By Steffani Cameron
Stick around in business long enough, and change is unavoidable. The legendary CEO Jack Welch was famous for succinct quotes like “change before you have to,” because, sooner or later, push comes to shove. Companies the world over have had that “push comes to shove” moment in the first half of 2020, as this new, strange pandemic economy challenges all of us to be nimble and responsive to this global threat that has everyone guessing what our futures hold.
On March 11, a global pandemic was declared and, overnight, COVID-19 forced organizations around the world to switch from on-premise work to working from home. For some, going remote meant dialling into a few new processes since they had already begun embracing cloud-based systems. For others, their enterprises were rocked to the core because they were so tethered to their on-premise work models.
Shortly into that pivot to working from home, we hosted a webinar with Emmanuel Cassimatis, who heads the Europe, Middle East and Africa fund for SAP.io, a tech-investing organization behind the world’s largest cloud-business software company. They fund external, early-stage enterprise software startups. We also chatted with the SEDNA VP of Product, Dan James. The topic was technology that’s accelerating global trade and how teams can use these technologies better, without becoming overloaded by data.
The SAP Way: Technology + People + Processes
With 91% of the Forbes Global 2000 firms as SAP customers, the start-ups SAP.io funds are devising new ways of solving day-to-day business needs. EMEA Funds lead Emmanuel Cassimatis deals daily with cloud-based solutions coming to market. For remote working, Cassimatis says the team at SAP and SAP.io are constantly focused on the three prongs of successful systems adoption – technology, processes, and people. And the start of COVID-19 exposed one big truth: the technologies are there, but people lack the processes and product knowledge required to best use them.
“Technologies for mobile working have been there for few years already; working from home is not a new concept,” Cassimatis says. “There’s a portfolio of tools out there that can, and should, be used by employees, and it’s very frequent that employees and executives don’t use all of them because they just are not well-versed in them.”
James agrees. “Having a tool doesn’t necessarily solve all of your problems; it’s also how you use it.” Imagine you’re building a home. A hammer and a saw are essential tools, and no builder would arrive onsite without them, but some tasks can only be solved with a screwdriver or a chisel. It’s the same as traditional email or team chat systems – they’re terrific for some purposes, but, as James says, “[they] can be very noisy and chaotic. If you have 700 channels open and there’s no agreement on what information is in what channels, you don’t know where you need to go.”
“So it’s really around teams talking to each other about how they want to work within these tools, and establishing guidelines and trying to police that a bit, to make sure that there’s some discipline in the processes as to how they communicate with each other.” Much like how people once had to learn not to ‘reply all’ on every email, lest chaos ensue, they now need to learn when a rapid-fire chat message isn’t sufficient for addressing a concern, or when simply updating a ticket in a workflow chart is all that’s needed.
Implementing Methods and Processes
The breadth of available methods of team-based communication led one of our viewers to send a comment that “the value of a message is in inverse proportion to the ease of sending it.” After having a good chuckle while agreeing to this, James and Cassimatis dove into how channels, formats, and message quality were critical in minimizing data overload for those working remotely. As James mentioned, “The best way to make online communication effective is to have less of it.”
He says that’s achieved through implementing workflow transparency. “For us at SEDNA, in JIRA, when somebody moves a ticket into development, everyone sees the update to that ticket.”
That sort of transparency is also innate to SEDNA, where users can check the Activity window to see if an email was followed up by a team member, rather than pestering others for updates, a feature Cassimatis appreciates. Examples of tools other teams use to achieve this transparency include Trello and GitHub, which incorporate a system of record, so teams can check where colleagues are on any given project. This visibility counts as communication too, while curtailing the amount of chatter needed.
Creating a Tech-Enabled Work Culture
Today, it’s not enough that companies excel at knowing their business – they require a fundamental understanding of workplace technology to achieve their goals. That means knowing how best to use tech for every little thing happening behind scenes in executing the product. From inter-team brainstorming to getting contracts signed, when it comes to doing business in a pandemic, every bit of technological expedience counts. Especially in a global economic slowdown.
Cassimatis believes adopting technology must happen throughout the entire organizational structure. That’s why forward-thinking companies keep moving forward, he says, because the entire company gets on board with their cloud-based solutions. He explains that, in these organizations, “Change is not coming from the top; it’s coming from the bottom and the top and the sides, and there’s clear implementation and visibility and transparency around what needs to be done and how.”
James agrees. “I don’t think things always have to come down as a mandate from the top. I’m a big fan of bottom-up transformation of teams; smaller groups of people making the world a better place within their company, within their team, in a very small way, and then building on that and building momentum, and eventually pulling in other teams as well.”
Entering A Cloud-Based Business World
Both Cassimatis and James feel like COVID-19 marks a massive shift in where we work, and how, and they believe it will be permanent. Says James, “I actually honestly believe that this is kind of the death knell for the non-cloud enterprise solutions. Just like when the word processor came out, it was the beginning of the end for typewriters, and when streaming came out, it was the beginning of the end for physical media. I think that this push towards remote work is the beginning of the end for on-premise enterprise technology.”
Some companies will still require an on-premise model, but James cautions this will be increasingly expensive as the world embraces the cloud. “The bottom line is, if everybody else is moving [to the cloud], you’re going to be on an island very quickly and being on an island is a very expensive place to be. It costs a lot more to support ageing technologies.”
While Cassimatis agrees with James in principle, he also thinks there are still some hurdles to get past, because year-over-year consumption of data is increasing at 20%. He explains what the average person doesn’t understand is the literal real estate and environment required to maintain and supply all those cloud-based services and the data architecture required. Few people have ever visited the inside of a server facility, with its towers of data banks. They don’t understand the volatility a single speck of dust can cause for the towers, or their need for a perfectly stable climate, or how these physical sites must be redundant – with backups of backups elsewhere. Can physical data storage space continue matching the pace at which cloud data is required, and not just today, but in five years, or ten? No one knows. James, however, remains optimistic in software’s ability to be nimble.
Cassimatis also believes these data architecture needs mean that, for some high-security industries, like a nuclear power plant, for instance, on-premise data models may always be required. “COVID has probably accelerated the risks for data and cybercrime,” he says. “Companies are sometimes a little bit at a loss on how to ensure they protect their data, because it’s not only about technology,” it’s also about people, happenstance, and greed.
Big Topics, Broad Discussions
As James says, “One of the big takeaways on this is that every company needs to start thinking about what their cloud strategy and stance is going to be, and how they’re going to start to get comfortable with the idea that, in the future, their tools are going to all be cloud-based.”
The upside to the cloud-based workplace is that there is no single successful model at harnessing creativity and encouraging productivity remotely – and that’s why this is a discussion that needs to continue.
For most companies, their future is in the cloud. What that looks like for your organization may be different from what it looks like for our team at SEDNA, but we think sharing how each of us works and accomplishes our goals is just good business.
As Cassimatis says, SAP.io’s belief is that “Global trade is about business, but it’s also about helping each other.” And like President John F. Kennedy once said, a rising tide lifts all boats. Stay tuned as we continue to explore the future of remote working and team-based communication.
To hear what Emmanuel Cassimatis and Dan James had to say about the future dynamics of teams, ways to create a positive culture of connectivity remotely, how to use weekly retrospectives to improve productivity, watch the full webinar.