Organizations large and small are dealing with global uncertainty and disruption. COVID-19 has not only affected the way we work, but also the work we do. It has touched everything from small businesses to large enterprises, affecting supply chains, production, and operations.

We recently connected (virtually) with Michael Golz, CIO Americas at SAP, to discuss how the IT team at SAP has adjusted its work. Also in virtual attendance for ASUG Executive Exchange Virtual Summit: Navigating Uncertainty as a CIO were Tara Gambill, senior director of enterprise systems, MOD Pizza; Dr. E. Jeffrey Hutchinson, SVP and global CIO, Bombardier Inc.; Florian Roth, CIO, SAP SE; Geoff Scott, CEO, ASUG; Dan Stuart, SVP of ITS, Southwire; and David Wascom, SVP, Executive Programs, ASUG.

The group discussed the effects of COVID-19 on business and how and where SAP can support our organizations. They covered a broad range of topics including challenges, disruptions, morale, and a post-COVID-19 business landscape.

New Work Model, Same Work Ethic

With most everyone moving to a work-from-home model, CIOs and their teams have been tasked with making the transition smoother. Many balance big-picture strategic initiatives with maintaining business continuity while also providing technical support across their organizations.

During the virtual summit, Wascom, who moderated the panel, asked about challenges CIOs face during this pandemic. Responses ranged from keeping performance at peak with minimal disruption to scaling and accelerating training on how to use collaboration applications like Microsoft Teams.

Scott joked that his biggest adjustment was learning to deal with his cat while working. But the reality is that many of us have had to adjust to new work environments and distractions. “A new normal from a company perspective,” Scott added, “hasn’t been that difficult to implement. We’ve been cloud ready for some time, so we didn’t hit many technical glitches when moving to a work-from-home environment. Where we did come across some problems was getting everyone prepared to use the applications.”

Making sure everyone can communicate and collaborate is vital for business continuity. But it can’t come at the expense of security. Stuart remarked that his focus was on keeping lines of communication open but also on maintaining security protocols. Most companies have had procedures in place to deal with emergencies, but what’s different in this case is the magnitude of the emergency. “At SAP, we are hard-wired toward disaster recovery and business continuity,” Golz said. “It is part of our DNA. What’s new to us, and I think most organizations, is just how broad of a scale this is.”

Keeping Morale Afloat Is Vital for Business Continuity, Too

Even with procedures in place and business continuity plans running, what is happening around the world can affect people—teamwork, communications, productivity, and morale.

As CIOs ramp up efforts to keep the business going and the workforce equipped to run it, business leaders in general also need to be mindful of remaining empathetic to their employees’ needs and new circumstances. “In some ways, we’re more connected now,” Golz said. “We start a call by asking how the other person is doing, and we get a real answer.”

Golz added that everyone is going through their own set of challenges, and now is the time to acknowledge that—and perhaps try to do something to help. “It’s really important to make those personal connections. Let’s make sure that this is physical distancing with social collaboration rather than social distancing.”

Scott added that the best thing right now from a leadership perspective is to be available. “You should check in on your employees often. We have been using Qualtrics to check the pulse of our members and employees on a weekly basis. We get both the numerical score of how people are feeling as well as a pretty healthy dose of comments on where people are with everything.”

SAP Customer Businesses on the Front Lines

Maintaining business continuity involves much more than simply keeping your workforce moving; it also requires keeping business operations moving. While some organizations like SAP and ASUG can move to an almost complete work-from-home model, others that operate manufacturing plants, supply chains, and other service-type operations need to approach the matter from a different angle.

Bombardier, which is a global manufacturer, was dealing with the effects of COVID-19 when the virus first hit China. “It’s been a very unique experience to watch as country by country has had to react to what’s happening,” Hutchinson said. “We needed to watch out for country-specific guidelines and make sure we were adhering to them, while also keeping our workforce safe as well as a close eye on our global supplier base.” 

As the borders around the world started to close, it created a major obstacle for Bombardier. “We just could not get the product moving,” Hutchinson added. “We’re thinking through how that’s going to move forward and how are we going to continue that operation and drive it from an overall point of view.”

Although MOD Pizza has had its support team working from home since March 9, it still has a workforce that needs to serve customers in person. “We needed to act quickly in terms of the safety of our employees and customers while managing stores all over the country,” Gambill said. For customer-facing businesses, the circumstances change almost daily, as well as geographically.

Getting Ready for the Post-COVID-19 Normal

There has been a lot of talk about a new normal. When is it going to begin and what does it look like? Some might argue that we are already living it, while others believe now is the time to prepare for it.

“We’re working hard to try and understand what life will look like going forward. We know it will be different,” Hutchinson said. Like many CIOs, he is looking at systems, business processes, how to streamline, and where to do it, among other things. “The idea is to enhance our capabilities as an organization.”

To the extent that it is possible, many organizations are leaning toward adopting a mixed work environment. “We’re going to learn a lesson that consultants have known for years,” Hutchinson added. “The combination of spending some time in the office along with some time working remotely is going to be the new way of working.” Scott agreed and added, “Even as we reopen offices, employee safety will need to remain top of mind. We may adopt a split shift where some people come in the office and others stay home and then alternate that.”

No matter how things change, we know that technology is going to play a big role. “It’s important to drive innovation,” Roth said.

SAP Keeps Business Running During COVID-19

As IT teams look to keep business operations and processes running at full throttle, Wascom asked how an SAP technology stack has helped with immediate responses.

Gambill noted that MOD Pizza is a 100% software as a service (SaaS) shop and one of the first adopters of SAP S/4HANA Public Cloud in North America. “Our finance and accounting functions are in the cloud, and we’re also an SAP SuccessFactors shop. So that has given us access anytime, anywhere. From a SaaS perspective, SAP has been consistent and available. We’ve had no issues at all.”

Roth talked about SAP also running on its own software and how that has helped to better understand the needs of its customers. “The intelligent enterprise really connects the front office to the back office,” he said. “Our systems have enabled us to run remotely and at a time that is really important.”

Watch the full ASUG Executive Exchange Virtual Summit: Navigating Uncertainty as a CIO on demand and learn how other CIOs are handling COVID-19 and planning steps for the future. ASUG members can register for the Executive Exchange Virtual Summit: United in Leadership on May 13, 2020 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT.

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