The Digital Toolkit: What CIOs Need To Survive In The Digital Economy

by Ingrid-Helen Arnold, CIO and CPO, SAP SE

We all know what the digital economy means – an explosion of data, brilliant new ideas and upstart companies with disruptive concepts winning market share from traditional industries. However, you can have all the great ideas in the world to change business, but these mean nothing if you don’t have the right attributes to survive in this new world.

These are the characteristics I see that are absolutely essential for CIOs to shape themselves and their companies to survive – and thrive – in the digital economy:

1. The right mindset

2. The right platforms, applications and people

3. The right data

The right mindset

All businesses are evolving, and there is pressure on the C-Suite to evolve too. However, those who are clear enterprise technology leaders in the digital economy have already recognized and crossed the digital divide. They both use and offer solutions that are simple, networked and real-time.

Digital leaders demonstrate a fundamental respect for the consumer. They recognize that we are no longer in a business-to-business-to-consumer market, but that we are now in a consumer-to-business market. The consumer rules, and this is fundamentally changing everything. It means giving consumers what they want, when they want it and on whichever channel they want.

The new digital leaders are also data-driven. They know that data needs to be real-time, and that it should not only reflect current reality, but that it should be able to predict future reality based on current data. These predictive qualities are absolutely essential in the new digital age. How companies handle their data will become the most important aspect of their business – even more important than the consumables they sell or the services they offer. Without this, transformation will fail.

On top of this, data-driven businesses must be seamless. Consumers don’t want to know how their information arrives on their device – they just want to have that information. They don’t want to know which company in a network is selling them something – they just want to make that purchase as quickly and as efficiently as possible. They don’t want to struggle through a series of complicated steps – they want the user interface to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

The right platforms, applications and people

At SAP, we have a radical innovation agenda with a clear digitalization focus that we fuel by using our own software products. We implement SAP software before it becomes available on the market as a first customer, ironing out issues for development, and partnering with the business to achieve their strategic goals.

We deliver some of our software in a new way. The SAP Store now markets and sells traditional ecommerce and digitally native software, content, education and services direct to the consumer. This will enable us to address the next wave of exponential growth and expand our addressable market through entry into new areas such as data and content.

In order to generate relationships with the next generation of employees, we also orchestrate an open innovation ecosystem and run apps challenges with start-ups and teams from the top universities worldwide. To fully embrace digital, we need new roles such as UX experts, data scientists and cloud architects. By opening up our ecosystem, we are providing a bridge for people with these new roles to join us.

The right data

Continuous innovation relies on agility, and agility relies on good data. At SAP, we are working hard at getting rid of modification and unused custom code. This is absolutely vital if we want to be agile and be able to consume new innovation as we develop it.

We have a dedicated team focused on enterprise data management, because maintaining high quality data within both public and private cloud-based platforms is a huge issue in today’s world. Now, information is shared across various solutions across the enterprise (ie cloud, hybrid), it really needs to be replicated and distributed without causing a detrimental data quality impact or hinder the business processes. Planning the right enterprise information management is an important step to achieving accurate, valid and timely access to information.


This increasing digitalization and connectivity is completely changing the IT function. With the sweeping changes that digitalization brings, the challenges for CIOs are increasing exponentially and are not going to go away. However, by ensuring they have the right mindset in the C-Suite; the right applications, platforms and people; and that they have good, solid, clean data that ensures agility, CIOs are poised to reap the huge benefits and success that the digital economy offers.