For the past few months, companies around the world have focused on overcoming the hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. As it has become apparent that these hurdles are unlikely to disappear in the near future, technology leaders have turned their focus back to achieving key business outcomes, as they always have, though this time in an uncertain environment. 

The July 2020 ASUG Executive Exchange Virtual Summit: Partners in Leadership focused on how organizations and their leaders are addressing core business challenges ranging from the employee experience, to digital transformation, to the customer experience. The event featured a lineup of company leaders discussing topics including the need to build diversity and inclusion strategies, ways to leverage automation during your migration to SAP S/4HANA, and internal programs to improve IT practices. Between two general session panels and four break out tracks, attendees heard from decision-makers who shared their insights on how to drive continuous improvements through the technology organization.

The Value of Diversity and Inclusion Programs

The event kicked off with a panel presented by ASUG Women Connect focused on building strategic diversity and inclusion programs. Sharon Rehana, managing editor of digital content at ASUG, was joined by Lori Plate, senior director of MIS at Johnsonville Sausage; Melinda Lawrence, CFO of Worksoft; Margot Goodson, North American diversity and inclusion lead at SAP; and Hernán García González, vice president of talent and experience at Tec de Monterrey. Each of the panelists represented companies that were at various stages of implementing their diversity and inclusion programs.

Diversity and inclusion programs depend on executive buy-in. Goodson encouraged attendees to think about how their company can build internal support while developing initiatives for existing employees and as part of a recruiting approach. “As leaders, we want to make sure we are making strides in the ways we ware impactful,” she said. “Strategy and stakeholder alignment are key.”

Johnsonville is in the early stages of setting up its program. Plate noted that the sausage company’s workforce is made up of predominantly white men from its surrounding area in central Wisconsin. Given this factor, Plate discussed how the company needs to go broader in its approach to diversity. “That means we need to not only think about diversity in Johnsonville but also in the community,” she said. “We can’t just talk about what we do at Johnsonville.”

González described some of the early stumbles the Tec de Monterrey experienced with its diversity and inclusion initiative, and how the university learned from its initial mistakes to form better, more effective programs. The university decided to throw its weight behind a few initiatives, as opposed to overextending itself. González described how the school’s work helped bring about positive change, and how similar initiatives can assist companies. For example, the university enhanced its value proposition as an employer and experienced less turnover. Additionally, Tec de Monterrey found it could attract high-caliber faculty and staff talent in a shorter period. “When you have a diverse workforce, you are going to be more desirable,” he said.

Diversity and inclusion programs also have an impact on innovation at organizations, which can help encourage growth and business success. Lawrence discussed how Worksoft recently had to launch a new offering amid the COVID-19 outbreak, which complicated the process. The team had to think of creative ways to make the product launch successful, given the unprecedented conditions.

“We had a lot of different people at the table with a diversity of experiences,” Lawrence said. “With innovation, it all comes down to your background and thinking. You need to have an open mindset to be innovative.”

A New Take on Digital Transformation

A few sessions throughout the event focused on ways companies can alleviate the complexity of digital transformation. The events of 2020 have rewritten the rules for how organizations need to manage these projects. Steve Niesman, president and CEO of itelligence, delivered a presentation on how to rethink digital transformation strategies in the face of COVID-19. He argued that the traditional software cycle and digital transformation rollout strategy no longer works in this environment, and should be tweaked. He urged companies to begin using “modular, smaller, digestible” transformation strategies that can easily be started and finished.

“The traditional IT rollout model is out the window,” he said.

Syngenta, an agriculture company, closed out the Executive Exchange with a presentation on its Quality of Life Program. This strategy involves an internal team traveling to different Syngenta plants to help improve the way employees interact with and operate their IT systems.

“One lesson we learned is that 90% of your company is just trying to get a job done,” said Mike Hassett, the SAP North American lead at Syngenta. “They just want their system to work and be able to have things flow. We’re guilty of sometimes overlooking that.”

The presentation focused on a Syngenta location in Iowa where the company piloted the Quality of Life Program. The team spent 10 days meeting with employees of the Iowa plant and brainstorming ways to improve IT workflows. Working together with representatives across the business, the team was able to able to make 13 improvements to the site’s data quality, 12 SAP system changes that enhanced the IT infrastructure, and five improvements that helped Syngenta customers and saved an estimated 271 hours per month in employee productivity.

Other sessions that focused on digital transformation included Paul El Khoury, head of SAP Agile Secure Development, and Birgit Hess, Europe security awareness lead at SAP, presenting on the security challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak and mass remote working. Similarly, Juan Perez-Etchegoyen, CTO of Onapsis, delivered a presentation detailing some of the security risks in the cloud, and how companies can mitigate those risks while reducing business disruption.

Carmen Ruediger and Collin Sommerhauser, both strategic go-to-market and sales executives for SAP Ruum, presented on how companies can build new automated IT processes using the AI-driven project management app SAP Ruum and cut down on the time needed to complete IT projects. The app, which was built by a team of SAP employees as part of the SAP.iO incubator initiative, has upwards of 30,000 users. 

Improving SAP S/4HANA Implementations

Another big topic at the ASUG Executive Exchange was how to make SAP S/4HANA implementations faster and less painful. Though SAP aspires to move its customers off of SAP ECC 6 and other legacy ERP systems, the process of migrating is time-consuming and complex.

The software company offers a program to guide customers through the implementation process: SAP Enterprise Support Guides. Pascale Humbert, lead architect for SAP S/4HANA Cloud, and Ed Manmohan, regional director of Canada enterprise support at SAP, walked attendees through how his program can help customers during their SAP S/4HANA journey.

The program begins with an onboarding session where the customer talks about their company and the project at hand, before moving to journey checks where the customer takes a questionnaire. Answers are generated into a tailor-made engagement plan complete with project goals. The SAP Enterprise Support Guides team schedules regular engagement points when the customer can meet with the team and obtain guidance through the implementation plan.

How Automation Helps with SAP S/4HANA Migrations

In a session on using automation in the process of moving to SAP S/4HANA, Mike Veatch, solution architect at Worksoft, discussed how an automated approach can help companies who are migrating to SAP S/4HANA either from SAP ECC 6 or a non-SAP ERP solution. He encouraged companies to begin using automated testing early in their SAP S/4HANA journey, as it can be used throughout the process. “There’s a lot of value in automating today so you can automate later,” he said.

Automation can assist companies by capturing existing business processes in the SAP GUI (graphical user interface) and by creating a library of tests that can be used later in the implementation process. This will give users a detailed view of what processes will change as a result of the transition.

Alexander Ertl, senior product manager for SAP at Tricentis, walked attendees through some of the complexities associated with SAP system testing during a company’s transition to SAP S/4HANA.

“Traditional SAP testing is somehow broken,” he said. “Most customers are doing regression testing, end-to-end scenarios that go over certain t-codes and don’t address the entire range of business risk.”

Ertl discussed how Tricentis’ new partnership with SAP will help customers accelerate their SAP S/4HANA migrations. Moving forward, Tricentis solutions will replace all of SAP’s internal testing. The two companies are also co-developing a test automation solution, and Tricentis’ products are now SAP Solution Extensions. This partnership can help customers conduct faster, safer, and cheaper SAP S/4HANA testing.

SAP Product Road Maps and Strategies

The ASUG Executive Exchange also featured several SAP employees detailing the road maps and upcoming updates to some of the software company’s offerings. Esteban Kolsky, chief strategy officer of SAP CX Solutions gave a presentation about SAP’s customer experience strategy. Kolsky talked about the SAP CX three-tiered model of development. Tier 1, which includes an end-to-end experience connecting front and back offices with a low-code or no-code interface and is currently live. Tier 2, set to go live in November, will expand the Digital First strategy, while Tier 3—which will release in June 2021—will help optimize your investment.

Mortiz Zimmerman, general manager and head of SAP Commerce Cloud presented some of the upcoming innovations for SAP Commerce. He noted that priorities include creating solutions that are agile, quick, and have an API-first approach. SAP is also modernizing the cloud with commerce services and building end-to-end integrations with SAP S/4HANA and SAP Customer Experience. Recently, SAP Commerce added integrations with Qualtrics and SAP Customer Data Cloud, while also introducing omnichannel pricing and promotion services.

“You won’t recognize it as a customer, but behind the scenes, there will be continuous improvements happening,” Zimmerman said.

Another session focused on SAP Customer Data Cloud. Ben Jackson, general manager and head of SAP Customer Data Cloud, talked about the need for SAP customers to get their data right, understand their customers, activate data across all channels, and break down data silos in the organization

As companies compete for customers, they are finding an edge with the data collected from those customers. But it can be difficult to keep track of all that data. SAP Customer Data Cloud helps users cover external data related to customer identity management and break down cross-enterprise data for analyzing.

Watch the entire ASUG Executive Exchange Virtual Summit on-demand.