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Tom Raftery on Why You Need to Watch the Innovation Space

3D render of a network of wind turbines
3D render of a network of wind turbines

Tom Raftery

Global Vice President, Futurist, & Innovation Evangelist, SAP

Tom Raftery is Global Vice President, Futurist, and Innovation Evangelist for software giant SAP, an inspirational keynote speaker, and a global influencer. We chatted with him about how digitization and innovation are creatively disrupting our world.


For those who might not know, what is an innovation evangelist?

I give a huge number of talks on all kinds of topics — current trends in the digital “now” and the future of digital are both frequent topics. These are often at SAP events, but I’m also regularly found at keynotes and external events speaking to customers and partners. Beyond that, I speak to the leadership teams of some of our larger customers to help them understand innovation patterns within their industries.

In my free time, I host two podcasts. I’ve had the Digital Supply Chain podcast for quite a while. I’ve just launched Climate 21, in which I speak with executives at different companies about the emission reduction initiatives they’ve undertaken. I like to think that companies who haven’t adopted any climate projects are still brainstorming the best way to approach environmentalism, so I’m looking to share ideas. Ultimately, it’s a win-win!

What are some exciting ways that Internet of Things (IoT) technology can benefit the environment?

IoT’s such a broad term, there are so many different ways. I’d probably have to say wind turbines or solar farms — they just don’t work without IoT. Every piece of machinery there is connected, reporting its generation back to a central database, all managed remotely due to their spatial distribution. Many wind farms are offshore, where you can’t just have a person sitting at a control centre in the middle. So IoT technology needs to be constantly taking data from the turbines and reporting back to the energy company, potentially thousands of kilometres away.

The second consideration is that solar and wind farms are variable generators — as the wind shifts direction or clouds move, the amount of energy being generated changes. As an energy company it’s crucial to stay on top of the amount of energy generated and how much you’re using up. Right there, IoT is facilitating the distributed generation and management of energy, which has huge environmental impacts.

Ultimately, it’s very hard for companies of any size to disrupt themselves, and that’s where people like me come in.

What role can an innovation or IoT evangelist play in smaller companies?

The exact role really depends on the company itself. However, it’s essential for businesses of any size to keep an eye on surrounding industries, even if it’s just not possible to have a full-time role dedicated to doing so. To be blunt, if you’re not watching the innovation space, you’re going to get wiped out. We see products grow unexpectedly and exponentially, to the point that companies can be destroyed by competitors in the course of a couple of years. Ultimately, it’s very hard for companies of any size to disrupt themselves, and that’s where people like me come in.

There are so many IoT buzzwords. Which is your favourite?

I don’t know about a favourite, but the buzzword that’s been everywhere recently is “unprecedented” — unprecedented technology for unprecedented times. The usage of the word unprecedented is, ironically, unprecedented! However, I try to avoid buzzwords whenever possible. They end up pushing things out of proportion and we lose sight of what something really is. A big part of my role is communications so it’s essential that I’m not losing people with terms and sayings that just don’t make sense. Ultimately, this technology is fantastic enough on its own that we don’t need meaningless words to make people understand it.

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