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SAP CDO: Digital leaders are new to region

SAPOne of a growing breed, SAP Digital’s Chief Digital Officer Jonathan Becher told 60 Minutes how the rise of the CDO is set to begin in the Middle East, and that there is still room for improvement in the field of Big Data and analytics.

“We’ve all heard about the typical high-profile examples of businesses who have been digital disruptors; the likes of Uber and Airbnb,” he said. “But the example and potential of self-driving cars really illustrates the point. When that time comes, will there be a need for car parks and garages? Things are set to change.”

Becher went on to describe how he believed the ‘as-a-service’ model associated with cloud could become applicable to any industry. “Concepts of usage payment are changing,” he said. “There could soon be a time where you can purchase food-as-a-service, where they deliver specific diet requirements and plans to your doorstep.”

When asked whether the role of the Chief Digital Officer was a mere fad or an imminent reality for the Middle East, Becher displayed cautious optimism. “When I was hired in December 2014 as a CDO, I knew only five others in Palo Alto, where I work. Now I know around 70,” he said. Although he conceded he knew none in Dubai, he believed businesses are buying into the role. “I left a meeting with a multinational organisation yesterday that took only two hours to be convinced of the need for a CDO,” he said. “I think more will follow suit.”

He also dispelled the idea that digital business will equate to a negative impact on the job market. “A lot of people spread the incorrect perception that there will be mass job losses with the rise of digital, but the real threat is that of businesses who fail to adapt their outdated models,” he said.

Many of the region’s Chief Information Officers may be either concerned or intrigued by the prospect of working alongside a CDO, but for many local companies, it is not yet clear just how this partnership will work. Becher said that the roles innately play to their own strengths. “At SAP, my job is more business-tech focused, but the role of the CIO is tech-business oriented,” he said. “Looking forward, all of the C-suite are needed; the CFO, CIO and CMO all need to help the CDO. We need to help departments become digital, the CDO is not here to steal the role of the CIO.”

Closer to home, Becher is helping SAP become a fully digital company in terms of its internal operations. “Every sale used to be accepted through purchase order, which consisted of a paper-based process. We now accept credit cards in 28 countries through our digital drive.”

The need for competent data scientists was not lost on Becher, who bemoaned the way in which targeted advertising from digital businesses often falls wide of the mark. “Even a company like Amazon hasn’t got things spot on just yet,” he said. “For example, in America, retailers noticed that in particular conditions, the sales of chainsaws and mattresses simultaneously went up, which prompted them to pair these products together in offers packages. However, the link between the two was trivial. The same happened for beer and diapers, but these offers were popular. Digital’s ability to differentiate between chainsaws and mattresses, and beers and diapers is the key to success.”

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