The recent Saphila 2019 conference, the African SAP User Group’s (AFSUG) biennial conference for SAP users, closed with a presentation from a keynote speaker who spends much of his time in the future. And this is fitting, because the job title of Tom Raftery is ‘Global VP, Futurist, and Innovation Evangelist for SAP’.

Ten years ago, job titles like futurist and innovation evangelist did not exist. But these designations suit Raftery, whose key missions in life include introducing ordinary people to concepts outlining how their lives – work, home, economic and entertainment – are likely to be disrupted in the future.

In this vein, he discusses ways in which industries such as healthcare, energy, transport, manufacturing, farming and energy will be changed and supply chains will be transformed, and outlines ways in which the changes are already here, on our doorsteps, just waiting to be adopted.

This year’s Saphila, which took place at Sun City on 10 and 11 June 2019, focused on the ‘Intelligent Enterprise’, providing insight into the shift beyond digital into an era where tech is built into every single interaction. And Raftery knows his tech inside and out, in ways that sound futuristic when initially presented, but rapidly take on an inescapable logic as he explains domino effects as one change influences or causes another.

For example, he is at pains to point out his belief that disruptive changes brought by technology will ultimately result in more, new and different jobs for people, rather than taking jobs away overall. He references back to the Spinning Jenny, a machine for spinning with more than one spindle at a time, which was invented by James Hargreaves in 1764 and was one of the key developments in the industrialisation of weaving during the early first industrial revolution.

Initially, local workers in the spinning and weaving industries feared that the Spinning Jenny models would put them out of work, but in fact, points out Raftery, the increased supply led to different demands, and the creation or enhancements of a number of different industries around the spinning and weaving arena, including the development of supply chains and the overall explosion of the first industrial revolution. He notes, “With the shifting of required labour, new jobs are being created by technology all the time.”

Raftery has great insight into many different examples, across multiple verticals, around ways in which industries are being disrupted today by technology. To name but few from his jam-packed peek into the future, these include:

On healthcare: “The healthcare of today revolves going to the doctor, making an appointment and ultimately being diagnosed using data that can be out of context, for example when we’re sitting in a doctor’s room, our blood pressure could be up somewhat because of the mental stress of wondering what’s going on at work. Going forward, data will be gathered automatically and round the clock, resulting in data that is far richer and better, and will lead to better diagnoses. The world of health is improving thanks to digitalisation.”

On manufacturing: “Mass customisation is already a possibility. Fiat has produced a completely customisable, fully electric car, in which every part is personally chosen. The batteries come in modules of range, and if you want to, you can even rent another battery for the weekend with a bigger range, put it into your vehicle and use it, and then swap it back out again for your own when the weekend is over.”

A smart city initiative: “Los Angeles is blazing the trail for connected street lighting using the product-as-a-service model, in which the LED street lights are owned by Phillips. This is a wonderful example of having the customer’s wants and needs aligned. The city wants the lights working all the time, and the smart system that Phillips runs allows for constant maintenance, including predictive maintenance, which allows Phillips to do the best job possible and in turn bill the client at a higher percentage of always-on lights.”

Renewable energy: “We are seeing a huge disruption in energy also. In the solar space, the cost curve is going down and down, thanks to the Swanson effect[1], in what is a beautiful virtuous circle, and the price of solar energy is now below the price of natural gas. Wind prices are also dropping – they’ve dropped 50 percent since 2012 – and the capacity factor for wind is now higher than that of coal[2]. Battery energy density is also improving – batteries are holding more power and becoming 20 percent cheaper every year. The combination of renewable energy options plus the batteries that are needed for storage is now working out cheaper than coal and gas.”

Electric cars: “The range of electric cars is changing, and so is the speed of the car’s battery charging. Companies will soon be giving lifetime guarantees on batteries. By 2022, we expect to reach a cross-over point when it will be cheaper to buy an electric vehicle compared to an equivalent combustion engine vehicle. BP and Shell are both investing in buying chargers; China is dominating the market in the creation of electric buses globally – and will soon start exporting them; Harley is making an electric bike and scooter; and Renault is also making an electric refuse vehicle, which will allow for inner city clean-ups with no polluting emissions or noise pollution, at the same time as the garbage is being removed. As for electric planes, Boeing, Airbus and Rolls Royce are all exploring this, while EasyJet wants an electric plane that, by 2030, will be capable of travelling 500km and carrying 180 people.”

Food production: “We are being massively wasteful as regards land, energy and water resources. We should be exploring indoor vertical hydroponic farms in the inner cities, which, for the equivalent in food production, could use one percent of the normal land and ninety-five percent less water. Meat production is also changing – the recently debuted Impossible Burger, which is made from plant protein, got incredible reviews and they have now done a business deal with Burger King, where they can be found in some select stores. The ‘clean meat’ space investment is going up and up – we have to give back the land we have robbed from bio-diversity, so we can pull back the carbon we have robbed from the air.”

In conclusion, says Raftery, “The world is changing, and it’s changing fast. I try to remain positive in my presentations and stay away from the old doom-and-gloom philosophy that ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. But the real concerning issue of our time is climate change, and so this is why I give so much focus to the possibilities of renewable energy, electrification, clean meat and vertical farms.”

[1] Swanson’s law is the observation that the price of solar photovoltaic modules tends to drop 20 percent for every doubling of cumulative shipped volume. At present rates, costs go down 75 percent about every 10 years. It is named after Richard Swanson, the founder of SunPower Corporation, a solar panel manufacturer. Reference:

[2] The capacity factor is the average power generated, divided by the rated peak power.

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