Earlier this year, SAP unveiled its industry cloud, which is an open platform for industry-specific cloud solutions aimed at providing customers with the ability to digitize and automate operations while optimizing, extending, and transforming core business processes. Working in tandem with its partners, SAP is developing solutions to integrate with the intelligent suite and help drive value and efficiency.
ASUG sat down with Sana Salam, CEO and founder of Sodales Solutions, a software company that has worked with SAP to develop a suite of solutions for engaging with employees and ensuring their safety. Salam walked through how Sodales Solutions is partnering with SAP's industry cloud, and how it will continue to innovate its products moving forward.
Jim: Can you tell us about your background and how it has helped you as you've developed solutions for SAP's industry cloud?
Sana: I am the founder and CEO of Sodales Solutions. We are a 100% bootstrapped company, and that’s very important to mention because we actually started this company without any initial investments or funding, and we grew it organically, including product development. Prior to starting Sodales, I was working in the corporate world for very large companies. My role was to turn around projects that were failing and had maybe two or three weeks left before they were shut down. These were multi-million-dollar investments in IT.
One of the things I learned during my time as a turnaround project manager was that there was often a gap in communication between the business users and the implementer. There were also a lot of navigation and research processes where things were misunderstood. What I wanted to do when I started my company was to create something that was not only agile and quick, but also has a more prescriptive approach to best practices. One of the main takeaways I got from all those projects was the fact that there is a requirements phase in any implementation project, and that's where things often go wrong. If there's a way to replace this phase completely with a prescriptive approach, then it would be of great value to the customer.
Jim: What industries are your solutions being leveraged in?
Sana: We were very conservative in terms of finding a specific target audience for our product. One way we go about finding that audience is by having customers recommend our products to other companies in the same industry. We were also looking for customers who need our solutions as a must-have, as opposed to a beneficial nice-to-have. With that in mind, we focused on the top industries that our products will be most used in.
Sodales Solutions has two interlinked modules: health and safety, and labor relations. These types of solutions are essential needs in regulated industries such as the public sector, transportation, health care, education, utilities, engineering, construction, and operations and manufacturing.
Jim: What has the experience been like partnering with SAP to develop a solution on SAP's industry cloud? How do your two organizations work together to bring value to customers?
Sana: Before the industry cloud was announced, we were already working with the SAP industry team. As a company, we focus on building a lot of industry-specific innovations in our products. When we talk to investors and other companies, they also ask us why we build on SAP and what our relationship is like with the company. The answer has two parts.
One is the technology piece. We did evaluate other technology companies that are competitors to SAP before we built our products on SAP technology. We found that we can build integrations for the industries that we are targeting while making our product more flexible and secure. It’s a lot easier to build on the SAP Cloud Platform and reach customers through the SAP App Center.
The second piece is how SAP technology is tied to people and their processes. We noticed that SAP does a good job of enabling their product teams and having very concise messaging around how the relationship has to be seen, how internal compensation needs to be aligned, and how the pricing has to work. Everything is given to us in a written recipe. It was very black and white, and a lot of enablement was provided. We felt very supported. Being a bootstrapped company often means that you don't have a lot of resources to do tons of research and development. You need that support from another company if you are going to start a new innovation. At SAP, we got good support from real people who knew us and who understand our business. I think that was very important for us as a new company coming to the SAP ecosystem.
Jim: As SAP's industry cloud continues to evolve, how do plan on working with SAP to continue innovating your solutions? On the other side of that coin, how is Sodales Solutions planning on working with its customers to continue innovating products?
Sana: There are two main areas. One is the process itself. Within the industries and sectors we are targeting, we are seeing more and more customers now looking at enabling and integrating compliance across all business processes. To do our continuous innovation, a very important element for us is the robustness of integration. Integration is impacting and influencing those downstream processes such as learning, performance, logistics, human resources, and customer service. We need to have really strong integrations in place. I think we are already seeing a commitment from SAP in its integration suite. We can easily leverage those integrations out of the box. This makes the customer feel very comfortable.
The second thing we’re doing is on the customer side. As Sodales moves into a new industry or an emerging industry process, we co-innovate. To co-innovate, we combine the industry-specific trends with new technologies. For example, we are currently working with a public-sector company to build a fatigue management module of our product. This is a module that doesn't exist, but it will be a new co-innovation. It will not only enhance our product, but also allow us to further test out and enable more SAP technology and integration within our products.
Jim: How are you seeing your customers utilize your enterprise environment, health, and safety (EHS) management solution?
Sana: EHS has always been very reactive about incident management and management of problems, injuries, and accidents. That was the typical way of doing EHS in the market. When Sodales got into this area, we noticed that the industry was moving toward a preventative approach while companies were trying to build EHS capability in their departments and business units. In most companies, the EHS specialist department is only three or four people. It’s a very skinny team. Over the past year, we have learned that this isn’t enough. Companies need to build the EHS capability across all business units.
Around March 2020, our EHS product took off because we had a lot of capabilities around preventive safety and workspace wellness. It’s not just about managing problems, but also about changing behaviors and bringing more discipline and flexibility to how employees return to work. Additionally, it’s not just about a person's safety, but also site and job safety. Before SAP's industry cloud, we already built industry content and industry best practices for our EHS solution. This allows our solution to be a prescriptive EHS management tool as opposed to figuring things out for each industry’s EHS needs. It makes it easy for customers to implement. Those resources needed to implement a product like this are already stretched. They don't have time.
Jim: Can you tell me about your labor relations software and what insights it brings users?
Sana: Labor relations has always been viewed as a specialized legal process that is more important and prominent in companies that have unions. You have a legal team managing all those processes within unions such bargaining rates, pay raises, vacation time, and all the contracts. But this view has been changing. Now there's a new proactive labor relations approach coming to the market. Companies that don't even have a labor relations department are building this capability within their field. What our product does is use SAP HANA to take all the contracts and corporate policies to standardize labor relations business processes for disciplines, grievance, seniority, and all the legal communication.
What we’ve learned over the past year, especially with SAP's industry cloud, is that a preventative or proactive compliance is tied to a company's reputation. We have several customers whose plants were shut down because they had strikes or the employees were not feeling safe. With the implementation of the Sodales Solutions labor relations module, these customers can drive safer behavior while complying with their corporate policies and legal contracts. I think this is all about working more closely with the teams that are in the field and bringing more proactive compliance.
I should mention that we are noticing an important element right now in the market tied to our industry cloud solutions and integration across solutions. Moving forward, it's going to be very hard to separate labor relations and EHS in the future. For example, in the health care industry, at a nursing home, a slip and fall can be a safety issue, but it can also be an employer and labor relations issue. Similarly, in the education sector, a harassment issue is an employee relations issue, but it is now also considered a safety issue.
Jim: With everything going on in 2020, why is maintaining labor relations so important right now?
Sana: There are a lot of unknowns that companies face. Throughout the last year, I think companies have learned that planning and having processes in place for emergency preparedness are incredibly important. This is even more important in regulated industries because they're also essential businesses. What they learned within labor relations was staying in compliance with their contracts, unions, regulatory bodies, external teams, and external collaborations will help prevent fines and reputation loss. A lot of the customers that worked with us during this time were transportation and public sector companies. They were all utilizing Sodales Solutions’ labor relation software to manage their compliance. A lot of labor relations communication used to take place with external bodies mailing different letters. The security of the SAP Cloud Platform allowed us to digitize this external collaboration in a very safe and secure way. This collaboration happened more quickly without losing any lead time.
Jim: As an SAP partner who's developing solutions for SAP's industry cloud, how do you think this offering helps customers and partners?
Sana: As I mentioned earlier, I worked on a lot of failing projects. That involved figuring things out at the beginning of the project and learning about the customer process. If you look at one customer industry in a particular country, for example, they all have the similar legislation and similar business processes. SAP's industry cloud is going to bring industry best practices with prebuilt business processes to customers. It's also going to bring tried-and-tested technologies and integrations. What that means is when a customer is purchasing a product, they don’t have to figure things out. It’s a prescription that gives them agility, certainty, and a road map. They get a step-by-step approach of what their journey is and where they should navigate, along with confidence in the fact that other companies in their industry are doing similar things.
The industry cloud similarly helps the partners. It's very hard for us—and even large companies—to hire and retain employees with lots of new emerging skills. This is because you have to merge industry experience together with emerging technology experience, resulting in a challenging team structure of Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z. As a company working in emerging technologies, it is very hard to marry those two types of experiences. But with SAP's industry cloud, we can have a repeat process when we onboard new customers. We can utilize repeat toolkits for even enabling our own employees and scaling our teams and resulting business. This helps us become more efficient and improve our margins because we have fewer costs in ramping up our offerings.
ASUG members can continue the conversation about employee safety by attending this year's final Environment, Health, and Safety Think Tank on Dec. 16, 12:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. CT. You can also register for the next two Executive Exchange Virtual Roundtables: Experience SAP Industry 4.Now for Process Industry on Jan. 27, 2021, 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT and Experience SAP Industry 4.Now for Discrete Industry on Jan. 28, 2021, 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT.