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Digital Transformation was the word of the day at last week’s SAP UKI User Group conference in Birmingham. It was oddly fitting to walk past the Boulton, Watt and Murdoch statue on my way to the conference centre every morning. The engineering skills and business vision of the English-Scottish trio were behind critical improvements to the steam engine that made the Industrial Revolution possible. Over 200 years later, an elusive Digital Disruption promises to revolutionise entire industries and threatens to leave behind those who fail to adapt fast enough.

Even with a reported high dose of scepticism from the 4000 SAP user group members consulted over the real urgency to transform, or how revolutionary Cloud or Big Data really are, one thing is clear: buzzwords or not, uber or not uber, companies want to understand how to take advantage of technologies that could really reinvent their industries.

So, doing my best to avoid hyped words, here are some trends from last week’s conference that make the case – some faster moving than others - for digital transformation.           

My 5 top takeaways from the SAP User Group conference:

  1. Social collaboration and networking is a force for good. The Users Group unveiled their online collaboration group to offer a real-time, transparent and inclusive networking channel to their members. On Twitter, I always find that keeping an eye on the audience’s questions and opinions during sessions stops me from switching off, and keeps presenters on their toes.
  2. The speakers: there was a common thread from analysts, keynote speakers, SAP and customer presenters: rather than one ground-breaking technology, it is the connected dots of Big Data, cloud computing, social media, fast connections, and market readiness that make it possible to create whole new ways of doing business, from IoT to the sharing economy. I did have to go and check if there were any women left in the industry, however. Dear SAP User Group: if you’re reading this, what about asking more of the numerous female SAP Mentors, company CIOs and thought leaders what they have to say next year? Even with all the smaller breakout sessions, women speakers accounted for 10 of the 119 presenters over 3 days.
  3. Cool geekery: a lot of my favourite demos and new solutions came from the IoT sessions: The Disney magic band that acts as a digital wallet, tracks visitors luggage, manages intelligent queues, all the while collecting customers’ data to enable personalised marketing. Sensors that will trigger warning tweets whenever sharks swim too close to the shore.  And the mobile app that enables doctors to monitor the health of patients at risk in real-time and detect problems early. It’s hard to argue against the meaning of Digital Transformation when you see Big Data, Analytics, Cloud technology and smart business decisions coming together like that.
  4. Accelerating the future while keeping the lights on: maybe some of the reluctance to believe in the magic words of Innovation and Disruption comes from the fact that so many organisations still struggle just to keep their backoffice systems running effectively. There were some great lessons from SAP customers that managed to prepare the ground for innovation by automating their day-to-day processes, increasing the trust between Business and IT and making space for new ideas. If you want to learn how, follow this blog series on Innovation.
  5. And SUGFEST: I’m afraid I’m that type of person who goes back to the hotel for a quick shower before a party, and proceeds to sleep right through the next day. I am reliably informed that it was a great party, though. Switching the formal black tie dinner to a more relaxed do worked a treat. It was telling to see so many tweets next day praising the conference’s networking opportunities in the same breath as they referred to SAP community members as old friends.

Renata Allamandi, SAP Service&Support

Connect with me on Twitter: @rallamandi

images: 1. @timoelliott 2. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons