In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Claus Andresen, SVP & Head of General Business (SME) and Emerging Markets Growth, Asia Pacific & Japan at SAP highlights the dominance of technology in the current crisis and SAP’s key focus areas in the Asia Pacific region. Read the edited excerpts below.
You took charge of the emerging markets, Asia Pacific, and Japan at a time when the crisis started impacting the business. What have been the key learnings for you so far?
Over the years, I have learned firsthand how resilient and adaptable SMEs in the region are. When I speak to customers in the region, it is hard not to notice that most of them are very forward-looking in nature, and many of these businesses are constantly looking to leverage emerging technologies to drive outcomes. More recently, customer conversations have revolved around how technology can be used to adapt to a suddenly remote work environment, and how it can also be harnessed to retain, attract, and nurture talents.
Another key learning for me would be the critical role of trust and relationships. In this region, we rely heavily on our partners to support our customers, especially our SME customers. Asia is a large and diverse region, with varying levels of market maturity across the countries we operate in. Our robust partner network is a critical success factor for our business especially now when SMEs are looking for trusted technology advisors who can assist them in navigating the uncertainties and establishing a digital foundation for when things pick up.
What do you think about the APAC region when it comes to a region that is more geared to the future?
The future will be a digital one and the APAC region has proven itself to be at forefront of the digital revolution. On top of a youthful and digital-first population in the region, many SMEs here are also heavy users of technology, enabling them to leapfrog traditional models of development. An example of this is the sheer number of SMEs in this region that are ‘born in the cloud’. These future-forward organizations understand the value of cloud economics and why being cloud-first is pivotal to growing with velocity across the vast geography of Asia. Despite their size, these businesses are also incredibly ambitious, and they understand that technology is a fundamental imperative if they are to compete strategically in a saturated and dynamic region.
Looking at the present, APAC SMEs are already leading the world in some respects. According to a study conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics earlier this year, APAC SMEs are ahead of their global counterparts in adapting to a remote work environment with 77% of them taking swift actions to implement and adjust remote working arrangements in response to COVID-19. Beyond a doubt, Asia is the epicenter of global growth and businesses here are the most geared to the future.
What kind of technological pressures do you see companies facing in the post-COVID-19 world? How can businesses adapt? What technologies do you see as most central to helping economies and individual companies recover after COVID-19?
Adopting a wait and see attitude when it comes to technology adoption is perhaps a costly mistake for businesses in the region. There are some businesses that believe that the impact of COVID-19 will blow over and things will return to normal in time to come. The reality is this generational challenge means that business can no longer go on as usual. The pandemic has forced organizations to take a hard look at the resiliency of their supply chains, their ability to maintain business continuity, and the sudden change in consumer behaviors
I believe that technology is the key to helping businesses adapt to this new environment, and the best time for digital transformation is now.
To strengthen its supply chain, SMEs must consider embracing a digital supply chain and leveraging digital procurement solutions that plug into a global network of merchants. Only by doing so, will SMEs be able to diversify, re-route, and scale their supply chain to overcome disruption while maintaining an end-to-end view of their entire chain digitally.
The digital-only landscape has accelerated the significance of the experience economy with consumers turn to digital channels to perform transactions. Most customers are used to the hyper-personalized experience provided by e-commerce giants. The onus is now on businesses to provide the same kind of experience to their customers who are engaging with them digitally. In this regard, the power of data will be crucial – businesses must look to merge operational data and experience data, running them through analytics to obtain powerful insights that will guide them towards providing superior customer experiences. By using technology to prioritise customer experience, businesses will be able to compete effectively in an all-digital future.
Lastly, at the peak of COVID-19, many businesses were forced to go remote overnight. Are employees able to access the necessary data or apps seamlessly? Are the necessary tools in place to maintain productivity and collaboration? These are just some of the questions business leaders should ask themselves while keeping in mind the central role cloud computing plays in building a work environment that empowers employees to perform at their best. Businesses must be prepared for the likely permanence of a remote and distributed workforce.
What according to you is the role of leadership in building a high-performance organization?
The best-run businesses today are intelligent enterprises powered by a digital core with intelligence embedded across the organization – enabling businesses to obtain internal and external insights that guide their decision making. To fully embrace the intelligence enterprise strategy, forward-thinking leadership is definitely a requisite.
With culture always coming from the top, it is vital for leaders to lead by example in establishing a digital-first culture by taking the time to explain to employees the critical role technology has in achieving success and ensuring the necessary training is provided.
What are some of the biggest leadership challenges you have faced personally? What did you take away from those moments?
The current situation is definitely one of the biggest leadership challenges I’ve faced. In all the time I have been in Asia, this is undoubtedly the most trying of times for SMEs where their resilience is being tested on all fronts - from keeping up with rapidly changing consumer demands, maintaining healthy cashflow to reevaluating supply chains. Unlike their MNC counterparts, SMEs do not have vast resources and a single wrong decision could lead to dire consequences for them. The survival of our SME customers has become a rallying call for SAP and our partners. Over the course of the last few months, we have worked hard to extend all the support and resources we are able to marshal to help our SME customers respond, adapt, and accelerate.
The other big priority for me is the well-being of my team. While embracing a remote work arrangement helps in keeping staff safe from a physical aspect, extended durations of remote working do come at a mental cost with research showing that many remote employees are experiencing an increase in anxiety, stress, and loneliness. This has made me look into different ways to engage my team.
With new trends changing the way we conceptualize work, workplace, and workforce, how can CEOs and CHROs create flexible organizations and set a learning agenda to re-skill talent to adapt to change?
The practice of telecommuting is here to stay with employees experiencing the benefits that a remote working arrangement has. Keeping in mind the preference of working in office some employees have, the future workforce will be a hybrid one made up of physical and digital employees working together at the same time.
Just like how businesses are relying on technology to gain competitive edges, technology is being used to achieve a positive employee experience too. According to the SAP and Oxford Economics study, training, and development (71%) is the second most important factor in providing a high-quality employee experience. To elevate the employee experience, businesses can rely on human experience management (HXM) solutions that not only help businesses better understand employees but also, enable them to go on and create curated training assets. This personalized approach would definitely provide a more superior experience compared to a one size fits all approach. An evolution of human capital management (HCM), HXM was created with a focus on employee engagement and experiences.