Digital Transformation. It’s today’s most discussed business topic. Everyday you read expert call-to-actions telling CIOs and other LOB executives that they can, and should, proactively shape their firm’s strategy to both improve customer value and create new business models for the business.

It’s one thing to keep reading about what you should do, it’s another thing altogether to hear directly from executives who have gone through digital transformation projects – people who have re-imagined their business models and done something to affect change.

That’s an opportunity that provides a different level of inspiration and enlightenment.

I started 2016 with what I thought would be a daunting task: recruit executives to tell their stories of digital transformation with SAP HANA. I thought this would be difficult because corporations often shield their innovators from public speaking (an ineffective, but understandable, attempt to protect a competitive advantage). But, I found the opposite when asking HANA users to come and tell their success stories. And, I’m happy to say, I discovered an exuberance akin to teenagers testing out a new video game — each excited and proud to be the first to describe the ‘secret’ features they found.

Some speakers came (from large brands) to discuss massive and complex digital transformation projects that exude category leadership and strategic excellence. Others were lesser known brands taking slightly smaller steps…but still oozing strategic and disruptive creativity.

Every speaker demonstrated the skills and competencies that we read about every day – these are the people delivering the leadership and business savvy to define business success – in all industries, in organizations of all sizes.

That’s why I’m writing this blog now. I’ve spent much of the last 60 days working with executives from 15 different organizations to speak during 21 ‘Art of the Possible’ speaking slots across seven (7) North American cities.

I benefited immensely from working with these customers and watching them speak. I would humbly suggest that the thousands of customers/prospects who were exposed to these stories would agree. Hearing this diverse group talk about how they are transforming and the benefits they are now getting, really crystallizes a few things.

Here’s a couple of my takeaways. I hope to share some more in future blog posts…so stay tuned.

  1. The first steps are the hardest.

One of the most common themes delivered by our speakers was overcoming the hurdles to get digital projects moving. Seems basic, but it’s not. In every case, whether it was directly referenced or inferred, our speakers made it clear that getting the attention and focus needed to kick off a digital transformation project can be very difficult. Why? There are many reasons, but most relate to the idea that digital transformation requires a commitment to discovering the ‘Art of the Possible’. It’s an idea that simplifying the business, enhancing speed and analytical capability will deliver immediate and future dividends.

It reminds me of the 1970’s Children’s Christmas Cartoon ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.

“It’s so difficult to REALLY change,” says the Winter Warlock.

“Difficult?” Kris Kringle says laughing, “…Why? Look here…changing from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step.”

Just like Kris Kringle to the Winter Warlock, the 15 customer speakers provided solid advice for ‘getting started’. What’s more, it’s also worth noting that, in all cases, the corporate culture changed after the project. The accessibility of data in real-time, and the unparalleled analytics delivered from that, brought forward a transformation-oriented energy/culture that changed the way people worked. It made everyone data thirsty. It brought everyone more insight. And, that insight opened the door – or more accurately broke down a barrier – to new ideas and opportunities. 

2. Profound Change is on the Horizon.

Digitization is shifting business thinking and creating new services and/or new models in all industries, not just the obvious ones.

Andrew McAfee made this clear at SAP’s Executive Summit | Internet of Things in December, pointing out that the top investors he knew were looking for disruptors in traditional ‘Mom & Pop’ industries that assume they are immune to digital business models because they haven’t changed for decades. To Andy (and the investors he referenced), it would be easy for these businesses to reject cloud, analytics, social mobility – to reject, essentially, a Live Business.

I can think of two examples from our recent roadshow where our speakers are actively disrupting in less traditional industries and – because they’ve taken the first steps – they are likely to succeed where others will fail.

Covenant Transportation.

Covenant is a good example. After decades of operating as a giant in the Transportation industry, the business saw how real-time data, analytics and predictive modeling could make the business more profitable by better predicting accidents, and address their moral imperative to keep drivers and the public safe. Since the company made the shift, they have identified a parallel business model  — a model that monetizes vast amounts of transportation and transportation-related data to keep all drivers safe, not just their own.

McInnis Cement.


This start-up is another example. Based in Montréal, Canada, McInnis is entering the North-American Construction industry. So, they will be yet another company selling cement. Ho-Hum? Hardly…from inception this aggressive group has built a 100% cloud-based business running on S/4 HANA with disruption on its mind.

McInnis is lean and streamlined and will focus on smashing the business model in which cement is made and delivered. They are disrupting the assumed geographic reach of their product, minimizing and simplifying the footprint of the business and focused on driving unmatched customer satisfaction. Cement has been around, well, forever…but now the digital business is disrupting the model.

These are just a couple of small-but-significant takeaways from the Art of the Possible event series. They help us to see that early adopters of digital transformation strategies – ANY digital transformation strategies – are at such greater advantage than their competitors.

IDC recently completed a study that shows companies are not pursing digital transformation with the urgency and vigor that one would expect. IDC states that:

  • Few organizations have a clear strategy now
  • Less than half are investing in a meaningful way to digitally transform
  • 60% of organizations expect the digital economy to have a major impact on their business in the next three-to-five years.

It can be said that most companies are moving too slow with their digital business strategies. Hearing real people tell their stories – and more importantly, hearing about the many new opportunities that have emerged because of their initial strategies – really crystalized the opportunity for me.

Kris Kringle was right…”put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door.” And if you are building a culture and energy focused on digital transformation, you should all be chomping-at-the-bit to see the opportunity on the other side of that door.

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