SAP Digital Leader Summit: Sharing Experiences on Digital Transformation

Last month, the SAP Digital Leader Summit was held in Paris and 50 CxOs, industry leaders, and researchers from around the globe gathered to share their experiences and reflect on the challenges of  digital transformation.

Although the event’s first evening was an opportunity to expand one’s network and begin to discuss the future of digital economy and society at the Monceau Velasquez, a stylish Parisian mansion, the SAP Digital Leader Summit actually started the next morning, when Carsten Linz, global head of the SAP Center for Digital Leadership and Marc Genevois, managing director of SAP France, welcomed their guests at SAP office. Split under three keywords — Digital, Radical, Exponential — the schedule kept a focus on interactivity. Whether during the round tables, keynotes, or presentations, participants were welcome to contribute to the discussion.

The range of the different panels attested the diversity of opinion. Among others, Anke Kleinschmit, vice president of Group Research  and chief sustainability officer at Daimler AG, Michael Mondria, senior director at Ars Electronica Solutions, and Fedor Holz, CEO of Primed Mind and former poker champion, shared some truly unique perspectives.

To Share and Learn

Despite differences between the lines of business discussed that day, each individual experience seemed to point the same rationales. Some were shocked to learn any hardware change in the automobile industry took at least a year to be implemented, overlooking the fact that not so long ago it was seven years. Compared to the software industry, which reduced its implementation from a few months to a few weeks or a few days, the progress is equivalent. Later that day, many were inspired when told about a leader in the food industry that wanted to monitor their herds with a program initially created for the German national football team to evaluate their players with video analysis.

The ambition of the SAP Digital Leader Summit was not solely to propel every participants to the top, but also to ensure they had the right leadership, methodology, and even thought process set up for success. The main goal was to learn how to adapt to the disruption ensued by digital transformation and to benefit from the new opportunities and business models it creates. To achieve this goal, a cultural change appears to be necessary.

Leaders Must Innovate First

Leaders must first factor the upheaval of the digital transformation. Companies such as Spotify, Uber, or AirBnB crushed their competitors on the back of a radical idea they implemented very quickly. Thanks to the digital transformation, many organizations were able to conquer new lines of business by disrupting the usual business models.

As Linz stated, “Companies are still focused on productivity gains and automation. There is nothing wrong with that, but few of them would focus on the creative process, and hardly any study the radical changes they could bring to their business models. There are massive opportunities for those who lead the innovation, those who won’t just add a bit of digitalization as the cherry on the cake.”

The summit was the opportunity to learn, and — to the surprise of many — to unlearn. To succeed in an environment changing this fast, to adapt is barely enough. The key is to innovate and think outside the box — or even to act as if there were no boxes altogether.