If companies were not convinced before the pandemic that digital transformation was an imperative, they are now.

But just moving business systems to the cloud is not enough. Real digital transformation is about becoming an intelligent enterprise, where companies turn insights into action and anticipate and respond to customer demands at any time. During a digital broadcast of SAPPHIRE NOW Converge, leading industry and research experts shared the top four characteristics of intelligent enterprises.

Innovation is Core

According to Helen Dwight, global vice president and head of Intelligent Enterprise and Industries Marketing at SAP, innovation is what sets intelligent enterprises apart as the highest-performing businesses.

“Intelligent enterprises are able to rapidly adapt to market conditions, whether that’s driving new business models or pivoting rapidly or scaling up or down as we’ve seen so many companies do in recent months,” Dwight said. “More importantly, they’re able to drive customer success for ultimately profitable and sustainable growth as a result.”

At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, examples of what intelligent enterprises could achieve were rampant. A global automotive manufacturer quickly transformed operations to produce ventilators. One hospital set up a command center that used artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to integrate information from more than 100 data sources throughout the organization, improving patient care and staff productivity. A leading international thread manufacturer transformed operations to produce materials for personal protective equipment (PPE), gaining real-time visibility across multiple manufacturing facilities. With one view of customer orders, plant capacity, and inventory levels, the company could work together and quickly transfer production to meet constantly changing demands. This ultimately helped produce PPE better, faster, and at lower cost.

Combination of Operations and Experience

While the pandemic has upended business and life as we know it, the strategic business value of customer and employee experiences has never wavered. The latest research findings reveal that this is still the case for companies of all sizes.

“The intelligent enterprise has three strands: technology, operations, and experience,” said Edward Cone, technology practice lead and editorial director at Oxford Economics. “The operations are what you do, the technology and intelligence are how you do it, and the experience is why you do it. An intelligent enterprise focuses on the experience of its customers and employees to survive, stabilize, and focus on the future.”

Cone advised companies to apply lessons learned during the pandemic as they reinvent business to meet evolving customer and employee expectations. He saw AI as increasingly critical to long-term survival and growth, as more companies will use predictive analytics, chatbots, and other technologies to understand and improve customer and employee experiences.

“More than ever, this crisis has shown us that the experiences are the ‘why’ behind business, and the operations support it and the intelligence enables it,” he said. “If we can come out of this crisis with a renewed focus on the why, the what, and the how, businesses will be in good shape for what happens in the years ahead.”

Interconnected World Demands Interconnected Data

It is worth mentioning that long before COVID-19, many companies were already on the road to becoming intelligent enterprises. A New Zealand-based agribusiness broke new ground by integrating data across the entire supply chain, including crops, farms, and animals. In China, a consumer food product company developed an intelligent, zero-waste supply chain from farm to table. One Switzerland-based company that manufactures Internet of Things (IoT) sensors achieved 98 percent on-time delivery and increased revenue by 15 percent.

What separates these organizations from their competition is the ability to make decisions based on a combination of real-time, contextual data from both operations and the customer and employee experiences. In fact, bringing emotions into business decisions is central to becoming an intelligent enterprise – especially during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Know where customers are, what they need right now, and how can you best serve them with the appropriate products and services,” Dwight said. “Surveys show that understanding the customer experience is just as important as ever, especially when we start transitioning a lot of our activities online. It shows that the interconnectedness of data provides the backbone, but you need the smarts around it to run as an intelligent enterprise.”

Intelligent Enterprises Are Big on Imagination

Although the pandemic reinforced a natural human bias toward short-term thinking for the sake of survival, Martin Wezowski, chief designer and futurist at SAP, urged leaders to also think bigger towards a “do-topian” future.

“Be curious about where you could play a positive, significant role,” he said. “Know what’s right to do, then do it right because you were curious with your imagination. Be optimistic about the future. We need optimists and utopians – I call it the ‘do-topia’ – where we get together, do stuff: design, discuss, develop, and deliver.

Pointing out that moving forward with imperfect amounts of information is hardly unique to the current health crisis, Wezowski advised people to think about the future in three horizons: short-term incremental betterment, mid-term forecasts for improvements over time, and net-new innovations that are not built on what is already known.

“Daydream about where you want to be 10 years from now,” he said. “You are the protagonist in your future story. Take on that role. The future is an adventure sport. You will never have all the answers. Let’s map, build, and inspire a future that we will want to live in.”

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