As organizations adapt to the changing business landscape, they are leaning more on their IT departments to help maintain business continuity and to make more possible. COVID-19 caused pressure on the way companies manage their workforce, execute on existing and future projects, and, quite simply, keep the business afloat. And these pressures are changing almost constantly.
We sat down with Michael Golz, CIO Americas at SAP, to discuss how the IT team at SAP has had to adjust its work. We also discussed what CIOs across the nation should pay attention to going forward. “We’re obviously in a very special situation,” he says. “What it means to be a CIO in today’s business landscape changes week by week. As we learn more about the business impact and how companies across the board are reacting to it, we also learn more about how to rethink business processes. It’s a fluid situation and everyone needs to remain flexible and adaptable while keeping the health and safety of their entire workforce front and center. These are unprecedented times.”
We talked more about how SAP is remaining flexible and adaptable as well as about what advice he would give to other CIOs working to do the same.
Sharon: How has COVID-19 affected business at SAP? What specific business challenges have you experienced as a CIO, and how are you addressing them?
Michael: First, it is important to emphasize that the health, safety, and well-being of our employees, customers, and partners is the number one priority for SAP. Accommodating the change to a virtual work environment and helping our colleagues through their individual adjustments has been top of mind.
As part of our business continuity plan, SAP has an infrastructure in place that allowed for a scenario where 100% of the employees would have to work from home. Currently, of the nearly 100,000 employees SAP has worldwide, more than 96% are working remotely. So, in that respect, we were prepared. All essential operations such as data centers remain functioning, of course in accordance with public health ordinances.
When you actually go through the situation in real life, you see where you’re testing the limits, and we’ve had our share of things that we needed to adjust. For example, SAP recently held a virtual all-hands meeting where 75% of our global employees joined the broadcast within a few minutes. This required some fast action on IT’s part to handle the surge and make sure everyone had access.
Another example I can share is the need to adapt our onboarding process. To get new employees set up with equipment is one thing, but it also requires different ways of addressing security protocols for those who have yet to set foot in an SAP facility. It takes the entire team to work creatively and quickly to meet these new needs. Coming out of this, we will certainly look at ways we can further simplify or streamline processes, while ensuring security standards.
Sharon: How have you and your team had to shift priorities during this pandemic?
Michael: SAP is staying on track with its own transformation initiatives that were in flight before COVID-19. Like everyone else, we’re adjusting our IT resource allocation as needed, and we are remaining flexible around how and when we do certain things. But, generally speaking, the priorities are unchanged and we’re executing on the existing transformation programs.
Companywide, we also have launched internal idea challenges to tap into the creativity of our colleagues worldwide, asking them to think about what SAP can do to help. How can we use solutions we currently have, as well as what can we build quickly to help people get through the crisis?
We are reaching out to build and maintain close relationships. In one case, an SAP account executive was contacted by the CIO of a construction supply company that needed to find 500 hospital beds for a temporary hospital in New York City. With the help of SAP Ariba Discovery—which has been made available free of charge to all customers until end of June—and by making several personal calls to connect the company with a possible supplier, they were able to secure the beds within the hour—just in time to lock in the order.
When Germany’s website for stranded travelers had problems, a team of 40 developers across three time zones worked over a 24-hour-period to build and deploy a new cloud app to help bring these people home.
These are just two examples among many that have happened in large part due to creative and fast-thinking employees. SAP is offering open access to a number of solutions in response to COVID-19 and will continue to reassess different ways it can help its customers and partners.
Sharon: Let’s shift gears and talk about best practices for CIOs. As one of our ASUG Executive Exchange members put it, IT teams are back to addressing table stakes and nonstrategic issues as organizations move to a work-from-home model. What advice would you give to CIOs that want to help get the workforce up and running while still focusing on the big-picture, strategic initiatives they had in place before COVID-19?
Michael: From a technology perspective, IT organizations have always been the ones to provide the platforms for people to be productive, to connect with each other, and conduct day-to-day business. Not that the table stakes topics have ever been unimportant, but these days we really come to appreciate the fundamentals. That said, we need to keep an eye on both the immediate and the mid- to long-term initiatives.
I doubt that we will ever go back to the exact same working model we had prior to January 2020. A lot of the business practices and processes that we’re now adapting toward are probably going to be around for the long-term and may even be permanent replacements. So, there is a lot to learn right now about changes in our respective businesses and decide which of those are temporary and which will likely be permanent.
Knowing all of that, CIOs need to consider three key points: The “here and now” response, the path to reopening impacted areas and ramping back up, and the mid- to long-term priorities and business imperatives.
Sharon: Innovation at any time requires time and resources. According to ASUG research, many organizations are postponing their IT projects during this crisis, while some are completely canceling them. What do you want those SAP customers to know?
Michael: Obviously, every customer’s situation is different. The level of immediate impact is different, as is the path to recovery and the time beyond. This will also vary greatly depending on industry. I am advising several customers on their transformation journeys and implementation programs. Some have commented that they see the current situation as added validation of their case for change.
Common themes revolve around creating more resilient supply chains, improving demand and supply planning, and finding new digital channels to position and sell products and services. On the people side, it is about managing talent in new ways and providing feedback channels, finding contingent labor, and more—always in the context of the respective industry and business situation.
What customers should know is that the SAP innovation and development road maps continue. We’re executing and developing according to our road maps and we’re coming out with new business processes and capabilities. We continue to innovate, to harmonize and simplify, and to better integrate solutions.
The push toward the cloud is going to intensify, especially as people realize that consuming a cloud service without running infrastructure is often better than running a lot of infrastructure yourself. In some cases, this will mean moving systems to hyperscaler services like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Alibaba, or Amazon Web Services. And in other cases, it might mean rethinking and adapting to software as a service platforms for specific business processes.
Sharon: Which technology today has proven so far to be beneficial for companies in this new business landscape? Which will emerge as trends coming out of this pandemic?
Michael: There are three big ones I think fit into both categories. These include collaboration, security, as well as infrastructure as a service and software as a service platforms.
First, anything around collaboration is obviously the key category right now that deserves attention. That’s everything from remote access solutions to video and audio conferencing for large audiences. Going forward, companies will look at how to best support teams virtually, in any mix of on site and off site, local and global.
The second is security, which is even more important now that so many people are working remotely. There is already an increase in social engineering and phishing attacks to obtain credentials and to breach systems. Generally speaking, securing remote access, ensuring that you can maintain your segregation of duty and access control is critical. As companies responded to the immediate needs, they might’ve had to adjust some of the normal protocols and now need to make sure that they’re rolling that back and strengthening their security.
The third trend is around cloud solutions, both for infrastructure as a service and software as a service. Companies that already have these platforms are better able to adjust to the current business landscape. There will be an even stronger move toward infrastructure as a service as companies realize that having a physical data center introduces complexity and business continuity challenges that service providers in this space can manage at scale—often more efficiently and securely than any one company can do.
Similarly, there will be a big push toward software as a service continuing the trend in the area of talent management, procurement, and experience management, just to name a few. Even those who had been hesitating because they weren’t yet comfortable with having data stored in the cloud will likely consider the benefits of cloud services. These solutions and service providers are ready for scale and are prepared to ramp up with customer demand.
Sharon: What should CIOs focus on today and where should they push to go in the future? What are some of the short-term and long-term actions they can take to increase resiliency and to prepare for future growth?
Michael: I think there are three categories to focus on: The company’s immediate response, the plan to adapt and ramp back up, and the company’s mid- to long-term transformation, which includes being better prepared for disruption.
In terms of immediate response, as a CIO you need to think about enabling virtual and remote work and preparing to gather feedback from employees. People’s health and well-being is paramount, and that includes frequent individual touchpoints. This is critical to everything else going forward.
In terms of thinking about restarting and ramping back up, CIOs need to think through how that will look, what is needed, and who is involved. Some of that might need adaptation of current business processes and thinking through some mid- to long-term enhancements that are necessary to be resilient in a potential similar scenario.
Both now and in the future, CIOs will play a key role in thinking through business models and business transformations to help drive their companies’ success, agility, and preparedness for a rapidly evolving business landscape.
ASUG is continuing the supply chain conversation with its upcoming virtual event, ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Supply Chain. On May 11 and 12, hear from customers, experts, and thought leaders on how the last year has challenged and changed supply chains, and what technologies companies are using to bolster their supply chains.