Wuhan in Hubei Province, China, where the COVID-19 pandemic began, has re-opened on 8th April after a 76-day lockdown serving a silver lining for the rest of the world.
In a recent interview by Paul Baur with Sam Li, Managing Director of SAP China, he shared the company’s initiatives, insights on what happens after COVID-19 and the strategy in dealing with the fallout from the pandemic in Mainland China including steps for economic recovery as the country slowly returns to normalcy.
Li shared the general pulse of SAP’s employees today. He said:
“I believe the most difficult time for China has now passed. Our employees are in good shape, and although there are still many restrictions on business travel, which limits face-to-face contact with each other and with customers, we are managing to work productively together. For this reason, my confidence grows daily that we will master this crisis.”
At the onset of the pandemic, SAP China has taken immediate measures to ensure the safety and well being of its employees which resulted in zero cases of coronavirus within the organisation. A mobile app tracking employees’ status and health; hotline support; and provision of training courses for various collaboration and communication tools that support working remotely offered even to SAP partners and customers were among the initiatives that the company deployed upon realising that the epidemic was rapidly expanding in Hubei province and beyond.
Now that the conditions in China have improved and SAP offices have opened on 17th February per government guidelines, the biggest challenge remains to be the travel restrictions limiting customer interaction and SAP’s provision of on-site support. Within the company, four out of five employees prefer to work from home and avoid commuting.
“We expect this to last until the mid-year, so remote and onsite modes of working will exist side-by-side for the foreseeable future,” the director quipped.
“To help us reach customers remotely, we recently started a digital marketing campaign using online workshops. Based on the challenges posed by COVID-19 in various industries, we offer different suggestions and solutions. For example, we show customers how SAP SuccessFactors software can provide real-time monitoring of employees’ health and adapt employee goals to the current situation, “ Li detailed.
SAP China in 2020
With regards to SAP China’s focus and strategy for 2020, Li shared:
“Our overall strategy won’t change much, but we are adapting our execution tactics to the situation. For example, we’ve put on hold addressing industries that have been impacted most by the outbreak because they first need to focus on survival and recovery before investing in digitalization. These include restaurants, wineries, retail with brick-and-mortar stores, and labor-intensive manufacturing.”
Li said that the company is expecting increased investments in digitalisation from industries such as medical, biotech, pharmaceuticals, and logistics because the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on them was not as large. He said:
“Supply chain management, smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0, as well as and employee safety and health management are also areas of increased focus.”
He also highlighted the Chinese government’s effort to offset the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity for SAP China. Announced early in March, a total of US$4.8 trillion is allocated for a new round of infrastructure investments that extend beyond areas such as travel and transport to include technology investments for data centers, artificial intelligence, smart manufacturing, and 5G networks.
“Such investments will provide us with a new growth engine for our business. We are currently adapting our operations to take full advantage of this opportunity for a new round of growth,” Li explained.
According to Li, many customers are now showing interest in digital supply chain management and cloud computing solutions after experiencing the immediate impact of the pandemic in production with workers not being able to be in the factories. He said that these solutions would help companies predict bottlenecks and make their operations more resilient.
As for the expansion of offices to additional cities in Mainland China, Li said that the plan is still on but with reservations in the time plan, which depends on the speed of recovery in 2020.
Many companies worldwide are still only at the outset of the invisible war with COVID-19. Li emphasized that organisations should always prioritise employees’ health and safety, whether at home, at the office or travelling. He added:
“Since the impact of COVID-19 will continue on for a while, we need to ensure employee mental health and well-being while helping them to maintain stability and normalcy in their lives.”
Encouraging and hopeful, the SAP China Director said:
“I believe we will win. The past two months were a very difficult for us, but today things are getting better and better in China. The rest of the world should know that things would also get better for them too.”
Currently, SAP China is helping the hardly-hit SMEs bounce back with two social responsibility campaigns in the country. SAP is donating software products and supporting services valued at more than US$2.1 million to help SMEs in Wuhan and Hubei to establish digital systems and achieve post-disaster reconstruction. The German ERP company has also donated US$843,000 to the Hubei Charity Federation to support five hospitals of the Hubei Epidemic Center.
SAP Ariba Discovery, a solution that can help China’s SMEs maintain the reliability and transparency of their supply chains, is also made available to all of China’s enterprises for 90 days at zero cost in line with SAP’s worldwide offering.