How is SAP helping organisations with their digital transformation?

Digital transformation is a journey. And, this journey is just as important as the destination — the destination is to become an intelligent enterprise that satisfies customers and employees.

A lot of organisations have decided they’re going to do digitally transform, but often, they struggle with it.

There are myths to debunk before embarking on this digital journey. Many stakeholders, for example, think that digital transformation is just about updating or changing systems, which is a somewhat cynical approach to digital transformation.

SAP’s view (and others) is that digital transformation should have a much more profound affect on an organisation’s assets; it impacts data but most importantly, it also impacts people, both as consumers of things that have been digitally transformed, but also as creators, constructors and builders of digital transformation.

It’s a fascinating arena, and one that we have explored at length this month.

We wanted to go further, and in this Q&A, Mark Darbyshire — CTO, data and database management at SAP UK — discusses SAP’s role in organisational transformation and some best practice advice for you, the reader.

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How is SAP helping organisations with their digital transformation? Do you see yourselves as digital transformation consultants?

We are digital transformation consultants; we have journeys and roadmaps and customer pathways that capture digital transformations for particular industries, or for organisations that have particular constraints.

But for us we also want people to think about the goal. Don’t digitally transform just for digital transformation’s sake. You want to transform digitally so that your enterprise is more agile, it’s faster, it’s more nimble, it’s more optimised. And these are all examples of intelligence.

Are they any cross-industry trends?

I think at SAP we have the pleasure of having 25 core industries — whether it’s retail, telecoms or marketing.

What we tend to find is that the majority of industries want to start on digital transformations that are people facing [user experience, APIs, customer experience, employee experience, partner experience]. That can be relatively straightforward or consistent, in terms of cross-industry demand.

But we’re also cognisant that a lot of industries have a lot of constraints when it comes to reaching out to people, interacting with people, and trying to be intelligent with their interaction with people; things like GDPR, for example, make that potentially more complicated in some industries.

The long and the short of it would be yes, we do digital transformation across a range of industries: financial services, retail, telecommunications, energy, public sector, local authorities etcetera. All of these sectors — and the organisations within them — are transforming themselves in different ways and at different speeds to become more digital and become more intelligent. We can provide a range of solutions, technologies and answers to help them choose how and where they want to start that.

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It is a journey, and you might find that two organisations in different industries stop at the same point in that journey, but they might not stop at them in the same order or at the same speed. What we tend to find is that lots of organisations, regardless of sector, want to have the same sorts of things; they want to have best user experience, they want to get more value out of their data, their processes and their assets. The order and the priorities in which they do that, and the benefits and the values that they expect to see from those initiatives might be different based on their industry.

A good example in a telco:

An organisation, let’s say Vodafone, has got tens of thousands of products. And, it might be sensible idea to use some advanced analytics to help them realise which products are profitable and which products are less profitable, or could be consolidated down to one product with some configuration. The net of that is they can be more assured about their profitability on a given product, so they can make sure that consumers have the best product or contract. But, it also means that they have a lower cost of operation, because they can simplify their product portfolio.

With your experience, could you provide some digital transformation best practice?

It’s a broad arena.

For some organisations or leaders, it’s about areas such as user experience and APIs, while others want to embrace algorithms and data. Some look to take costs out of the business and move to the cloud to be more agile, and take advantage of micro-services. Many want to understand how they can insert technologies, such as machine learning and AI into their day-to-day business. And ‘finally’, the majority want to be assured that if they embrace practices, such as data science and big data, they can determine when it’s going to be profitable.

What we tend to say to customers is look, there’s a lot of things that we can help you do. I can share with you a slide our SAP cloud platform that goes through 30-50 starting points or capabilities, but it’s often driven by the customer and where they want to start.

There’s a number of factors that can affect where they want to start. It might be that there’s an initiative in their industry, it might be that there’s some key players in their industry and people want to have a response to that, or stakeholders want assurances that those early adopters aren’t getting too far ahead. Some want to do something new and keep it very much under the covers. There’s a range — to say the least!

Quite often, the engagement can be quite non-linear. Organisations might want to start out by improving user experience, but the problem might not be the user interaction layer; the problem might be how the back office works.

So, there’s quite a broad church of ways that organisation’s go about doing their digital transformation. I don’t think it’s a nice, simple meeting that starts with okay, we need to digitally transform by this time next year, what are we going to do? I think it’s more about what does the business want or need, where does the business feel that they’re losing ground against competitors or not taking advantage of an opportunity.

This is what normally drives the initial conversation around digital transformation; understanding what a more intelligent version of their enterprise looks like.

Every organisation, similar to the individual, is different. The desire to become a better version, doesn’t mean that we’re all going to turn out the same way. You get similar flavours and a common range of goals, but the outcome and process is different.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...