ASUG’s first-ever weeklong virtual experience, ASUGFORWARD, took place online June 22 through June 25, 2020. Much like the ASUG Annual Conference in Orlando, our virtual event featured presentations from SAP customers, for SAP customers but this time across five areas of business focus. Only one focus area offered three days of presentations—that was IT operations, a core area of interest for ASUG customer members. Other areas of focus included supply chain and manufacturing, finance and procurement, sales and e-commerce, and employee experience and HR.

All three days of IT operations sessions were hosted by emcee Paul Kurchina, a former SAP customer and a self-described connector, analyst, and industry catalyst. Kurchina joined his copresenters from Calgary, Alberta and kept the pace of the conversation going through the week of discussions with IT industry leaders, SAP customers, SAP executives, and partners.

Here are some of the highlights of the week.

IT Leaders Weigh in with Advice and Optimism

ASUG CEO Geoff Scott kicked off each day in a video conversation with an IT leader. Scott checked in with each leader on how each of their organizations is weathering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to ask about how their perspectives have changed as a result of the rapid transformations that have resulted.

Archie Deskus, senior VP and CIO of Intel had just taken on her current role at the end of January and barely had time to meet her new team before travel came to a screeching halt. She emphasized the importance of speed of communication and considering what it really takes for a leader to consider the well-being of their workforce. “You’ve got to start building those key relationships…You can’t afford to wait. I think you lose time, you lose credibility if you wait,” Deskus said. “When you have crisis, you do meet more frequently…A crisis brings you together in terms of how you survive that crisis…You worry about keeping your workforce safe—not just from a workforce perspective—but about the whole employee—their health, how they’re dealing with their families, and their individual situations.”

Deskus also shared a memorable quote from Intel CEO Bob Swan that captured a common shared lesson of the week about the pace of innovation. “Our CEO, Bob Swan, has been recently quoted and he encourages all of us to think about, ‘How is it in moments of crisis that we’re able to get so much done so fast? And how we continue that pace in a more normal environment?’” She went on to say, “In crisis, we can overcome our processes and policies—all the things that typically get in the way of us to move fast…What we learn in crisis is that it may not be perfect, but it’s better for us to just go than to be stuck.”

Changes Will Persist Beyond This Crisis

On day two, Scott spoke with Jurgen Mueller, CTO and SAP executive board member, from his home in Berlin where he’s been working during the pandemic. Mueller shared how SAP sprang into action to create technology solutions for the government and municipalities in Germany that were facing unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19. In one example, SAP built an app using SAP Cloud Platform that helped repatriate 250,000 German citizens who were abroad during the outbreak and needed to return home.

He described SAP’s responsibility to make it easier for its customers to do business, as well as the customer’s responsibility to look at COVID-19 as an opportunity to address ongoing business challenges. “Almost two-thirds of our customers say their data landscapes are too complex…How can we help them make confident decisions with all of these data swamps we have created?...More than 50% of IT depts are overwhelmed by the demands they get from their businesses. So, how can we help IT departments to act quicker and become more flexible as well, because all companies have become software companies?”

On day three, Scott connected with Martha Heller, CEO of a top recruiting firm for IT executives, Heller Search Associates. Recently, she went on a listening tour with a who’s who of CIOs working in industries ranging from alcoholic beverage producers to insurance to health care. Her two big a-ha moments were that the current crisis is flattening hierarchies throughout tech organizations as it now matters more who has the information leadership needs and how quickly they can get it. And that engaging via video platforms is democratizing interactions among tech teams. She described, “I am hearing that video is creating an egalitarianism or a parity in communication where there wasn’t any. So, in a conference room, you’re going to have the louder, more aggressive voices and you’re going to have the more demure voices, and often this is gendered…There is a parity that is happening because of video and there is a flattening of the hierarchy that is happening because of the crisis. To me, this is heartening if we can find a way to embed this or entrench this in our businesses going forward.”

SAP Customers Share Lessons on SAP S/4HANA, Integration, and Business Intelligence

The week was filled with helpful insights from SAP customers about the work they’ve been doing at their organizations. Some of these journeys were more recent, while others have been taking place through multiyear, multiphased projects.

One timely presentation described Sauder Woodworking Company’s “do-it-yourself” technical conversion to SAP S/4HANA from copresenters Jan Arvay, VP of information technologies, and
Pam Vocke, director of business systems. Arvay and Vocke talked about how you should do your homework, how practice makes perfect, and how it’s important to assemble the right team to go on the journey with you. Vocke described the success story at the end of their efforts: “We were able to complete three practice technical conversions and then we went live with SAP S/4HANA 1709 on Memorial Day weekend 2019. From a project perspective, we were very happy that were able to meet the 72-hour downtime that the business had agreed to support our project. And our cutover went very smoothly…The second night of our cutover, we had zero helpdesk calls. And we’re very happy to report that the project was done on time and within budget.”

Tackling a critical topic for SAP customers, Brianca Martin, senior staff technical program manager at General Electric, described how her team built a cloud-based tool using APIs to monitor the performance of the integrations within the company’s SAP ecosystem, that the team calls DIVE. Building on General Electric’s long commitment to quality processes, Martin shared the program’s Critical to Quality factors:

  • The platform is technology agnostic.
  • It supports various types of middleware.
  • It leverages container technology.
  • It allows the team to quantify how many transactions were received.
  • It accommodates user-based personas.
  • It provides transaction details at-a-glance for end-to-end transactions.
  • It needs to support diverse environments.

Two essential components of the solution that her team built in were dashboards to visualize the integration performance and a mechanism for acting on any findings that did not always require manual efforts. “What we wanted to do was eliminate that manual effort and instead notify a user on the shop floor if they had a purchase order fail,” Martin explained. “We wanted to have targeted communication with the user that we can attach transactional details, so the user has all the information they need to process the transaction.”

Another story of change-management success came from Mustafa Mustafa, senior director of IT at Ferrara Candy Company, who described how the IT team tackled a big business intelligence project while using it as an opportunity to strengthen its relationships with business leaders and users. Over what Mustafa described as “a six-year adventure,” the IT team has built a business intelligence stack that includes SAP HANA Enterprise Data Warehouse, Analysis for Office, Web Intelligence, Lumira for dashboards for its leadership team, SAP HANA UI, and Analytics Hub to allow users a one-stop shop to view all reports.

After investing in this project, Ferarra has reduced its developer cost by 70% and has cut the amount of time it needs to build data models by 90%. The key to the project’s success came from establishing trust. “Trust comes from being able to state what you’re able to deliver and then being able to deliver it…We sit with our superusers, we sit with our business owners, we sit with our C-suite, and we understand where their goals are and we are advocates to help them attain their goals... We take an Agile approach and produce short sprints that allow them to see the results and generate value. They see that value and trust that we can keep producing them month over month,” Mustafa said.

Partner Perspectives on Key Technologies and Innovation

Throughout the week, various partners joined with their customers to share how they’re providing key technologies to help drive innovation. We heard from James Senecal, director of solution architecture at Tricentis, who explained how SAP customers can use automated testing to accelerate both their regular SAP release management and their digital transformation projects. On the transformation side, he described how the expense, time, risk, and effort of testing is the number-one barrier to innovation for SAP customers.

Sandeep Cumbamanagalam, business applications principal software engineer at Zappos had a conversation with John Appleby, CEO of Avantra, about how the IT team leans on its AIOps solution to achieve its mission of delivering “WOW” to customers.

We also heard the deputy CISO at Levi Strauss & Co., Steve Zalewski describe the company’s journey to the public cloud, where it moved its development, QA, test environments to SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud on Azure to take advantage of the infrastructure, scale, and cost advantages of the public cloud. But those advantages meant losing some security controls, which led Zalewski to solutions from Onapsis. “All of a sudden, I don’t own the entire infrastructure, so how do I as a security practitioner for Levi’s trust, but verify that the entire infrastructure is secure?” he said.

A Week of IT Focus and Fun

Attendees had the chance to take a break to enjoy two musical guests. On Tuesday, Tami Nielsen performed a rousing R&B set from her home in New Zealand. And on Thursday afternoon, three-time Grammy nominee Ashley McBryde shared a short country music medley with viewers.

Although many presenters mentioned how much they missed the opportunity to be together in Orlando for the ASUG Annual Conference, ASUGFORWARD was a week of camaraderie and optimism in the face of fierce challenges to business and technology.

If you missed our IT operations sessions at ASUGFORWARD, you can catch up by viewing them on demand. ASUG members will have unlimited access to all of the week’s sessions on-demand, while nonmember registrants can view them until Sunday, June 28 at 11:59 p.m. CT/Monday, June 29 at 12:59 a.m. ET.

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