The new reality of business presented in “Forward Together”


    NORMALLY thousands of participants gather in a convention hall, perhaps the Marina Bay Sands Convention Center in Singapore to explore the new technologies and processes that SAP would have announced and make available.

    But it was not to be so.

    The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus halted any plans of getting together for such an announcement. That however did not stop SAP from creating a completely virtual event called “SAP Forward Together” that ran exactly how it would happen in real life. Sans the jet lag, toilet breaks, flowing coffee and croissants.


    The 2020 SAP Forward Together focused on the “new reality of business,” bringing in over 6,000 participants from all over the world. A survey of 4,500 respondents conducted during the event revealed that 40 percent of the businesses polled were still adopting a “wait and see” approach in response priming their companies amidst the pandemic.

    This “wait and see” approach was common throughout the South East Asian region. It is a cause of concern primarily because the businesses survived the crisis were those who quickly adapted and adopted to the needs of the times, shifting to work-from-home protocols already made available by technologies and Cloud solutions, for example.  These companies did not stop moving forward.

    Rachel Barger, President & Managing Director, SAP South East Asia echoed these findings and observations in her keynote introduction on the first day.“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the world economy going through a period of ‘reset’ for the ‘rebound’. The race for competitiveness has already started again, and countries that sprint forward now will leave others trailing behind,” Barger said. “For countries and companies that are complacent with a ‘wait and see’ attitude, they would be left behind – and may even become ‘irrelevant’.”

    In a wider context, this adaptability helped ASEAN maintain its status as one of the world’s fastest-growing markets supporting consumers and businesses. The digital era is evolving into an ‘intelligent’ one whereby businesses are facing mounting new challenges amidst digital disruption and new rules to the game. Winning companies are those that transform through innovation, more so in today’s ‘digitally disruptive’ world compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “As businesses recalibrate their strategies for the long-term, it is crucial to shift away from an expectation to revert to normalcy as before. In a new reality, intelligent enterprises can ‘do more with less’, deliver best-in-class customer experience, build resilient supply chains, while inventing new business models and revenue streams,” Barger added.

    During his keynote, SAP Philippines director Edler Panlilio spoke on the effects of the pandemic on the country opening his talk with the realization of enterprise resilience and how companies that have invested in digitalization and resource planning solutions “thrived the best.”

    Panlilio emphasized that SAP met the challenges of the times by “opening access to complimentary solutions to help companies during this unprecedented time, we believe we can help support in the recovery.”

    “At SAP, we have the expertise to support enterprises in 25 industries where we have empowered various customers to confront many challenges. Our mission at SAP is to help Filipino businesses run better and improve the lives of Filipinos,” Panlilio commented.

    His statement aligns with projects such as PLDT’s Day Zero Program, a framework to reimagine, reshape and redefine the new normal for customers. Its key components enable companies to empower their employees by affording them with the means to remain productive and access office systems remotely. PLDT ran the program on SAP’s platforms.

    “Traditional practices never changed, primarily because they served their purpose. And it took a pandemic like COVID-19 for businesses to rethink how to transform those practices to digital engagements. Fortunately, advancements in technology have allowed industries to adapt to new ways of working and learning,” John Gonzales, PLDT Vice President and Head of Enterprise Digital Solutions said.

    John also adds that companies realize the importance of an ERP now more than ever given that it provides an environment to streamline operations.

    “An ERP system reduces the complexity of running a business, especially during these times. The value of an ERP system is that it provides a foundational infrastructure that allows your business to maintain operational efficiency—leading to better workforce collaboration. It can also provide you with insights that lead to more strategic decisions,” he concluded.

    Implications of COVID-19 on SEA businesses

    Majority of regional business leaders (63 percent) surveyed have already seen changes in customers’ purchasing behaviord and motivations since the start of 2020, although 21 percent of businesses are unsure or lack insight on changes in their customer’s needs. Amidst this shift, organizations are still moving conservatively with their digital transformation efforts, with many adopting a protective stance with the mindset that disruption from COVID-19 will pass in due course.

    Although businesses have pivoted their operations towards e-commerce and online selling, smaller businesses still worry over implementation costs of digital platforms and juggling operations to meet the sudden influx of demand. Around 20% of businesses foresee a need to adapt their customer experience strategies to meet evolving expectations and needs of customers across platforms.

    Supply chain and operations are also other aspects that businesses are keeping a close watch on, with 22% of businesses expecting significant change in the future. Alongside changing customer consumption patterns, supply chains have shifted in the wake of safe-distancing measures of lockdowns, leading to a stop-go pattern in business-to-business operations.

    As businesses make sense of the new post-pandemic economic reality, worries and uncertainty over the long-term prospects of growth and survivability has emerged as the foremost concern. Over 80% of regional businesses leaders surveyed expect significant/massive impact to change their business model or operations, with just 1% expecting “business-as-usual” in the long run.

    With business-as-usual no longer an option, regional business leaders are adjusting organizational priorities with a focus on business transformation (21 percent), enhancing customer engagement (15 percent), making business processes more efficient (14 percent), ensuring business continuity (12 percent), and supply chain resilience and redefinition (9 percent).

    According to the Boston Consulting Group, high-performing companies who successfully tackled crises and major economic downturns demonstrate a similar pattern, that have allowed them to emerge as winners during and after past recessions. High-performing companies who managed to improve their top-line and bottom-line positions adopt a proactive approach, using the downturn as an opportunity to drive large-scale transformation like digitalization.

    Accelerating business transformation in a post-COVID-19 world

    Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the drivers of technology were focused on cost reduction and productivity. The goal was to make well run businesses run better. As we adapt to the new realities caused by COVID-19, the roles of technology will have to evolve to:

    Achieve resiliency – to steer your company through challenging times with agility

    Deliver profitability – with transparency across both the top and bottom line, supporting business growth and increased productivity and

    Act sustainably – by reducing carbon footprint, minimizing waste and transitioning to the circular economy

    We can all start now to build our journey towards an Intelligent Enterprise to greatly reduce the impact of this crisis, while helping ASEAN businesses to innovate and transform into winning companies. For example:

    Intelligent technologies can be used to provide real-time visibility into the availability of raw materials, people and assets.

    Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can be used to constantly reassess and re-plan activities.

    Robotic Process Automation can be used to automate labor intensive activities, and focus our workers on more value-added and efficacy-driving activities.

    SAP’s efforts to lend a helping hand

    To support business continuity through these challenging times, SAP has opened up access to selected technology solutions.

    As a result, SAP is providing free access to SAP Ariba Discovery, the world’s largest business network until December 31, 2020, so any buyer can post their immediate sourcing needs and any supplier can respond to show they can deliver. Free access to Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse has also helped organizations understand how their employees are doing and what support they need as they adapt to new work environments.

    Additionally, businesses can also access the SAP Value Lifecycle Manager, an industry benchmark tool that supports businesses to measure, monitor and optimize value across their enterprise. To help businesses go digital and transform into intelligent enterprises, the SAP Experience Center Singapore provides an innovative space for businesses to deep dive into the latest technologies like AI, Big Data and data intelligence on the cloud to develop solutions tailored to the organization’s unique challenges.

    SAP’s Forward Together ran for three days and was well attended, according to site statistics. Like their proven formula the event had partners and vendors around the virtual venue, and breakout sessions were also conducted in between keynotes allowing participants to visit virtual booths and make inquiries.