Business leaders have not left turbulent times behind, as we continue to grapple with the fallout of the pandemic and face a host of equally unforeseen disruptions. Supply chain uncertainties, radical changes in workforce expectations, energy prices, the war in Ukraine, and inflation are on the minds of every executive.
Predictions are that better times lie ahead. Businesses that thrive will make the right decisions, maintain their focus on their stakeholders — employees, customers, partners — and in some cases, re-engineer their business models. There are precedents. As Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, remarked, “We think of the 1970s as a terrible decade. But look at what was happening: SAP was born, Apple, Microsoft, FedEx, and all these companies no one had ever heard of at a time when people thought the world was in desperate condition.”
This was the topic of a December 2022 roundtable at Forbes on Fifth, featuring SAP CEO Christian Klein and IBM Vice Chairman Gary Cohn, with a keynote by Steve Forbes. The event, “Strategies for a Resilient Future,” was moderated by Moira Forbes, president and publisher of ForbesWomen and executive vice president of Forbes. What follows are my key takeaways.
Produce More with Less
This is about efficiency, a key tenet for tackling any number of challenges — from combating inflation to implementing sustainable business practices.
“Clean energy is a major topic right now,” Klein said. “How can we build the infrastructure for green hydrogen technology? How can we help companies shift from traditional oil and gas? When we met with President Macron, he asked, ‘How can technology help fight inflation? How can you produce more with less?’”
Clean energy is one way technology can help achieve efficiency goals. Technology can connect the manufacturer to the raw material provider, with transparency to identify potential supply chain interruptions. Technology is fundamental to decarbonizing supply chains and moving to the circular economy — and demonstrating environmental responsibility is a bedrock of doing business today.
Use Data to Support Decision-Making
Converting data into usable form, sorting, and storing it to enable humans to make informed decisions: these are core capabilities that companies will need to grow efficiently. Today, the pressure has heightened to deliver results in an ever-shorter time horizon. Deriving real-time insights to drive decision making is crucial.
Show Courage as a Leader
These transitions must be well managed. In every industry, unexpected new competitors and incumbents are disrupting the business.
“You can’t just say goodbye to your business model from one day to another,” Klein observed. “You need to manage the transformation and act decisively, studying the potential consequences and explaining to people why you are going through it.”
Focus on Your Key Constituents
“To be effective,” Cohn advised, “start with your people.” Klein agreed: “The quicker your organization believes you’re on the right path, the quicker you get everyone working together.” This will also promote confidence among customers and shareholders.
Think About Automation from the Business Perspective
As you recalibrate your business model, introduce new technology judiciously. Consider all the downstream consequences with an eye to the current realities. Cohn noted: “That’s where the SAP and IBM relationships come together. We are working with our customers to understand the cloud, hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence, and automation — helping make them more efficient.”
Don’t Go It Alone
Given the speed and urgency at which businesses need to operate, collaborations are critical.
“As a CEO of a management team,” Cohn observed, “you are now obligated to find the best solution. When you find the right partners and identify the advantages they can bring to your business, you will doubtless find real opportunities in the products and services you can deliver together.”
The IBM and SAP relationship is a pure example of this. “IBM has one of the largest practices for implementing our software and making sure it’s adopted. The business expertise required to put this together is so important,” Klein said. “Together, we can infuse more intelligence and automation into processes, from pricing to shop floors to supply chains. Part of our solution might involve six other providers; we’re going to bring in the best holistic solution for your problem.”
SAP and IBM have worked with hundreds of clients globally on thousands of individual projects to modernize their systems and business processes based on an open, hybrid cloud approach. Recent examples include Coca-Cola European Partners, Parle Products, Harmont & Blaine, Puravankara Ltd, and Virgin Megastore KSA.
Lloyd Adams is president of SAP North America.