The world is changing: Consumer behavior is shifting and businesses everywhere are preparing for a new way of operating. Faced with new software needs and budgets, leaders are confronting the reality of maintaining supply chain resiliency, making operational improvements, supporting a workforce that is remote, and accommodating a strong need to improve capital efficiency.

The current economic crisis is pushing businesses toward software and services that are light on resources, less expensive, and easy to deploy.

With its long and rich history of innovation, SAP is in a unique position to offer these solutions. The company’s New Ventures and Technologies group is an exploratory unit led by Max Wessel and set up to produce cutting-edge, future-focused technology quickly.

Headshot: SAP Chief Innovation Officer Max Wessell

Wessel is also chief innovation officer for SAP and managing director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. Here, he talks about fostering innovation amid the challenges of COVID-19.

Q: Looking at the SAP customer base, where do you see immediate opportunity and necessity for innovation to alleviate the impact of the pandemic?

A: Our customers need quick wins. We see three critical business requirements at the top of a CIO’s agenda in the coming months and years: optimizing and automating processes, strengthening supply chains, and supporting remote work.

Here’s how we can help. SAP can help address customers’ short-term needs and mitigate long-term risks by offering lightweight products that automate their processes. Automation reduces dependency on domain expertise, which may be less accessible at this time. To improve overall efficiency, many enterprises are looking for ways to apply technology to automate mundane tasks. They are also seeking ways to build and implement entirely new, innovative processes and want to keep implementation time to a minimum.

Supply chains are particularly strained in times of crisis. SAP can ensure our customers have more flexibility in the way they operate their supply chains by making it easier to organize, communicate, and automate processes.

With teams now working remotely and distributed, it’s imperative that companies improve digital engagements and work-related communications along with simplifying remote-work processes.

Is it possible to be innovative in virtual teams? What challenges and opportunities do you see?

Working remotely is not new, and there are plenty of successful companies that are built on a remote-only workforce. SAP has a unique global presence and we can emerge from this crisis with a better handle on how to connect with one another across the globe, and with our customers, in better ways than we ever have before.

We may even find that for some things, virtual is at least as effective as in person. When the New Ventures and Technologies team found out in the first quarter that our events would be scaled back or cancelled, we took that as an opportunity to build better digital connectivity to the chief information officers (CIOs) of our customers. Now we’re doing 30-minute virtual coffees with CIOs to talk about megatrends like the decreasing cost of software development and its impact on business and enterprise software. I’ve found this format to be simpler and even more valuable in understanding and reacting to their problems than before.

How can New Ventures and Technologies help SAP address those three customer needs?

We have many solutions that immediately address these needs, are simple to deploy and offer commercial adoption and well-defined, measurable valuable propositions. For example, SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation (SAP Intelligent RPA) offers software robots to help companies automate processes. Ruum by SAP is an agile business platform that allows customers to easily build, automate, and execute processes on top of their existing architecture without the need to invest in coding. Spotlight by SAP is data-driven and seamlessly tooled approach to understand the business operations and guide the intelligent automation journey of customers. Brilliant Hire by SAP streamlines hiring by helping recruiters and hiring managers access highly qualified candidates through an unbiased process in a much quicker manner than traditional recruiting.

One of the things I’m proudest of in SAP’s COVID-19 response is the incubation we’ve been stewarding for the last two years around lending for small and midsize businesses called Apparent Financing by SAP. We are now able to match small businesses with lending partners in Ariba Network using their invoices as a point of reference for credit. We can open up credit markets during this time where there is lack of access to capital for small businesses that desperately need it at no cost to the businesses, and at no cost to SAP Ariba customers. And this is all because we’ve been experimenting and stewarding this forward for the last few years.