These are unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has captured our attention as the nation’s workforce is adjusting to either working from home or waiting to get back to work.

We’ve spoken to business leaders and SAP customers to better understand how the current situation is affecting their organizations, as well as what steps they are taking to address challenges they’ve encountered. While SAP provides the systems and services that ASUG members rely on, it is also an organization—a business—that must adjust and reimagine its own workforce and processes.

ASUG sat down with DJ Paoni, president of SAP North America, and Marty Mrugal, global head of Customer First, to discuss how they’re addressing COVID-19 both internally and externally.

“Overall, SAP is focusing on the health and safety of its extended family and the communities that it serves—that includes employees, customers, and partners,” DJ said. “We have a continued commitment to our customers and their success. We are focused on standing by them as they navigate a very challenging period.”

The three of us, each in our own home, connected via Skype Meeting and talked about the steps SAP has taken, as well as what customers should expect now and going forward.

Sharon: How is SAP working through COVID-19 with its own workforce and processes?

DJ Paoni, President of SAP North America

DJ: The current situation has challenged all of us at SAP to be more creative and find new ways to work together so that we can be present for our customers and their business challenges. This pandemic has affected many businesses, including SAP. What hasn’t changed, however, is our commitment to our customers’ success.

All North American offices are closed until further notice and employees are to work from home. In fact, SAP is encouraging all employees globally to work from home. All travel has also been suspended for the time being. We’re confident that we can take the necessary precautions while ensuring that our business continuity remains intact. Essential operations such as data centers will remain functioning in accordance with public health ordinances. And we will continue to support our customers in the ways they need us.

That said, we’ve taken steps to make sure everyone can collaborate as well as communicate in all the different ways available. Generally speaking, SAP continues to be as flexible as possible. We realize that this pandemic is affecting employees and their personal lives. In addition to still working, some must juggle child care or tend to a family member who is sick. SAP has a robust policy in place that enables its employees to take paid time off to care for themselves or dependents. We’re also offering the ability for employees to work nontraditional hours. From a leadership position, we’ve made the decision to temporarily extend our office closure/crisis leave policy from five to 10 paid days, so that in extenuating circumstances, employees are empowered to take time off to support their families, their loved ones, and the communities that they serve without having to take sick days.

We’ve also taken steps to support hourly workers, including contractors and vendors, as we consider them part of the SAP family. It’s important to minimize any financial disruption to their personal lives in light of what’s happening, so these individuals will receive their full wages despite any reduced hours.

Sharon: How is SAP working through COVID-19 externally—as it relates to customers? What resources and tools are available for customers to help them manage their own businesses during this time?

Marty Mrugal, Global Head of Customer First, SAP

Marty: Business continuity is top of mind for us. We often cite the statistic that 77% of the world’s transactions touch an SAP system. So, we’re 100% focused on making sure that those business systems—and our customers—are always operational.

As the current situation affects our customers and disrupts business and business processes, SAP wants to make sure that it’s providing the technologies that will help companies, communities, and governments move forward with the least amount of disruption possible.

Some of the solutions that SAP is offering open access to during COVID-19 include SAP Concur TripIt and SAP Concur Duty of Care, which make sure that our customers’ employees are safe; SAP Ariba Discovery, which helps identify alternative sources of supply and suppliers; and Qualtrics EmployeeXM Remote Work Plus, which will help team leaders understand employee needs and well-being as they adapt to new work environments.

SAP has also made available its massive open online curriculum via openSAP to customers as they’re expanding and introducing new solutions. And then finally from a tools perspective, SAP offers SAP for Me, which serves as a digital companion to customers providing centralized transparency across the product portfolio in one place.

Sharon: What specific customer-first steps is SAP taking right now?

DJ: Overcommunicating is key. We’re making a lot of calls to check in with customers and ask if there is anything more SAP can do. We want to be respectful and aware of each individual situation that our customers are going through. As Marty mentioned, we are offering open access to certain solutions to help customers focus on their own employees and their supply chains. As new needs arise, we will continue to offer additional support. Our immediate and long-term goal is to continue to remain as engaged, if not more engaged than ever with our customers and our partners.

Sharon: We’ve heard from customers who are in the middle of SAP projects that they are having a difficult time getting consultants to come on-site because of social distancing. What advice can you provide to those customers faced with these challenges?

Marty: From a services and support perspective, our Mission Control Center and our Mission Critical Support have business-continuity plans in place. All internal systems, tools, and monitoring services are designed for remote work. We've already activated the services in many parts of the world including Asia and Europe when they were first hit with the virus, with no disruption to clients. As the situation develops, SAP will take this model to other locations around the world.

SAP absolutely has business-continuity plans in place and we’re happy to share them with customers. We’re fortunate that for almost all business functions, we have the capability to access our internal systems and work from home. So, we really have had no disruption from our service. If our customers want us on-site, we will of course do that. If they want us remote, we will do that too. We want to be respectful of our customers and their wishes. Bottom line is we are open for business.

DJ: I’m going to come back again to communication and keeping those lines open. We will continue to have individual dialogues with each one of our customers and assess what needs to happen. Keeping the health and safety of everyone in mind, we will deploy staff on-site if that’s the appropriate thing to do, but we can certainly work remotely when necessary.

Sharon: What do you say to customers who are faced with budget constraints right now?

DJ: SAP is committed to keeping our entrepreneurial spirit and to continue innovating. We’re going to support customers where they need it. We ask that customers keep their lines of communication open with us. We understand that this pandemic will lead to unforeseen pressures and challenges on our customers’ businesses. The way we work through that is by remaining in contact so that we can understand each individual situation and work through how we can help.

Sharon: Where is SAP focusing its efforts right now and what has been put on hold for the time being? How will this affect customers?

DJ: The situation has changed the way that we operate, but I think the level at which we operate remains unchanged. Our business is up and running. We’re abiding by the guidance and regulations from local and federal governments for the health and safety of our employees and customers. But we’re also very fortunate in that our services team can do just about everything remote without having to be on-site. So, for SAP, it’s about moving from physical to virtual engagement.

Sharon: What are the three most critical steps organizations can take today to help prepare for the immediate future as well as the long term?

DJ: Of course, not every business is modeled the same way or has the same needs, but the three best practices for us right now include putting the health and safety of our employees, customers, and communities first and foremost. That has to be the mindset right now.

Second is to overcommunicate. Keep the lines of communication wide open with employees. I can’t stress how important it is to inform everyone of decisions every step of the way.

And then third, keep a level of business continuity. As we mentioned earlier, we are not lowering our level of engagement with customers, and in many cases I think we’re more engaged than ever before. All three of these steps are critical now and moving forward.

Marty: I couldn’t agree more. I would add to that it’s key to establish an emergency task force. We have one at SAP, which is deployed on a global level. It has been helpful to the various business leaders at SAP to have a single source of information. It helps us get a common message out and to answer questions employees may have, which ultimately helps our customers.

Another thing customers should do is stabilize their businesses. Implement business-continuity measures that include identifying alternative sources of supply; financial modeling and scenario analysis on the best- and worst-case scenarios; cash flow and liquidity analysis; and what critical employee qualifications and certifications are needed for certain roles, technology, and infrastructure continuity plans. As a trusted partner, SAP can help in every single one of those areas.

And the final thing I would add is to keep an open dialogue with your customers and understand their challenges and how you can serve them better. For example, as many people know, the restaurant industry has been hit hard right now. MOD Pizza, which has been a great SAP customer for a long time, is no exception. We sent an online link to SAP employees in North America and offered to fund their MOD Pizza if they ordered delivery or carry-out. Employees were able to expense their MOD Pizza, and they even sent pictures of them and their families enjoying the meal.

That’s just one example of how we can all help each other and our customers. We’re also working with customers in the health care industry to leverage SAP HANA and our predictive analytics to identify and predict things like how many patients with COVID-19 will come through the door, what’s the bed capacity, and what’s the supply of critical protective devices.

That constant dialogue is really important so that we can help our customers. Going forward, we’re going to help our customers automate as much as possible so that they can focus on their employees’ health and safety.

Sharon: There are questions around SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference. Is there anything you can tell us now about the state of the conference and the what customers can expect or prepare for?

DJ: As we announced last week, SAP is taking SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference online to engage with our audiences virtually. We are eager to provide all participants with a unique digital experience that will redefine the way we share information and engage with our community, while delivering the best business outcomes.

We know how important these events are to SAP customers, partners, media, analysts, and influencers, and we are working hard to maintain that spirit and integrity. We will be sharing more details about the new virtual experience in the coming weeks.

Sharon: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to your customers now as it relates to future SAP investments around innovation and digital transformation?

Marty: SAP is going to continue to innovate and support customers as they need it. Again, I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep that line of communication open—now and moving forward—especially among your product development and management teams.

We understand that the pandemic is leading to some unforeseen pressures on the business system, and my advice would be to keep the line of communication as wide open as possible. There is no doubt that this pandemic will impact how the world operates beyond the current situation. And just as SAP has always done, it will continue to work closely with its customers across industries to innovate and execute digital transformations. We’re committed to accelerating digital transformations with our customers. We’ll take the lessons learned during this time and use them to help transform our customers’ businesses as well as ideally turning these challenges into opportunities for our customers.

Sharon: How are each of you managing through this pandemic and what personal tips can you share with ASUG members?

DJ: Just like many people, I am learning how to work from home all week long. I’ve heard some people describe how difficult it is to have to explain to their 6-year-old that they can’t go out and play with their friends right now. Well, I find it equally difficult to try and explain that to my 19-year-old. So, it’s interesting!

Personally, I am making sure I drink enough water and get enough sleep, and that I am taking things seriously while remaining calm. That’s the key. From a leadership perspective, we need to stay calm and give some direction. Aside from that, I am doing what I can to stay healthy.

Marty: Staying home is unusual for me as a cyclist, but I am using my indoor trainer for the time being. For me, exercise really helps to kind of keep some semblance of a regular routine as well as keeping me grounded. Also, I know we have talked about communicating with colleagues and your workforce, but it’s also important to communicate with your family and friends.

My 23-year-old daughter told me the other day that she was a little freaked out with everything that’s happening. It served as a reminder that communication really is the thing that will get us through all of this. I had to remind her that as a nation, we’ve lived through so much, including the crash and the recession in 2008–2009. I need to provide some perspective. This too shall pass.

Register for one of the ASUG Think Tank online sessions taking place and stay tuned for a follow-up series of the ASUG Executive Exchange online sessions where members discuss how COVID-19 is affecting their organizations, as well as what steps they are taking to address these challenges.

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