The COVID-19 pandemic entirely altered the way we looked at work and accelerated the digital transformation journeys of organizations. What would usually take years is now being done in a matter of a few days. The way technology players pivoted to this changing world and technology demands have also been commendable and it is the perfect time for these companies to innovate faster and play a larger role in helping businesses large and small prepare for the road ahead.
In this exclusive interaction, Kulmeet Bawa, President, and Managing Director, SAP Indian Subcontinent talks about the COVID-19 triggered trends in the tech industry that will last for the long term; the increased focus on agility, adaptability, and sustainability of businesses; and some of the trends that will shape the workplace in 2021.
Bawa is the chief architect of SAP’s growth and innovation strategies for the Indian Subcontinent. He is responsible for delivering bold transformations and exceptional SAP experiences to customers across the ecosystem, as well as guiding businesses in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka to adopt a digital-first mindset.
Over his 25 years of cross-functional experience, Bawa has orchestrated business revolution by providing proven business outcomes for organizations across various industries and portfolios. With a relentless focus on driving customer experience, Bawa believes in nurturing and mentoring team members, promoting design thinking, creativity, and innovative culture. He also actively contributes towards social initiatives that focus on education and women empowerment.
Prior to his corporate avatar, Bawa spent 12 years with the Indian Armored Corps as a Cavalry officer. During his tenure with the Indian army, he was Aide de Camp to the Governor of an Indian State and taught Strategy at the prestigious Armored Corps Centre and School. Bawa is a graduate from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence Academy.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
What does the COVID-19 triggered ‘big reset’ mean for you? Is it about the increased focus on agility, adaptability, and sustainability of businesses? How should businesses gear up for this?
Despite posing businesses continuity challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has also created a new wave of opportunities for businesses to digitize processes and manage data. It has unified us as we take this opportunity to deepen our engagement with our customers, be empathetic towards our stakeholders, take note of their challenges, and help them sail through.
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India continues to remain one of the fastest-growing economies. The rise of an Experience Economy in India is yet another big opportunity, thanks to a hyper-connected young population. Today, enterprises want us to help them innovate faster and become more agile to serve their end-customers better. Our core strategy has been around the customer-first approach that is driven by a committed workforce, and we are continuously doubling down on this by:
- Providing an integrated suite of applications and a robust platform to support end-to-end business processes
- Accelerating our customers’ move to the cloud
- Sharing best practices in industry and Lines of businesses based on our years of experience of partnering with the best globally
What are the key COVID-19 triggered trends in the tech industry that you think will last for the long term? What specific gaps, blind spots, and opportunities has COVID-19 brought to the fore? What existing trends have been accelerating and why?
The pandemic has affected the way customers and businesses interact with each other. As we move forward, enterprises cannot realize digital transformation without customer experience being an integral part of their business transformation strategy. Customer experience is not only about the way you serve the customer, it is about having a two-way interaction that provides unique insights on the changing requirement, market, competition, and quality of the product.
The new ways of doing business have resulted in digital footprints, which if stitched together and analyzed properly, will provide a competitive advantage to the enterprises. With more than 435,000 customers globally and 12,000 customers in India, SAP has the responsibility to help the enterprises embrace this change with the help of technology. We are focused on delivery quick time to value by presenting the most comprehensive customer experience outcomes powered by a suite of applications that provide them the right visibility and recommendations.
COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation in the workplace across industries. Do you see a new tech infrastructure in the making that will help economies rebound after COVID-19?
I am a firm believer that cloud technologies are instrumental for businesses in processing Big Data and developing new business models. The need to be digital, and doing it with agility, is imperative more than ever. With a strong history of innovation for close to half a century, SAP is at an inflexion point of becoming a “True Cloud Company” which is most critical in today’s context.
Our success stems from our ability to nurture, educate and grow an ecosystem that meets the country’s needs. SAP is positioned very well to support and enable enterprises of all sizes by helping them embrace digitization on the cloud, focus on upskilling their workforce and enhancing overall business value by supporting employees and customers with what they need the most, and more!
Can you throw some light on how top organizations are leveraging HR tech – people analytics, talent acquisition tech, RPA, blockchain?
Amid the challenges, one thing that comes to the forefront is how organizations will align their business strategy with people strategy. As the workplace becomes more dynamic, the future of work demands a constant cycle of up-skilling and behavioral skill training for all generations of employees to make for a smart and inclusive workplace.
Like in any other line of business, technology has played a critical role in this very important function. With a comprehensive set of Human Experience Management solutions and Intelligent technologies (eg. AI/ML, RPA, IoT), SAP has been constantly innovating in this space along with a young startup ecosystem by embedding intelligence in recruitment, learning, and performance management. With our offerings in RPA, we have enabled organizations in automating various processes that resulted in leveraging the workforce for more productive activities needing human intervention.
The global health crisis is shaking up the normal ways of work and upending businesses like never before. What does it mean for businesses as they plan for the year 2021? What are some of the trends that you think will shape the workplace in 2021?
2021 will witness a shift in workplace mindset that is focused on how businesses can thrive in a new normal. This creates an opportunity to redesign work practices creating simple but significantly long-lasting changes to boost employees’ productivity, engagement and holistic well-being in 2021, and beyond. It will also create an opportunity for enterprises to be more sensitive towards the impact on workplace diversity, gender neutrality, and mental health which the global pandemic has brought to the fore.
I believe that a hybrid workplace setting will be an accepted norm forever, thanks to the pandemic that acted as a catalyst. Organizations have come to realize that a flexible working structure will have a positive effect on the productivity and efficiency levels of employees.
Given the kind of digital transformations organizations are going through, do you think, it's time for big tech companies to innovate faster and play a larger role in helping businesses large and small prepare for the road ahead?
Innovation is no more a competitive advantage, it’s a survival strategy in today’s market conditions. I am glad to see enterprises embedding innovation into their processes and in their ways of thinking. We have seen big tech companies helping organizations of all sizes during the pandemic to help them weather the storm and to prepare them for the road ahead. Earlier this year, SAP opened the procurement platform to help small enterprises. We have enabled hundreds of small businesses go digital with our ‘Global Bharat’ program. Additionally, all the large enterprises served by tech companies were enabled to help their ecosystem of suppliers, partners, and customers in an effective manner. They should continue doing the same to help stabilize and grow our country’s economy.
Most importantly, for us to emerge victorious once this crisis is over, we all must stay empathetic while working towards a shared vision.
Do you feel confident in your business post-COVID-19? What are your top priorities moving forward in 2021?
Customer success is a top priority for us - now more than ever. We need to elevate the experience of our enterprise customers by making it easier for them to consume our tech solutions on the basis of realizable business value thereby helping them run better. We have been at the front and center of driving digital transformation across enterprises.
Another priority for us is the well-being of our 13,000+ strong workforce in India who continue to work remotely, serving customers, and adding value to their businesses. We will continue to foster a culture of inclusion driven by empathy. After all, our people remain our biggest asset!
Read more such stories from the January 2021 issue of our e-magazine on 'Outlook 2021’