Reimag­ine work by reimag­in­ing busi­ness


The Star Late Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Brett Parker Brett Parker is the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of SAP Africa

WHEN you want to know the fu­ture, ac­knowl­edge the past. As ci­ti­zens of a rapidly ac­cel­er­ated world, we are se­duced by the idea that our sit­u­a­tion is unique. In many ways it is – not the least how the work­place is chang­ing. But change in the work­place it­self is not new, nor is the re­gres­sion in­vited by firms that do not heed this shift.

Tech­nol­ogy rapidly al­ters how work is done. When the steam en­gine ap­peared in the 1700s, many sec­tors were not en­thu­si­as­tic. They could not see the ben­e­fit when the worker’s or­der seemed suf­fi­cient.

Yet, while the old guard waved such ideas away, the new­found in­dus­trial sec­tor was very in­ter­ested. Even the sim­ple act of pump­ing wa­ter out of shafts was so at­trac­tive that mines adapted it rapidly. The la­bo­ri­ous man­ual task was mech­a­nised, open­ing up new ways of do­ing things.

We are again ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a rev­o­lu­tion­ary change to how we work. New tech­nolo­gies are shift­ing work­place ex­pec­ta­tions at break­neck speed, and em­ploy­ees re­alise their value more than be­fore. A nice salary and good cof­fee just does not cut it any­more: peo­ple who in­vest in their skills and worth at work want to see re­cip­ro­ca­tion from em­ploy­ers. They want to see the new tech­nol­ogy work for them.

You do not trans­form your com­pany for the sake of em­ploy­ees; you trans­form your com­pany to stay com­pet­i­tive and in­no­va­tive. New tech­nolo­gies boost the bot­tom line, and for­tu­nately these go hand in hand with mod­ern em­ployee ex­pec­ta­tions.

A num­ber of forces are shap­ing both sides. Smart sys­tems, real-time data and mo­bil­ity are cre­at­ing a fam­ily of ser­vices that re­de­fine all our ex­pec­ta­tions. These will, by SAP’s es­ti­ma­tions, boost pro­duc­tiv­ity by 20 to 50 per­cent.


Smart sys­tems un­der­pin a new breed of au­to­ma­tion that goes be­yond tak­ing me­nial work off an em­ployee’s plate. These are in­creas­ingly bet­ter at col­lab­o­rat­ing with em­ploy­ees. Real-time data par­al­lels this, de­liv­er­ing in­sight when and how em­ploy­ees de­mand it. Mo­bil­ity and the con­nec­tiv­ity be­hind it de­fine the new coal­face of busi­ness in­ter­ac­tions.

To achieve these tiers, com­pa­nies in­vest in sev­eral tech­nolo­gies to create more agile and mod­ern busi­nesses, hence the ar­gu­ment that meet­ing em­ployee ex­pec­ta­tions is the same as boost­ing busi­ness prospects. In this case, you ac­tu­ally do build it and they will come.

Let us con­trive a hy­po­thet­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. A team needs to present a new strat­egy for a cus­tomer. Yet the scope of the cus­tomer spans across nu­mer­ous de­part­ments. The cus­tomer gen­er­ates a lot of data, which needs to be ex­ploited. In ad­di­tion, to meet chal­lenges, em­ploy­ees need to in­ter­act with part­ners and third par­ties. One group is re­spon­si­ble for the strat­egy, though not man­dated to com­man­deer the other de­part­ments or part­ners out­right.

In old busi­ness terms, this would be shift­ing a moun­tain. But mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has turned this on its ear. Real-time data com­bined with smart au­to­ma­tion al­lows for on-the-fly anal­y­sis and re­port­ing of the data. Col­lab­o­ra­tion tools en­able seam­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion across de­part­ments and part­ners, with­out los­ing ju­ris­dic­tion or con­trol. Mo­bile de­vices foster ac­cu­rate site vis­its and boost col­lab­o­ra­tion con­ver­sa­tions. Au­to­ma­tion frees valu­able time. Mod­ern HR sys­tems iden­tify and al­lo­cate team mem­bers to ap­pro­pri­ate roles. The strat­egy can be ad­justed and tested by a core group fo­cused on the out­come, with­out try­ing to herd the cats of cor­po­ra­tions.

The re­sult is a hive mind approach, with­out dis­rupt­ing the other op­er­a­tions and hi­er­ar­chies in your busi­ness. This is very at­trac­tive to mod­ern em­ploy­ees.

Tech­nol­ogy, how­ever, is only part of the jour­ney. As busi­ness lead­ers we need to reimag­ine what our em­ploy­ees can do, if ap­pro­pri­ately em­pow­ered. We must ap­pre­ci­ate and re­alise the value that mod­ern tech­nolo­gies bring to our work­forces.

SAP has in­vested heav­ily in this. Ad­mit­tedly, we did it to create bet­ter prod­ucts for our cus­tomers. We fore­saw a fu­ture of smart tech­nol­ogy and col­lab­o­ra­tion. But, to be hon­est, we did not re­alise how much it would im­pact our own or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Smart peo­ple sur­round them­selves with smarter peo­ple. Mod­ern tech­nol­ogy makes that al­most too easy. Do not be the di­nosaurs who ig­nored the steam en­gine. Reimag­ine work, reimag­ine busi­ness and you can shape the fu­ture.

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