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Digitalisation done the SAP way

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Summer in the corporate world means, among other things, an increase in events. As businesses shop around for services, other organisations take the opportunity to not only showcase what they have to offer, but to educate. For SAP, that is the role of its Financial Services Forum.

This event, run by the multinational software giant, is now in its sixth year and has had a serious impact on the industry. Running between the 4th and 5th of July at Grange St Paul’s Hotel in London, it focusses on financial and insurances services, and on providing any and all information a customer might need to update its digital processes.

“There’s so much noise today around digital transformation, how important it is, what it is, and what it’s not,” says Laurence Leyden, General Manager, Financial Services, EMEA at SAP. “We host an industry debate where we examine what impact digitalisation has already had on the industry and what new, emerging opportunities it creates for our customers. Perhaps more importantly, we wanted to make digitalisation very real for our customers’ specific functions within their financial businesses.”

“The event is a person’s or organisation’s opportunity to really understand where SAP is with its technology – in particular regarding digital cloud-led enterprise platforms and real-time information – and to really understand what that means in the context of their business,” adds Darren Hunt, Head of Strategic Industries at SAP. “SAP has such a good heritage from its legacy software position. Opportunities like this are fantastic, allowing us to continue the education of our customer base which solidifies faith and trust, and helps them move on from what they had to our newer technology.”

SAP’s focus

Between them, Leyden and Hunt have many years of experience in both financial services and enterprise software, and are at the frontline of the ongoing digitalisation of the financial industry. SAP itself is focused on expanding into industries where there are big opportunities to invest – in particular public sector, retail, and financial services – and vitally, to support the British economy.

“I think it’s fair to say these three sectors have been somewhat challenged over recent years,” Hunt says. “Public sector has seen a lot of budget cuts, so much retail business has moved online which has shifted the market dramatically, and with financial services there are so many compliance and regulatory measures. SAP, both in the UK and globally, sees that as an opportunity. We already have a sizeable legacy across those sectors, but as the pace for change gathers, we are focused on growing our business as well as supporting customers.”

Expanding the legacy

So what makes SAP so well-positioned to provide what these industries need? It is, of course, well-known in its sector for its enterprise software services, and has created a long-lasting legacy for itself as a result, but more importantly the company maintains a vision that at once supports the legacy customers and guides them into the future.

“A lot of our customers use core back-office software from our organisation that supports their fundamental business processes, and has done very successfully for a number of years,” explains Hunt. “Our key vision is to help the world run better and improve peoples’ lives, and I think that’s what we’ve done with our software. But as the world changes, and we shift towards the cloud and digitalisation, SAP sees itself as very well-placed thanks to our new technologies and offerings to support customers across all market sectors.”

“Increasing digitalisation is about engaging with customers across numerous channels, making sure workforces are engaged and have information to hand, and enabling a smarter network of collaboration. Everything we talk about and hear now seems to be around how the world is becoming more connected, and a lot of people now come into the workforce expecting particular ways of working that might not be available in some legacy applications. Organisations need to use data in a way where access to real-time information becomes a key enabler for their business, does things faster, simpler, and in a more agile manner.”

Despite this move towards all things digital, SAP won’t forget about the legacy customers. While the company educates about and encourages moving towards the latest technology, it doesn’t force its customers to do so. Many organisations only want or need to run back-office systems, and in Hunt’s words, “we’re not switching the lights off. However I think it’s fair and appropriate, especially in the financial sector, that people understand we have technology today that might deliver their banking requirements of tomorrow.”

Financial services in particular are encouraged to update, because customer demands are evolving all the time. “Until now, banks have waited for customers to come to them,” Leyden explains. “Digitalisation has forced us to shift the focus from transaction execution and product selling to adding value. That requires a different mindset and a different business model.

“It’s important not to be distracted by the shiny new front end – it masks the problem. If the back office isn’t agile, then you’re simply investing in omni-channel inefficiency.”

While some may still have reservations about digitalisation, the cloud is more secure than ever, as well as offering the best flexibility and cost efficiency for the financial sector. “Cloud suppliers know that brand reputation – especially financial institution reputation – is at stake, and therefore they are continually raising the standards around security,” says Leyden. “Cloud system architectures use many different cybersecurity applications to combat a myriad of threats, isolating and disarming them as they are discovered, and protecting the entire cloud community from being impacted by that specific threat again.”

SAP leads the way

To be an enabler of change, SAP must be at the forefront of it. Its vision and strategy centres around moving more quickly, rather than rebuilding technology that is still being relied upon by legacy customers. To do this, the company made a series of strategic acquisitions that fast-tracked its digital practices and capabilities, allowing for a combination of technology applications, platforms, and business process expertise.

“Our innovation and commitment to the financial industry is continuous and ongoing,” Leyden says. “We have been investing heavily into our own business to transform ourselves. We were once known primarily as an on-premises ERP provider, but have since been transforming ourselves not only as a supplier of cloud services and SaaS, but also a reliable business partner who can run the digital backbone of the entire enterprise across many business functions. This has required considerable change management internally, and the job is not done yet.

“Any organisation on the path to and through our digitalisation needs to keep its eye on managing two critical elements: managing the technology change and the cultural change within, and ensuring that change is pervasive across the entire organisation.”

One of SAP’s top priorities is to prove that digitalisation isn’t something to be wary of – it’s something to aspire to that will only improve business in innumerable ways. How the client feels is, of course, the most important thing, and while legacy customers cannot remain on the same platform forever, SAP offers equal support regardless of the level of digitalisation.

Hunt concludes: “I think it builds an element of trust. I also think that trust has to go both ways. No doubt about it, organisations should move to digital-based technology quickly, but that has to be on the advice of both us and them.”

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In 1972, five entrepreneurs in Germany had a vision for the business potential of technology. Starting with one customer and a handful of employees, SAP set out on a path...

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