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Avantra CEO - ‘SAP operations managers can no longer sit on the sidelines of talent war’

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez November 19, 2021
John Appleby detailed during his keynote speech at the Avantra Summit why automating SAP operations is essential for the wellbeing of managers - and retaining talent.

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(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay )

John Appleby, CEO of Avantra, has spoken at length about how SAP systems often sit on islands within the enterprise, where operations managers are often faced with gruelling complexity and spend much of their time struggling to keep the lights on. 

Avantra's platform offers automation tools that go deep into SAP applications, which enable incident analysis, real time operations monitoring and automated resolution. However, I noted last time that I spoke to Appleby, the piece that ties this whole story together is the future of work for operations managers themselves. 

And this is a topic that Appleby spoke to directly during his keynote at the Avantra Summit this week, where he explained that if companies don't start automating their SAP landscapes, they will not only lose out to others on the innovation front, but will also continue to impact the wellbeing of their operations managers. And ultimately lose out in the war on talent. 

The key message out of the keynote is that companies need to enable people to become automators - rather than simply adding more headcount to solve challenges. And this is being driven by a number of trends Avantra is seeing in the market. Appleby said: 

Everybody is talking about the Uber economy. I'm not going to bore you with that but, but I'm going to speak to two trends in particular, which we see. And the first is what analysts call the move to artificial intelligence. The reality is that what this means is automation. And the second is the change of having talent, both on and off the payroll.

And I see that in our business and I'm sure all of you see this in your business. Our CFO came to me the other day and said we need additional heads to do more billing. And I said, can't we invest in automation and our people can be automaters rather than people manually generating invoicing? That's the way the market is moving. 

Appleby gave an example of a provider that Avantra started recently working with, where the company in question had very few employees listed on LinkedIn, as the end workers were not actually on payroll. He added: 

That is not a bad thing. That is just the future of work.

However, the frustrating thing for Appleby, he said, is that these future of work trends are often missing in the enterprise software market. Providing an example of another company he recently spoke to, Appleby said: 

I had a conversation with a very senior leader in a very large services business. They described how they were doing S/4 HANA analysis for their customers and he said they have an automation offering for this. Their customers come along and they give them a roadmap and a journey and it is serviced to the customers like an automation offering. 

But the reality is that it is a team of people offshore that do all of the work. He said that the automation offering is just the story, it's not what happens behind the scenes. They have 20 or 30 people that do the analysis, all of the manual analysis that goes with that, and deliver a report back to the customer that looks like an automated report. 

I just thought, what a bizarre way to run a market. And I'm sure that that story resonates with all of you in the SAP ecosystem as something that's just become aware of life. 

The market is changing

It wasn't all frustration and gloom though, as Appleby pointed to some positive trends occurring in the enterprise software market. For starters, as we know, COVID-19 has accelerated digital change in companies and investments are skyrocketing. 

Secondly, Appleby added, security, audit and compliance requirements are expanding. Gone are the days of one audit a year, he said, where customers are now facing at least 10 audits per annum. This includes internal audits, external audits, as well as accountant and lawyer involvement. 

Lastly, the move to the cloud continues at pace and isn't slowing down anytime soon. 

But the key point as to why these matter for SAP operations management, Appleby explained, is that they are widening the skills shortage in the market. He said: 

Those three things are frankly causing a talent war. We all see it when we look to hire development talent, SAP talent, there are not enough people in the market. I was talking to a customer this week who put in Avantra to protect their leading brands during the holiday rush that's coming, but there's literally a war on talent otherwise to identify people that can manually do that work. 

My point of view is that as SAP operations leaders, we can no longer sit on the sidelines of this war. Nor can we spend so much time focusing on the business, that we ignore this. If I had $1 for every meeting that got rescheduled because of some production issue, some fire within the business, I'd be very wealthy. We just can't ignore this anymore.

What needs to be done

Appleby said that companies need to realize the potential of SAP automation and that the years of it being an afterthought are no longer acceptable. The technology is there, but more importantly, if not used effectively, the talent war will lead to problems down the line. 

This is now a priority for the wellbeing of operations managers, he said: 

The first thing to really think about is: how do we unlock innovation and wellbeing in our teams? So many SAP operations teams have poor work life balance. I've seen so many people turn up stressed out to meetings, because of the issues that are going on. Or they don't turn up to meetings at all, or they reschedule at the last minute. 

So many times I speak to somebody and they say: I was up until three o'clock in the morning dealing with an issue that could have been avoided. And you know, so many times I speak to people and they say: my spouse is unhappy with me because I had to cancel this weekend away that was supposed to happen because we have production issues. All of this causes a wellbeing problem and it causes an innovation problem.

The flip side of that is that I spoke to a customer this week and he was talking about how they no longer have people getting up in the middle of the night to perform routine maintenance. They have completely automated the maintenance window and he said: I never imagined two years ago that this would be possible. 

Second to wellbeing, this is actually a revenue loss issue for companies that don't recognize that security and availability are directly linked to customer experience. Appleby explained: 

Security and availability is a customer experience issue. SAP runs the world's economy. Everybody at this summit knows that 80% of the world's transactions go through some kind of SAP system.

I spoke to a customer a couple of weeks ago and I said to them, did you know last week your website wasn't working? I told them I was unable to place an order. And they said, we didn't, we didn't get a ticket, we met all of our service level agreements.

That might be true, but we need to go beyond that. Because if an end consumer, be it me placing an order on the web, be it a finance person that gets up in the morning and is unable to post a general ledger, be it an employee unable update their healthcare information; as an end user, if I'm unable to do what I need to do, I've lost time and I've lost trust. 

And it doesn't matter whether there was a ticket or whether SLAs were met, customer experience is so critical to who we are as brands and organisations.

My take

Appleby makes a compelling argument and I am pleased to see him speaking directly to the issue of the role of operations managers in the future. In a call with Appleby recently, he said something that stuck with me. He said that what we need is for operations managers to become conductors of an orchestra of automation (or something to that effect), rather than having them drown in a sea of complexity and problems. It should certainly be about adding value. 

Avantra has recently announced its Enterprise Edition, which aims to cater to these problems, which I'll be diving deeper into at a later date, but you can check the Avantra Summit on demand here for a demo of the latest tooling

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