bringing in consultants, but this risks only temporarily plugging the gaps.

The reality is that most of these efforts involve throwing money at only the immediate problem. Few budgets can meet the continuous need for up-to-the-minute learning and training, particularly in fast-evolving tech areas such as programming languages, software development, containerization, and cloud computing.

A fresh approach is needed

A handful of companies have found a solution. They’re adding community-driven learning to their existing training approaches. They recognize the wealth of knowledge held by individuals in their teams, and create an agile, natural process to share this knowledge via hands-on workshops. This is a logical progression from existing efforts to connect staff for social bonding and business collaboration.

In practice, what these companies do is create an open, well-managed community of trainers and trainees from within their staff base. Trainees (any employee) feed into a wish list of the specific skills and areas that they want to learn. Trainers (who are staff members with regular, non-training roles) offer lessons on skills or knowledge that they excel in. It is a system open to everyone, with managers, who understand the incoming strategic requirements of the business, helping to prioritize topics and identify potential trainers.

To succeed in this approach, businesses need good leadership and appropriate time allocation. It starts with Chief Technology or Chief Information Officers, who must endorse the importance that the company places on tech innovation, by actively facilitating employees to spend 10 to 20% of their time learning or training others. Once a learning initiative has begun and is nurtured and adapted, it often grows quickly as staff see others taking part.

The results we’re seeing from community learning at GfK

There have been some powerful results for companies running community-driven learning. At GfK, we provide consumer, market, and brand intelligence, with powerful predictive analytics. Since we began our own community-driven learning initiatives three years ago, we’ve witnessed compelling improvements. Our teams can initiate targeted, in-house training whenever necessary, with zero red tape. This has delivered a significant growth in innovation. We’re attracting and retaining top talent, and there are marked improvements in our speed of adaptability.

For example: We swapped initial hackathons for two-day learning events, run five times a year, called “we.innovate”. Our tech teams have full access to these staff-delivered interactive lessons and workshops. The skills covered are shaped by a combination of staff requests and the specific strategic needs of the business. Among the 40 or so topics on the list, we’ve already covered Kubernetes, basic and advanced usage of Git software to track code changes, domain-driven design approaches to software development, cloud computing, cyber security, test-driven development, and much else besides.

Hundreds of our staff have participated in our community learning, and we constantly encourage people to step up as trainers to keep things fresh and relevant. We measure progress by monitoring engagement levels and what the average level of expertise is per individual.

As we have experienced, this is a self-accelerating process. The scale of participation grows fast, meaning the results quickly become transformative at company level. Innovation is the currency of the future, and we are growing ours by drawing out our employees’ substantial individual expertise and distributing it as widely as possible.

To find out more about our innovation, visit gfk.com/careers

IT Leadership

Enterprise search projects start with intentions to provide ?Google for our organization’ but too often fail to deliver on that promise. In our experience, these projects fail due to a lack of sustained effort and governance. The commercialization of next-generation search technologies allows you to fulfill this promise if you take a systematic approach to implementation.