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The Connected Enterprise

PODCAST

Landing on Both Feet: How Businesses in the UK and Ireland are Finding Solid Ground Post-Pandemic

Posted by Vision33 on Jun 24, 2020 12:00:00 PM

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Full Transcript

Carl Lewis:

Welcome to the Connected Enterprise Podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Craig Dale, the managing director of the UK and Ireland SAP User Group (UKISUG). Craig, welcome to the podcast! Please tell us about yourself, the organization, its role in the UK, and what you do.

Craig Dale:

Thank you, Carl. It's my pleasure to be here. I hope your listeners understand my northern UK twang as we talk! My actual title is chief executive officer of UKISUG.

Craig Dale:

The UK and Ireland SAP User Group is a not-for-profit independent membership organization for all SAP software users, and it's funded and run by members for members. Our four focuses are built around four pillars: learn, network, collaborate, and influence. Our goal is driving that independent channel through to our members and bringing the SAP ecosystem together.

Craig Dale:

We bring the SAP customer base and SAP partner community together across the UK and Ireland to help members work together, learn from experts and each other, and network. Also, the SAP experts from partners and SAP itself collaborate and work together to drive change and get more value from their SAP investment. We work to influence SAP and keep them honest. Our goal is to make the SAP world a better place for SAP's customers and partners. And shaping future product development comes into that.

Craig Dale:

My role as chief executive officer is to work with UKISUG’s board to create, develop, and implement the group’s strategy. We have a board of directors, all volunteers, non-executive directors, that stem from our member companies. We’re governed by our members to ensure everything we do has one purpose: adding value for SAP software users.

Carl Lewis:

It’s great that the organization has a goal to serve the customers first. You and I met through contacts we share with the Americas' SAP Users' Group.

Craig Dale:

Indeed.

Carl Lewis:

I look forward to the next time we see each other face to face. We've met at least once a year for several years, and I think everybody's missing their routines when it comes to these conferences.

Carl Lewis:

Craig, in your work with customers, SAP, and SAP products, what are some of the big industry trends, like automation, people are trying?

Craig Dale:

There are many technology trends: automation, artificial intelligence, internet of things, robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, etc. SAP customers in the UK and Ireland want to invest in areas like analytics and the cloud. And with the current COVID-19 crisis, I believe analytics and the cloud will become more important. There's a lot of discussion about RPA, too; it seems to be part of a bigger trend around potential hyper-automation – mixing automation technologies to add to and expand the existing human capabilities to create hyper-automation.

Craig Dale:

We're in a pandemic that has made a dramatic shift in working practices. Remote/home working has become the norm for many of us. It's prompted organizations to expedite some of their strategies – for instance, one of our public sector members. When the lockdown began in the UK, this local authority couldn’t work from home. But within a week, they could – something that might have ordinarily taken two years! They did it within a week because they had to. Speed to digitalization is also increasing because of this. It's making organizations do more things more quickly.

Craig Dale:

This is also causing a huge hit to the economy. With it tanking, we’d probably say the overall investment in IT is likely to drop. However, to allow the investment to drop and perhaps automate some manual tasks, the investment in automation might increase, even as overall IT expenditure decreases. It also makes the cloud important – how else can we work remotely? And analytics are vital for helping businesses make better decisions.

Carl Lewis:

We saw the same things the first week or two, with many companies without remote capability scrambling to accomplish it. It’s remarkable how fast organizations moved, because, as you said, some didn't have it in their strategies. The pandemic thrust it upon them. That’s quite a fast transition.

Carl Lewis:

Craig, what are the biggest challenges in making these quick shifts with technology for the typical customer?

Craig Dale:

I don't know what you've seen across the pond, but we've seen an increase in attempted cyber-attacks, phishing, malware, etc. Cybersecurity is a big challenge. Hackers are using COVID-19 as a cloak to steal information from us via the internet.

Craig Dale:

And with cybersecurity comes privacy. We see phishing attacks to get our private data. The more we're online, the more susceptible we are. And if we’re looking at a new norm where more people work from home, cybersecurity becomes critical to protecting our businesses. Home networks don't have the capabilities and secure systems businesses have.

Craig Dale:

Another side is investment and the economy. We see across the globe how different industries have been hit during the crisis. Industry sectors like food, technology, and maybe government agencies will increase their IT budget. But industries like travel, oil, and automotive will probably decrease it. So that investment in the economy, and how it fares in the coming months/year, will be a challenge in the companies using those technologies.

Craig Dale:

We talked about automation and how that's going. If we want to move toward hyper-automation, perhaps the question is, “How do we ramp up the mass automation in organizations to enable that?” There are a few points there.

Carl Lewis:

I think you're right. And it's interesting you mentioned the public sector customer. It seems like some of the biggest challenges have been handling the finances in the public sector because the public sector struggles with the ancient systems it’s still running. And bringing modern technology, fluidity, and access to those systems is a huge challenge. I think that that's where we will see investments. But yeah, probably the large industries we’re used to taking advantage of will always be there and healthy. The oil business, the travel business, like you mentioned – they’ll struggle to make investments.

Craig Dale:

Indeed.

Carl Lewis:

What do you think will be the next big thing because of COVID-19?

Craig Dale:

My question is whether businesses will change how they operate to ensure they're here long term. We've seen many large companies straining during this crisis, and we'll probably see some of them fall, along with numerous small businesses. The businesses that survive this, perhaps by the skin of their teeth, will need to think about creating a strategy for the long term. Organizations often look at sales figures quarterly, and they run quarter to quarter, half-year to half-year, or year to year, but what about the long term? What about sustainable businesses that build themselves to survive crises like this and can survive for years?

Craig Dale:

From what I’ve been reading/seeing, hyper-automation stands out. That is, taking many automation tools, putting them together, and creating a new way to work. I hope this doesn’t have a human cost. I hope we can automate low-value tasks with tools like machine learning, advanced artificial intelligence, etc., and keep the human element to work on high-value jobs.

Carl Lewis:

Yes. I worry about the mom-and-pop shops, neighborhood restaurants, and places like that. I drive through my neighborhood and see bars and pubs that have been there for 50 years with plywood over the windows. And I just know some won’t survive this extended period of lockdown.

Craig Dale:

Yeah. It's a shame.

Carl Lewis:

It is a shame. And the sadness it brings ... these places are sort of the backbone of the economy in many ways, in so many countries.

Carl Lewis:

Let me switch a little bit, Craig. We've talked about how we're doing this via the internet, and how communication has changed in the last few weeks, but I like to ask how people have seen communication change in their lives and careers. For me, email was the biggest single change in communication in my business life, but what we're doing today, like face-to-face meetings over the internet, makes that seem very routine. What’s your story? And how do you see communication changing?

Craig Dale:

There’s been a dramatic increase in video calls and conferences in the past four to five weeks. I like talking to people, whether it’s on the telephone or face to face, but the novelty of video calling is wearing off on me – especially as my diary fills up so much.

Craig Dale:

Email is always there. When we ask our members their communication preferences, email is always number one. But when we ask how to improve our communication, they say, "Send fewer emails." So that’s a balancing act. How do we personalize it? We've been working on several internal projects regarding personalizing our communication, so members only get the information they want. We want to reduce emails while still delivering the information they need on the platform they require.

Craig Dale:

We're also doing a lot more on social media. We go across social media channels. I'm not a huge social media user, and I think sometimes social media can swing too far in any direction. Twitter, specifically, seemed to get toxic about a year ago, so I question how effective it is. Still, it seems to be a very prevalent communication channel you must be on.

Craig Dale:

We use our website to give members information; we also link back to it through the social media channels. I think some people will continue to want to use video or conferencing platforms versus face to face, especially since there may be issues around travel budgets, etc. coming out of the pandemic.

Craig Dale:

I can't wait until I can have a face-to-face meeting again, in a room, and get back to what I see as normal. I'm a people person, and I like to sit down and talk to somebody next to me rather than digitally.

Carl Lewis:

Yes. I have the same bent. Engaging with individuals has always been what I feel is one of my biggest strengths in my career. And I feel hampered when it's all done electronically. So, I'm looking forward to that myself.

Carl Lewis:

Craig, you work with SAP and customers, and you have providers and solution providers working together in the organization. But there are always challenges when a customer tries to deploy software technology and engage with suppliers whose purpose is to implement new technology. I call them third parties. We'll probably see a rise in that as people move down the automation path. Organizations will specialize in it. What will be the biggest challenges when we engage with third parties to implement new technology solutions? How can they work together better?

Craig Dale:

Interesting question. Two things are capability and trust. That the partner has the capability to implement the solution, and that the client trusts the partner to deliver. It's one reason we created the affiliate portal on our website. One of the key things we worked with SAP and the partner community on is that quality element to ensure partners are delivering the quality customers need and want. And in working with them, we launched our affiliate portal last year. It allows our affiliate members – our third-party partners – to put their info on our website portal. They can showcase their work with customer references, etc. It also allows customers – our members – to search for their ideal partner and find the capabilities they need in specific areas.

Craig Dale:

The portal also allows members to add reviews of the partner. They’re real reviews from real customers about how that partner delivered or didn’t deliver.

Carl Lewis:

It's always great to talk to other customers who have done the same. It can steer you clear of many problems.

Carl Lewis:

Craig, has UKISUG taken advantage of technology and automated things that help you communicate and create relationships with the whole constituency?

Craig Dale:

We've been looking at different ways to improve. One thing is having a 360-degree view of our members. I mentioned personalization, communication, and understanding what our members want. We run on SAP Business ByDesign, and we're doing a CRM project to implement and drive CRM on ByDesign, while also linking to our member portal on the backend of our website. It will give us that 360-degree view so we can understand our members’ needs, interests, and how they're engaging with us. It will allow us to deliver a more valuable and relevant membership experience for them.

Craig Dale:

We haven't looked at the standard automations, like invoice processing. There are other elements we’ll look at, but our focus now is automating the member experience part.

Craig Dale:

Regarding automation like telephone automated bots and online chatbots, we're not quite there. When I contact my mobile phone provider, I've never had a seamless or extremely positive experience with their telephone chatbot or online chatbot.

Carl Lewis:

I can honestly say that if I get one of those chatbots, I immediately look for another way to contact the organization.

Craig Dale:

Yeah.

Carl Lewis:

I'm just old school with that sort of thing. I don't want to talk to a machine. They’ll have to improve a lot before they appeal to me. That's the best way I can express it.

Craig Dale:

I'm with you on that. Perhaps we’re too old school. But one time, the answers I was getting all seemed the same, and I asked, "Am I talking to a human or a computer?" And I was talking to a human.

Carl Lewis:

Yeah – there are chatbots, and then there's chat. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.

Craig Dale:

Yeah.

Carl Lewis:

You're working with many customers who are trying these things. Have customers had a positive experience tracking the effectiveness of these new technologies? You hear about people creating KPIs, but to me, it’s like creating KPIs about KPIs sometimes. How many steps did it save? How many transactions did we do with fewer hands? Etc.

Craig Dale:

It's crucial to have “before” information. Why is the business taking on the project? What are the objectives they want to drive from it? And from that, we can derive what we need to measure. As the adage goes, what gets measured gets done.

Craig Dale:

But the effectiveness of the new technology is different from project success, where we look at the time, costs, resources, etc. To measure the effectiveness, we must look at how it's improved the part of the business we want to improve. Have the users adopted it? How is that working? How has it affected our customers? Do we measure the elements we're trying to improve now? Do we have a benchmark we're going to put the future state against? And if we have those, then we can measure and track the effectiveness accurately. But I think we need to answer the question “What are we trying to do?” at the beginning. “Why are we doing it, and what are the objectives so we can measure it effectively?”

Carl Lewis:

Yeah. Sounds like a design-thinking session.

Craig Dale:

Indeed.

Carl Lewis:

Very much so. Well, Craig, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to join us. Great conversation. And I hope we get to see each other soon and get back to whatever normal we can.

Craig Dale:

I hope we can get together, too. Thank you for having me; it's been an honor to be here.

Carl Lewis:

And for all our listeners, until next time, please stay connected.

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