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Fostering Innovation Culture Trumps Tech Selection » Timo Elliot

Updated: Oct 10, 2023



Timo Elliott is a Global Innovation Evangelist for SAP. He works closely with leading-edge organizations around the world on their digital transformation initiatives. Over the last 30 years with the company, he has given presentations to business and IT leaders in over 60 countries, discussing SAP’s strategy and future trends, illustrated with real-world examples of customer innovation. Let's see what he has to say about digital transformation in the following article. ✨


🧬 Digital Transformation in 2023

To me, it's "using the latest technologies to change how you do business." But the "change how you do business" part is way more critical than just the "latest technologies." I see many projects that just add new technology to old processes or move existing IT systems to the cloud without really changing anything. This might save some money, but it’s more important for companies to think about the realm of what is now possible. For instance, many forward-thinking organizations are exploring shifts in business models, like offering digital services complementing their physical products. This evolution requires not just technology, but a fresh perspective on pricing, packaging, and customer engagement.


🧑🏻‍💻 Digital Transformation vs. Economics & Data Analysis

Fundamentally, it gave me a profound appreciation of the difficulties involved in drawing meaningful conclusions from imperfect, real-world data. Data is the foundation of modern business, but organizations grapple with data quality, integration, and semantics. Achieving consensus within a business on common definitions often demands more effort than anticipated. For instance, "headcount" for salary assessments might differ significantly from its usage in emergency procedures. When I probe individuals about what they would have done differently in their digital transformation projects, the number one answer is always that they wished they had spent more time investing in a robust data foundation before diving into other aspects of the project.


🌐 Global Approach

The biggest change I have noticed over the last few decades is that the global differences have narrowed pioneers in every country are aware of the latest possibilities and can quickly copy the advances of other regions. However, big disparities persist in cultural and societal attitudes towards innovation. I am a strong believer in the role of governments in tempering potential technological pitfalls, and I’m proud of the EU's proactive stance on issues like data privacy and curbing tech monopolies. But I also respect the US's dynamic, iterative approach to innovation, where setbacks are perceived as stepping stones rather than career blemishes.

🖥️ The role of artificial intelligence (AI)

There is a huge opportunity to increase efficiency & productivity by automating the kinds of complex, repetitive decisions that make up part of almost every business process, and new generative AI capabilities have introduced even more powerful and creative opportunities. And it’s still early days — we’re only just scratching the surface of what will be possible.  The real opportunity for AI is “augmented intelligence" — a harmonious collaboration between humans and AI. It should be a duet, more lron Man than Terminator, rather than a duel. AI frees us from mundane tasks, allowing us to focus on what’s important. AI will make us all more human, allowing us to focus on what only we can do. 

🛸 A glimpse into the future

We have an amazing opportunity to accelerate innovation by letting business people do more of it themselves, in their area of expertise, without IT and technology being a bottleneck. The real barrier to business innovation over the last few decades hasn’t been technology, it’s been the resources available to implement it.  New cloud-based low-code and no-code products have become easier & more powerful, allowing business people to innovate more autonomously than ever before. They can now create their own full end-to-end business processes and their own composable applications, augmented by the new AI opportunities. But of course, there are also big challenges, notably making sure that what the business people create is compliant, scalable, and governed. 

We will also see the dawn of more “automated automation.” We’re heading towards an era where we can let technology do more of the innovation for us. The latest business systems can analyze your existing business processes, benchmark them against similar organizations, make recommendations for the improvements with the highest ROI, and even install the approved changes for you in your cloud platform. Today, business innovation is like a set of stairs where we must physically lift ourselves up each step. In the future, it will be more like an escalator, where you can just step on and enjoy the innovation ride.

In the end...


✍🏻When digital transformation goes wrong, the problem is never the technology. Technology is complex and difficult, but project failure is always because of the people aspects: change management, training, culture, organization, and incentives.

✍🏻 People are the most intelligent “technology” in any organization, and yet we consistently under-invest in making sure we are making the most of this powerful resource.


✍🏻To ensure digital transformation success, projects should be managed by experts in people rather than experts in technology, and it’s much more important to nurture the right innovation culture than it is to pick the right technology.


If you want to meet Timo Elliott, make sure to attend this year's GoTech World event on November 8-9.

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Until next time...


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