The 5th annual SAP Business Transformation Summit was held October 21-22 in St. Leon-Rot, Germany, the company’s birthplace and heart of its innovative legacy. The two-day, high-impact event brought together standing-room-only audiences representing some of the world’s top global companies.

Digital transformation is unleashing rapid, radical change in almost very aspect of business and society. This year’s summit challenged participants with strategies, ideas, and case studies to survive and thrive in this new environment.

In his keynote address, Michael Kleinemeier, member of the SAP Global Managing Board, told audiences that digital business is here to stay. He said that start-ups and incumbents alike are successfully changing the rules with disruptive, digital business models. Christoph Steiger, global head of Business Transformation Services, continued the keynote address by expanding on the SAP vision for the digital economy. “This isn’t a marketing platform,” said Steiger. “It is a platform for business transformation.”

Designing a Desirable, Digital Future

The ongoing paradigm shift from products to digital services offers tremendous business opportunities. But futurist and innovation strategist Anders Sorman-Nilsson says it will also force businesses to rethink their value proposition to customers. “Change isn’t going to stop to ask you whether you like it or not,” he said.

SAP is just one of a growing number of large companies who have made digital transformation a central part of their business strategy. Maggie Fox, senior vice president of digital marketing, SAP, explained how the company has embraced social selling to become more effective in today’s hyper-competitive environment. “When [digital transformation] is done right, it is amazing how nimble you can be when you set the right mindset and the right culture,” said Fox.

By combining future mobility with apps, car-sharing services have also scored early digital successes. Prof. Dr. Walter Brenner, professor at the University of St. Gallen, said that it is smart digital services like these that are pointing the way to future successful business models.

Creating Compelling Digital Experiences

To survive and thrive in the digital age, organizations face a “survival of the quickest,” says Philip Carter, vice president of the European Enterprise Infrastructure and Software Group, IDC. He said tomorrow’s winners will blend digital and physical experiences to build customer loyalty and disrupt industries.

Organizations will also be able quickly gather business intelligence to test and iterate new products on the fly. Political analyst and author Kerstin Plehwe, a veteran U.S. presidential campaign advisor, says that data-driven social media strategies now allow campaign organizations to quickly test messages to see which ones resonate best with voters. She says that this is a compelling model for business and marketing today. “Data drives action; and action generates data,” says Plehwe.

As the digital experience matures, the physical and digital world will continue to merge. Juri Strässle, part of the mobile business development team at Samsung Electronics Switzerland and Benjamin de Wit, partner and head of new business at WeMakeVR, demonstrated the full power of virtual reality (VR). As an immersive experience that links the physical and digital world, they said that VR will help business leaders experience markets, empathize with target groups, and ultimately make better decisions.

The summit also brought the digital experience to life with showcase exhibits from five leading innovators:

  • A motorcycle ride on the wild side. The EYE RIDE showcase put participants to the test with “Oculus Rift”, the revolutionary virtual reality headset, while “riding” a specially equipped, stationary BMW motorcycle. The massive field of view and head tracking technology recreated an utterly realistic, blood-pumping, high-speed motorbike race.
  • Digital crunch. A high-tech smart vending machine served up drinks and snacks with a digital twist. Instead of inserting bills and coins, users simply flashed their QR codes over a reader. They could then order food, candy, and drinks by touching life-size product images on the touch-sensitive machine door.
  • Going for speed. Mobile virtual reality put visitors in the passenger’s seat of a high-speed racing car contest. Samsung and WeMakeVR technology combines special optical head gear, a mobile phone, and a video delivery app for a choice of rich, realistic digital experiences.
  • C-Suite in the cloud. At the SAP Digital Boardroom showcase, SAP presented its vision for the future of business decision-making. The Boardroom of the Future promises to unite the CEO, head of sales, marketing, and other experts with real-time data, backed by advanced in-memory platforms like SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA (SAP S/4HANA).
  • Maps to the future. The Hasso Plattner Institute’s Digital Use Cases provided a glimpse at the organization’s rich repository of groundbreaking published work in the area digital transformation.
  • New Tools for a New World

Digital transformation goes hand in hand with strong partnerships and advanced tools. Prof. Dr. Christoph Meinel, CEO of the Hasso Plattner Institute Potsdam, told audiences that in-memory technologies like SAP S/4HANA are poised to radically transform business and society.

Karel Paarhuis, the director of FrieslandCampina, said that the dairy producer’s three digital transformation initiatives have made it nimble and ready for future change. He said that successful transformation projects must use good governance to communicate their goals and benefits, and deliver on promises. “You’re only as good as your last go-live,” said Paarhuis.

Human-Centered Transformation

Yet participants were also reminded that any digital transformation must remain people-centered. Author and speaker Prof. Dr. Lothar Seiwert encouraged participants to achieve a greater work-life balance. Hannes Jaenicke, German actor and environmental activist, called on technology-related industries to do their part in promoting sustainability.

2015 SAP Business Transformation Award

Thursday’s session concluded with a gala dinner at Heidelberg Castle and the presentation of the Business Transformation Award.  Valorem S.A. took home the SAP Business Transformation Excellence Award. Dole Packaged Foods and PCITC Sunhuimin both received this year’s SAP Business Transformation Achievement Award. Finally, British American Tobacco was the proud recipient of the SAP Business Transformation Distinction Award.

Visit the SAP Business Transformation Summit website for more details.