Disrupt With Digitization

Sven Denecken

Innovation requires reimagined processes – and the CIO needs to lead this transformation.

Enterprises today must be prepared for the transformation that the digital economy is forcing upon them.

Now, you might think, “Another digital buzzword article.” Well, yes, some dismiss it as a buzzword, but the challenge for many has just started. But let’s not look at only the problems; there are opportunities if seized right – and you can win big.

For example, competing for new business, or even exploring a new revenue stream by creating a new business model, are things you need to look out for constantly – and for sure you can learn from startups, because that is what they do: challenge the status quo. In a fast-moving digital economy, the window to capture these opportunities closes quickly; companies that are unprepared to pounce when occasions arise will likely get stuck on the road to irrelevance. In my job as product manager, my team constantly screens such opportunities, as innovation needs to be weighted fast and implemented via co-innovation even faster if there is a chance of success – and it must also be adapted fast if reality kicks in.

Successful companies need to be willing to change: They must assess whether they are truly in a position to reinvent business processes every day, not just every generation. And here is where the modern CIO comes in. Yes, digital officers arise at every corner of every industry, and they are needed ambassadors or agents of change. But today I think we should be clear: If every company will soon be a “software” company (which I very much believe, as data will rule the world) you need a modern chief information (and innovation) officer to help business and the company board of directors to make this change happen.

Here are 3 key lessons we have learned from the CIOs we constantly speak with during our co-innovation work. (Of course, there are also many lessons we learn from CIOs who are not embracing it – but will they still be CIO next year?)

Lesson #1: Four trends to check if you are on track

As I stated earlier, there are four inescapable trends are creating the pressures that shape today’s digital transformation:

  • The empowered customer: Whether your customers are Generation Z consumers or multi-national conglomerates, they all share one vitally important characteristic: Each demands to be treated as a unique segment of one. You have no choice but to meet that expectation.
  • Competitive and regulatory pressures: Transparency is a necessary part of business today, and that means competitors and regulators alike can dissect any business process. Staying ahead of the former and meeting the standards of the latter requires operational excellence and accountability at every step in the value cycle.
  • Globalization: More businesses today must be prepared to go global in order to remain relevant. Expanding into new markets can no longer be done effectively with costly, infrastructure-heavy international build-outs. Enterprises need a pay-as-you-go strategy with scalable capacity, which can be adjusted rapidly to meet market conditions in any region.
  • Technological progress: The tide of innovations and discoveries is unrelenting. Businesses must be agile enough to quickly adopt new strategies, and be steered by insightful, knowledgeable leadership that can sort winning inventions from dead-end novelties.

Lesson #2: Unprecedented levels of business agility

The need for an unprecedented level of business agility to match the rapid pace of innovation and transformation present in business is not restricted to a particular industry. Rather, we see entire markets, including transportation, logistics, and e-commerce, being reinvented on a seemingly daily basis. For any industry in which the production, shipment, and transaction of a product is still relevant, transformation supported by digitization is fast becoming a necessity.

Pressures to reshape the business using a digital template are likewise common across the industry spectrum. Companies — both in the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) worlds — expect personalized interactions as a “segment of one,” which necessitates individualization of products and services, and freedom of choice. The business has no choice but to meet these demands — on the platform the customer chooses — or risk losing customers to a competitor.

The common solution that addresses these pressures is agility, and the way to achieve that agility is with a flexible, digital core at the heart of every organization that can meet the demands presented by increasing across-the-board disruption.

In my presentations I often state why we need to talk about a digital core: As long as something is produced (even if it is a service), as long as something is delivered or shipped, and as long as something will be paid – there is a need for a core. It is as simple as that. Every CIO surely knows that end-to-end processes often start at the edges or with systems of engagement, but they are of limited value if they do not connect with the core – the heart that makes your company run.

Now building on top of this, with a digital core, organizations can do far more than simply meet these pressures at a minimum level of success. They can pivot in near real time to capitalize on innovations in areas such as cloud, Big Data, and business network connectivity to completely transform the business, whether it’s to keep up with the growing influence of emerging topics such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, or augmented reality, or to defend against new competitors launching up all around them.

A digital core is an enabling platform for transformation and innovation, but what are its hallmarks? We find five key characteristics that make up a digital core:

  1. A digital core provides the enterprise with the capability to drive and anticipate business outcomes in real time.
  2.  It integrates the business seamlessly across all value chain processes such as client interaction, administration, production, and research and development.
  3.  The digital core increases efficiency by automating processes and distributing responsibility for customer insights across an intelligent business network.
  4. It increases effectiveness by converting signals in business data into tangible action, essentially bringing Big Data to the size and scale needed to turn insight into action for the everyday user.
  5. The digital core increases enterprise agility by elevating each employee’s view of the organization.

So how can the modern CIO help to disrupt with digitization?

Here is the modern CIO’s plan for success: They prioritize day-to-day operations that were formerly siloed lines of business to have complete visibility into the entire core business of the enterprise. Finance, sales, and manufacturing can then act in concert, basing decisions on the same information in real time. This is where the company wins big, and this is how the modern CIO will drive change for the better and help their company win in the digital economy.

Successful CIOs know that the race to digitization is on. Until recently, many of the clients I spoke with were still questioning the need for digitizing the enterprise. Now, they want to know the most efficient route to get there. And while SAP’s digital core S/4HANA Enterprise Management is certainly a monumental milestone, clients are surprised to discover that arriving at a digital core is not as difficult as it might seem to enable this level of transformation.

A digital core helps any business run faster and simpler, so getting there should not be as complicated as the siloed line-of-business applications and redundancies a business leaves behind.

Want more insight on digitization? See The Digitized Core At The Heart Of Reimagined Business.

Looking forward to your feedback! Follow me for the latest updates: @SDenecken (link to Twitter account).


Sven Denecken

About Sven Denecken

Sven Denecken is Senior Vice President, Product Management and Co-Innovation of SAP S/4HANA, at SAP. His experience working with customers and partners for decades and networking with the SAP field organization and industry analysts allows him to bring client issues and challenges directly into the solution development process, ensuring that next-generation software solutions address customer requirements to focus on business outcome and help customers gain competitive advantage. Connect with Sven on Twitter @SDenecken or e-mail at sven.denecken@sap.com.