12 Takeaways for Digital Customer-Centric Transformation Projects

Written by Björn Neumann (@CCMTechnology) for Buljan & Partners Consulting

house rules

Picture: Do you appreciate your customers? Seen in a Saloon in Fort Worth, Texas during the hybris Americas Customer Days, 2015


SAP hybris software, its partners and customers demonstrate how to set the pillars for digital transformation

In October I had the chance to visit hybris Americas Customer Days in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite its praised technology (see for example Forrester Wave™ B2B Commerce Suites, Q2 2015, or Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce 2014) partners and customers of hybris software, which is now a little over two years SAP owned, gave away best practices and lessons learned for implementing its software effectively. Most of them are not only applicable for a digital transformation project, but from my point of view in general valid for successful customer-centric technology initiatives; therefore I would like to share them here. For a better understanding they are structured in:

  • Customer journey understanding
  • Essential functionalities
  • Data is everything
  • Important project management abilities
  • Expectations towards the software vendor and its partners

The customer journey is the starting point (and it should always be the starting point). It is an outside-in view of the customers touchpoints with one’s brand, direct and indirect via all channels, whether the business knows about it or not. Customers follow their own journeys, each customer is different and therefore each journey is different. Customers see themselves as human beings, not as personas, machines or “anyone” and they want to be treated in this manner:

1. Companies doing technology projects related to commerce and customer engagement need a thorough and deep understanding of their customer journeys.

2. And those journeys do not start with the company’s web ite or at the PoS, it starts much earlier (depending on the source, between 50%-90% of the journeys are completed before the first direct contact or a purchase happens).

This is a major reason, why content and context are the main influencers for purchasing decisions. To take historical transactions (CRM) and future predictions (Analytics) into consideration may not be as successful as an intelligent modern platform to deliver the right content in the right context at the right time i.e. at each touchpoint.

There was a time, when functionalities were developed proprietarily (because there were no adequate systems). The next important step was to offer standard software for standard processes. The standard processes were given by the company and set upon the customers’ behavior; sometimes even the vendor imposed those upon the client.

This has changed tremendously. As described before, customers walk their own journeys, they are not objects which follow or want to follow standard processes:

3. Each project within each vertical is different. There is not one of the same or very similar companies on the marketplace. Current market models (B2C, B2B, B2B2C) differ, new business communication models (including any kind of technology such as robots, connected cars, IoT, virtual reality, etc) will spring up. Companies define themselves via USP (unique selling proposition). This USP must be reflected in the selected technology; therefore each technology needs to be adopted towards it (not viceversa). Flexibility, adoptability, customizability, configurability, upgradability are major success factors when it comes to selecting the right solution. Non-functional requirements (NFR) may have the same or even more importance then functional requirements.

4. Sales improving concepts (such as sales integration into communities or gamification powering commerce) must be easily incorporated into the existing sales platform. This again requires a lot of flexibility and openness as well as ready-to-use modules from the vendor’s platform.

5. In need of this variety the vendor and its partners should offer marketplaces, to be able to select from best-of-breed micro-solutions or apps (hybris software calls them microservices) and count on a theoretically infinite number of partners working on improvements for the digital project.

Chief Strategy Officer at hybris SAP CEC, Brian Walker, said “Context makes the difference and Data is the Fuel”. So I am asking companies, which and how much fuel do they need? How efficient is their motor in fuel consumption? How far do they (want to) get with that fuel? And: The better the fuel, the better you run!

6. If you need real time data or not strongly depends on your business model and your vision of how to use this data. In a very direct online experience you may want to access data in real time, but there may be also B2C or B2B business cases which don’t make that type of data processing necessary. The infrastructure (databases) behind should be exchangeable and easily expandable.

7. Online does not substitute offline (or vice versa); both complement each other in both ways. This means, especially for offline and online data, to integrate them in one and only one place. That way they can be used to lead a seamless and personalized customer journey.

8. Every technology around the customer journey lives from high customer data quality, structured data or not! For many companies and years, data governance has been an almost unsolvable task and still is. Tight data integration and strong data management tools help. Maybe other external sources need to be brought in, to improve the data quality. Nevertheless data quality is not an IT issue, but an outcome of the right business targets!

9. Everything around the customers is also about protecting their data. Especially after the recent European Union’s court decision on Safe Harbor (“Decision 2000/520 is invalid“) showing paths with minimum risks for security and protection of data and safety of (cloud based) applications are a challenge for all software vendors on both sides of the Atlantic. If the legislation cannot provide an adequate framework, the vendor and its partners need to do so by meeting customers’ expectations. But they may have collected more experience over the past years and be more flexible and accurate at it.

There is no successful project without an adequate project management. This has not changed in the digital world. What has changed is the speed and agility to conduct these projects (hybris software stated to have had 190 go lives in 2015!):

10. In a digital world the system and business models constantly change. Any kind of technology deliverable must be fast and on the point. Agile project management methods rule. Recommended are also experiments: if it doesn’t work, throw it away and use a different approach, and don’t look back too long. This may have a cultural background especially in digital projects, but it proves to work.

11. To do so, it is also important to break up (all!) silos in the company. From a project point of view this may be the most challenging part. Top Management and traditionalists need to be convinced, a thorough change management needs to be established.

Last but not least there is the software vendor which are companies, just like their business customers, underlie the same paradigms of customer engagement and satisfaction:

12. There is a difference in buying software licenses (good for the vendor, not always good for the buyer) and seeking a successful solution. From the vendor point of view technology, projects drive away from the traditional Account Management (impersonal), towards as SAP calls it Customer Success Management (personalized). If the partner doesn’t live a customer-Centric business model, how can he implement it? For technology it significates, it must be open towards other platforms. Measuring the NPS or using specific engagement KPIs and transparently communicating them create confidence in the vendor2buyer relation.

Thank you to hybris software, SAP CEC, its partners and customers for some great insights and these takeaways! They 100% match with my recent lessons learned in customer-centricity and customer experience projects. Regardless of the business opportunities, digital transformation is a mindset change, using the right (effective) technology in the right way (efficiently) as its driver and enabler.


Björn Neumann is Managing Consultant and Service Line Leader for Customer Centric Technology Leadership at Buljan & Partners Consulting. Björn is a specialist in Project Management and CRM system implementations across several industries since 1998.

More on Björn:

  • b.neumann@buljanandpartners.com
  • https://es.linkedin.com/pub/björn-neumann/77/32a/10b/en
  • @CCMTechnology

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