Outlook 2021: Shift to Cloud Will Continue to Accelerate

Rich Phillips, the Vice President for EMEA South Head of Channel and Ecosystem at SAP, speaks about 2021 opportunities

How was 2020 for the industry and your company?
COVID-19 turned the year upside down. However, it is noticeable how resilient business is in general and our partners specifically. SAP has supported its channel partners with various commercial and partnership initiatives during COVID times. We are starting to see business sentiment improving especially with recent vaccine news, we expect a rapid business expansion once lockdowns start to lift and pent-up demand is released.

According to a recent research study by SAP in partnership with Oxford Economics, of 3,000 global business executives across 10 industries during the start of the coronavirus pandemic:

  1. 32 percent of organizations are investing in new technologies to analyze data
  2. The top three technologies seeing investment are artificial intelligence (34 percent), Internet of Things (33 percent), and analytics (27 percent)
  3. 34 percent are retraining employees to work with data
  4. 25 percent are extending data governance policies across the business ecosystem

What sort of opportunities did 2020 bring along?
During 2020, we found many unexpected opportunities! This was a very unusual year full of challenges, but also businesses continuing to make strategic investments that simply didn’t stop during COVID-19. Maybe it took a little longer, maybe the processes were more exhaustive, but investment in digital transformation continued.

The Oxford Economics survey found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, technology investments are contributing to organizational success, including improving citizen and customer experiences (48 percent), employee experiences (47 percent), and employee productivity (46 percent).

What were the challenges that you faced in 2020?
In 2020, one challenge dominated: COVID-19. Perhaps most importantly, the lockdowns and limitations on travel that were put into place. Recent research by SAP Concur revealed that ensuring their health and safety while traveling is most important to business travelers, with 65 percent placing it in their top three considerations.

However, very quickly SAP responded by switching its business to virtual platforms and we also helped our partners. We made it possible for partners to use their Market Development Funds to purchase subscriptions for some of the leading virtual platforms and we offered training on how to effectively use these platforms in day-to-day business.

What were your key achievements in 2020?
Not just surviving but actually thriving. COVID has been an accelerator for many of the changes SAP was bringing, such as virtual working and digital selling. Arguably, COVID crystalised a lot of this for SAP, and we exit COVID in a stronger position with our partners to capitalise on the shift within our customers to cloud, pre-developed IP, and a digital sales motion.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact the citizens and businesses of the world, SAP was the first enterprise software company to offer solutions and support to help cope with the immediate challenges we all faced.

Since then, SAP has seen strong demand for our new digital platform — — to provide companies the resources they need to help their employees, customers, and business operations continue to run at their best. Our digital platform includes more than 50 SAP and partner solutions to address the most pressing challenges right now, stories of how our customers are adapting and thriving during COVID-19, plus practical advice and points of view to help businesses get back up and running again.

What promises does 2021 bring along?
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do expect pent-up business demand to be released very rapidly with a massive requirement for projects to be delivered promptly. I would encourage our partners to pre-develop IP on the SAP Cloud Platform to be able to service the sales and delivery requirements of such a rapid upturn.

Do you see opportunities in the regional markets with new markets opening up?
Undoubtedly, SAP continues to expand its product portfolio, especially in the mid-market. Our offerings continue to become more relevant and more commercially compelling and we will invest to help partners grow in that market segment. There is massive demand in many parts of the region and whilst COVID depresses some markets others have been creative expanding into other areas some of which may remain permanent.

During our recent TechEd event, SAP announced new tools, updates, and services for making developers’ lives easier, regardless of skill level or job focus. These new offerings include low-code/no-code tools, a free tier model for SAP Cloud Platform, exclusive free learning opportunities, and further updates to SAP Business Technology Platform.

According to you, which technologies will be in demand in 2021?
It is clear that the shift to the cloud will continue to accelerate. Lockdowns taught companies that having cloud infrastructure allowed you can transition to home working easily whereas much more difficult to do with on-premise systems. Once companies experience the cloud they don’t go back – they want more. Similarly, in the UAE, a recent YouGov survey shows that 76 percent of IT decision-makers in the UAE agree that public cloud is important for integrating future technology.

What will be your key focus areas for 2021?
Ensuring that we continue to do everything possible to help our partners recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 and helping them create and respond to demand. Our Back to Best solutions meet three key needs:

Best for Employees: Today, employees are counting on their employers more than ever before — whether it’s helping with flexible and secure processes to reopen facilities or transitioning and maintaining new ways of remote working. With our environmental health and safety solutions and our workspace booking application, businesses can bring people back to workplaces safely and react quickly to any issues that may arise.

Best for Customers: With crisis, there often comes opportunity. As customer interactions moved predominately online and contactless, businesses have had to up level their customer experience and accelerate their digital transformation. Memories of positive and negative interactions during the pandemic will stay with consumers for a long time. Companies that are able to invest in better customer experiences – both online and in physical locations – can potentially rebound faster and grow customer loyalty.

Best for Business: Resilience and agility are key to an organization’s survival and performance during unpredictable and volatile events. While financial stability is critical to weather volatility, investing in technology helps to implement flexible processes and garner insights that will also strengthen a company’s ability to adjust for risks and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

What milestones have you set for 2021? What would you like to do differently in 2021, when compared with 2020?
We want to make sure that we quickly work with our partners to have them ready to respond to the expected increase in business following vaccinations and removal of lockdowns. I don’t think we can compare the two years. 2020 is probably the one year within all of our careers with such circumstances. 2021 is a new, clean sheet for us to work from. The “new normal” of digital selling and fulfillment will remain and become even more pronounced.

COVID-19 has created an inflection point for our customers. The move to the cloud, combined with a true business transformation, has become a must for enterprises, to gain resiliency and position them to emerge stronger out of the crisis. Together, with our customers and partners, we will co-innovate and reinvent how businesses run in a digital world. We will continue our path as a cloud growth company, while we remain focused on cost efficiency. These actions and our resilient business model position us well to meet our new ambition targets as uncertainty recedes.

Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2021?
Yes, as an innovative vendor, SAP is always looking for new markets and solutions. Going forward SAP will very much focus on developing a broader ecosystem of partners that develop industry-specific IP which can be made available via its routes to markets alongside the partners.

On a global level, SAP is reintroducing the role of the chief design officer to support a consistent user experience across the solution portfolio for the Intelligent Enterprise. Benedikt Lehnert will intensify SAP’s focus on consumer needs in the design of its software applications across all of the company’s products.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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