As the world continues to feel the effects of the pandemic, businesses are more focused on managing disruption than ever before. Customers, while understanding in most cases, have a tighter hold on their purse strings and still maintain high expectations.

We asked SAP executives for their perspectives on what to watch for in 2021. Here’s what they had to say.

“In the new year, organizations will prove to be decisive in their approach to managing spend as they take steps toward business recovery. Only a holistic, cloud-based approach with the data underlying every spend decision — from direct and indirect goods procurement to contingent labor, services providers and MRO spend, all the way to travel and expense management — offers the necessary insights to counter disruption and extend competitive advantage. These insights help companies achieve their financial goals, as well as their operational, environmental and social objectives. Never before have connected commerce and intelligent spend management been as pivotal to business success as they are going to be in 2021.”

John Wookey, president, Intelligent Spend and Business Network, SAP

“As we look toward a new year and anxiously await the broad distribution of vaccines against COVID-19, leaders in the procurement, supply chain and logistics industries will take center stage as nations mobilize to turn back the pandemic. How adaptable is our infrastructure, how agile is our technology and how ambitious is our purpose in the race to safely manufacture these life-sustaining breakthroughs and distribute them equitably? The eyes of the world’s 7.8 billion people will turn to leaders in procurement and operations management to help navigate what may be the most complex if eagerly anticipated logistical challenge of all time. The opportunity and responsibility are immense.”

 – Sanjay Almeida, chief product officer, Intelligent Spend Management, SAP

“This year has been defined by supply chain disruption. The impact of COVID-19 has accelerated trends that will not only lead to the diversification and localization of supply chains, but also increase the need for digitalization and end-to-end visibility. Now more than ever, procurement is uniquely positioned to be transformative and highly impactful for businesses as we enter a new era of data-driven intelligence. A shift away from the traditional, linear supply chain to a broader supply network, coupled with dynamic partnerships driving innovation, will be key to gaining a 360-degree view of supply, improving cash flow, developing new products and pursuing sustainability initiatives. Breaking away from reactivity and focusing on proactivity will be essential in tackling new business challenges in a post-COVID-19 world. Network strategies, and making use of data-driven insights, will be important in avoiding repercussions from future shocks and shifts, replacing linearity with interconnectivity.”

Sean Thompson, executive vice president, Network and Ecosystem, SAP Procurement Solutions

“As the year draws to a close, the full measure of the pandemic’s devastating effects is just coming into view. Beyond its incalculable human toll, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on nearly every business, in every industry, in every region. As we welcome a new year, I believe that procurement — and particularly procurement technology — has a paramount role to play in restoring confidence to organizations as they seek to regain their competitive edge, revive their operational resiliency and replenish their hopes for the future. That level of confidence requires a seamless, integrated approach to digital business processes that extends visibility, reduces complexity and fosters collaboration. That’s how procurement ‘makes it happen,’ and it’s why we’re placing a strong focus on executing against our SAP Procurement North Star vision in the year ahead.”

 – Salvatore Lombardo, chief product officer, SAP Procurement Solutions

“The evolution of procurement over the next five to 10 years will be driven by macroeconomic factors: the exponential growth of the digital economy, declining productivity and the stagnation of globalization. Living with the coronavirus pandemic, and planning for a future with increasing uncertainty, many organizations are watching global supply chains and taking stock of their own risks in the market. Supply chains need to be structured differently moving forward to remain resilient and adaptable; and spend management organizations are going to play a pivotal and central role in leading that change. We can expect to see suppliers as the driving force for innovation in most organizations, helping realize the promise of artificial intelligence and begin to reverse the productivity slump. As such, companies will need to take a very different lens regarding management of their supplier base than in the past. I anticipate the rise of spend management professionals as trusted advisors, providing solutions and preparing for unforeseen events; delivering greater value by moving the conversation from cost-saving to strategy.”

Baber Farooq, senior vice president, Product Strategy, SAP Procurement Solutions

“Humans are innately resilient. As companies large and small strive to survive the pandemic period and its devastating economic effects, we see human and machine intelligence coming together to play a significant role in decision making. Not only is this helping companies survive and fuel recovery efforts, but it is also inspiring new business models and transformation initiatives that are setting the course for long term growth. Companies are banding together as they look to share resources, responsibly dispose of inventory and spares, shift culturally to be more inclusive in work from home policies and naturally place greater emphasis on employee health and safety. Businesses will continue to incorporate more network-driven and digital strategies to engage with existing trading partners and find new ones. Meanwhile, procurement operations are front and center leading efforts to accelerate digital transformation and drive greater supply chain resilience. To operate in today’s business environment, companies must focus on digitalization to increase productivity, leverage data and intelligence to drive visibility in supply chains, shift sourcing strategies and create responsible trading partnerships for long term sustained business resilience and growth.”

Padmini Ranganathan, global vice president, Product Strategy, SAP Procurement Solutions

“In the new year, I expect contingent workers and services providers to continue to play a leading role in helping organizations rebound from disruption, regain their competitive edge and respond to the shifting needs of customers. The creativity and flexibility for which external labor is renowned may not be new. But, for some organizations, gaining visibility into this often-unseen segment of the workforce may be. In 2021, I believe the transparency and insights made possible by cloud-based external workforce management solutions will help to determine which organizations return from the pandemic stronger than before – and more responsive and resilient to unforeseen change.”

Arun Srinivasan, general manager, SAP Fieldglass

“If 2020 was a year of disruption – and was it ever – then let 2021 be a year of rebuilding. In the year ahead, I foresee cloud-based solutions, particularly with regard to external workforce management, playing a vital role in lending businesses the flexibility they need to take steps toward recovery. Just as they always have, contingent labor and services providers deliver the depth of skills and expertise necessary to propel businesses forward. With the right sets of digital tools, organizations can achieve maximum visibility and value from these essential workers, ramping up and down efficiently as the new year unfolds.”

Vish Baliga, chief technology officer, SAP Fieldglass

“Building unconditional customer trust and thriving for customer success will continue to be a focus for businesses in 2021. COVID-19 has taught businesses to adapt quickly to changes and cater to customers’ needs with unwavering attention, making them their true partners. In the new year, I expect Customer Success teams to play a prominent role in understanding the customer’s health, identifying what the customers need to be more successful in a challenging environment and as trusted advisors provide intelligence to make smart decisions to mitigate risks thus providing seamless customer experiences. Connecting and engaging with customers will continue to be different via remote and self-service channels, however, personalized communication and services will play a critical role.”

Chad Crook, senior vice president, Customer Engagement and Adoption, SAP Procurement Solutions

“COVID-19 undoubtedly shined a light on the importance of Procurement. As businesses experienced major shifts and disruption on a global scale, procurement leaders rose to the challenge and emerged as heroes in their organizations by securing critical supply and ensuring business continuity. Even more importantly, by laying the foundation for functional excellence in this way, they were freed up to connect to their organizations’ strategy and purpose despite challenges that at times seemed unsurmountable. However, as we come out of the crisis-mode that defined most of 2020, changes must be made to truly overcome supply chain disruption and ensure long-term resiliency. A critical lesson learned is the importance of establishing and maintaining strong supplier relationships. By proactively listening to suppliers and better understanding their experience and challenges, procurement leaders can take the necessary action to improve their businesses through their ability to secure critical supply, deliver with a greater degree of resiliency and accelerate savings by uncovering and addressing barriers. As we head into 2021, it is time to recognize the power these relationships have in providing insight for leaders to better understand their KPIs and move the needle for their businesses in a positive direction.”

Jason Wolf, senior vice president and general manager, Intelligent Spend and Business Network, SAP

This article first appeared on the SAP News Center.