As 2022 came to a close, SAP business and thought leaders finished work and joined with SAP Press last month to release “Business as Unusual with SAP, How Leaders Navigate Megatrends.” In the book, Thomas Saueressig, SAP Executive Board Member, Product Engineering, and Peter Maier, SAP President of Industries and Customer Advisory, posit a series of megatrends already at play in customer environments—trends they see will have an increasing impact on organizations’ business and technology initiatives.
The format not only features Saueressig and Maier’s observations and arguments, but they’ve tapped SAP customers in a narrative style as well as highlighted industries most affected by a given trend.
ASUG provided a series of questions to the authors to further understand and amplify key themes, including what characterizes “business as unusual.” The authors’ joint responses were provided via email for the interview format below. The book can be found here.
Question: What inspired and motivated you to write this book now?
Answer: In our customer conversations, we experience how the megatrends we discuss in our book drive our customers' business and technology agenda. We found it worthwhile to share their voice and our perspective on how leaders successfully navigate industry megatrends using the capabilities of our intelligent suite and our intelligent technologies.
Q: The high-profile original Megatrends book by John Naisbitt was published in 1982; what are the key megatrend differences between then and now?
A: John Naisbitt identified and discussed global megatrends 40 years ago and reviewing how these trends have played out has been interesting. We have seen his predicted transition from the industry to the information society materialize, but his vision of a long-term business replacing short-term profit certainly has not come true—and, surprisingly, the Club of Rome’s “Limits of Growth” in 1972 hasn’t influenced his predictions. And what we have learned: even megatrends have a limited shelf life, and Naisbitt’s global megatrends show this very clearly.
Consequently, we don’t claim that the “2022 megatrends” we have identified are permanent phenomena, but they have been and will be driving the business agenda of our customers for the following years. Of course, we can’t anticipate the impact of massively disruptive events, but we see the long-term validity and effect of megatrends like sustainable energy, everything as a service, or circular economy.
Q: Who is the intended audience for this book?
A: Unlike most SAP Press books, “Business as Unusual with SAP” addresses a business audience by sharing how other business leaders navigate industry megatrends. There’s always something to learn from others. But we also address enterprise architects operating at the interface between business and IT. This boundary has been softening as business leaders become more tech-savvy and IT architects and experts acquire more business knowledge to engage in business and IT strategy discussions.
Q: The book has an interesting structure—chapters plus thought experiments, related megatrends, and key industries associated with each. What is the thinking behind this structure and its value to the reader?
A: The thought experiments intend to engage readers by allowing them to think through the impact of a megatrend on the best practice, imagine what “Business as Unusual” would look like, and how this would change their business. We also chose this approach to make it very clear that we don’t have definitive answers, but asking compelling questions is often a great first step in a transformation journey. This kind of engagement can be very hands-on: Our experience centers in major SAP locations showcase a range of digital technologies integrated with state-of-the-art business solutions to create an environment that inspires new thinking with a digitized retail store, shopfloor robotics, sensors, and mixed reality scenarios.
Each megatrend is relevant for a range of industries, and we observe how fluent industry boundaries are becoming in many customer and partner conversations. The megatrends themselves don’t exist in isolation. There are connections: Integrated Mobility, Everything as a Service, and New Customer Pathways have strong links. So, we want to motivate lateral thinking and reading—moving across industry boundaries and exploring the territory of connected megatrends.
Q: Also, in the book, there are references to “next practices.” Could you define this and help readers embrace “the next” when it’s challenging enough with today’s practices, processes, demands, etc.?
A: Industry best practices have always been evolving, driven by a combination of business and technology innovation. Take the evolution of car manufacturing from the first assembly lines in Ford factories to the highly flexible modern “configure-to-order” that supports making a gazillion variants of highly customized vehicles. And look at how digital technologies, from punch cards to artificial intelligence, have changed how people and machines work together. We observe that the speed of transformation is getting faster, driven by business and technology megatrends and disruptions. Consequently, we see leaders follow two parallel tracks: a “best-practice” track to drive efficiency and excellence in knowing what and how things are best done today. And then they run the “next-practice” track to experiment with new ways to do the same—and different—things to reach the next level of differentiation and efficiency: just look at the discussion about how the auto industry optimizes their current business model of making, selling, and financing cars to shaping new business models for an era of integrated mobility.
Q: Why is now, this moment, a time of “business as unusual?”
A: The last three years have shown us how fundamentally and quickly our world can change and how important the ability to adapt to change rapidly has become. Multi-year corporate programs have been compressed into quarters, months, and weeks. Fundamental beliefs have gone out of the window. And we perceive a new open-mindedness of many leaders to try new things–to embrace the idea of running a “business as unusual.” So we think it makes sense to use this momentum and start customer engagements to discuss how megatrends can inspire new ways of doing new things.
Q: We noticed in the final chapter a reference to the stability of cryptocurrency. Given recent developments (FTX, etc.), do you still see that as an important future megatrend?
A: By their very nature, financial services have been the first to get digitized (yes, there are some parts of the world where paper checks are still common) because banking and insurance “products” can be “made” and “operated” in data centers. In our book, we observe that “the speed of innovation and time to market is only limited by the product designer’s creativity and the time required to define and implement new products and services in the banking and insurance systems.” In the experimental space shaped by fintech’s many ideas and innovations, both from startups and loosely tethered subsidiaries, still underly the “hype cycle,” and it’s difficult to predict which will survive. Cryptocurrencies hold many promises, but they are also subject to the same principles as other vehicles to store and transact financial value: trust by the people who believe in the narrative that you can exchange a few metal coins in your pocket with a loaf of bread at your bakery. If this trust goes away, any currency will fail. So, we don’t see (or describe) cryptocurrencies as a megatrend but as one element in the Future of Capital and Risk megatrend, in which banking, insurance, and capital markets are fundamentally changing. We feature three case studies – Bank of London, Ergo Mobility, and Deutsche Börse – to illustrate dramatic changes happening in the sector. Ergo Mobility, for example, focuses on Smart Insurance for the next generation of Smart Cars.
Q: Is this book unusual in how it tapped customers/leaders for input?
A: Allegedly, the great physicist Niels Bohr found that “predictions are hard, especially about the future.” So, it made a lot of sense to not only rely on our own points of view about the megatrends shaping the industries but tap into the wisdom of a well-selected small crowd of customers, partners, and our SAP experts. We found their insights so valuable that we let them speak directly rather than paraphrase them. Of course, we are very grateful for their time sharing their perspectives on how megatrends transform industries.
Q: Were any ASUG members tapped for input?
A: All contributors to the book are listed in the appendix, and there’s a good likelihood that there is a number of ASUG members among them. In total, we interviewed leaders and experts in 26 countries to present a holistic picture of how megatrends impact different economies and geographies.
Q: How is this book most reflective of megatrends in the North American market?
A: Today, business is global, but the megatrends materialize differently in different countries. Take the Sustainable Energy megatrend: North America is in the comfortable position of being a leading provider of fossil fuels for their own economy and beyond. Combine this with the vast potential for renewable energy (such as deserts for solar and wind power), and the status of the United States as a superpower looks quite safe. Compare this to the geopolitical and geographical position of other still leading economies in Europe: we are currently experiencing the risks of a dependency on energy imports. So: the megatrends are truly global, as are the supply chains, the financial network, and the planetary boundaries our economies operate in, but they affect societies and economies differently. We believe we’ve found a good mix of perspectives across geographies and industry value chains.
Q: What is the most optimistic/opportunistic/positive trend in the narrative, and why? And what is the most pessimistic/problematic trend discussed in the narrative, and why?
A: We believe that every single megatrend we discuss holds threats and promises, depending on the reader’s attitude to running a “business as unusual.” Moving from selling products to providing and monetizing the outcome of using the product (our “Everything as a Service” megatrend) can be viewed as a problem for a business—or it can be treated as a great opportunity to create and expand new revenue streams, develop new business models, and establish new customer relationships. Throughout our research and discussions with customers, partners, and SAP experts, the opportunity/threat balance shifted from seeing problems and challenges to appreciating the potential for innovation and new business relationships. And, of course, we are very happy and pleased that our SAP solutions will play key roles in tackling the challenges and capturing the promised value from transforming business processes and business models.
Q: What do you want readers to, in the end, learn and do differently, having read the book?
A: The megatrends we discuss will impact the core business of many current and future SAP customers in all industries. Leaders always see the potential in change—and that’s what the megatrends affect. If our readers are motivated to see the megatrends as opportunities to create new value for their business: we’ll be happy. If they feel compelled to work with their colleagues to further evolve their business processes and business models: great. If this results in activities and engagement with SAP and our partners to discuss how we can contribute to capturing those opportunities: just brilliant. In any case, we are looking forward to their feedback and inspiring discussions
Q: Any other comments for the ASUG community?
A: Many ASUG members are leaders in their respective industries. We encourage them to review what their peers say and think about the megatrends we discuss in “Business as Unusual with SAP.” We also encourage the ASUG members to engage with their SAP teams and discuss how we can jointly turn the megatrends into business opportunities and impact.