Mark LeClair is a man of many passions. As Current Lighting CIO and ASUG past chair, LeClair's professional pursuits include overcoming business and technology challenges, connecting with and learning from his industry peers and companies in the midmarket sector, and supporting ASUG growth and opportunities.

As LeClair prepares to speak and participate in the upcoming ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Midmarket events, ASUG connected with him on these topics and more in the interview below.

Learn more about ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Midmarket.

This is an edited version of the complete interview.

Question: From your experience and what you've heard from other midmarket-sized organizations, what are the current business and technology challenges?

Answer: Keeping up with the pace of change in any market or any size business. The pace of change is so fast, so quick, so having the capacity—be it financial capacity, resource capacity, any way you want to look at it—to be able to keep up with the pace of change (is a challenge), and technology change is just as rapid as everything else.

In our industry, distribution is continuing to be a very big challenge. Whether it's the availability of materials or the cost of getting those goods into the country or from location-to-location, the costs continue to rise. We’re continually challenged with trying to be profitable.

Those are the really big issues at the forefront right now. And notice that none is really an IT-driven point; it's more business.

Q: Given what you just listed, how does an organization in the midmarket cope? How do you mitigate or overcome those challenges?

A: Coming from an IT lens, I try to provide the data in real-time that the business needs to make decisions very quickly. If it's data that's a week old, you’ve probably already lost the battle with the pace of change. So, creating real-time data capabilities available at the fingertips of decision makers so they can make the changes they need to help drive the business. From an IT lens how do I get the information into their hands fast enough so they can make business decisions when one day could mean millions of dollars for some companies.

Q: Is there a particular example of that type of action that you can share from your organization?

A: Freight charges and fuel charges have rapidly changed over the last 12 months. Sometimes those freight charges change on a daily basis. How do you mitigate that when trying to balance how you transition that cost over to your customers? How do you stay in front of that? The only way to do that is through real-time analytics. We were able to get information not only into our pricing folks’ hands but also our distribution and leadership’s hands to be able to make adjustments to accommodate those challenges.

Q: From a technology perspective, is that involving the legacy system or from the new [S/4HANA] environment?

A: A little of both. We tried to get to the legacy system, but it is a little bit more manual than the S/4 environment, which is a little bit more real-time and readily available. We were using both systems since we were still operating two companies.

Q: Mark, you are something of an evangelist again for the midmarket sector, and you see opportunities and growth. What's giving you hope for growth now? What's giving you enthusiasm for the sector?

A: Again, I look at it from an IT lens. I really like what SAP is doing with its S/4 platform. I like how it's trending in the direction to be able to take the IT work out of midmarket-sized companies and put it into their [SAP] hands, to allow midmarket businesses to do what they're really good at, whatever their business discipline is, and stay out of trying to figure out how to make the IT tools do it.

SAP is getting to that standardized platform where midmarket companies can take advantage of all those things without worrying about all the back-end, back-office kinds of functions and just rely on the system the way it's been built. It's 50 years of [SAP] knowledge now wrapped up into one platform. So, I like to see SAP coming forward with solutions to take problems off our plates.

Q: From a business perspective, what does the business growth opportunity look like in your sector?

A: We're in the commercial industrial lighting business. New buildings are being built all over the place. Also, there’s legacy lighting infrastructure that's out there that has not been completely converted into the new stuff, new being LED, smart fixtures, and those types of things. So, the future is very bright, no pun intended

It's extremely bright because the transition from the old to the new is how we help customers take advantage of a huge opportunity from an energy savings perspective. That's our way of talking about sustainability.

We're creating smart fixtures for municipalities around the country so they’re able to get the information they need to be more energy efficient and safer for their communities. We are really excited about what the future holds, and the size of commercial industrial lighting is growing faster than ever.

Q: What could ASUG be doing more of and better for the midmarket sector? Even SAP and ASUG together?

A: Broadly, midmarket customers need to know that people like us are on the S/4 journey and are living in this world—that they don't need to go it alone. They need to learn from the lessons we've learned, lessons everybody else has learned. I like to say, ‘create unique problems and unique lessons. Don't create old ones because then you're wasting time.’ I think ASUG has the perfect opportunity to communicate and create forums for people to discuss their journeys and lessons.

SAP and ASUG—they're in this together. I think the partnership between ASUG and SAP needs to continue to strengthen. ASUG can take the feedback from the customers and be the voice of the customer to SAP, so that SAP can continue to improve and enhance the products and services.

If we take that approach, I think SAP will only be better for its customers. ASUG can be the platform for people to talk about their successes and failures because we all have them. That's how we learn and don't repeat the same mistakes.

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