“I do not view the digital transformation as something that started at a certain point in time and will end at some point in the future. We are speaking about something that already started decades ago,” is how Rolf Werner from Fujitsu defines his point of view – shared by all participants – at the outset of the discussion.
As is the case with many developments in business and computer sciences, many of the first signs are visible long before generally accepted concepts are developed. Today, the “digital transformation” is a recognized and established concept – although there does not seem to be a uniform process for implementation and enablement.
In addition, there are few generally applicable references for the “going live” process. At the same time, the SAP community and its partners, such as Fujitsu, are already a few steps ahead of the general IT scene with numerous PoC (proofs of concept).
“The digital transformation has become a routine topic of discussion because it is increasingly mentioned by users,” explains and observes Fujitsu head Rolf Werner.
“I would even say that the end customer now has much more influence on the business models,” confirms CIO Göttert from Tank & Rast. Together with its tenants, Tank & Rast operates approximately 350 gas stations and 390 rest stops (including 50 hotels) in the German highway network.
Approximately 500 million travelers visit a Tank & Rast service operation every year. As CIO, Gerhard Göttert is directly confronted with the digital transformation in the consumer market at the interface to the back office.
The influence of consumers has become very evident since smartphones became widely available in 2007. “Connectivity became tangible,” Göttert describes the situation, “which subsequently also made its way into business processes. To illustrate the point, I would once again like to stress that I am examining the customer‘s side in this context. On the other side, we have the business processes in the companies, which do not necessarily affect the end customer business. Here, we have classic process models.”
Rolf Werner explains this situation from Fujitsu’s point of view: “In the past, we developed a so-called computerization of business processes and offered it in the market.”
IT providers mainly fulfilled the classic push function. In contrast, today much is driven by the end customer. “Hence rather a transformation based on the digital devices that people use every day,” adds Werner.
This has created a pull effect. “Of course, now I also want to be able to apply all of the things and functions that make my personal life easier in my business processes,” is how the head of Fujitsu describes the requirements confronting today‘s C-level management in light of the digital transformation.
“On the user side, we need very agile and very flexible products to be able to follow the market trends that have been described,” adds Gerhard Göttert and concludes: “Hence waterfall models, which have been the standard model for introducing business processes in companies for decades, are certainly no longer the only solution for properly responding to markets.”
“I see the digital transformation as a triad,” concludes Tilo Böhmann from the University of Hamburg. For him the first item – in the widest sense – is automation.
“Today, I can push the automation of processes much farther than originally designed.” The second issue is the digital engagement: “Someone once said: Software is no longer static, software is a discussion,” Böhmann defines another part of the transformation process.
“That is exactly the phenomenon of the digital channels and apps that do not stand still but keep developing and are modified by new customer requirements. Needs are changing; one needs to react to that, and that becomes the platform for new business models.” This premise of the digital transformation is the third item: opening up business processes and thinking more heavily in terms of platforms.
“At the center of the company there must still be a place that provides stability,” warns Tank & Rast CIO and DSAG director Gerhard Göttert. The CIO is bringing not just his own experience to the discussion, but also knows a lot about the desires, fears and visions of the SAP community and DSAG members.
“We do not know exactly where this road will lead, how long some transformations will take and how much time we need. But we see that each change is happening faster.”
Providers are introducing new applications and products to the market at ever faster speeds, which means that companies and users are faced with an entirely new set of tasks. “It means that business models, as they exist on the market today, must be scrutinized,” says the CIO, based on his practical experience.
There are fewer and fewer companies that can say that the current status will still be around ten years from now. And Gerhard Göttert also gives an example: “The past 15 years have shown that top companies have disappeared from the market. The best example in this regard is Kodak.
The inventor of digital photography no longer exists.” In another discussion, the former head of Cisco, John Chambers, said that half of today‘s companies will not survive in their current form. “We have arrived at a situation in which we think that we have all of the tools, our processes are available,” warns Rolf Werner. “But as providers and users, we must always match the enormous speed we see in the aforementioned end customer segment. That is why we are now talking about disruptive technologies, a digital transformation at great speed.”
Neither Start nor End
But this digital transformation has neither a starting nor an end point. “And that makes all the difference,” explains the head of Fujitsu, “compared to ten or 15 years ago, when we were not faced with this high speed from the end customer market.”
When such a discussion round comes around to the topic of speed, naturally each of the participants is reminded of the statements by the analysts from Gartner, with the concept of IT at different speeds and the idea of bimodal IT.
“Does one really need an IT at two different speeds?” asks CIO Göttert with regard to this scenario. “From the viewpoint of the user and as an affected CIO, I would say that we are looking closely at this issue, and we still do not have a final answer. But there is a trend in that we are seeing divisions with very dynamic processes. In this context, the term digitization may be the wrong word because it is more of a business transformation.”
Advisor Heiko Henkes agrees: “But that is how it usually works. There is not enough of a strategic approach. Only very few companies have thought about what digitization can and should mean for their business strategy.”
“This discussion is very important,” says Rolf Werner, “because I believe that one cannot plan an integrated digital transformation. I cannot plan for the kind of disruptive situation in which many companies find themselves.”
At this time, there are a lot of changes happening (and very quickly) at the end customer, which have a big impact, so that companies can in any case only proceed on a step-by-step basis.
“If it were different, I could implement new business processes from one day to the next, and the digital transformation would be complete,” Werner continues.
Advisor Henkes agrees, but also says: “But first I have to create awareness for this speed at the management level. Here, we must establish the conditions for being able to perceive these changes.”