Over two decades, SAP Labs has fueled numerous innovations across organisations and industries. SAP Labs India is the company’s biggest R&D centre outside headquarters in Germany and a leading hub for innovation and a hot spot for talent development.
SAP Labs India also makes a significant contribution to SAP’s important solutions – to name a few – ERP & Finance (SAP S/4 HANA, Business ByDesign, Supply Chain & Manufacturing, Industries) and Business Technology Platform (SAP Cloud Platform, Database and Data management, Data Warehouse, Application Development/Integration, HANA Enterprise Cloud, Analytics, Intelligent Technologies).
Recently, Analytics India Magazine interacted with is Senior Vice President and Managing Director of SAP Labs in India to further know the company’s growth plans in India. Sindhu joined the company two decades ago, at a time when the company had just set up its operations in Bengaluru.
Within SAP, Sindhu has held various leadership positions and played a pivotal role in shaping SAP’s Integration strategy by growing SAP’s Integration product portfolio as Head of Product Management for SAP Cloud Platform Integration, IoT and SAP Process Orchestration. In this interview, Sindhu also shares her views on SAP’s technology initiatives for clients, the ongoing research and development projects, business continuity and reskilling programs for the organisation’s employees.
AIM: How has COVID-19 impacted SAP Labs in India?
Sindhu Gangadharan: At SAP Labs, our primary focus continues to be the health and well-being of our people. We have made significant investments in crisis management to tackle any challenge and respond to disruptive incidents such as COVID-19. For the majority of our teams, work can continue remotely which enables teams to work off-site while staying safe at home. Our teams are accustomed to working from home as this is a long-standing practice we follow here, so the transition was seamless. Our engineers across the globe are working separately wherever possible to mitigate the risk of virus and minimise the impact. Employees needed on-site are following social distancing and hygiene protocols based on guidance from health authorities and our Global Pandemic Task Force.
AIM: Which specific technologies, in your opinion, will play a critical role in the fight against COVID-19 and why?
Sindhu Gangadharan: Technology, if used properly, has a significant role to play during any crisis such as the one caused by COVID-19 pandemic. With specific reference to fight against COVID-19, we can look at the intervention of technology in three major areas. There are technologies for detecting and ensuring social distancing. Using GPS tracking and mobile apps, social distancing and contact tracing can be ensured. AI-powered non-contact sensor systems and thermal imaging can help identify people with fever, who can be potential COVID-19 carriers. Likewise, unmanned aerial vehicle technology like drones can be effectively used to pinpoint with great accuracy scan and deliver in crowded and unapproachable areas.
Then there is technology for non-pharmaceutical interventions. Agent-based simulation modelling helps prevent a second wave of infection. Along with Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Indian Institute of Science, SAP has developed a ‘City-Scale Epidemic Simulator’ to help evaluate scenarios of phased emergence from the lockdown, once the restrictions are lifted. Similarly, through the power of analytics, solutions can be developed that provide accurate information drawn from multiple sources to help the Government and all people connected, to provide relief or lessen the impact of this pandemic. SAP has contributed to the development of the analytics dashboard that NASSCOM has offered to the Government of Karnataka and Telangana to aid the control of COVID-19.
Finally, there is technology for vaccine development: However, in the process of vaccine development, innumerable data from multiple sources like clinical trials, research development and many are to be made to generate insights, which is possible only through advanced analytics and natural language processing techniques. Having quick access to the insights and the sources of data can help speed up vaccines and the drug development process.
AIM: Also, tell us about SAP Labs’ tools for remote working and collaboration.
Sindhu Gangadharan: SAP Labs India has always been a frontrunner in the industry in creating employee-friendly policies. Keeping our workforce’s convenience as a priority, we were one of the first few companies to implement a flexible working option. Also, to safeguard our employees, we took proactive measures and asked them to work from home much before the lockdown was imposed by the Government. At SAP, we use the best collaboration tools to provide ease of remote working through applications for communication, group work and data backup.
Our teams connect regularly through daily scrums, team meetings and collaborate virtually to ensure that our business continuity is not impacted. To keep our employees motivated and stay positive, we have introduced SAP Come Alive initiative, which delivers online fun, wellness and motivational programs. We are sharing tips and tricks from employees globally for effective remote working. To also keep the personal connection going, teams are engaging during breaks with virtual coffee sessions and volunteering in programs that are focused on giving back to society.
AIM: What are various research & development projects that you are currently working on?
Sindhu Gangadharan: SAP Labs India drives SAP’s product strategy, and it is responsible for SAP core solutions, provides product localisation and India specific solutions. Unique to SAP Labs India is that it represents the entire breadth of SAP product portfolio and contributes to SAP flagship products such as SAP HANA, the platform for next-generation applications and analytics. SAP S/4HANA, the real-time ERP suite for digital business holds key product responsibilities across the customer engagement, human capital management, analytics and IoT portfolios.
Moreover, our teams have been focusing on enabling businesses to evolve as ‘intelligent enterprises’. At SAP, our effort is centred on technologies being the enabler to bring business impact for customers. Our vision is on driving forward the intelligent enterprise transformation and marrying it with our whole suite of products and solutions. Because now, it’s not just about transforming a segment but rejigging the whole business infrastructure, which is possible with an intelligent enterprise strategy.
AIM: What are SAP Labs’ initiatives focused on maintaining business continuity?
Sindhu Gangadharan: Due to COVID-19 pandemic, customers are learning to adapt to the new norm and are seeking technical support to accelerate and stabilise their growth journeys. We have developed business continuity plans to make sure our services are not disrupted worldwide. Since 77% of the world’s transactions touch an SAP system, we need to make sure that the business systems of our customers are always operational.
To ensure business continuity during these challenging times, we are actively engaging with our workforce and customers. Our employees are well-equipped with all the necessary infrastructure to work remotely. Our IT policies are framed in such a way that remote working is never a challenge for employees.
Technology has been a game-changer, especially during these times and enabling many organisations including SMEs to ensure business continuity. Our focus has also been working towards providing training programmes to SMEs to optimise their supply chain and manage their finances, procurement and stakeholders. We have been supporting startups with infrastructure, access to experts and product experts who have been in the business for a long time, and providing them with coaching and mentoring. We will continue to do this.
AIM: How does SAP India aim to benefit the business community with its new initiatives?
Sindhu Gangadharan: SAP has a clear purpose of helping the world run better and improving people’s lives. To empower our customer and smaller businesses, we’ve made a few offerings available immediately, at no cost. Our Remote Work Pulse by Qualtrics is available which is designed to help employees stay connected. The platform enables organisations to understand how their employees are doing and what support they need as they adapt to new work environments. We have SAP Litmos offering a completely free Remote Readiness & Productivity Academy training to support businesses which are having to work remotely.
The video-based courses are designed to help establish best practices for remote work and develop leadership during times of change and challenge. Ruum by SAP which is a lightweight project management and collaboration tool to optimise processes is accessible to anyone. It has created custom checklist templates, adapted from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to help businesses plan, prepare, and respond to COVID-19. Additionally, we had also opened access to SAP Ariba Discovery for 90 days to help buyers and suppliers to connect and fulfil their sourcing needs with minimum disruption in time of this crisis.
AIM: Which skills are you building internally at SAP Labs to keep the innovation going forward in 2020?
Sindhu Gangadharan: Employees are the centre of any organisation, and they are the greatest assets for us at SAP. We have always fostered an inclusive culture and collaborative learning, which ensures all our employees are ready to face the current and future challenges in the technology landscape that they encounter. Recently, we announced a new digital learning initiative offering innovative, interactive educational content to support students, professionals and anyone wishing to continue to learn during this challenging time. This dynamic initiative is based on three educational pillars – massive open online courses (MOOCs), learning journeys for universities and the SAP Young Thinkers program all the offerings are accessible through the openSAP platform, our most popular online learning initiative.
The openSAP platform provides MOOCs about leading technologies, the latest innovations and the digital economy. Course topics include automated robotic process automation, data science, machine learning, ethical artificial intelligence, IoT, sustainability, Java programming and more. We also have SAP Success Map which is a one-stop digital experience with 1.3 million opportunities available in the system, and employees can register their learning needs and find solutions. SAP Enable Now gives access to employees who use SAP solutions to the training they need anytime and anywhere with context-sensitive user help, training simulations, test scripts, and e-learning materials making them ready to face any technology challenge.
Additionally, there are other programs such as the peer learning culture with award-winning coaching and mentoring programs – free for all employees and Beyond-the-Job experience with opportunities for new work experiences through fellowships and job rotations.