How SAP is successfully navigating the coronavirus pandemic
SAP has focused on a number of key areas to help both employees and customers successfully manage through the coronavirus pandemic
Resilience is the number one factor that SAP looks for in potential employees, according to the company’s Asia Pacific Japan President, Scott Russell, who explained this quality has become critical in helping the organisation navigate the coronavirus as well broader business and market challenges.
The pandemic has challenged many companies globally and shined a light on both organisational and individual resilience.
For SAP – the world’s largest cloud company when it comes to software as a service (SaaS) – coronavirus has not only tested the company’s resilience but underscored its focus on hiring resilient employees who are able to add long-term value to the business.
“We look at this as a core attribute of people we look to bring into our business,” said Mr Russell, who recently spoke at a UNSW Business School webinar on business success, digital transformation and navigating through the coronavirus pandemic.
“Resilience is a really important attribute that we’ve even brought to the very top of the characteristics of the people we’re trying to bring into our business. Why? Because we are living in uncertain times,” said Mr Russell, who explained that this is only going to accelerate with an increasingly complex and challenging environment for business.
“This means that your ability to be able to adapt to these environments and to be able to find a way to contribute is really important.”
This has a number of implications for business in the short-term, and Mr Russell said that organisations which are struggling to realise desired outcomes and results need to think about a different approach.
“It’s about finding those smallest steps in the path forward, dealing with setbacks [and] finding different ways to create success,” he said.
“I can assure you, no matter whether you want to work with SAP or any other business [this] will hold you in good stead.”
Coronavirus pandemic response
SAP employs more than 100,000 people globally and generated €27.5 billion ($45 billion) of revenue last year with around 450,000 customers across 31 countries.
Given the global nature of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Russell explained that SAP had to make and effect decisions rapidly in order to both minimise risk to its employee base while assisting customers with their own business continuity plans.
“We pivoted to a digital model straightaway – within 24 hours we operated from home and we were able to provide great support,” said Mr Russell.
“So, our business results took care of themselves as a result of providing support for our employees.”
Following the operational process of getting employees to work from home, Mr Russell said the focus was on workplace health and wellbeing.
A few employees were diagnosed with COVID-19 and he said SAP worked to ensure they were as safe and well as possible while minimising risk to and protecting the broader employee base and their families.
SAP also had a crisis management taskforce in place before the pandemic to help with such scenarios, and this taskforce had already helped with certain crises such as earthquakes, typhoons, flooding and other disasters around the region.
“We had infrastructure in place to deal with unknown situations and to help navigate through these,” said Mr Russell, who explained that the crisis management team and relevant processes and infrastructure were ramped up quickly across different parts of the APJ region as needed.
Managing past the pandemic
The focus has since shifted to navigating beyond the immediate risk to how the company comes out of the pandemic and manages this process.
“All of our employees really want to get back to the office and connect together again,” said Mr Russell.
“But just because you can doesn’t mean you should, so we’re trying to do that in a way that is safe and which supports mental health and wellbeing – without introducing unnecessary risks.”
Navigating out of the pandemic is potentially more difficult than managing through the early stages of the crisis as there is “no script on this” he explained.
“No-one has done this before, so we’re making informed judgments and communicating transparently and more frequently with our employees and our customers,” he said.
Digital transformation and business success
As a company which helps other organisations through the process of digital transformation, Mr Russell observed that organisations’ appetite for this kind of change has actually increased as a result of the pandemic.
“Demand has increased,” said Mr Russell, who noted that while SAP’s projections for the rest of the year have been revised down, the business still recorded strong results in the first quarter of 2020.
The pandemic has pushed out buying cycles because of changed timeframes around decision-making, impacts on both cash flow and employees and other factors such as business instability.
“I think it’s not done,” he said.
“We’ve got an economic outlook that is more bearish than we’ve ever had in the past 30 years in Australia.
“And, and if you translate that across the region and across the world, we’re certainly not immune to that.”
Regardless, Mr Russell said SAP is still working closely with customers and partners to support their digital transformation efforts.
“Whether you’re a small company that’s operating in North Sydney or a global multinational operating in hundreds of countries around the world, the need to digitise and provide that resilience and agility is going to be there more than ever,” he said.
“Our role is to support businesses to be able to ride through this because we do have the size and the strength and the balance sheet to be able to.”
Shifting from lag to lead indicators of success
With increased utilisation of technology, Mr Russell also observed that traditional indicators of business success are also changing.
Most businesses have focused on outcomes which are usually lagging indicators (such as revenue, profit and loss, attrition or retention or talent, and levels of working capital).
In a post-coronavirus world, Mr Russell said it will be more important for businesses to focus on using technology to assess behavioural trends which are potential lead indicators of success.
Digital technologies will be able to assist in guiding businesses with regards to customer preferences such as around buying inclinations and decisions as well as positive or negative experiences.
“I think it’s going to be a central part of the way forward, and certainly for our technology,” said Mr Russell.
Mr Russell recently presented on the topic of “the world we lead tomorrow” as part of a UNSW Business School webinar for Business School staff and students. The webinar was organised by the Business School’s Career Accelerator team, which assists students in gaining skills, experiences and connections to the industry as well as the UNSW Alumni community. For more information please contact Anna Gurevich, WIL Industry Engagement Manager at Career Accelerator.