Most organizations in North America are well into the second month of disrupted operations, while their workforce—those working from home and those still going into a facility daily—is adapting to a new normal. At the onset of the pandemic, ASUG hosted a series of Executive Exchange roundtables where business leaders and SAP customers discussed their initial COVID-19 response efforts.

Now that these organizations have had some time to adjust and pivot, ASUG Executive Exchange is hosting a new series of roundtables to better understand where companies are today, where their biggest challenges remain, and what they see for the future of work in a post-COVID-19 landscape.

Leading Toward a Moving Target

We dialed in and listened to gather some updates and best practices from the business leaders in attendance who spanned industries and business functions across the supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution businesses, to universities and life science laboratories. There was even participation from system integrators who offered their points of view on how technology is helping lead the charge.

David Wascom, SVP of executive programs at ASUG, guided the conversations and focused on three main topics: the effects on business, technology, and leadership. “The new normal is a moving target, and the ability to use this forum to capture key learnings and share them with peers is fundamental to the value of the ASUG Executive Exchange program,” he said.

People, Process, and Productivity Keep Organizations Running During COVID-19

In mid-March this year, business leaders were tasked with acting quickly in a constantly changing environment to best protect their workforce—and in some cases their customers—while keeping operations running, productive, and hopefully profitable.

At the time, the immediate response was to make sure that the staff that was able to work from home were set up to resume operations. Leaders also had to make sure that staff that needed to be on-site did so safely and in a stable environment they could trust. Some organizations had the added pressure of needing to reimagine their product and services to match the needs of the moment.

Not much has changed, except for perhaps a better understanding of where the shortcomings are and how to better address them. “Much like everybody else, we scrambled to get the equipment we needed and to get the workforce up and running,” said one participant. While some companies were set up and prepared to quickly shift to support a remote workforce, others weren’t. But being agile allowed those that weren’t to think quickly and act.

“We pulled old laptops out of the disposal bin and reimaged them,” one participant said. “I even gave up my own work laptop and used my personal laptop for the time being because all our applications were on the cloud.”

Across the board, everyone said the priority was the safety and well-being of their workforce. Because without that, process won’t matter, and productivity will fall short. “We were lucky that we had masks and other protective gear we could supply to our most at-risk workforce that needed to still come in to keep operations going,” another participant said.

Pivoting to Survive a Pandemic

As we wait to see how organizations that have been forced to stop operations will come out of this situation, the many that have been deemed essential are working through challenges that continue to arise.

“It’s still too early to tell how and if we will be affected,” said one ASUG Executive Exchange member. “We have harvest season in late summer, and there is no telling what that will look like in terms of hiring seasonal help.”

Other companies have already seen an immediate impact on operations. One member who works in consumer industries manufacturing said in mid-March their operations experienced a mad rush as people began to buy in bulk out of fear and uncertainty. “Things have started to settle down for now, but we don’t know what it will look like in a couple of months.”

Another participant discussed research their company is doing to determine whether their product can be used for medicinal purposes. “We won’t know for sure right away, but it’s definitely something we’re looking into.”

Although a lot of uncertainty remains, what we know is that business leaders are thinking about all the different outcomes and possibilities for their organizations. For many, technology is playing a big role in how they are collecting, analyzing, and using information to help drive their decisions.

Technology—SAP and non-SAP—Is Essential

We heard from SAP Chief Innovation Officer Max Wessel that it is more important now than ever to invest in innovation. “The benefit of innovation is that it accrues exponentially,” he said. “The same customers who are finding it most difficult right now to take advantage of innovation are the same customers who are articulating how much they wish they had automated things previously.”

Almost everyone who participated in the ASUG Executive Exchange roundtables identified ways that technology has simplified, or made possible, business continuity.

“We made a call for everyone to work remotely on March 12,” said one participant. “And given that we already had a cloud-first strategy, we were fully implemented in the cloud and ready to work the next day.” Another participant commented, “While we’ve pushed back on the cloud over the last few years, this has given us some renewed interest. This is especially true if the ‘work-from-home’ culture becomes the new normal. If it’s in the cloud, then we can manage it anytime from anywhere.”

Some participants talked about needing to send someone to the office daily just to change backup tapes on their on-premise systems. “When we get back to normal, we will go back and analyze from an IT perspective what we wish we had in place or had done that would have made things easier.”

Other participants—both SAP customers and SAP partners—discussed moving forward with planned SAP S/4HANA projects. “We were in the middle of a finance project when everything happened, and we had to go to working remotely,” one participant said. “It has gone great. We’ve been able to make it work and stay on schedule.”

What Is This New Normal Everyone Is Talking About? We’re Already Here

The word virtual, although not new, has become part of our everyday conversations almost overnight. Whether we’re participating in a virtual event, hosting a virtual meeting, helping our kids with online learning, or hanging with friends for a virtual happy hour, there is nothing new about this normal. It’s just, well, normal. For the most part, as employees and as consumers, we have adapted fairly quickly to working and living virtually. And that’s not to say that there isn’t a longing to go back to the way things were pre-COVID-19, but rather, a post-COVID-19 world won’t look newer than it does today.

Some things will be different for those who return to the office, but it will look a lot like it does for those who are working on-site today. “Everyone from administrative personnel to drivers to those who work on the production lines get their temperature checked,” said one participant. Another added, “I believe we will install full-body thermal scans that measure people’s body heat at our physical locations.” Other participants discussed rotating shifts and making wearing masks mandatory.

Social distancing, already practiced at most supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution facilities today, will likely become the norm—at least temporarily—in offices, restaurants, and retail stores across the nation, too. “If we expect a second wave in the fall, then we need to be prepared,” one participant said. “This even changes the game for hiring new employees. I can’t tell you how many qualified candidates we’ve turned away because we had a “no-work-from-home” policy in place for years. That’s going to change.” Another participant added, “Once we can resume operations, I imagine we will maintain a work-from-home culture. And that’s not a bad thing as most companies have seen an uptick in productivity.”

Good Leadership Is the Path to Success

We’ve always heard that people, process, and product are the defining assets of any successful company. And while that is true, none of those can exist without good leadership, especially not during times of stress and uncertainty.

Many of the business leaders talked about keeping lines of communication open so that information flows both ways. They also talked about being empathetic to their employees’ circumstances and being willing to remain flexible. No one has a crystal ball to predict when or how things will change, but everyone has to keep the conversation going.

“There is a lot we just need to put our heads together and address,” one participant said. “There isn’t just one easy solution. There are conversations we have not yet had, but no doubt we will need to have them as we learn more.”

Register for one of the remaining ASUG Executive Exchange online sessions taking place on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.

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