Join us this week as Geoff Scott discusses how ASUG helps SAP users implement world-class business processes.
Carl Lewis: Welcome to The Connected Enterprise Podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Geoff Scott from ASUG. Geoff is always a great guest because he talks to so many customers and knows what people are doing and thinking. Geoff, welcome back!
Geoff Scott: Thank you, Carl. It’s great to see you, as always.
Carl Lewis: Geoff, tell us about ASUG, your role, and what’s happening there.
Geoff Scott: ASUG is the Americas' SAP Users' Group. We’re the North American section, and we help organizations and individuals get the most out of their SAP investments by ensuring they understand how to use the software. And how we as individuals work inside this ecosystem of SAP customers and partners and make wonderful careers from everything we do inside of SAP.
Like you, Carl, I’ve been part of this ecosystem for a long time. It’s a strong ecosystem—it creates a gravitational pull that prevents people like us from escaping and pulls others in. That's our strength: Inspiring people to be part of this SAP community, do amazing things, have great careers, solve business problems, and all those things.
Carl Lewis: Absolutely. I always see interns getting jobs at SAP partners or at SAP itself. I know ASUG has been a big part of that.
Geoff Scott: We must think about this in broader strokes. Keeping this ecosystem strong is vital for partners like you at Vision33. You want a strong, deep customer base for a long time. Customers want technology and products they can trust for a long time.
Because these technology investments are not insubstantial. They can be expensive. They take a lot of time, energy, effort, and passion. We want that to be around for a long time because we don’t measure the payoff in months—we measure it in years, if not decades.
Carl Lewis: Exactly. These days, when you make a significant software investment, you don't want to do it again anytime soon.
How are these organizations preparing for the potential of what we hope will never happen: another pandemic?
Geoff Scott: There's that adage—the more things change, the more they stay the same. We can substitute other words for ‘pandemic’ and end up at the same point: global uncertainty, supply chain disruptions, economic disruptions.
When the pandemic started, we said, "If we just get through this, things will get better. They’ll go back to how they used to be. Just get over this hurdle." We learned that sometimes, you get over one hurdle and smack into another one.
That requires us, as customers and partners and SAP, to take a longer view of what's happening in society and the economy and prepare for it, which gives rise to the concept of resilient organizations versus ones that just try to get through the storm.
Carl Lewis: There are crazy people who run over hurdles on purpose. They don't get to run over just one, right?
Geoff Scott: They don't. They just say, "Yeah, there are a whole lot of hurdles.” And they do them. We have to get better at that. I’m not minimizing how exhausted we are. We've been through a lot. We're still breathing hard.
But ASUG data showed us something important: 57% of respondents indicated they were moving forward with their plans as normal throughout the pandemic. That’s a majority saying, “Regardless of the outcome, we must keep moving forward.” But that means roughly 40% delayed. And now they’ll realize, “I didn't stay steady during the pandemic—I actually got behind.”
The pandemic also taught us that automation, digitization, and digital transformation aren’t just buzzwords. They have meaning. They must be done. I know Vision33 recognizes that the post-pandemic world is transformed. People are ready to communicate on digital platforms and conduct business digitally. That changes how our businesses go to market.
Carl Lewis: Absolutely. And Geoff, you mentioned the supply chain. What changes are people making to create a more resilient supply chain for the future?
Geoff Scott: First, look at SAP as the business network and how it’s used to digitize supply change—allowing people to put their products up in a global marketplace that's available digitally—and how it brings buyers and sellers together. Most companies should look at that and say, "This is a way for me to find product and find suppliers to diversify my supply chain when I'm on the input side."
On the output side, when global disruption occurs, and you're not selling, or there's a recession, it might open you up to customers you hadn't thought of.
Logistics disruption is the number one thing affecting global supply change in 2022. Event Watch, an artificial intelligence organization, said the number of supply chain disruptions doubles every year.
This isn’t just a single hurdle to get over, so we must get better at understanding how these things will work and how to get ahead of them.
Technology will be the epicenter of how we solve these problems. Having good internal systems that can manage our supply chains, understand when things don't look right, help us with quality concerns, and automate is how modern organizations will win.
Carl Lewis: Are we in a recession? Or on the verge of a recession? I don't think anybody's made up their mind.
Geoff Scott: No.
Carl Lewis: Is it driven by the supply or demand side? Or both? What's causing us to be on this precipice of a recession?
Geoff Scott: Depending on your favorite newspaper, you get very conflicting answers. The markers we march to are a little fuzzier than they used to be.
Some parts of our economy are feeling pain, and others are still chugging forward, so it's a bit of both. It’s a little supply being constrained, which is driving prices up and trying to cool that off and areas where demand might have moved.
And it's moving much faster than it ever has. Digitization is both a cause and an effect. It's a cause in the sense that to remain competitive, you have to digitize more. But as you digitize more, you find we accelerate even faster, and things move around much quicker. Think about our buying habits today and the difference in speed between jumping in a vehicle, hopefully a soon-to-be EV.
There's a lot of change in that industry. Also, going to a store versus ordering something from Amazon or Walmart. Having things delivered in a delivery economy versus an economy that required you to get into a vehicle or go out on foot and buy your products dramatically changes everything. It moves the economy along at a much faster scale.
Carl Lewis: For sure—even though some of us still like that daily opportunity to get away from the desk. Geoff, what are the remaining challenges businesses face in the aftermath of a pandemic—even those that handled it well?
Geoff Scott: The biggest challenge we face is skills. That the skills we need to solve our business problems now are radically different than what we needed a year or two ago. So, it's about teams. We've heard about the Great Resignation, people changing, priorities, how much productive effort employees really want to give, etc.
It's the skills piece that needs to be solved. And that tells me we must give our technology people a place to call home and show them they’re value-added contributors, not just cogs in a wheel. All leaders have lessons to learn about inclusive workplaces. How do we inspire people to stay versus encouraging them to go?
We need a highly animated, highly engaged, highly collaborative learning organization to succeed, especially around all this technology we’re discussing. It requires us to learn a lot of skills. And the technology landscape has gotten more complex over the past few years. I look back at my early days in technology and think, "Wow, that was really simple back then." Carl, I'm going to date myself here, but wasn’t life simpler when you had 80 columns in 24 rows?
Carl Lewis: Yes.
Geoff Scott: And you didn't have to worry about graphical user interfaces, you just had to paint a screen and fields. It didn't require special characters and, yes, the programming languages were older—but also easier to deal with. I like to dabble in computer programming, and it's harder today. You need more skills. Then, you get hyperscalers involved, and all these things are available online and digital. There's a huge skill demand for that.
Once you find these amazing people who can advance your business, how do you keep them engaged? How do you keep them helping? How do you make sure they're really there? So, skills, people, and teams are the number one thing we should spend more time at.
And we talk about tech, but underneath the tech is many people making it work. That’s important. At the same time we're talking about tech, it also requires that the skill shortages aren’t just happening in technology organizations—they're happening in plants, distribution centers, and back offices. That skill base has left.
The people who knew how to use this technology disappeared. And what used to be handed down from mouth to mouth about how you got stuff done? Evaporated. So, we as technologists have to re-skill and re-teach individuals how to use these tools. That’s a huge reinvestment. And it opens the perspective of process automation, AI, RPA, and the other acronyms flying around that are about using technology to help technology solve technology problems.
That's where the next phase of this needs to be. How do we improve the automation tools that automate our daily tasks, so we don’t need a lot of hands? We’ve been in the middle of so many integration projects that require people hours. Imagine how amazing it would be to have computers do some of it.
Carl Lewis: Definitely. One of those important team members is the CIO. With all the changes we've seen, even in the last 10 years with technology, how is the CIO role different?
Geoff Scott: It all comes to the CIO, right? If the CIO is the lead technologist in the organization, how do they inspire a team to move forward? Their ability to influence the technology decisions of the organization is greater. Do they want to be order-takers, or do they want to be strategists at the table thinking about how technology can transform their businesses?
They need to be better business partners. Many people have been invited to the table. When we think about the ability of the technology people to be at the table helping solve business problems, I think that's a critical enabler. If all we’re going to do as technologists is talk about technology and not the broader way technology solves key organizational issues—much like human resources solves people problems and sales solves sales and topline problems.
Technology runs through all of it. And CIOs need to be at the table more, which means they must earn their place there, which means they must be willing to have those conversations and not live and die by project timelines or be seen as tactical. They must be seen as leading broader strategies.
Carl Lewis: That's interesting because I suppose, in my lifetime, that's not what we thought the technologists would do. They would be off in their own little corner of the building. Not really engaged with others, just taking care of the stuff.
Geoff Scott: Yes. And now, we’re supposed to be the ones walking around. Remember the early days of computing and the old movies where they're all in white lab coats? That doesn't inspire a strategic view. That inspires someone turning wrenches and screws. I'm not discounting how important turning wrenches and screws is, but the ability to have forward conversations is really where it needs to be.
Which is why the ASUG Executive Exchange for those listening today, who are members of ASUG. And if you're not, I’ll ask you why you aren't because it's the most important part of the ecosystem—as you've already admitted, Carl.
And if you take the next step up, if you're a senior leader and you're making decisions about the technologies you want to purchase and deploy or improve or fit into an enterprise architecture, the ASUG Executive Exchange community is the right place for you. It’s an opportunity for everyone to come together as decision-makers and senior leaders and talk about foundational challenges.
At ASUG Executive Exchange, I think we can do a better job of talking about not just the bits and bytes but also about the leadership skills required to succeed with your peers or as a team leader.
Carl Lewis: What are software and technology? We bundle them into one these days. We used to think of them as very separate: the hardware and the software. But they're one entity anymore. What's changed the experience over the past two years? How are those things working better together to enhance organizations?
Geoff Scott: There’s a wholesale shift away from individuals wanting data centers or data closets filled with servers managed by an internal team. The hyperscaler is here to stay. Most organizations find it increasingly difficult to staff the skills required to manage hardware.
And if you're a CIO spending a big chunk of your budget, time, and people on hardware management and maintenance, I encourage you to quickly move to an outsourced world. Keeping those skills engaged will be challenging. One, they're in short supply, and two, they're being gobbled up by the hyperscalers who can give them richer career paths.
So instead of fighting the tide, join it and think about how you want to utilize cloud infrastructure and computing to get where your business needs to be. The cloud is a major area where people need to focus. Carl, technologists like you and me—and those listening today—work for organizations that want us to provide solutions, not talk about cloud. Not talk about the how. The how is up to us. But talk about why. Why do we want to make things move faster? Why do we want to do this and that? How do we, as an organization, become more digital? How do we move faster? How do we make sure our supply chains are resilient?
Those are much higher order things people can look at. Organizations like Vision33 do a brilliant job of making sure organizations are poised to combat the issues that come flying up in daily life. For us, it's about all these technologies moving in lockstep to drive a better business outcome.
And unfortunately for all of us working inside organizations, the choices are much more complicated. Instead of picking two or three, you can pick 30. Enterprise architecture becomes a lot more critical to most organizations and make the right picks. And while we'd like to believe that in this new world of cloud and subscription-based architecture, “Hey, it doesn't work. I can just turn it off.”
It's not quite that simple. One, what do you do with the data? Two, now you’ve orphaned a solution. You spend a lot of time and enterprise architecture trying to make the right choice and, unfortunately, trying to undo the wrong ones. And once these things get in your organization, they're hard to get out.
And it's become a lot easier for people to pick the solution of choice. A lot of businesspeople can buy solutions on a credit card. Probably right under the technology team’s nose. But sometimes, that doesn't fit into the broader enterprise architecture.
Carl Lewis: Yeah.
Geoff Scott: You wake up one day, walk into work, and say, "Where did that come from?" And someone says, “I put it on my credit card. And now here we go!” And you're like, "Oh goodness, how are we supposed to work with that?" And they don't buy it and hate it—they buy it and love it and want everyone else to adopt it. Then you have a bunch of rabid adoption fans running all over the organization who think they know technology as well as the technologists do.
Carl Lewis: What comes next for SAP customers?
Geoff Scott: We've talked about the strength of the ecosystem and standardizing business processes. When we do ASUG research, business process standardization is top of the list. Most organizations say, "Our secret sauce isn’t our ability to do accounts payable or receivable. That's not how we’ll succeed in life.”
So to the extent that we can standardize processes and rely on SAP to provide world-class processes we can adopt versus spend a lot of time arguing about and modifying. Can you provide us those processes and take the worry out?
Dashboarding and analytics continue to be at the top of the list. In a digitized world, we should be able to understand how our businesses are operating at every point in time. So, our ability to have good dashboards that give us good insight into how the business is really performing is critical.
Integration. Everyone has a favorite app. Some organizations have hundreds of them. How do you pull them together? And unfortunately, we all talk about integration, but it's the area where we stumble most. It's the one constant I've seen across our ecosystem since I had the privilege of leading ASUG almost nine years ago. Integration has never stopped being at the top of the talking block, and it will always be there as long as we willy-nilly implement lots of different solutions.
Sustainability has become a big topic over the last year. When we started it here in North America, I was skeptical. I told my European counterparts, "North America isn’t that interested in sustainability." And I've been proven wrong—we’re very interested in sustainability here.
And sustainability has a lot of applicability. For those in organizations listening today who aren’t thinking about sustainability, I encourage you to think about it because it's coming to your front yard. It's not just about how you make your manufacturing operations or services more sustainable. There are amazing ideas there. How do you make your IT operations more sustainable? Do you really have to write code from scratch every time? How do you think about less being more?
And finally, change management.
Wow. That was a long list. We could probably do an hour-long podcast on each of them.
Carl Lewis: Especially integration. That's always a fun topic.
Geoff Scott: It’s where Vision33 spends a tremendous amount of its time if I'm not mistaken.
Carl Lewis: We do. And it's definitely the edge of everything right now.
Geoff Scott: Yeah. The Achilles' heel of a lot of us. And when it isn't right, organizations make foundational missteps, and things go wrong. At the beginning of the conversation, you spoke about broad economics and supply chain resilience. The ability, the margin of error we play with in today's modern businesses, is small. So, when integration misfires, it could have significant, substantial side effects that can be unhealthy.
Carl Lewis: Yeah. Massive. Because it's automated, it's quick. And when it's bad, it gets real bad, real fast.
Geoff Scott: Exactly.
Carl Lewis: Well, my friend, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate it, Geoff.
Geoff Scott: My pleasure.
Carl Lewis: For everyone else out there, until we meet again, stay connected.