Exploring the Digital Shift

It was the Digital Shift conference in Brussels last week, exploring the impact of digital transformation on Belgian companies.

Over 2,000 attendees visited the technology-packed Innovation Village and attended sessions on topics such as The Hyperconscious Consumer, The Digitally Empowered Worker, The Borderless Enterprise, and IoT For A Smarter World. [Update: all the slides are now available for your review — there are some great ones from STIB-MVIB, Barco, Atlas Copco, Mohawk Industries and many more!].

Host for the day was Mark Raben, the CTO for SAP Belgium, who welcomed the guests and showed us that he has the brains for digital transformation — literally!

I had the honor of presenting the opening keynote Digital Transformation: Run and Win discussing the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation — and how SAP can help.

The future isn’t just about innovation, it’s about new ways of innovating — and vendors can do more to help. I covered the key elements of SAP Leonardo, the new SAP digital innovation system, and how customers such as Stara are improving agriculture through the internet of things and analytics. It’s all about “innovation with purpose” — helping improve business while making the world a better place.

In the Q&A, I was asked about a recent survey carried out by SAP Belgium showed that the three main concerns holding back digital transformation were:

  1. Lack of know-how
  2. Lack of digital strategy
  3. Lack of the right people

These echo the problems we’ve seen elsewhere — and we try to address these directly in the SAP Leonardo system. To find out more about how other organizations have been overcoming these issues, take a look at The Digital Mindset research at SAP.com/ExecStudy.

Next, Nell Watson of Singularity University talked about “How to Thrive in an Unpredictable Future”, and explained why adapting to change is so hard: we attempt to apply linear thinking to an exponential world. The result is that we oscillate between being disappointed about what we have achieved while being amazed at others that have taken full advantage of the new opportunities.

According to Watson, if the 19th century was about harnessing the power of steam, and the 20th century about harnessing the power of electricity, then the 21st century will be about harnessing the power of intelligence as a utility, through a virtual pipe, to be called on as needed.

“If you can do something in one second, such as recognize a face in an image, a computer can already do it better than you. And if you put those in a loop, you can use that, for example, to pilot a vehicle and more.”

The road ahead is both scary and exhilarating — what can organizations do to make sure they’re not run over?

According to Nell, it’s about building an exponential organization, one whose impact or output is disproportionately large — at least 10x larger — compared to its peers because of the use of new technologies. It’s essential to rethink your products and services faced with the new possibilities, and create new business models.

A great place to start is “how can we enable others?”. People love it, and it helps foster a community that you can collaborate with to create better products and services. And if you’re good at managing communities, you can turn it into a platform, and help reach more people.

Finally, the best way to succeed is to use a shared, massively transformational goal as a central pillar of your plans, to provide employees and customers a vision of the future and a mission to collaborate around.

Next, McLaren Racing Formula One pilot Stoffel Vandoorne was interviewed by Mark Raben on how technology and analytics makes a difference to success and failure on the racetrack.

For the track sessions, I had the honor of hearing Shalini Mihta of SAP Hybris talking about how to deliver Exceptional Customer Experiences — a subject very close to my heart.  She ended with a very appropriate quote from poet Maja Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Robert McShane, the UK General Manager of Prayon, a century-old world leader in phosphates, gave an overview of why they chose SAP Hybris as part of their B2B Commercial Excellence plans.

The project was driven by Prayon’s need to move beyond being a simple supplier, to having a solution-provider approach, working with the customers on what they need, and fostering longer-term contracts.

“For us, it’s cloud or nothing — it provides more agility, moves away from fixed costs, and allow us to focus on business and innovation, instead of technology” — Robert McShane, Prayon

They approached innovation in a modular, step-by-step fashion, gradually adopting SAP Cloud for Customer, SAP Hybris E-Commerce, and now SAP Hybris Marketing.

The E-Commerce solution was particularly important to be able to support emerging markets. The company couldn’t invest in lots of local staff in places like India, but the e-commerce solution allowed them to easily customize the online experience to support local conditions.

And the new marketing solution allows them to carry out “moment marketing”  in the B2B world, with different scenarios for different events. For example, if there’s a legally-required change to consumer packaging, the information can now be targeted only to customers who had recent purchased the product, instead of the entire customer base, as in the past.

McShane ended with an anecdote explaining some of the reasoning behind the “one Prayon” approach, with everybody in the company working off the same basic set of information:

“I manage sales to the European part of a multinational. I went to visit the company, ready to explain why we were going to have to charge them more for our product. But just after the introductions, they told me they’d just had a call from a US colleague, who had given them $100 discount on the same product!

It made it clear to me that information sharing had to be improved. Our American colleagues use a different SAP system, but we were able to integrate their sales system into Cloud for Customer, and hopefully we’ll avoid these embarrassing moments in the future!”

The afternoon keynote was covered by Entrepreneur and Author Rasmus Ankersen, talking about how to eliminate complacency in companies faced with digital disruption.

The key theme was that the ability to reinvent a company when things are going well is more important than ever. Successful companies tend to become “selfie-stick” organizations that spend too much time on internal turf wars and not enough on discovering the next wave of customer needs. They tend to be organized to protect how they make money today, rather than protecting who they are and how they can serve their customers in the future:

After giving lots of examples of why organizations should be as skeptical about their successes as they are about their failures, he ended with the advice that “If it ain’t broke, consider breaking it!”.

In other words, i your company isn’t yet thinking about new opportunities such as digital transformation, it may be a sign that you need to rethink your company culture before it’s too late!

In the final keynote session, senior executives from global visualization vendor Barco discussed their experiences with digital transformation, supported by SAP.

Overall, it was a great event! You can see more pictures here, or take a look at my quick video compilation below: